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Cyberpunk: Edgerunners review: Leaning into the meanest, darkest aspects of dystopia

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners review: Leaning into the meanest, darkest aspects of dystopia
PHOTO: Netflix

Two years after the release of Cyberpunk 2077, a new anime series set in Night City has propelled the beleaguered game to the top of the Steam charts, behind only Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II.

It's not difficult to see why. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is a glorious, dystopian mess, and I mean that in a good way. Night City comes to life in stunning detail, its ugliest aspects thrown into sharp relief. The city is a glitzy hellscape where soulless corporations are king, and everything that is human appears to have been bled out and replaced with silver chrome.

The poor are left to fight for scraps in the city's seedy underbelly, and Eurodollars (or eddies) quite literally make the city run.

David Martinez is a brilliant kid attending the elite Arasaka Academy, but he isn't like the other students. His mother can barely afford to put him through school, doing double-time as an EMT and selling augments on the black market. He grew up on the streets of Santo Domingo, one of the six districts in the game, and lives in a tiny apartment in Arroyo.

However, he and his mother are soon caught in the crossfire of an Animals assault on an Arasaka vehicle, and their car crashes. David witnesses a trauma team ignore his mother's lifeless body on the road simply because she is not a client, a prime example of the cold, transactional nature of all interactions in Night City.

While Gloria Martinez survives the initial crash, she soon passes away in hospital, partly because her insurance plan limited the scope of life-saving interventions available. When David chooses to have her cremated, the only option he can afford, an automated service spits out her ashes in an unfeeling metal canister.

David ends up chipping himself with a military-grade Sandevistan implant that his mother obtained, which lets him move at super speed. Eventually, he teams up with a motley crew of merceneries and kits himself up with additional augments, becoming taller, bigger, and stronger.

But chrome and flesh were never meant to mesh. Cyberpsychosis is a very real risk, where augmented individuals lose all sense of self and give in to uninhibited violence. While Night City is saturated with these enhancements, those who go all out are visibly less human.

David himself is soon reduced to nearly just a torso, outfitted as he is with cybernetic legs and more. The contrast with the boy he was could not be starker, his original lean frame replaced by a preternaturally large and sculpted body. It's difficult to spot what is organic among all that chrome, one of his acquaintances comments, the price of doing business in Night City.

Every bit of Night City's gratuitous excess is depicted in extravagant detail by Studio Trigger's animation style. This is a future that grinds away at everything that is human, and the show leans into the darkest aspects of this dystopia.

Limbs are severed and flesh is crushed under the sheer power of enhanced metal. Blood spurts like a geyser from stumps and heads are quite literally popped.

Cyberpunk was never meant to be subtle, and Edgerunners is a literal neon extravaganza punctuated with instances of senseless brutality. Its unvarnished portrayal of the realities of life in Night City is what makes it so good — the sprawling metropolis is a living, breathing thing in its own right and it demands to be fed.

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In many ways, the city has always been its own protagonist, more compelling than the characters that live in it. Its myriad gangs, corporations, and cutthroat social and economic order are fascinating to unpack, and it's no surprise that the series has inspired so many to jump into the game and explore the world for themselves.

While David and Lucy enjoy their moment in the spotlight as the beating heart of the story, their tragic denouement is yet another victim claimed by the City of Dreams. Night City is relentless, and eventually, everyone loses themselves to the chrome.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is streaming now on Netflix.

This article was first published in HardwareZone.

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