How Does Cyberpunk: Edgerunners Compare to Cyberpunk 2077?

Cyberpunk 2077 vs Edgerunners
Cyberpunk 2077 vs Edgerunners

It’s 2022 and the people are talking about Cyberpunk all over again. The release of the Netflix original anime Cyberpunk: Edgerunners has everyone reaching for their sleekest prosthetics and coolest guns, and partying like it’s 2020. But how does this animated crime caper compare to the futuristic fireworks cooked up by CD Projekt Red in Cyberpunk 2077, their highly-anticipated re-envisioning of Mike Pondsmith’s tabletop game? Beyond critical reception (the anime’s been getting great reviews, and the video game, well, didn’t at first), how do these two visions of the shiny chrome future stack up against each other?


Choose Your Character

Cyberpunk 2077
Cyberpunk 2077

We can begin by looking at the stories being told in each version. In 2077, players control V, a low-level criminal in the sprawling Night City underworld. V has a choice of three backstories that influence some minor elements of gameplay and dialogue, but all roads lead players to the same ill-fated scheme to steal a backed-up version of dead freedom fighter Johnny Silverhand’s (Keanu Reeves) consciousness. What follows is a massive conspiracy involving the top megacorporations in the world, as everyone and their half-robot brother chases V for possession of their powerful purloined technology.

In Edgerunners, the same illicit technology and the fate of small-time crooks running from big-time power brokers are still present. Our “hero,” David (Ken’ichirō Ōhashi in the Sub, Zach Aguilar in the Dub), a struggling kid on the bottom end of Night City’s economic pyramid, finds himself on the receiving end of a string of bad luck that leads him directly to a crew of legally-dubious operators, the titular Edgerunners who’ll take any job for the right amount of credits. From here, we follow David as he ingratiates himself with the gang and gets drawn deeper and deeper into the seedy underworld of organised cyberpunk crime, all while he increases the amount of augmented technology in his body – becoming more cyber as he becomes more punk, get it?

As far as protagonists go, we get to know David a lot more than V by virtue of him being a written character and not a player avatar. Edgerunners can be specific and intentional with David’s upbringing, his struggles with poverty and abandonment, and his need to prove himself, in ways that customising a video game story around a player’s input just can’t account for.


Meet The Crew

Cyberpunk Edgerunners
Cyberpunk Edgerunners

One of the highlights of 2077 was its supporting cast. Judy Alvarez, the lovelorn braindance operator, and Panam Palmer, the rebellious nomad, spring to mind as characters that felt like fully-realised people trying to scrape together a life in the wasteland of tomorrow. Some of the best, most nuanced characters in the game, like Joshua the repentant criminal, are relegated to side missions that the player could miss entirely.

The supporting cast of Edgerunners all cut memorable figures. Among these lovable rogues we have Maine, the hardened vet of the Edgerunner crew, battling his own demons and dependence on cybernetic augmentation. Lucy is the hacking prodigy with big dreams to finally escape this hellish game everyone’s playing, and Rebecca’s a trigger-happy murder gremlin of the team who’s fiercely loyal to those she cares about. They may start from generic neo-noir tropes, but they all have greater depth and humanity that unravels over the show’s ten episodes.

Their designs are also much more varied and expressive than those of 2077, like Maine’s mountainous physique and Giancarlo Esposito’s icy operator Faraday, who sports a column of three eyes on the right side of his head. In 2077, everyone’s cyberware looked mostly like high fashion. In Edgerunners, people are truly expanding what a human body can be.

Because the characters in Edgerunners don’t have to act as NPC quest givers and depend on a player character to make their entire world go around, they’re allowed to have interior lives and ambitions that exist independent of David and independent of the viewer. Everyone feels much more alive when their very existence doesn’t hinge on the actions of a player, and because of this Edgerunners’ Night City feels much more like a living, breathing metropolis.

Both 2077 and Edgerunners revolve around what are effectively crime capers – high-value pieces of technology, people at the wrong place and wrong time, jobs that are too good to be true turning into double-crosses and triple-crosses, etc. What’s different, again, is how Edgerunners doesn’t flatter David and his crew into thinking they’re the main characters of the world. Even when the action of Edgerunners hits its climax, the story still feels contained and focused, rooted in character and not just in escalating spectacle (though, to be clear, the spectacle is truly spectacular).


In Living Color

Cyberpunk 2077
Cyberpunk 2077

Visually, 2077 and Edgerunners are both at the top of their respective fields. When it’s working properly, 2077’s vivid, three-dimensional Night City is jam-packed with style and atmospheric beauty. Edgerunners offers us a guided tour of this city, borrowing many locations from 2077 and rendering them in the bright, kinetic style that Studio Trigger has made their MO with titles like Kill La Kill and Little Witch Academia. While the action in Cyberpunk 2077 can end up looking/feeling a bit too similar to any other open world 3D shooter, the frantic and fluid combat in Edgerunners is a non-stop visual treat to the candy factory. Every fight has weight, speed, and power to it, making clashes and shoot-outs feel larger than life in ways that it would be difficult to envision as a player.

Speaking of the fights, both Edgerunners and 2077 likewise bring in buckets of violence and sex to their visions of the future. While there aren’t any prolonged, awkward, first-person sex scenes in Edgerunners like there are in 2077, the more risque side of Night City is very frequently on display. Bodies get thrown around in just about every configuration you can imagine – the same goes for the extreme, gratuitous viscera-splattering violence in both the show and the game. Whether you prefer the virtual guts to the 2D drawn organic spray is up to your personal tastes, but it is amusing to note how both recent Cyberpunk adaptations felt the need to slather on the red when given the chance.


Sounds of the Future

Both 2077 and Edgerunners have excellent soundtracks, befitting a series and genre so closely defined by its aesthetic sensibilities. Whereas 2077 is primarily interested in hard rock and discordant angry noise, befitting its aggressive, rebellious streak, Edgerunners balances its heavier moments with instances of dreamy pop and synths. The effect is a quieter sense of timeless nostalgia, an undeniable longing for the future we want, not the one that it looks like we’re going to get.

Edgerunners places a deeper focus on coming of age in a broken system and the loss of innocence that’s inevitable when you have to scratch and claw to survive – the soundtrack perfectly captures David’s descent into the criminal world as well as his resilient desire to find some quiet happiness.


Every Time I Get Out, They Pull Me Back In

Cyberpunk 2077
Cyberpunk 2077

Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is that it made me want to redownload the 100GB bear of a game that is Cyberpunk 2077. Even nearly two years later, after reviewing the game and putting it down and picking it up as patches rolled in, there’s something appealing about the bright city lights and the roar of my Akira motorcycle underneath me (one other neat element of Edgerunners is its lack of on-the-nose pop culture references).

Edgerunners exemplifies what Cyberpunk as a genre, and Cyberpunk 2077 as a game, can do best, in isolated moments. The fact that they sustain the joy of these moments for ten half-hour episodes is a mark of true technological wizardry.

You couldn’t make me live in Night City, but Edgerunners is more than enough to get me to visit again.

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