The lead-up and eventual release of CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 is probably one of the biggest rollercoasters I have ever witnessed in gaming. Due to a lot of speculation from fans, heavy marketing from CDPR, and CDPR’s stellar reputation as a developer due to the success of the Witcher games, people more or less assumed Cyberpunk was going to be the second coming of Jesus. Flashback to April of this year, where CDPR announced they were going to delay the game to September, and that was followed by another delay until December, and massive amount of Twitter rage from angry “gamers” was quite the sight to behold. CDPR would also come under fire once news leaked that its developers were put through massive crunch, and suddenly people began to come to terms with the possibility that Cyberpunk would not, in fact, be the second coming of Jesus. Realistically, no matter how good Cyberpunk turned out to be, it was never going to live up to the unbelievable amount of hype it has generated.
The game launched December 10th, and was frankly a shit show, though given the rumors and delays leading up to the game it did not come as a particularly huge surprise to me, and it highlights easily the biggest problem this game has, which is its technical performance. The game runs like ass on anything that isn’t the newest generation of hardware; I’m playing on a GTX 1070 with an i5–8600k (both over-clocked) and I can’t even break 60 frames per second on low/medium settings (albeit my frame rate is pretty consistent in the 50’s). That’s on PC, where the game supposedly runs the best; its performance on consoles, particularly last-generation consoles is more or less unplayable at the time of this review. There is actually controversy surrounding CDPR because they supposedly withheld review copies for the last-generation consoles due to how awfully they run, which is certainly a shady move. Then there are the bugs, which vary in each player’s experience. Fortunately for me I have yet to run into many any game-breaking bugs, but I have experienced countless visual bugs (random cars/NPC’s phasing in/out of existence, glitches in the UI, teleporting after vaulting through a window, just to name a few) that remind me of Bethesda RPG’s, games notorious for their bugs. From a technical perspective, Cyberpunk 2077 is absolutely not ready, and should not have been released in this form, and the fire CDPR is coming under (specifically their upper management/shareholders as I sympathize with the actual developers) for their lack of transparency/honesty is frankly deserved. CDPR pushed themselves into a corner with the deadlines they set, over-promised, and under-delivered.
So, let’s fast-forward a few weeks/months and pretend that the game’s myriad of technical issues are mostly resolved. How is the actual game? The actual game is pretty damn good, and the potential for a real masterpiece is absolutely there. It looks very impressive visually (supposedly even better if you have a graphics card that has Raytracing capabilities), and the soundtrack is a banger as well, and the core gameplay and content is no slouch either. All eyes are on CDPR and how they treat this game in the following weeks/months.
Gameplay-wise, Cyberpunk 2077 feels like somewhat of a blend of Grand Theft Auto and Deus Ex. Not like that comes as much of a shock; any sandboxy, open-world game with a focus on narrative and exploration gets compared to GTA, and the Deus Ex comparison practically makes itself considering both games are literally in the cyberpunk genre. I personally think most of Cyberpunk’s gameplay elements fall more in line with Deus Ex, as the “reactive, alive world” that people have come to expect of the GTA games is not really there, while its core gameplay and level design is more Deus Ex-like anyways. While Cyberpunk’s world is visually impressive and the NPC’s feel very active going about their lives, the general world AI is not very reactive to the player’s actions (outside of you trying to kill them), and this is best explained by how NPC’s react whenever I decide to park my car in the middle of the road. In a game like GTA, if I decide to park my car in the road like an asshole, the NPC’s might have some colorful remarks for me but they’ll generally just drive around the obstacle and move on with their lives, which is the expected behavior. Contrast that with Cyberpunk, where I can ditch my vehicle in the middle of the road to go complete some side quest, then come back to see a bunch of cars backed up behind my car, refusing to move until I get back in the car. This does not ruin the game in the grand scheme of things, but it is a huge immersion-breaker regarding the world, and it makes Cyberpunk’s world feel a lot less alive than it would initially seem to be.
How is the core gameplay? Considering the Deus Ex games are amazing and some of my favorite of all time, it is pretty good, with its scope considered. The combat mechanics are not exactly the greatest of any game I have played, though considering the game’s goal as an open-world, story-driven RPG it is serviceable, and better than any similar game that fills a comparable niche. The gunplay varies by weapon; the automatic weapons generally felt more on the clunky side of things, but I greatly enjoyed how most semi-auto’s felt, especially the handguns (I had an absolute blast destroying enemies with Johnny Silverhand’s pistol in particular with its wicked reload animation). The melee combat is pretty simple and straightforward, and not particularly smooth (best evidenced by the various boxing quests in the game, which I was not a fan of), but it is pretty fun as far as fighting normal enemies goes, especially once later upgrades/perks/cyberware are acquired. Chopping up Tyger Claw members with cybernetic arm blades is incredibly entertaining and I actually stopped bothering to shoot most of my enemies late in my play-through. The combat doesn’t just stop there; there are also stealth and hacking parts to factor in. The stealth system is pretty rudimentary, but it gives you another option to tackle your objectives instead of just going in guns-blazing all the time, and the level design is generally pretty good where you have a multitude of paths to take in order to reach your objective, and using stealth to sneakily thin out the enemy ranks will make eventual open firefights a lot easier too. Quickhacks are another element of the combat system, and through them you can perform a bunch of actions to help level the tides in your favor, from shutting off enemy cameras to make stealth easier to forcing your enemies’ weapons to malfunction, and even straight up deal damage. The shooting/melee mechanics, combined with stealth and quickhacking, all come together to form a pretty solid first-person experience that beats out a lot of other open-world RPG’s I have played.
