An enjoyable dystopian mess…
As a non-hyperbolic platform for hype and unfathomable expectation, CD Projekt Red’s follow up to the gargantuan success that was The Witcher 3 was promised to be a generation defining experience that exemplified a dynamic sense of world building and open-ended structure. Cyberpunk 2077 was illustrated as an exquisitely detailed and expansive RPG with complex systems and novel implementations that would construct a new definition of player immersion. From realistic NPC patterns and dedicated schedules to an innovative sense of dynamic choice and rippling interaction, Cyberpunk 2077 was set to be an experience that would defy the modern conventions the industry stagnantly resided in. In reality, Cyberpunk 2077 is a notable shell of what was promised to consumers; from the removal and absence of promised features and mechanics to its egregious technical issues, the final product never lives up to the monumental premise or unrealistic expectation set by the publisher. On top of Cyberpunk’s centralized disappointments and failed achievement, the publisher’s repulsive review process and their appalling post-launch response is nothing short of disastrous and predatory. Cyberpunk 2077 will go down in history as one of the most catastrophic launches in video game history, a cautionary tale for those who bite off more than they can chew. Despite its empty promises, litany of technical grievances, and corporate’s lack of ownership, I would be remiss to say that Cyberpunk 2077 was not enjoyable. From the remarkably engrossing and surprisingly poignant cast of characters to impactful moments of bombastic intensity and emotive tranquility, many of its presentation elements create an engrossing high that almost dismisses Cyberpunk’s disappointing realities. Underneath the deceit, the technological mess, and a lack of polish and systemic depth, Cyberpunk 2077 is still immensely enjoyable and admittedly a good game, with the potential of greatness. While its minutia of frustration and inconsistencies destroy the good will built by the respected developer, I can already say that I miss the wonderful characters of Night City.
Cyberpunk 2077 is set in the dystopic Night City, an American megacity that is oppressed and controlled by corporations and runs on a systemic class system that ultimately favors the financially fortunate. While the rebelling narrative against mega corporations and the resistance of oppressive control is appropriately interesting, its true brilliance lies in the tangible relationships fostered with the protagonist, V. The idiosyncratic cast of characters you encounter throughout your explosive journey are intricately complex and I was surprised to find myself so emotionally invested in each of them and their surrounding circumstance. From the charismatic and down-to-earth persona of Jackie Wells to the incredibly sweet and adorably feisty Judy Alvarez, each character exudes a remarkably poignant sense of personality. On top of the impressive writing and exceptionally engaging performances, important side characters also have their own set of personal side missions similar to the level of agency and emotive value of Mass Effect’s loyalty missions. Reminiscing through the remnants of the Judy’s past to desperately hunting down a serial killer with River, each collective group of missions add tangible weight to the respective character’s personality and motivation. From the thematic elements of family and community developed with the Aldecaldos to the sense of courtship and solace found through Judy, these side vignettes exemplified a poignant sense of tangibility and exuded tremendous heart and I quickly grew to love these characters with all of their complexities and imperfections, even Johnny Silverhand. While Keanu Reeves’ delivery as Johnny Silverhand is arguably the weakest amongst the excellent performances, the character’s prominence within the core narrative delightfully surprising. Initially, I was honestly rather disappointed and eventually apathetic towards Silverhand; his banal and stereotypical preach against corporations and Reeves’ underwhelmingly flat delivery made it difficult to produce an ounce of empathy for the character. Through Silverhand’s own set of dedicated side quests, the character started to grow on me and I too became invested in his story and his relationships. It’s these connections and established relationships that propels the narrative forward in a manner of agency and consequence. Unfortunately, the promise of a dynamic narrative with organic choice feels not as advertised and underdeveloped. Any semblance of consequential choice in the narrative is reserved for the last couple of missions. Character attributes and affiliated dialogue options offer little to no weight in shaping or impacting the central story or respective missions, being rendered to simple dressing that provides additional conversation. Only a handful of missions ended differently based on certain choices that I made during conversations and confrontations – it is simply too few and far between to live up to the dynamic system that was promised.
