Working in a cyberpunk world means working under a lot of constraints.
Cyberpunk is less a genre than a shared world. Sure, some of the names change and a few extras might be added here and there, but you know what you’re getting: hackers and body modifications and megacorporations running the planet. Probably, you have a cyberdeck. Definitely, you’re stealing something. The tropes are entrenched in the style so much that they define it. If you got rid of the criminal element, would your story be cyberpunk anymore? Or would it just be science fiction?
With such a limited palette of world-building colors to work with and so many other pieces of media having the same subject matter, it would be easy for a cyberpunk game to feel derivative and stale. System Crash, from Rogue Moon Studios, avoids this trap by combining fun, easy-to-learn gameplay with a cast of entertaining characters to make a solid, good game.
System Crash is a virtual collectible card game (or CCG, as the kids are calling them) along the lines of Hearthstone or Magic: the Gathering. If you think that means you’re going to be sinking a ton of money into this game, I have good news for you! There are no microtransactions here. Everything can be unlocked via regular gameplay, and the developer has vowed that the same will go for any future expansions after the expansion has been initially purchased.
The card combat is a lot of fun. It’s easy to pick up the basics, especially if you’re already familiar with CCGs, but there’s a lot of room for strategy and nuance in your play style. You can focus a deck on bowling over your enemies with big dudes and their guns, or you can make a deck of hackers, slowly and silently accumulating all of the points you need to win the match. (Interestingly, instead of trying to take points away from your opponent, you want to gain points through attacks and other special cards to reach a predetermined goal before your opponent does.) And the opponents you face have varied play styles, too. You’re probably going to need both of those decks, depending on whether you’re trying to infiltrate a corporation or shoot your way out of a gang ambush.
That said, you’ll be doing quite a bit of grinding. Not necessarily to unlock things, but because you’re going to lose, a lot, as you figure out what strategies your opponents are using and change your style to accommodate that. Also, variance is a bitch. Sometimes, you’re just not going to draw the cards you need. There’s no penalty for losing a match, but if the idea of replaying a mission (albeit somewhat altered each time due to the randomness of the cards) annoys you, this might not be the game for you.
The writing in System Crash is really good.
Characters are well-defined and funny; you meet a delightful collection of scallywags and ne'er do wells as you battle your decks across the city. I’m not far enough along to definitively say whether there’s a larger overarching story (see above, re: losing a lot) but even as just a series of vignettes, it’s a neat world to get to visit, and the stories keep your matches feeling meaningful and important.
I also love the art in System Crash. It is very much of the cyberpunk style, so I can’t say it’s the most innovative art, but it’s wonderful to look at and sets the tone of the game beautifully. Rogue Moon Studios included credits for the artist on each of the cards, which is a detail I really dig. I like having names to put to specific pieces of art and artists who I might want to check out later.
Mostly, I’m really jazzed about this game, but there are a few things I’m not over the moon about. I wish there were a wider variety of cards. There are over 100 in the game, but when you consider that Magic: the Gathering includes over 200 cards in each of its quarterly sets, it doesn’t feel like a lot--particularly in the early part of the game. I’m not a huge fan of the music in System Crash, either. It sounds like a pretty generic “future dystopia” score, and it gets monotonous after a while. It’s basically . . . fine, I guess, but I don’t feel like I’m losing much by turning it off.
System Crash is a great addition to the library of anyone who likes playing CCGs. If you’re new to the genre, it’s also a good introduction: easy to learn, harder to master. Probably the best recommendation I can give this title is that I can’t wait to finish writing my review so I can play it more. In fact, I just hit my word count, so--