Well, here it is. It’s time to enact my long-awaited promise. In my very first review I did for what would eventually become this site way back in 2015, I joked about how I would totally review Cyberpunk whenever it actually came out. Now 5 years later, it’s finally time to fulfill my destiny.
Cyberpunk feels like a weird genre for video games to tackle. Yes, how could it ever be disingenuous for an industry that takes advantage of unchecked capitalism to write stories about the dangers of unchecked capitalism? And while we’re on the subject, maybe you should realize CD Projekt, the irony of overworking your employees while they’re creating a game about how corporations rule everybody’s lives. It’s worth noting, video game executives, that this is supposed to be a warning, not a wish list. Of course, the albatross hanging over this game’s head was the absolutely insane amount of hype it garnered. Being in development for 8 years and being made by CDPR, fresh off Witcher 3, a game many (myself included) consider to be one of the best Western RPGs ever made, it’s needless to say The Bible 2 would have an easier time living up to fan’s expectations. And likely would be met with the same amount of vitriol upon release. So, after nearly a decade of anticipation, does Cyberpunk 2077 live up to the hype? Nooo, of course not. How could it?.. But it’s still a damn fine game though.
You play as V, a mercenary or mercanerette who, after a big heist goes wrong, you wake up in a landfill with prototype tech in your head that is overwriting your consciousness with that of a legendary terrorist named Johnny Silverhand and you must then race against the clock to fix it before you die. The real star of the show in Cyberpunk is Night City itself. The neon-drenched streets riddled with gang violence; cast in the shadow of mega corporations that have monopolized everything from human emotions to the literal afterlife, where dying a legend of the world’s seedy criminal underbelly might be a better fate than living in it. It’s hard to find a more immersive world than the one in Cyberpunk where even the descriptions of cars have in depth world building. Night City is one of the most beautifully detailed and ambitious open worlds in any game. While I wish there was a bit more interactivity, I’ve rarely been as immersed in a game as I was riding a motorcycle around the streets of the city on a rainy night while electronica or jazz music plays in the background. Speaking of the music, the soundtrack, both the licensed and original music is fantastic and really adds to the atmosphere of the game. Well, I say the game is immersive, but that is when you aren’t experiencing a janky visual glitch every time you look out your car’s window.
Yes, we might as well get this out of the way, the game is massively buggy with huge technical issues. Playing this on a base PS4 felt like I was continually tempting fate every time I didn’t save every 5 minutes, and the framerate tanks every time there’s more than 4 characters on screen… Or whenever the environments are particularly detailed… Or whenever a bird flaps its wings somewhere on planet earth. I’m not trying to diminish how annoying these issues are, or that people don’t have the right to be frustrated with the unfinished nature of the game, but I’m not going to spend too much time talking about them because those are things that can and likely will be fixed. And if you just want to see people getting unreasonably angry about stuff that we’ll all be having a jolly good laugh about in 2 months, there are plenty of dogshit videos on YouTube I can direct you to.
The core gameplay of Cyberpunk may not be anything super unique or special, but it is consistently engaging. You can choose to put level up points into hacking, strength, guns and blades, stealth, and crafting. There are tons of different ways to play the game, although it feels more or less like you are generally just good at everything by the end. The gunplay, while not particularly special, has a satisfying enough weight to it with good animations and playstyle variety to feel nice, and adding in cyber-augmentations and hacking plus stealth opens up tons of fun options in combat. Levels are open ended and allow you to choose how to tackle each area, while also rewarding exploration and experimentation. It’s very Deus Ex in nature and that’s the aspect I enjoy the most.
The facet of the gameplay I don’t particularly enjoy is the loot system. It tries to have some light looter-shooter elements but these don’t come off well when there isn’t a big enough variety of weapons, so it ends up being an annoying game of constantly getting the same handful of guns and checking to see if you have the most optimal version equipped. The same applies to the armor system. In games like this, you want to have your character look cool, but Cyberpunk’s loot system makes it so you have to decide between looking like you want to and wearing Daisy Dukes and a pair of broken gas station sunglasses you found in a dumpster behind a pizza shop that actually have usable stats. My kingdom for a transmogrification system.
But I’ll be honest, while the gameplay is solid, it’s the story and world building that I play CDPR games for. And this area of the game is superb. Admittedly, it does start slow and I had a terrible first impression of the title because the prologue is both choppy and unrepresentative of what the rest of the game is like. They made a huge deal about choosing your character’s life path, which was supposed to determine your entire backstory, but this obviously got truncated at some point in development, because I don’t think it really matters outside of a few unique dialog options. And no matter what you pick, the game just dumps you on your ass at the beginning and says “Fuck you, you’re poor now.” In fact, the entire game feels a bit like the final product we’re seeing was reworked and shortened several times within just the last few years, especially the main campaign which is a bit lacking in meat compared to most RPGs. Not that I’m particularly complaining because getting to finish a game in under 50 hours now seems like a goddamn blessing, but even then, the story we ended up getting is fantastic.
The characters make the world of Night City come to life. Panam, Evelyn, Misty, Vik, Takemura, Judy, Jackie and even smaller side characters are all well written and voice acted. They give the game so much personality. And then there’s of course Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Silverhand which might be the highlight of them all. Only V can see and interact with him, and he is a perfect corporate hating, distrustful, anarchic-punk devil on your shoulder throughout the game’s story. The only part of the narrative I find a bit disappointing is V as a character. You make your own custom character, but it’s still fully voiced, and this ends up having the same effect it had in Fallout 4. V is simultaneously too much of a blank slate and not enough of one. In Witcher 3, your dialog choices mattered, but Geralt was still more or less the same character throughout. I don’t feel like I was able to craft my own character’s personality like in something such as Outer Worlds or The Elder Scrolls, even given that putting points into different stats gives you unique dialog options, which seems odd for a game that has such in depth character customization that you even get to choose your character’s dick size. Much like Witcher 3, there are also a wealth of fantastically written side quests. While most of the side stuff ends up being one-offs or repetitive “kill all the enemies in this area” type content, the side quests with named characters end up being fantastic, even if the pass/fail nature of a lot of them ends up becoming an annoyance.
Cyberpunk 2077 is more than a bit rough around the edges, but if you can look past that, you’ll find a diamond of fantastic story and solid gameplay. It never quite hits the highs of Witcher 3 and while it might not be the groundbreaking masterpiece people expected of it, Cyberpunk is still a fantastic RPG that many people will be able to enjoy, and is a great jumping off point for a game that will no doubt continue to get better.