Gaby Aveiro-Ojeda’s 1870 opens with a conversation taking place on windblown plains. A blurry line of text announces first-person thoughts: “All I see so far is the vast and imposing horizon where the sky meets earth, and where our civilization dissolves.” It’s followed by a line of regular, more recognizable type: “The Hub is far in the distance now, away from the vastness and overwhelming night that threatens to cloak you in oppressive darkness.” That place, The Hub, blinks in sharp red. With these two lines, Aveiro-Ojeda is building a cyberpunk world slightly out of step with our own.
It’s cloaked in familiarity. The Hub is the city we’re living behind, with its wired technology and always-online connectivity, and we’ve progressed out into the desert of the hinterlands to search for something else. We’re not Neuromancer’s Case, working a job to get some benefit from a corporation; our protagonist is looking for something beyond those limits.
1870 is a game with a hope for escape that is bracketed between the return to the familiar city and the promise of the desert. Crucially, and unlike other games, 1870 doesn’t present that desert as some kind of absolving, saving place. It is its own world, with its own set of rules, and the player does not get to set the pace of play there. It is, though, undeniably cyberpunk, which is a genre or a mode of writing that is all about interlockings. Corporations and governments and smugglers and back-alley engineers are all hooked together, collapsed into a mire, and escape is usually impossible or unlikely.
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