Game Name: Cyberpunk 2077 (2019)
Developer: CD Projekt Red (Witcher 3 – maybe my favorite game of all time)
Platform: PC, PS4, XBox One, Stadia, PS5, XBox X/S (reviewed on PC, PS4 controller)
Categories: Single Player, FPS, 1st/3rd Person Driving, Fantastic Vehicle Selection, Gorgeous Lighting, RPG Conversations, Meaningful Relationships, Emotional Investment, Philosophy Subtext, Subtle Repercussions, Social Commentary, Engrossing Setting, Corporate Militarization, Dystopia, Rogue AI, Man/Computer Integration, Hacking, Interactive Holograms, Stealth, Forensics, Mercenary Life, Multiple Intros, Multiple Endings, Internal Wiki, Reputation, Clunky Crafting, Street Samurais, Urban and Desert Biomes, Tacky Clothing Aesthetics, Staggering Music Selection, Excellent Acting and Voice Work, Slick Combat, Run ‘n’ Gun, Viable Playstyle Variance, Loot Hoarder, Numerous Missions, Scant Filler or MiniGames, Impressive Skill Progession System, Ambitious Beyond Means, Buggy Upon Release, Incomplete but Fun, Controversial Production Ethics, Playstation Refunds, Hypersexual, Extreme Violence, Disturbing Themes, Jarring Special Effects
May Appeal To: perverts, philosophers, CDPR Lapdogs, dice-rolling tabletop fanbois, and Keanu groupies. If Fight Club is in your top 10 movies of all time, give this a look.
May Repulse: prudes, console players, epileptics, and any who agree that Mr. Reeves is one of the stalest actors of this generation and fell ass-backwards into some incredible movie opportunities (seems like a nice guy though).
Comparable To: a Ritalin-prescribed kid who attempts to copy off Grand Theft Auto’s midterm exam. Cyberpunk 2077 is at its best when it invokes memories of [every design element of] the original Deus Ex, the flawed utopia of Bioshock, and the stunning beauty of Skyrim that begs exploration. Fallout IV merely wishes it had this degree of gameplay competence, combat flow, story branches, and stylized character progression. Borderlands seems to be a strong inspiration for the loot/gun management. This game bests even the parkour of Mirror’s edge and, similar to Witcher 3, the missions are purposeful and serve the story. Strangely, I haven’t been this spiritually drawn to the struggles of my cohorts since Knights Of The Old Republic or the Mass Effect trilogy.
In-game computer monitor interactions remind me of Doom3.
Learning Curve: 30 minute fundamentals, 2 hours to be adept at hacking
Game Length: 20 hour main story, another 35 for side stuff
Difficulty: Adjustable, skews towards Easy
Mastery: If you knew where to find missables, you could experience every event (including endings) on a single playthrough within 100 hours. There are several side quest outcomes and love interests that require differing decisions and character genders. Money can be extremely difficult to come by and owning every car would be a feat of patience. Similarly, the character level caps at 50 and it doesn’t look possible to max out all attributes and skills, meaning a second playthrough is required to experience other builds.
Story: Night City is a city of dreams…. the nightmares birthed from the 1980s omens of anarchic violence and militarized corporations growing beyond government jurisdiction. Fostered in a crucible of distrust, fear, and instability, the disparity of the standard of living is such that the shining glitz of extravagant skyscrapers thrusts upwards from the layers of patchwork shantytowns wedged beneath six lane freeways looping overhead. Across the river lies a “no man’s land” of a burned out metropolis abandoned to Haitian gangs; further out, a suburban sprawl of insurrectionists styling themselves in the historic pastime of trigger-happy “patriots” wearing the American flag. Since all roads leading out breach either gut-wrenchingly large mountains of garbage carpeting the desert or nomadic squatters sizing up travelers for a shakedown, one truly wonders if they’re safer within the city limits where its citizens face all manner of horrific choices in order to survive.
With the age of electronics propelling body modification to intrusive extremes, Night City’s residents might succumb to corporate clauses where a limb is replaced with cold steel, may temporarily supplant their consciousness with an independent sex AI during working hours, could endure painful surgical implants to stay athletically competitive, or go so far as to perform suicide onstage and migrate to a chrome body with which to complete the musical tour as scheduled. In a world where the soul’s vessel is customizable, replaceable, and has tangible street value as company property, the world as we know it is capable of shocking disillusionment, depravity, and desperation.