The character progression is pretty decent too, and you have a lot of options as far as perk and attribute choices go. While a lot of the perks are simple numerical increases, there are a few perks that are more unique (a personal favorite is the perk that automatically disassembles junk items into crafting materials, as that greatly helps with inventory management). You can spec V (the protagonist) any way you want, whether you want V to be more of a gunslinger or a brawler, or even a techie who just quickhacks everyone to death. The attributes you have also play a role in dialogue and exploration, some dialogue options only become available if you have enough of a certain stat, and there are some barriers while exploring the world that can only be taken down if you pass a similar skill requirement.
Cyberpunk 2077’s quest design and overall writing are easily some of the best parts of the game; I enjoyed the main narrative and its main premise quite a bit. In the game you play as V, a mercenary of Night City who wishes to become larger than life and make his/her name known and remembered. That does not sound particularly original, but that’s not quite the main premise of the story, though I will not elaborate more due to spoilers. One big point of contention is Keanu Reeves’s character, Johnny Silverhand. While I won’t elaborate further on who he exactly is and what role he plays in the story, I will say that for the most part I think he’s excellent and that Keanu generally delivers a solid performance. I will acknowledge that there are sometimes where his voice acting might not feel up to par, but those are not particularly frequent considering how many lines he has. It’s also pretty funny to see Keanu play a role where most of the time he’s being a dickhead, which is not really a role you’d associate with him with all the wholesome memes flying around. While I did enjoy the main story, I would say Cyberpunk really shines in its side jobs. The side jobs (not gigs, which are the more RPG-like quests you’d see in other games that feel more generic, though even those are generally pretty fun) have a ton of variety, and some of the characters you meet through those jobs are very well-written. There was one side job where you interact with a convict who has found a new sense of purpose in life in the form of religion, and that questline ended up being truly disturbing; I was certainly not expecting its ending to play out the way it did.
The universe is also fantastically crafted, with a ton of lore and hidden details. The different social classes and relationships and a futuristic take on them. Night City is not a peaceful place, riddled with gang violence and mercenaries taking on wetwork through fixers, and even the way “entertainment” workers perform their services all give off a fairly grim atmosphere that can be well-hidden by the city’s bright colors. Outside of the city is basically a wasteland (they are literally called the Badlands in-game), which provides proof of the previous nuclear wars that predate the game’s timeline. This all comes together to create a brilliant world that feels futuristic, but also startlingly similar to our current urban environments which suggests that perhaps humanity didn’t change much as much as we would like it to.
My two big criticisms with the story lie with the theme of corporate power/exploitation and the overall implementation/influence of V’s life path. The characters in the game frequently bring up how the “corpos” are oppressive and are generally responsible for the decadent state of Night City (and the game does an excellent job of showing how tough life is for the common person), but that is generally only talked about at a surface level and not really explored thoroughly save in a few side jobs. It is also funny that the game tries to prop that up as a central theme considering the nature of the development behind Cyberpunk and how the upper management/shareholders treated the game and its hard-working developers, setting unrealistic deadlines and putting employees through hard crunches.
V’s life path is a choice you make at the beginning of the game, life path referring to his/her background; you can pick one of three choices. Deciding what V’s background is seems super cool in theory, and I was hoping for either a decent quest-line at the start of the game or a lot of varied gameplay experiences depending on what your choice was, but ultimately it did not do either. Depending on your choice, you go through a scene that lasts maybe 10–15 minutes, then you begin the game the same way as everyone else, and later on all your life path changes is some unique dialogue options in some conversations. It feels like a pretty big missed opportunity, and I was hoping there would be more to it, otherwise it feels fairly pointless.
On the tangent of dialogue, I will say I was pretty impressed with Cyberpunk 2077’s dialogue and overall voice acting. The dialogue options and the way your skills/background are incorporated into them is cool, and I am a big fan of the various timed dialogue options. There are many points in the game where you are given an option to respond, however you only have a limited time to choose an option, and if you fail to make a choice then the conversation continues on. What I love about this mechanic is that it also makes it feel like not saying anything can also be a perfectly valid option in a conversation. The voice acting is generally really good, and I liked male V’s capability of being both a badass and someone who is more thoughtful and emotionally attuned to his compatriots. Down the line I will likely replay the game as female V, since female V’s voice actress is really good (she voiced Rhea in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, one of my favorite games of 2019).
In its current state, Cyberpunk 2077 is a rough diamond. It is buggy, unpolished, and does not run well on anything that isn’t the latest generation hardware, and probably should have been delayed further if the executives weren’t greedy bastards who wanted to take advantage of the Christmas sale rush (and they paid the price, just look at CDPR’s stock price trends over the past few weeks). It is also supposedly missing some features that the developers have said they are working hard on adding later down the line. I have trouble recommending this game to anyone who does not have a current generation console or a high-end PC in its current state. That said, despite its rocky launch, I think the core of the game is excellent and I had an absolute blast playing through it despite all of its problems, so I am excited to see what a “fixed” Cyberpunk 2077 will look like.
Rating: Cyberpunk 2077 is really good, in my opinion masterpiece-good, and worth buying if you have a high-end gaming rig, but otherwise I would probably hold off on buying/playing it until a lot of its current technical issues get resolved.