Sometimes, video game and graphic novel narratives aren’t all that dissimilar. Bombastic, over the top, stories can be aplenty. The two can allow for some minute by minute, or even second by second, means of telling a story. So much emotion, impact and emphasis can be explored in a single and effective graphic novel panel. Similarly, watching the feedback of how gameplay unfolds lets even milliseconds be crucial and provides the same feeling. Atomic Wolf and L.inc’s Liberated is a cyberpunk game that looks to achieve both, with its fast gunplay, adventurous platforming and noir graphic novel style narrative.
Like many cyberpunk stories before it, the world of Liberated is very much in an Orwellian nanny state. The scary thing about this type of narrative is that arriving at this state is often plausible. Prior to the game’s events, a terrorist attack puts a government into a state of worry. Desperate for safety and security, a monitoring technology algorithm known as the Citizen Credit System (CCS) is created. With the “promise” of safety, this algorithm notes the compliance (and lack thereof) of citizens. It can track anything from skipped train fares, to knowing what an individual’s ventures outside of their home entails. All activity is monitored, with no privacy. Unnerving, no?
Liberated takes an untraditional approach in its cyberpunk narrative that doesn’t always pan out
The ideas here aren’t anything new or special to the cyberpunk genre, but they at least mostly work. In the first of four issues (chapters, laid out nice and separate but continued, as comic issues are) of the game, you’re an off the grid individual, joining up with the titular Liberated group. This group are intent on rebelling on the recent laws put in place. They want to tear down the bad and ever ruling watchdog police force and government, hiding behind white masks and searching for any dirt they can find. Think your Anonymous organisation, except gun-toting.
Before you can say “narrative whiplash”, you yourself become a cop for pretty much the rest of the game. Your motives are mainly just to take down any Liberated member you see standing. Through later reveals, it eventually makes more sense and tracks, though I can’t help but note the blurred messaging here. I was ready to go on this journey with the rebellious type but now I’m the authority? That fast? In this, the story tried to take the risk of an untraditional approach in cyberpunk narratives, but probably should’ve gone for the safer option. Personally, I just don’t want to be asked to empathise with a brutal cop or authoritative figure in a cyberpunk game.