This repulsively exhilarating hotbed of vice and abuse serves as both backdrop and subject of the player’s excursions, where you both learn of the societal dregs and dictate the depths or pinnacles of which they can be persuaded. The main draw of Cyberpunk 2077 is the incredulousness of its very existence – the fuel to persist being the curiosity of finding what lies around the corner. Having an arsenal of tech weapons and cybernetic augmentations will help solve disputes, though the manner in which you define your social standing materializes from social relationships and the choices you make in what is or is not something you abide, what is or is not an action that aligns to your personal compass.
An eclectic cast of misfits awaits: ripper docs, joy toy mannequins, cyberpsychos, ganglords, pop divas, diehard aging rockers, messiahs, living legends, nuclear terrorists, pedophiles, corpo-shills, rogue AI fragments, the embodiment of the internet, digitized ghosts, samurai, assassins, witch doctors, hobos, techno Buddhists, a man suffering from a rebellious priapism, and at least a single street-boxing circus clown who remains indifferent to punches against a live grenade embedded in his face. With such promises of unique and bombastic stories to explore, it’s difficult for me to impress you with the prominence of the mundane – situations where a silent car ride, attending a funeral, receiving a scuba lesson, getting a tarot reading, eating sub-par Japanese meal at a street vendor, or getting shit-faced with a myriad of interactable, everyday people are the ones that stand out the most in my personalized adventure.
Despite having a relatively average range of responses, you may agonize over conversation choices since it’s often difficult to tell which are superficial vs the type that remain delayed, dormant, and are bound to haunt a future mission. Whereas some choices are timed, most are left open for the player to mull over what their character’s instincts would dictate (while you’re allowed to explore and ransack the immediate area). This is a game where the missions serve the story, relationships, or both, and not the other way around. I engaged in all non-murder quests to see their closure and not to complete a checklist, a feat that can’t go unheeded in a twitch-happy run’n’gun culture.
Heavy themes of existentialism buttress the repercussions of a civilization too ready to adopt warfare, commercialism, and physical sacrifice to appease the collective id of humanity, though the more conventional conflicts of interpersonal relationships are just as prevalent. Documents, computer “shards”, overheard dialogue, newsreels, radio, hijacked emails, text messages, and brainwave dances (the equivalent of sensory VR) collectively bundle chunks of the richly detailed world and communicate them via decidedly appropriate and organic delivery methods. Lovers, flings, friends, and family abound within, all of which have moments of steely-eyed clarity and lingering, intimate looks of regret. The game’s story and characters are apt to assault your senses and pierce your heart, if you leave yourself vulnerable in the face of barbarity or emotional intensity.
Presentation: Last-gen consoles got a bit shafted in this regard but -speaking as a privileged member of the PC master race- I can only gush at how gorgeous the ray-tracing and atmospherics are. This game is not only a professional class in ambient and dynamic lighting execution, but the environment is absolutely designed in such a way as to showcase the technical wizardry humming under the hood. Soaked asphalt streets reflect brilliant, neon colors through torrents of rain pelting a car whose lush interior positively glows with futuristic bars and meters, rivulets of water cascading off the windshield. A foreboding sandstorm on the horizon is preceded by gusts of wind that kick up dust, a diffused cloud settling low and blinding. The numerous and varied textures look great; the poly count – high, pore-perfect facial designs, believable hair, and realistic animation and movement that should be the new gold standard for open world games. All the fancy graphical tricks that I’ve been trained on and recognize are in full force here and, mechanically, this is one of the best looking games that I’ve played to date.
The art/design departments aren’t slouches either, as there are a staggering amount of renders by way of weapons, junk, adornments, furniture, consumables, billboards, television shows, graffiti, clothing, interactive objects, and streets teeming with gobs of dynamic, randomized crowds (but only like two animals due to lore reasons). NPCs can look rather procedural and generic (with children resembling strutting street thugs) though the comprehensive list of named characters are almost fully represented by high-to-stellar voice acting and even a visual personality that communicates non-verbally with a tilt of the head and subtle creases forming around their laugh lines. Forewarning – you may get a disparagingly-accurate amount of text messages despite the game never skimping on the audio budget. You’re provided a rich and assorted amount of sounds and unusual music genres (8 hours worth) without even considering the staggering amount of voicework. (And although I won’t willingly listen to Electro Chibi Japanese, Slow Ska Stefani, or Chopped Screw Drum & Bass any time soon, the tracks are inventive and befitting of the setting.) The cars, alone, could flesh out an entire game dedicated to collecting and showcasing them -or even a review due to their creativity and aesthetic foresight- but alas, space is limited and I’ll just say that they look and sound fuckin’ awesome!
