There is a certain charm to be had with arcade shoot-em-ups; be it the fast paced action, addictive ‘get the highest score’ adrenaline rush, or just the pleasurable feeling of destroying everything that lays within your path. Whatever the charm, there is no denying the beauty within the genre, which is one that survives, even to this day, thanks to it simplicity and all-about-gameplay influence.
phannDOTde has captured the same appeal found within those arcade shmups with Cyberpunk 3776. It reawakens memories of the days spent throwing coins into the magical device that brought forth joy, albeit with a bit more darker personality and setting, but still with the same solid gameplay that helped define the genre.
The game is set in a cyberpunk world, which is a high-tech world that you don’t want to live in due to how dystopian they are, with a protagonist that comments on his situation in a very matter-of-fact way that sets a tone of hopelessness to it all – albeit at times with melodramatic dialogue. It feels much like a different take on the walk down the road of life: Stand headstrong as trouble comes your way, and then deal with the consequences, even if the consequence is the inevitable ending that awaits us all. There is an ever present darkness to the overall experience, and it fits quite lovely into the mold of things.
And the good stuff doesn’t end at the mood of the game, either. The action of arcade shmups is present here and it lets itself be known, loud and proud. The game focuses a lot of effort on allowing players to zip around, shooting at everything that may inhabit the screen, a screen which can quickly become cluttered with various enemies and objects that seek no other purpose than to destroy you. Things get tense at times and the ongoing fight for survival can reach insane peaks of challenge, where you will be shooting, dodging, and strategically moving about the screen, trying to pick up any and every booster that may spawn.
Cyberpunk 3776 also features a nice little upgrade system to help provide perks here and there through the grim journey. Upgrades enhance nearly every aspect of your ship that will be put to use throughout the seven stages. Each category is upgraded by earning points, which are dropped by enemies throughout stages. All initial upgrades cost a total of five points and increase by five every level, and points can be farmed for those wanting to make a perfect ship, or simply need a little extra hand in passing the next level. It is a great inclusion to have within the game, though some stages felt as though the upgrade points were being tossed at me left and right, even on replays of said stage. This kind of made it feel as though the points were not as important, though it did cause me to replay a few levels here and there.
The further you progress, the more insane everything becomes, almost to the point of causing a fear of blinking, because a mere second of idleness can be the end of it all. It gets crazy. Bullets will fill the screen, enemies will come from every possible direction, and after reaching the boss and completing the level, you are stricken with a crucial question: “How did I survive that?”
It will happen where the odds get the best of you, and some stages may take a few go’s before finally beating them into submission. Once they are behind you and another notch is added to your belt, the feeling is almost euphoric.
“Another kill to remedy my pain,” is just one of the many things you will hear the pilot say during his journey, which is a journey he doesn’t really seem to care if he survives, as there is nothing left to return to. It can get melodramatic at times, and not always because of the action that is occurring. Yes, the pilot is living in some horrible times, but after taking out an entire army and a big ship triple my size, I don’t want to feel like the pilot will be wallowing in self-pity at the beginning of the next level.
Other than the moments of emo-ness from our protagonist, everything else sounds great. The music hits at all the right notes, upbeat during moments of conflict, and slow and soft upon defeat, punctuating the fact that our pilot has reached his end. It is a score that works well and is pleasing to the ears, and also on that note, while I find the pilot to be overly-depressed at times, the voice actor still delivers the lines well. It’s simply a case where some of the dialogue just tries too hard to emphasize his loss of hope.
Everything feels polished, and there are three control options available: Keyboard, mouse, and controller. They all work well and provide an option suitable for all players. The game runs smooth and the only hiccup I came across was a stage that started up, and then nothing happened; It was just me flying and nothing coming at me, no debris, no enemies, no nothing. This happened once, and was an easy fix. Other than that, no other problems popped up.
Cyberpunk 3776 is a game that is, above all else, about the gameplay, and its gameplay is solid and fun. It flawlessly recreates the feel and excitement from many years ago when I would be standing in an arcade, pocket full of coins, and enjoying a shoot-em-up to my heart’s content. It is fun and enjoyable, with solid controls, and a noticeable polish. There are a few moments where the dialogue feels like it is trying too hard, but other than that, this is a solid gaming experience that can offer up many, many hours of enjoyment.
A demo of Cyberpunk 3776 can be found at the official website, and phannDOTde is also currently running a Steam Greenlight campaign. (3/18/2015 Update: The game is now live on Steam.) It can also be purchased at Desura and itch.io, with two packages available: A Pilot Pack for $9.99 USD, and the Veteran Pack for $12.99 that comes packed with some bonus goodies.