Microsoft held their E3 press conference today in Los Angeles, and the biggest gaming news of 2019 turned out to be the biggest gaming news of 1991: Keanu Reeves is in videogames now! Here’s the cinematic trailer for Cyberpunk 2077, an Xbox One, PS4, and PC game coming out in April of 2020 that debuted at Microsoft’s event.
Reeves was at the event, and took the stage after the trailer to talk about how excited he was to appear in the game. It’s an amazing Keanu Reeves moment, because he seems delighted by the copy he’s delivering, which is itself an exceptional example of gamer prose. The rules for this are pretty clear: A celebrity appearing in a game must profess ignorance of the field, thus flattering gamers’ superior knowledge, while simultaneously landing on key phrases like “vast open world” and “branching storyline,” as though they were things one might say in normal conversation, thus activating a carefully conditioned Pavlovian response in gamers’ brains that sends them racing off to pre-order. So you get things like this:
A while back, the guys from CD Projekt Red approached me and asked me to be a part of their new project: Cyberpunk 2077. They were going on and on about how they’d create this vast open world with a branching storyline, how you’d be able to customize your character with in-game choices. And it’s not something I knew before but I was excited by.
The best part, however, is Reeves’ decision to land on the word “Cyberpunk” like it’s an outake from Johnny Mnemonic’s room service monologue. Here’s Reeves genially goofing his way through a teleprompter’s worth of copy, visibly unable to believe that his own personal in-life choices led his branching storyline to a point where people pay him money to say things like “You play as an outlaw, an enhanced mercenary working in the sleazy underbelly of the city.”
But although Reeves may profess ignorance of gaming on the E3 stage, Cyberpunk 2077 is far from the first time gamers have gotten the chance to exchange money for a digital Keanu. In fact, although recent years have been something of a Keanu game drought, he’s been starring in video games for nearly 30 years. The first video game to feature pure digital Keanu was the 1991 NES game Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Here is a full playthrough, which is more than an hour longer than the film version of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and much, much less interesting:
That same year saw Keanu appear in full un-backlit LCD monochrome glory in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Game Boy Adventure: A Bogus Journey. Motion-capture technology was still in its infancy, so Reeves was depicted using then state-of-the-art amusement park caricature technology:
1992 was a banner year for virtual Keanu Reeveses: Bram Stoker’s Dracula spawned a number of terrible, terrible Castlevania-inspired video game adaptations, presumably from developers who had not yet seen Bram Stoker’s Dracula when they shelled out for the game rights. All of the games star Jonathan Harker, Reeves’ character in the film, but none of the virtual Harkers particularly look like Reeves. That’s not too surprising, given how little the games resemble Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Here’s the SNES version:
Johnny Mnemonic: The Interactive Action Movie, a 1995 PC CD-ROM game, used full-motion video, and could have had the best digital Keanu of the decade, but cast Chris Gartin in Reeves’ role instead. (It did feature Isaac Hayes, however.) Most of the rest of Reeves’ work from the 1990s didn’t make the jump into video games, presumably because there wasn’t an obvious market for reliving the cinematic adventures of Little Buddha at home, but he ended the decade by appearing in The Matrix, which secured his place in the next generation of games, most of which were based on The Matrix, and a few of which were officially-licensed Matrix adaptations. Reeves barely appears in 2003’s Enter the Matrix, which included new 35mm footage of some of the franchise’s other characters, but he stars in 2005’s The Matrix: Path of Neo. Here’s six straight hours of 3-D Keanu:
Although it’s not directly relevant to Keanu Reeves’ video game career, The Matrix: Path of Neo is also notable for featuring a cameo from the original films’ directors, who explain why the game ends with a giant boss fight. Here are the digital Wachowskis:
Also in 2005, Constantine: The Video Game gave gamers another trip to the unKeanu Valley, with a solid five hours of playable Keanu content:
Since that glorious year of low-polygon Keanu Reeveses, though, gamers have lived in a strange and frightening Keanu-free world, as the technology they once trusted to deliver them virtual Keanu Reeveses moved on to serve younger audiences who demanded virtual Ellen Pages and virtual 50 Centses instead. But now Fortuna’s wheel has turned again and video game Keanu is back, with more polygons than ever. Whoa!