Unsurprisingly, the center of the action -Night City- exudes a personality all its own and simply steals the show when it comes to presentation. From the get-go, trailers knew to hype the location as a realm of infinite possibilities, a respite for degenerates or a revision of the American dream. While you’re sprinting full tilt across congested walkways and ignoring “do not walk” holographic projections in the commercial sectors, or stepping over drugees while escalating the emergency stairwell on a dilapidated tenement building, or dodging hormonally-engineered bipeds in a ransacked mall, it’s easy to believe that the environment is truly alive and just waiting, watching. And when you’re not roaming the darkened alleyways or launching your jet-black Quadra Cthulu off steep freeway embankments across rusty corrugated shacks or a cheeky billboard for a sex shop, you’re in the surrounding badlands – a dry, forbidden territory with harsh sun and desaturated hues. While you might occasionally enjoy a crackling campfire or the quaintness of a desolate motor home out in the boonies, the city never stops beckoning, its siren call dominating the skyline with scrolling holographic advertisements that scale miles up into the troposphere, the night never being free of its horrendous majesty.
Night City loves its triple-mouthed sex dolls, double-ended dildos, and single-serving joy toys though there is rarely anything sexy about its fashion, another great obsession in the game’s development. To complement the glitchy 80s aesthetic that rings true of errant sprites on a poorly-seated NES cartridge or maybe the track lines on a vhs tape, clothing sensibilities have reportedly undergone iterative genres that started with gaudy, flourescent puke and eventually evolved into expensive gaudy, flourescent puke. Like Lisa Frank notebook art and everything about Tiger King‘s, Joe Exotic (2020), “kitsch” was never truly rejected by a discerning consumer base, it merely fell out of availability, went through a practical “militaristic” phase, and resurfaced in a high-brow resurgence of previous trends. Although it’s entirely possible to avoid all mirrors and only see the hideous garments you picked off the last dead shlub when assigning inventory, the fact that you can’t obscure your “stat equipment” with “fashion equipment” is a huge oversight for a game founded on a premise of the ultimate self expression.
The UI is functional and even stylish, but I have some criticisms: Shop icons on the map are not discernible from each other. There are mysterious and obtuse percentage meters on the menu screen and can’t be correctly cracked without research. It was frustrating to train my brain to identify certain icons like “jack in” points, and the UI’s native red color caused me irrational distress for several hours. You get absolutely inundated with side quests and notifications as you progress through the story or when within the mission’s proximity. Everyone will happily interrupt your conversation while getting briefed, or reading, or interacting with an object and beg for an immediate meeting. (Only a handful of missions can actually be missed through inactivity.) There’s a deluge of visual and audio stuff on-screen that pull your attention in every direction simultaneously. While sorting the inventory, it jumps around unexpectedly and everything related to crafting is a visual mess. Lastly, the navmap could zoom out while traveling at higher speeds.
Unique Features: “Quickhacks” where you play a minigame to compromise a network of foes and upload malicious daemons is a dynamic and fun way to spice up the first person shooter tropes. You can cause electronic distractions, commandeer cameras, flip turret allegiance, spread a harmful virus, wipe an enemy’s memory, or even just command them to pull out a pistol and blow their own brains out. The behavior of tech/power weapons that have homing bullets or can fire through walls is delightfully overpowered. The viability of melee builds is a great touch for an FPS, sexual content is incredibly high for any genre, and the aesthetic/auditory attention to everything about the environment is impressive (every doodad appears to have been placed by hand instead of procedural generation). The BrainDance editing segments are one of the best things brought to the table.
