Platform: Xbox Series S
Available On: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Playstation 5
Genre: Role-Playing (RPG)
Developer/Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Release Date: December 10th, 2020
Cyberpunk 2077 has sent no small amount of shockwaves throughout the industry since its release. With no shortage of controversy including this recent apology video, straight from Co-founder of CD Projekt Red Marcin Iwinski, feels quite emblematic of the impact Cyberpunk has clearly had on the gaming community.
To review this title and not speak of the myriad of issues and controversy surrounding it would be to ignore the very reason this game has incited so much heated debate. There’s a reason CDPR is facing down the barrel of class action lawsuits and governmental fines. Reasons that, hopefully, will become abundantly clear as we dive right into the nuts and bolts of CDPR’s latest offering.
Note: In the interest of transparency what is discussed in this review was an experience had before the most recent 1.11 hotfix. While some issues may be fixed, there are more still outstanding.
The Pen ‘n Paper Stuff
Despite all the above, there is still a game here to talk about and it wouldn’t be an RPG if we didn’t have a bevy of underlying systems at play. On startup, you are asked to choose a ‘life path’. These are three starter options for building your character’s background off, in the form of Nomad, Corpo, and Street kid. The choice you make here will impact how certain characters respond to you and give you some additional lines of dialogue that the other paths do not have. However, there is no real impact on the broad-strokes of the main story, just slightly different coloring.
After this, it is time to create your V, as players are greeted with a few customizable options for their character. These are based on some ready-made presets, no sliders here to tinker with, and nothing much to speak of since you spend most of your time in First-Person. Only seeing V in key story moments, photo mode, or driving in Third-Person. It also felt a little redundant as the cosmetics and gear you can find throughout the game end up covering V in the equivalent of clown makeup. There is also, bafflingly, no option to customize after this, like with a new haircut or anything. So if you randomly decided to give your character shoulder-length hair, highlights, and chrome teeth (as I believed Corpo types would look in 2077) prepare to be stuck with it for a minimum of 50 hours.
Then, of course, there are stats, ripped straight from the Pen and Paper realm it bore its name from. Body, Intelligence, Reflexes, Technical, and Cool all dictated by your chosen class will affect moment-to-moment gameplay in different ways and can be upgraded through leveling or visiting ‘ripper docs’ to augment V. Providing all manner of death-dealing upgrades like gorilla arms, wrist blades or mini rockets.
Getting Down to Biz
Speaking of the moment-to-moment, Cyberpunk 2077 offers a range of activities, ‘side jobs’ and ‘gigs’ to show off your lovely cyber-ware and honestly it’s a mixed bag. Outside of the main story, the majority of your time is spent running around doing odd jobs for the most random assortment of people ever. I know you're supposed to be a mercenary-for-hire but is it really that easy to get someone’s number?
Some of these, from a story perspective, are interesting. Like the side job involving sentient Taxi service Delamain cabs. These sets of missions take you all over the city and I found the existential crisis an AI was having and asking you help with fascinating. Another is a series of races with a character you meet on the campaign trail. Her mission of vengeance and the Mad Max-like setup of the races should have felt exhilarating. But the gameplay that sets up the narrative structure falls apart at the seams.
Driving is woefully undercooked and each vehicle's handling ranges from poor to very poor. This makes the aforementioned racing sections a chore. Yet it also doesn’t seem to matter how badly you drive since cars kinda just… wait for you to catch up sometimes? These sections feel more like an afterthought than baked into the experience. This is amazing when you think about just how much driving and traversal you have to do around Night City, where fast traveling eventually became my chosen mode of travel.
Beat on the Brats of Night City
Similarly, combat itself can suffer greatly depending on your chosen upgrade path. Now, I understand that the premise of most any RPG is to focus on the stuff that appeals the most to you and go for it. With that in mind, however, standard encounters should at least feel more like a tough but fair fight than sluggish and drawn out. For example, I chose to focus my street cred (skill points) and upgrade points (stat level) to be a smooth-talking, tech-savvy, and stealthy boy. After all, why get in a fight when you can hack someone’s cyber-ware and fry their eye sockets from the inside out?
Those moments were always satisfying. Sweeping through an entire compound without ever unholstering a weapon and hacking my way to victory. But when missions required combat to take place, like in pivotal story moments, the cracks would show once again. The enemy AI is bare bones so shootouts have this strange whack-a-mole aspect that boils down to not-so-subtle flanking or just letting them run towards my shotgun. It is also very easy to break the line of sight and cheese your way out of battle if you want. There’s rarely a feeling of imminent danger in any given situation, it doesn’t matter.