From a technical and artistic standpoint, Cyberpunk 2077 is exceptionally ambitious in its execution. The radiating sands of the badlands are exquisitely vibrant and lavishly detailed, boasting diverse shades of warmth and a dynamic weather system. Night City is a technical marvel that sports neon lights throughout the metropolitan, in cascading detail. Granted the sprawling world of Night City and its rendered detail is a fragmented shell in comparison to what was demonstrated in its E3 2018 demo. Despite the notable artistic praise, at times Cyberpunk 2077 is technically hanging by a thread. Cyberpunk is littered with technical glitches, bugs, performance issues, constant crashes, and poor textures that break the immersion of the intended experience. From egregious texture pop-in, clipping, characters or environment not properly rendering to constantly reloading save files for completed mission objectives or character dialogue to register, Cyberpunk 2077 is filled to the brim with a litany of dreadful inconveniences that render a good experience into a frustrating one. Character models are also relatively inconsistent, with certain models boasting exquisite detail seldom found in the open world genre and others looking like rendered constructs from the PS3 era. I luckily played Cyberpunk 2077 on my Razer Blade 15 which houses an Nvidia RTX 2080 Max-Q and i7-8750H CPU, so performance was notably better than its train wreck of a console counterpart, but Cyberpunk is resource intensive game and definitely not fully optimized. With my hardware, I was able to average around 60fps on high settings with raytracing turned off, granted the frame rate would dip in heavily trafficked areas within Night City. Cyberpunk 2077 will undoubtedly look exceptionally gorgeous in 4K resolution, with raytracing enabled, and at a stable frame rate, but most players won’t have a rig capable of achieving this. While its graphical and technical elements ride strides of ambition that unfortunately falter more often than it succeeds, Cyberpunk 2077’s auditory counterpart is significantly more consistent. As I previously mentioned, actor performances are top-notch and remarkably impressive, breathing emotive quality and tangible life into these dynamic characters. Cyberpunk’s music also ranges from the quality trashes of heavy metal to the pulsating rhythm of electronica, setting atmospheric tones that personify the ominous and dystopian nature of the respective environment. There are occasional auditory glitches such as music tracks overlapping one another, music for combat encounters never ceasing despite mission completion, and where character dialogue is not triggered yet other characters will respond to the non-existent conversation. While these inconsistences are less frequent and egregious than the visual grievances, they still manage break the immersion of this fragile experience.
As a fully fledged RPG, there is a wealth of customizable options – from diverging narrative upbringings to typical aesthetic variety. While the character customization has some very unique and intriguing elements, its slider based system lacks the robust and dynamic sense of flexibility that I was hoping Cyberpunk would offer. Granted the level of customization and detail is relatively inconsequential as Cyberpunk is solely experience in first-person view, so you will almost never see your character in any capacity. Cyberpunk 2077 was supposed to have 3rd person cutscenes, that would showcase and beautifully animated your customized V during cinematics, but this was ultimately scrapped during development. The pure dedication to its first person perspective does generate a palpable sense of immersion, but also results in awkward character interaction and stiff animation. Life paths also provide a layer of depth and complexity to the centralized experience. Depending on the chosen life path (Street kid, Nomad, or Corpo), your narrative kickstarts in a different manner from the others. It is a relative false sense of consequential choice as it primarily affects the prologue of the narrative, with each life path eventually reaching the same focal point of the story. Life paths only provide additional dialogue options that do not branch the story or the respective mission in any capacity, they simply add an extra layer of inconsequential exposition. For a first-person RPG, combat is quite intuitive and surprisingly responsive. Far beyond the cumbersome realm of control displayed in Bethesda’s RPG repertoire, Cyberpunk 2077’s combat is quite invigorating and surprisingly competent as a first-person shooter. It doesn’t reach the visceral heights of the dedicated FPS genre but it is still immensely serviceable and undeniably enjoyable. With a slew of diverse weaponry – from the standard flair of rifles, handguns, and shotguns – and illustriously flavourful weapon types – Power weapons, which provide a chance for bullets to ricochet off of surfaces, Tech weapons that have charging abilities and can pierce through objects, and Smart Weapons with bullets that lock onto and seek out their targets – Cyberpunk’s core gameplay loop is enthralling and undeniably satisfying. There is also a wide variety of different melee weapons to utilize but the melee combat system is unequivocally cumbersome, the anti-thesis to the functionality of ranged combat. Being an RPG, you can also equip different pieces of apparel that will boost respective stats and also augment your body with modifications to provide fully new offensive and defensive advantages. From offensive weaponry that constructs from your arm – such as Mantis Blades, a projectile launcher, or a whip-like Monowire, to mods that allow you to perform a double jump or create an electrifying shockwave when you reach low health, these modifiers add a welcomed layer of depth and customization to Cyberpunk’s relatively flexible gameplay system. Given the conspicuous emphasis on body augmentation, it is completely asinine that you cannot change the appearance of your character after the initial character customization screen. There is also a relatively undercooked stealth system that provides no sense of agency or consequence to the established mission structure. It bears the same clunky nature as the melee system and is ultimately dissatisfying. Granted the accompanied hacking abilities to prove quite entertaining as you are able to short circuit the cyberware installed in enemies, overheat their internals, reboot their optics so they lose visibility, or also wipe their memory so they are no longer hostile. They are surprisingly less intuitive and accessible than the hacking mechanics in Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs series, but they do serve as a relatively nice pallet cleanser. Granted I found it far easier and less time-consuming to resolve most combat encounters in a firefight, and the decision to do so would never be met with a sense of consequence or divergence. Cyberpunk 2077 also introduces Brain Dance sequence; these detective-like segments allow the player to view captured memories of an individual, analyzing the surrounding environments to find clues that will assist in your current investigation. From a serial killer’s repressed memories of child abuse to the petrifying showcase of teenagers being kidnapped and harvested, Brain Dances offer an immersive and tonal shift to the core gameplay loop, slowing down the pacing while still levelling a degree of intensity with its subject matter. On top of its diverse set of gameplay options, Cyberpunk 2077 also provides an exceptional variety of vehicles to operate whilst traversing through the intricate architecture of Night City. I found the motorbikes to be far more controllably responsive and accessible than their four-wheeled counterparts. Despite the invigorative array of vehicular gameplay, Cyberpunk 2077 lacks a dynamic and organic implementation of car chase sequences, with scripted substitutes conspicuously compensating for this oversight.