Gameplay: Although there are disappointingly few skills, cyber augmentations, or hacks that affect the game outside of combat, the character progression is actually pretty remarkable. Of the five traits (Body, Reflex, Intelligence, Technical, and Cool), each is partitioned into at least two subdivisions (like quickhacks or pistols) whose meters progress as the related skills are used. So basically, not only are you allowed to arbitrarily allocate trait and skill points when acquired, but the sub-system bestows applicable bonuses once certain thresholds are met. Fused with the reputation system (basically how active you are via missions or combat), the player’s rank, and money as a tangible barrier to upgrades, even the most anal retentive of players will have a hard time power-leveling a character in game-breaking ways. You’ll still reach lofty heights with extended play – it’s just exceedingly difficult to exploit a repetitious loop to circumvent actual gameplay. Holistically, this is all feels dynamic, gratifying, and personalized even with the inability to revise your base character appearance. (Entire limbs can be restructured for combat prowess and skills can be reset for a king’s ransom so the lack of a simple haircut is wildly illogical.)
Setting aside the obnoxious onslaught of acquisition notifications, missions tend to unfold in a very organic and engaging way. The quest-givers are earnest, the goals sensible, the challenge decent, the rewards respectable – made even more interesting by the fact that you’re rarely, if ever, told what you’ll get paid. (When pressed, the client/fixer just says how lucrative it is.) This turns out to be favorable since the pivoted focus enhances the discerning differences of the case at hand, primarily the backstory and request itself. There are plenty of “enemy neutralization” missions and nearly everything can be treated as such, sure, but the ones that pose a restriction for stealth, have optional objectives, or simply require a theft are conducive to self-limitations if you need them. “Cyberpsychos” are self-contained, arena battles against supercharged criminals wielding a theme: turrets, hacking, sniping, blades, heavy weapons, and even exoskeleton juggernauts. As mini-bosses, these challenges are a welcome change of pace since they punctuate the routine of more lengthy and involved jobs. Switching gears up a bit, Cyberpunk 2077 missions introduce an engrossing mechanic and level of interactivity with what they call “Brain Dances” – all manner of sensory POV experiences recorded and mass-marketed. The implications and repercussions for forensic investigation are massive and as an honorary BD Editor, you’re often tasked with poring over the sights, smells, and temperatures that a victim experiences during critical moments. By scrubbing across the recording, both in 1st or 3rd person, you’re given hotspots to discover and analyze for purposes of tracking down perpetrators.
Combat works a lot like you’d think but with some embellishments. If you took the frenetic chaos of Borderlands (the screaming sycophants running at you with cleavers, the crossfires, and color-coded loot) and throw homing bullets, wall-piercing rounds, compounding battle-activated stat boosts, and an added layer of abilities where you paint targets and inflict devastating physiological effects, you’d be close to understanding how these skirmishes play out. Although DPS numbers are auto-calculated, the various weapon types have some degree of nuance and personality to them beyond raw damage. With enough time spent in the field, Epic and Iconic items start to emerge and can range from a smart-talking tech pistol to a purple dick baton that you can use to beat your foes into non-lethal submission. Hand-to-hand or even open melee combat are effective options under this system and my version of the game did a great job of maintaining stable framerates and relaying a fine sense of fluidity as I scaled the landscape for diving leaps and executing last-second dodges. A couple things of note: I was never really punished for being a vindictive, murderous asshole and rarely saw symptoms that anyone took notice of the thousands of dead gang members in my wake.
Crafting is such a letdown. Whereas the ability points required to progress in it are high, the results are resoundingly overwhelming. What crafting IS NOT: a reliable cash generator, a speedy process, a finely-tuned use of your raw resources, a good choice for upgrading clothing, a transparent prediction for seeing the item’s stats, a robust listing of inexpensive recipes. What crafting IS: an inefficient and methodical dedication of time and resources, maddening when you have to craft other materials by holding a button, a safety net for needing to dismantle equipment due to weight restrictions, an outlet for upgrading specific Epic/Iconic loot, a great choice for increasing DPS on favored weapons. On the subject of inventory management, there are probably 200+ separate consumables with either the Nourishment or Hydration status effects. Selling (or using) the benign items is incredibly frustrating and the only thing more obnoxious than that level of bloat is that there are more than 50+ individual alcoholic beverages that confer solely negative effects.
