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Hard Wired Island
Publisher: Weird Age Games
by Kai T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/19/2021 05:07:58

Hard Wired Island is cyberpunk that actually examines what it means to be a cyberpunk game beyond lots of neon, robot arms, and doing corporate espionage for money. During the Kickstarter for the game, the creators laid out their vision of what makes good cyberpunk, which includes things like the consequences of technology without ethics, perspectives focused on marginalized people fighting back against a status quo with nothing but disregard for them, and relevance to the issues that people face today in our own cyberpunk present.

Some people seem to think that a cyberpunk game that draws pointed attentions to issues like disability advocacy, corporate overreach, marginalization, and gentrification is being "too preachy" about things, but I'm posting this review about a day after the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of several corporations facing charges of using child slavery, so I find it kind of difficult to agree with the idea that a cyberpunk game can actually overstate just how badly capitalism wants nothing more than to grind people between its gears to extract the slightest bit of increased value it can out of their blood and suffering.

Hard Wired Island's examination of the miseries capitalism loves to inflict for profit comes through the lens of a near future retro-anime inspired tomorrow that never was. In the aftermath of a devastating asteroid strike against the earth, the world's nations briefly banded together to create an off-world habitat capable of sustaining a sizable human population in order to prevent further such disasters from threatening the extinction of humanity as a whole. This habitat, Grand Cross Station, is now at the center of a struggle between the station and its residents and a consortium of corporate interests who want nothing more than to export and entrench the worst capitalism has to offer, privatizing infrastructure, buying politicians, pushing out locally owned businesses, and widening the wealth gap.

In Hard Wired Island, players won't be taking on the role of hardened cyber-mercenaries doing assassinations for nameless middlemen on behalf of corporations. Instead, HWI puts you in the role of characters who are fighting back against corporate encroachment upon your home. You have a familiar array of archetypes at your disposal, including hackers, social (media) butterflies, street fighters, soldiers, and technical experts, but the emphasis of the game is placed squarely on fighting The Man rather than working for him. Hacking and social engineering are recommended over resorting to violence, though there are also rules for combat, and characters can employ a variety of abilities, equipment, and cybernetic enhancements (which don't erode their soul, but can make dealing with periodic "economic shocks" more difficult as you have more bills to pay for maintenance and repairs) to accomplish their goals.

One of HWI's biggest draws is the setting, giving a richly detailed breakdown of Grand Cross Station's many districts and points of interest. There's enough information here for you to run a dozen games and never run out of places, people, or plot hooks. Attention is given to places that players are likely to want to explore during games, so in addition to universities, museums, and corporate offices there are also hole in the wall restaurants, cafes (with or without maids), arcades, game stores, underground doctors, fast food places, nightlife spots, and various fronts for organized crime. The game also comes with a scenario framework you can structure a campaign around, dealing with a corporate conspiracy surrounding the alien-minded Dreamers, next-generation artificial intelligences which have escaped into the station.

I'm skipping over a lot of details both in terms of mechanics and setting because HWI is a dense 400 page game, there's too much to hope to comprehensively cover in a review and frankly the game's own writers are better at covering those points than I am, but if you're a fan of cyberpunk gaming and the usual suspects have grown stale, then this game is well worth the asking price.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hard Wired Island
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