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The Best Games Influenced By Steampunk (Then and Now)

December 13th, 2012 4:41pm EST

Honest Abe with a Machine Gun Arm Unfortunately, not everyone knows what steampunk is. So before we go on, I'm going to test you using visual a visual cue.

If you're asking yourself, "Why the **** does Abraham Lincoln have a machine gun for a hand?" you probably don't understand steampunk. If you're saying "Holy **** Abe Lincoln has a machine gun for a hand! That's ****ing awesome!" then you get it.

Steampunk is an artistic and literary style that tends to take place in fictional alternate realities, typically Victorian era, or American Midwest, where high technologies are made possibility through the use of steam engines. For example, steam powered computers, steam powered tanks, steam powered mechas and steam powered arm-machine-guns are all possibilities, provided you don't ask too many questions or look TOO deeply into the physical possibilities. This results often times in a world that appears outwardly advanced, but is rife with corruption.

Steampunk was popularized in novels by preeminent writers, such as Jules Verne in his flagship masterpiece "30,000 League Under the Sea." It has inspired a number of spinoff genres, such as "Dieselpunk" and "Cyberpunk" both of which take distopic influences from Verne's work.

Movies often times use steampunk influence to make their settings more interesting, foreign or just unique. Skycaptain and the World of Tomorrow, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Hellboy all have artistic styles that are heavily influenced by steampunk aesthetics.

But it is video games that benefit most from the legacy of steampunk. Recently, within this last console generation, the steampunk theme has garnered population and we have seen an influx of these steampunk themed games, and, I have to say - I'm mighty impressed with where the genre is heading.

So here's a few of my personal faves, both upcoming and released.

BIOSHOCK I & II

It's hard to classify Bioshock, considering it's probably more accurately "Hydropunk" but it covers all the bases a steampunk game needs. Distopic society? Check. An isolated underwater Utopia inhabited by genetically altered super-humans? Well duh. Alternative means of power? Check. Cool high-gloss environments? Check. Cool 1940s weapons? Check. Giant mutant humans walking around in metal diver suits? Yessir.

If you haven't played Bioshock yet, crawl out from under your rock and go get Bioshock One and Two. They costs like... maybe a couple bucks now, and are available on Xbox 360, PC and PS3. And plus - it will prepare you for what's on the next page.

BIOSHOCK: INFINITE

The third installment in the famous Bioshock series is a break-away from it's cannon. While Bioshock One and Two took place in Rapture, the underwater megalopolis, Infinite's story takes you high into the clouds on the floating city of Columbia. Columbia is rife with protests, a civil war that's decimating the population, an oppressive authoritarian regime and a host of exploited citizens turned into robotic machinations.

Again, while Infinite isn't strictly steampunk, it certainly looks the part, heavily decorated with bronze, lacking any sort of overt reliance on electricity and playing up the simplicity of former days. Among the enemies you encounter is a giant metal "Songbird" whose pursuing your female companion, pirates who fly around on giant airships, children who wear giant masks of bronze and function as mobile alarms and animatronic George Washington replicas with miniguns. Uh - what isn't to love?

Bioshock: Infinite is due out Late February 2013

THE THIEF SERIES

The Thief series takes you to a fictional Medieval/Victorian era city, known only as "The City" (clever name, huh?) where you play as the Master Thief, Garret. What starts off as an innocuous set of missions dealing with Garret's knack for pickpocketing, turns into a wide range of world-changing events, involving religious extremists, corrupt governments and magical terrorists.

The whole city seems alive and dynamic, with manhole covers blasting gouts of steam, the inside of buildings sporting clockwork mechanisms and networks of steam pipes run from house to house. Though the game may look a bit dated by now, it still is a testament to the genre, and how cool future titles (Thief 4) will be.

DISHONORED

Maybe one of the best games this year, Dishonored puts you in the murderous shoes of Corvo Attano, a once honorable bodyguard framed for the assassination of the woman he was sworn to protect, and the abduction of the child he loved like a daughter. The setting, is the city of Dunwall, which is falling apart under a corrupt regime of usurpers, an authoritarian religion and a rat-born plague that turns people into zombie-like undead. While this game sports swords and crossbows, it looks more like something out of a Sherlock Holmes novel, with bratty nobles, suffering peasants and crumbling industrial districts.

Then of course, there is the giant stilt-walking tallboys who fire incendiary arrows at you, as well as the teleporting assassins who are chasing you, and the supernatural and mysterious "Outsider" who aids you in your quest for reasons unknown. The world runs on whale oil, from which everything is powered, a unique twist on the genre. Despite that, the anachronistic setting of the game and the realistic problems the people in the game world suffer from make it both visually stunning and impressively deep and living.

MACHINARIUM

Machinarium is a fun little point and click indie puzzle game that puts you in the shoes of a nameless little robot lost and discarded for reasons unknown. There isn't much to say about this quaint title, other than it's art style is charming, with hand drawn environments of a somewhat dark, dank robot city might look like. Take a look below and see what you think.

FINAL FANTASY IX

Most Final Fantasy Games have some element of steampunk in them, though it is most apparent in FFIX, a personal favorite of mine (and highly, HIGHLY underrated, if I might add.) It's an oldie-but-goodie. FFIX has everything necessary for a great steampunk setting; giant airships that are "mist" powered, Industrial cities that have monorails and steam cars, a giant steam-powered castle, a great Victorian setting, steam powered robot enemies, alien ruins filled with forgotten technologies and a bit of magic for that extra flavor.

And you can't forget the great soundtrack that comes with every good steampunk adventure. Despite it's age now, the ninth Final Fantasy installment holds up just as well today as a game, as the day it released, over twelve years ago. The Final Fantasy series is well known for it's genre mixing, and FFIX is no exception, as steampunk is just one of the many creative aspects of FFIX, and I truly believe it has something for everyone.

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