Cyberpunk 2077 assumed you’d be spending a decent amount of time traveling and invested into the mechanic. (Don’t worry, fast travel exists.) Whether you prefer chirping Mr. Bean smart cars with tight turn radii, decadent chromed-out Bentleys, souped-up Mad Max-ian offroad rally racers, or zippy crotch-rocket street bikes, the game is bound to have you arrive in a style. The throaty muscle cars with aggressively chiseled angles are my favorites, but your car collection can be completed in any manner you choose. They look and sound authentic and have enough driving nuances to set them apart from each other. The scripted traffic behaviors got far less attention however…. and your fellow motorists will uncharacteristically be as calm as hindu cows, that is, until a mission requires any form of chase – in which they drive as poorly as you do and veer into the way. Don’t get this game expecting elaborate and satisfying suicidal cop chases either, a death spiral where you invite the national guard to deploy tanks and helicopters – won’t happen. Although tearing across the city and negotiating tight street corners and hopping canyons/dunes is a rollicking good time, the use of vehicles to explicitly go on killing sprees or shooting them up to witness the weak damage modeling and effects is obviously discouraged at this point in time. I don’t want backlash for this, but the sections where I’m a passenger just taking in the sights and sounds of the city or a lonely stretch of highway are some of the highlights of my vehicular experience.
(You could always buy an armored car and see how many times you get it to roll before drowning it in the river though.)
Additional Comments: The Sinnerman mission exposes deep flaws in the game’s production that could have been smoothed out given more time. A janky, scripted car chase starts us off – vehicles appearing, disappearing, and steering into your vehicle at the last second. Your passenger eventually commands you to stop and the car automatically screeches to a halt, leaving us to bum rush a target that is protected by cops. After several attempts of opening fire and dying due to the infamous police bug, I found a quest branch despite there being no such telegraphed possibility. 30 minutes later, I find myself in an impossible situation that shoehorns me into several unpalatable options. One of the most controversial and poorly written quests, this one didn’t provide a path of “surprise violence” to ruin what I considered to be corpo greed involving a dilluted individual, of whom should have been made to experience feelings that ruined the purity of the BD. In my own act of defiance against Cyberpunk’s designers, I agreed to be the executioner and instead absconded with some tools. (The mission closed itself under false pretenses that I committed the act, meaning it responded incorrectly.)
What I Liked: You can move around during conversations! There is above-average pathfinding (something that gets criticized when it’s bad but never complimented). The map is tall, dense, and wide despite what critics say. The game is plenty big, which makes the lack of mini-games and entertaining distractions more apparent. Witcher 3’s brand of delayed, though important, story decisions gets accolade here and keeps you focused on the story instead of fishing for immediate gratification – same with missions, since they don’t foretell your quest rewards. There are hilarious, poignant, and memorable scenes scattered throughout, my favorite being interactions with Ozob the grenade face, Oprah-analogue having her pool filled with concrete, V’s courtship of different characters, shit sandwiches like what to do with the chrome pop idol’s manager, the boxing match against the twins with a single brain, and having heart-to-heart chats while sipping tea or riding shotgun on extended trips. I liked most everything about the hacking, combat, character progression, world, music, city aesthetics, car design, story, characters, and pacing.
BD Editing is a stellar mechanic and mission type.
Though over-hyped, Keanu is a great addition and Silverhand puts out an unpredictable Tyler Durden vibe that I enjoyed thoroughly. Just like with most movies, Keanu labors through certain lines that require him to express genuine emotion.
What I Disliked: Genitals do nothing. There is no flashlight. I wanted more repercussions and choices. I’m not a racing purist but it would have been nice to be able to see out the windshield of certain cars – even if I could adjust my “seat” height in an abstract sense. According to the map, racing opponents teleport behind you once every second. Mission NPCs would always demolish the hell out of my car upon leaving a driveway. The clothing mods and cop spawning situation are infuriating. I hate that the industry is in an age with “day 1 patches” and “alpha releases” that last for several years. Cyberpunk is great but it wasn’t complete. It’s hard to say if this is the reason why there are so few distractions and only one real minigame. (Like four different races and six boxing matches.) Character creation is severely underwhelming and it’s ridiculous that you can’t revamp after the fact.
It’s also quite disappointing that the arm mods obviously got a redesign from their original purpose: Monowire for remote hacking (now everything is just accessed through sight), Gorilla Arms for boosting strength (like when forcing doors), and Mantis Blades used for running across walls. This would have been so much cooler!
