I’m late to the party. But, in the spirit of CD Projekt Red (CDPR), I had to delay this review for a couple of weeks. What is there to be said about Cyberpunk 2077 that hasn’t already been said? The game was groundbreaking in a lot ways, and not many of them positive. Cyberpunk 2077 set a new precedent when Sony pulled it from the Playstation store and began offering refunds. And, as of this morning, a class action lawsuit has been filed by investors against CDPR for the poorly timed release of the game. Oddly enough, the game is actually fairly good at times, even occasionally great, but this wave of justified backlash is in response to what should be viewed as one of the most poorly polished AAA releases that the gaming community has seen in recent memory.
I’m inclined to believe that the launch was so poorly released that the pendulum has actually swung the other way. Fans are coming out in droves to defend the game. It seems that most of these positive reviews center around the story. The defenders have lauded the narrative to the point of overlooking the technical issues plaguing the game’s launch. The basic premise of Cyberpunk 2077 is simple. You start the game as “V.” You pick from one of three life paths: Corpo, Nomad, or Street Kid, and you’re dumped into a bleak, futuristic world. This life choice doesn’t feel very impactful, but acts more as a choice for the starting location of your character, and dictates small ways in which NPCs will interact with you. Ultimately, you will visit the other starting locations that you didn’t choose and play through the story there anyways. V’s programming inevitably becomes integrated with a chip containing Johnny Silverhand (Keanu Reeves), a cyber terrorist who once tried to take down a massive corporation, and the story really kicks off.
Call me cynical, but I’m not buying the endorsement of this story as groundbreakingly original. To me, it feels a little derivative of one of the most famous roleplaying games ever made, Final Fantasy 7. The main protagonist struggles with identity while battling a exploitative, evil company. Sound familiar? Along the way, you explore the dystopian though distinctly technologically stunted future. Cyberpunk 2077 presents that all too familiar, Blade Runner-esque vision of the future that feels vaguely 1980s. Seriously, why does every car driving around look like a Lamborghini Countach or a Honda Prelude? I digress. The story isn’t terrible, and in some ways it is original, but it’s certainly not the gold standard of roleplaying game story-telling that defenders like to prop it up as. Personally, I enjoyed the Nomad storyline best. It takes place out of Night City in a sort of Mad Max setting. But even that story draws heavily from Final Fantasy 7, culminating with the bombing of a distinctly Shinra-looking power station.
A real defense of Cyberpunk 2077 should start with its main city, Night City. It is truly breathtaking at times. It feels simultaneously like Tokyo and Los Angeles. At its core, it’s every major city in the world melted together into one in the best way possible. The walls are plastered with gigantic neon signs and eccentric advertisements. The buildings are complex and quirky (as if they have slowly developed over time). It’s dirty, gritty, and dark. On a purely aesthetic level, Night City looks absolutely lived in. I could spend hours driving the streets and exploring its forgotten alleyways.
The issues begin when you look a little deeper. For me, the inhabitants of Night City are one of the biggest flaws in the game. They feel totally lifeless. You can stand in front of a car, for instance, and the driver will never make an effort to go around you. You could wait there in perpetuum just staring at one another. I just jumped back into the game to check, and you can take out a gun and shoot at their windshield and they don’t react in any meaningful way. Even as you run down the street, bumping into people, they just sort of shrug it off every single time. They never turn to fight you or give you a piece of their mind. It really starts to grate on you when you notice that the AI inhabitants of Night City follows a specific routine. It was not at all uncommon for me to see the exact same cars following a loop while I left my apartment.
That’s not even where the real mess of Cyberpunk 2077 begins. The world feels absurdly unfinished. At release, you commonly could see cars driving through objects and barricades. You would often encounter multiple of the same character walking the street, frequently side-by-side (apparently Night City has an absurdly high occurrence of identical twins). If you get in a fist fight with a random passerby, everyone will duck as though in a bank robbery. I even found traffic at a complete gridlock with no discernible reason; everyone had simply just stopped driving. Even when you commit a crime, you had better believe that a cop will spawn out of thin air. Seriously, go give it a try. Look around yourself in a full 360 degree view, and then commit a crime. You can literally watch them appear like the Ghost of Christmas Past.
It’s jarring. My experience in Cyberpunk 2077 was a constant tug-of-war of immersion. At times, I would find myself lost in the majesty of the design of Night City, and then I’d be completely pulled out by some ridiculous AI behaviour or lack thereof. If these issues were infrequent or easily ignored, that would be one thing, but it’s nearly impossible not to take notice of the issues. The terrible, unfinished nature of Cyberpunk 2077 followed me through my entire playthrough. In the final cutscene, my character was inexplicably naked. The culmination of all my hours of play ruined by seeing the protagonist going full monty.
I’ve got to address one more aspect before I stop beating up on Cyberpunk 2077: the combat system. The combat system is relatively standard. You are presented with a skill tree where you can specialize your character. You can choose from Body, Intelligence, Reflexes, Cool, and Technical Ability. Within these attributes, you have a perk tree. For instance, within Cool, you have Stealth and Cold Blood perk trees. Investing attributes will broadly develop your character, and choosing perks within these attributes will have more niche effects. The problem is that the bonuses awarded from attributes and perks are simply overpowered.
I chose to develop Body and Reflexes and then went down the Blades tree within Reflexes. This left me with an ample amount of health and a ridiculous amount of damage. As I was nearing endgame, there wasn’t an enemy I couldn’t one shot. Even the bosses melted in a matter of seconds. To make matters worse, I never once consulted a guide to craft this build, I just flippantly put points wherever seemed acceptable. If you were to attempt to truly min/max your build, I’m sure you could cruise through the game even easier than I did. The entire main story took me less than 16 hours even including game crashes, glitches, and the like.
Cyberpunk 2077 was doomed to fail. It’s not an unplayably bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it could never live up to the hype that surrounded its release. Don’t get me wrong, you could play Cyberpunk 2077 and have an absolute blast, but it’s more likely that you won’t. I could almost feel the game constantly oscillating between an incredible experience and shockingly bad. The hard truth is that CDPR should have delayed the release even further. Sure, people grew tired of waiting, but the product we received on launch was an insult. It’s not that the glitches and bugs are impossible to ignore; you just shouldn’t have to. As it stands, Cyberpunk 2077 still has ridiculous potential, but CDPR has a lot of work to do to get there.