Levelling and stat-building in Cyberpunk 2077 feels relatively underwhelming, your level is a simple that allows you to equip better equipment, nothing more and nothing less, and the affiliated skill points are never attributed to percentage increases that lack any sense of substance or weight, at times being rendered to an afterthought. Arguably the most useful unlockable skill is the ability to craft/upgrade legendary weapons. Cyberpunk’s side mission structure also strikes a resounding imbalance of pristine quality and banality. Most of the centralized character or narrative missions are rooted in palpable intrigue and invigorating captivation. Moments of enthralling intensity such as a bombastic heist gone wrong to the quiet tranquility and romantic levity of diving through the remnants of a sunken town, Cyberpunk’s narrative focused quest design is impressively orchestrated. On top of some other highly memorable side quests, such as assisting an AI taxi system with a complex personality disorder or bring Johnny’s old band back together, majority of the best side quests in Cyberpunk 2077 have little to no combat involved, just pure blissful moments of contemplation and reflection. Granted there is a fair share of uninspired filler that range from the usual repetitive fetch quest to banal target elimination gigs; the level of quality is notably inconsistent and it is difficult to separate the good from the bad as side quest info is typically shrouded in mystery until discovered. It is a bizarre power struggle between quality and quantity, and while it never finds a resounding equilibrium, there are clear examples of exuberant quality and abundant quantity. From repetitive side gigs, fun street races, crime scene investigations, and an abundance of side quests, there is never a shortage of things to do in Night City. Granted each facet of Night City is scripted and does not feel dynamic or organic. Through the introduction of different gangs, one would assume that confrontations with different enemy groups would feel distinct but they are simply reskinned versions of the same enemy. While gangs have slightly different attack patterns and use different weaponry from one another, aside from the different languages they speak, they are all inherently the same and require no further sense of strategy or adaptive quality to overcome. Night City is a remarkable realm to explore given its density and brilliant artistic vision, but despite its heavy traffic and populated areas, it feels empty and inorganic. So many artificial facets are used to falsify a realm of dynamic realism; from the police immediately spawning out of thin air within the proximity of your crime to the lack of dynamic NPC schedules or their inability to adapt and appropriately react to player actions, Cyberpunk 2077 tries to present Night City as this adaptive and dynamic world, when in reality it is a compromise of cut corners and cheap tricks that give the illusion of a generational leap. Once the technical issues begin to erode its foundation, Night City falls apart at the seams with its entrails dangling for all to see.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a good game and has potential for greatness. It delivers an exceptionally compelling narrative with such a wonderful cast of delightful characters. The emotional investment I developed throughout the 60 hour experience felt deserved and the brilliant scenes of tranquility shared with these dynamic characters were some of the most delightful and memorable moments I experienced throughout the year. With the marginal divergence of the established Life Paths and the multiple different endings to unlock, on top of the slew of side content to ingest, Cyberpunk 2077 is a robust and expansive experience that is arguably worth the multiple playthroughs. A number of the different endings can be quite bleak and tonally dissonant but there is at least one conclusion that provides a gleaming light at the end of the tunnel, and I was very satisfied by the outcome once the credits rolled. Despite the inaugural praise, it is difficult to recommend Cyberpunk 2077 in its current state as the technical bugs, game breaking issues, constant immersive dissonance, and false promises undeniably taint the overall experience. There are shades of greatness to be found here, but the constant frustrations and inconvenient imperfections ruin any semblance of a saving grace. Frequently having to reload saves to trigger the completion of an objective, consistent loss of integral audio and dialogue, and the lack of dynamic enemy encounters and chase sequences, many of its problems may be game breaking, but majority of its grievances reside in its continuous ability to break immersion. This is not the generation defining experience we were promised, we were lied to on multiple fronts, and the publisher’s inability to take ownership and responsibility of this disastrous launch is downright insulting. While it genuinely has remarkable production value and presentation quality, Cyberpunk 2077 is severely unpolished and ultimately under-baked. Cyberpunk 2077 is heavily flawed and a shell of its promised self, but the current product is undeniably enjoyable and is definitely worth checking out if you have the hardware to support it.