Glitches Experienced: All the glitches. And while CD Projekt Red likely resolves them by the time you read this, I want them to be held accountable for the game’s initial state. This one was so bad and misrepresented that they offered refunds to last-gen console players and watched helplessly as Sony ripped it from their online store. In fact, the performance has been so poor on the older consoles that I’m unaware that it will ever be tenable.
Here are just a few I experienced on a high-end PC: Hard crashes. Soft crashes. Fatal game loads and corrupted save files. Interactive items or ones near them go flying when approached. Absolutely broken or useless armor mods – no explanation of their lack of stacking or ineffectiveness. Non-cybernetic NPCs can have eyes with an inner glow. Crafting can result in story items you can’t dismantle or get rid of. The UI can be non-responsive and skip around unexpectedly. I called Rogue on my cell phone once and she manifested in my bedroom, legs crossed and hovering in midair. Individual NPCs will remain in a T-Pose upon game load about 2% of the time. You can climb certain edges and get stuck in the building geometry. I had a small amount of mip-maps that wouldn’t upscale and remained blurry. Summoning vehicles can lead to hilarious outcomes including, but not limited to: running you over, driving away while leisurely obeying traffic signals, spawning inside of unreachable locations, honking from a quarter mile away, or causing other vehicles to fly violently outwards in all directions! Twice, I was screwing around and landed a motorcycle on geometry I couldn’t exit. Once during a race, my car got nudged and was lodged atop a flatbed truck. I’ve had bodies stuck in the hood of my car, the floor, and random objects.
Finally, the most egregious of them all: the crime system is so utterly broken that if you mistake this for GTA and cap a civilian, even during frantic hostage situations, a squad of police will immediately spawn off-screen and exterminate you within seconds.
(If you happen to survive, travel two blocks in any direction and the “warrant” disappears.)
Hours I Played: 110; murderous hacker/crafter pistol assassin, Aldecaldo ending, Judy <3
My Personal Reaction: Various media and in-game messages in Cyberpunk 2077 consistently poke fun at industry tropes like delayed releases and overly-cynical criticisms against blurred vision and low-end textures. Casting this kind of shade against “NoLife 3” (a proxy for Half Life 3) could appear arrogant or misdirected if someone was looking for an outlet to lampoon this game’s own development hell and lukewarm reception due to technological performance anxiety, but I won’t stoop to that level.
Guys look, with zero gameplay footage I was already won over by 2013’s teaser with the slow motion assault against a cyberpsycho chick wielding lingerie and mantis blades. That mix of guns, sex, tech, and freedom is exactly what I was looking for and you can go ahead and consider each of those boxes checked off with extreme prejudice. Cyberpunk 2077 is a blistering ride through an alien dystopia that feels uncanny to the aforementioned trappings we hold near and dear. Taken to their logical extremes, the subjects and situations you roleplay through are a chilling reminder to experience life in moderation. In this playground though, it only makes sense to succumb to all vice and earn some Eddies on the side. Welcome to Night City – Under what conditions will your body be leaving?
Worth a 7 year wait? Yeah, I’d say so. Live down the hype? Pretty damn close.
Did CDPR sacrifice features to meet deadlines? Absolutely.
Is the game as good now as it will be in a year’s time? No sir.
Can I trust this developer? Maybe, just never preorder any game ever. Ever.
- Look into the game’s performance on your chosen console before purchasing!
- You can’t alter the character’s physical features in-game. Choose carefully.
- Research if your epilepsy or eye issues will be a problem. I don’t have any diagnosed optical problems and still felt that certain sequences were a bit much.
- Your graphics card will likely need the latest drivers to bypass several bugs.
- Set your expectations at a reasonable level. This is a great game with a bad launch.
Depth and Replayability: High Depth of skill progression, Medium Depth of story variance through choices, High Replayability for different decisions and playstyle experimentation
The game saves before the player commits to a dialogue-chosen ending mission. If you use it to see all endings without “earning” them, there is Low-to-Mid replayability. A secret, missable ending exists that is unlocked with specific answers in a previous conversation.
Suggested Value: $60 on PC after all major bugs are resolved and the free DLC drops
Where to Buy: GOG, Steam, PS Store (removed), MS Store, local gaming haunt
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