Home Dystopika review: Mesmerising cyberpunk city builder lets you make the Blade Runner metropolis of your dreams

Dystopika review: Mesmerising cyberpunk city builder lets you make the Blade Runner metropolis of your dreams

We have followed the progress of the one-man chill/cozy, whatever you want to call it, futuristic city construction game Dystopika since its first demo months ago. We recently got a more fleshed our demo but now, finally, and it has been much anticipated by me, we have our hands on the final version that just released on Steam.

To save you the trouble of reading my old articles on the game, here’s a quick recap to tell you how much I love the aesthetic of Blade Runner. I have since I was a child and remember seeing the trailer and the opening of the movie for the first time. A lot of that was added to by the droning ambiance of the Vangelis score.

So if you had sat me down over the course of my life and said what kind of game would you like to play most as I creep towards the end of another decade in games journalism I might very well have suggested a nice chilled-out city builder where I can recreate the ambiance of Blade Runner’s dystopian Los Angeles, and if I could not have to make sure all my water pipes joined up, that would be even better.

Maybe Dystopika’s programmer, who has coded the game single-handedly while traveling around countries such as Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia over the past year, and I have some kind of weird neural network going where I feed him subconscious ideas about what I want to do in a game like this.

Dystopika is an unashamedly tiny game and it comes at a tiny price, costing just over £5 at the time of asking. Is it telling that I have played for more time over the past couple of days than I played UbiSoft’s ‘AAAA’ $70 Skull and Bones when that came out?

From the moment Dystopika boots up and the swirling, spacey music starts up this game, which is billed as “the darker side of cozy”, oozes the atmosphere that many a cyberpunk-themed game can only dream about. After a short message from the programmer, you are into the “game” itself – an empty, dark landscape with a UI consisting of a few options on the left of the screen.

From there you are left to discover what does what in a similar way, and I realize this is going to sound pretentious, to an artist with a blank canvas and a set of new unused colors.

At this point, if you choose to left-click anywhere on the landscape you will place a building. If you choose to investigate the menu you will discover there are several zones – a central business district (and presumably all its futuristic Starbucks and ramen bars), Lowtown, and New Eden – all of which have different building shapes, all of which can be adjusted (generally upwards) too.

New from the demos are Alpha and Omega Corporation buildings. These are huge corporate headquarters you can drop down on your map.

To make the buildings look different you can pop into the Props menu where you will find huge Blade Runner-style screens and signs to attach to the sides. You can even add your own lettering with editable text.

In between these zones, you can paint in vast swathes of light and this will leave a trail of smaller buildings and lights and screens in your wake, enabling you to create a huge, sprawling city with different, distinct looks quickly and easily. You can then save it, or head into photo mode where you can take screenshots or even move a camera between points to animate through it.

At certain points you will unlock new buildings – there aren’t a ton to unlock but that doesn’t matter – this isn’t a game that will constantly feed you rewards and achievements. So don’t look for that here.

What you also won’t do at any point is worry about finances, transport, or any aforementioned water piping. None of that is what Dystopika is about – it is purely about painting a cyberpunk city and enjoying it.

And that’s kind of it, but that’s all it needs to be. There will be a 1.1 version coming over the next couple of months with more props and features, but when you save your game you are given a Seed, which presumably means you can bring in other people’s creations at some point and develop them, a la Minecraft, and that really does open up the options.

Dystopika has only been out a day or so and already has a Very Positive rating on Steam and apart from a few Steam reviews saying “You can complete it in 15 minutes, there is no game here”, which fundamentally and monumentally misses the entire point of what the dev has set out to do, the talk is glowing, as it deserves to be.

That one guy can make this in his spare time gives hope that game development doesn’t all have to be huge studios laying people off after a project is completed to appease shareholders. It isn’t for everybody, but at the price point, it almost is. We all need to chill out sometimes and very often these days games do not let us do that – it’s all about being sworn at by kids who are better at Call of Duty than you are, or wondering whether that latest skin is worth dropping another 20 on. Correct Answer – it’s not.

So turn your lights off, put your headphones on, load this up, and just, whether it’s for 15 minutes or six hours, get lost in its magic.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Paul McNally
Gaming Editor

Paul McNally has been around consoles and computers since his parents bought him a Mattel Intellivision in 1980. He has been a prominent games journalist since the 1990s, spending over a decade as editor of popular print-based video games and computer magazines, including a market-leading PlayStation title published by IDG Media. Having spent time as Head of Communications at a professional sports club and working for high-profile charities such as the National Literacy Trust, he returned as Managing Editor in charge of large US-based technology websites in 2020. Paul has written high-end gaming content for GamePro, Official Australian PlayStation Magazine,…

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