So, It starts to sink in after a few hours that on every level, something is very unwell in the future and it has nothing to do with the dystopia-laden trappings, mega-commercialism, or hyper-sexualization of a downtrodden society.
Night City Runners
There is no denying that Night City itself is a wonderfully designed and sprawling megalopolis. The depth and verticality are sometimes staggering to behold and at the beginning of this journey, I frequently paused to take in the sights and sounds of the city. Despite the vehicles handling like wet cement, I enjoyed making my way through the winding streets and viewing all the different districts and getting out on foot to walk among the many markets and stalls peppered throughout the world.
However, much like the rest of the game, my experience was often a case of diminishing returns as, upon closer inspection, more cracks. There is a facade happening here and while you can argue that is the case with every game, I believe it is much more egregious when it is broken just by wanting to experience more of the immersive RPG that CDPR clearly wants to make.
The hustle and bustle of the city are usually just that. NPC characters don’t appear to have any of the daily routines that we saw in The Witcher 3, which worked to breathe life into the wartorn villages and farms of Velen. In Night City, NPC’s just kinda... mill about. Traffic AI, in particular, is notably vacant. Cars will stop and get stuck in the middle of the road, sometimes for no reason at all. To test this I would double park my motorcycle (apparently V is the only person in Night City with a license to drive one) where any other car could get passed but instead, the lead vehicle would just stop, beep continuously and cause a massive traffic jam until the AI reset their path after you left or you turned away for a few seconds.
There is a vacant-like ‘quality’ to the world that immediately falls apart after any kind of scrutinization on the player’s part.
Firmware Upgrades Wanted
It’s also broken.
That much should be clear to most people but it is something that, unfortunately, immediately jumps out at the player. It permeates through almost every facet of this game. From texture pop-in at short draw distances, artifact-ing around buildings, characters T-posing out of existence, lip-sync issues, or no audio at all, this game (as of this writing) is a mess on consoles.
You may have noticed the strike-through of both PlayStation consoles in the list of platforms above. That is because Sony decided to remove the game from its online store indefinitely, or until such a time as CD Projekt Red has put in the work to make the game playable. This feels like a product not ready for release and Sony’s decision to remove the game from its listings is an unprecedented, yet ultimately fair move. Which is far more consumer-friendly than is a harsh penalty to levy against a game that set record sales in 2020 despite the controversy.
There’s a moment (warning: light spoilers ahead) toward the end of the game, where you are walking alongside a character who is in the middle of heavy exposition. Halfway through their ramblings, the character folded in on themselves and blinked out of existence. I had to find them to continue on, all while their dialogue kept playing. I kinda just sat with that moment for a few seconds, laughed, shrugged unsurprisingly, and moved on. Not something you would expect to feel after 50 plus hours of storytelling near the climax of the game.
So, What’s the Verdict?
It is emblematic of the entire lineage of this game that even in its final moments there is a level of polish that is simply missing. For every moment you turn a corner in Night City and get a glimpse of the attention to detail, writing, and world-building that CD Projekt Red built their names on, there is a surplus of inane bugs, glitches, and feeling that Cyberpunk 2077 needed a lot more time in the oven.
During Iwinski’s apology, he asks that we do not put blame on his development team and instead takes the blame as ‘upper management’. That would feel genuine if not for minutes later when he claims that no one saw ANY of the issues players experienced. This is the lie inherent in the title. Every time you think you’ve seen all Night City has to offer, your game crashes, save corrupts or car spawns into existence in front of you.
You’ve seen throughout this review examples of this and that I can tell you is only a small sampling of what I experienced. I don’t think it was unreasonable to expect the same level of quality that The Witcher 3 gave us, no one should be faulted for thinking as much. However, it becomes clear that on a high level, that goodwill was taken advantage of, and now, even if the team who are working hard to rectify this manage to do so, it will not be remembered for what it achieved but for how not ready it really was.
Play This Game If…
Your morbid curiosity gets the better of you
You own a PC, the most stable version of the game
You seriously don’t own a console
All images are taken from the Cyberpunk 2077 press kit here
Gif is recorded gameplay by the author and uploaded here
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