Cyberpunk 2077. It’s hard to miss, what with the extreme levels of hype around the new game from CD Projekt Red. But since I wrote this review, Sony has pulled Cyberpunk from the online store, due to the issues on PS4 playthroughs. I’m still posting this review, because I’m playing on a next gen console, but also, my opinion of the game hasn’t changed.
Cyberpunk 2077 tells the story of V, a merc-for-hire in gritty Night City. This kind of gun for hire storytelling isn’t unfamiliar to those of you who are coming to Cyberpunk off the back of The Witcher III, and it provides a neat hanger for all your ongoing quests. Fixers and cops around the city will offer you jobs, from retrieving stolen goods to taking out organised crime rackets, and the more of these you do, the more jobs will open up for you.
Of course, these jobs are bound to go wrong, and it’s in one of these ‘big time’ heists that the plot really gets going. Heists never go smoothly, and V is thrust into a world of corporate technological intrigue. While the story takes time to really drag you in, I recommend giving it a couple of hours, as a chance encounter with Keanu Reeves’ character creates real motivation for V’s story.
Cyberpunk 2077 is an R rated game in Australia, and it’s not for sensitive souls. There’s nudity that borders on the pornographic, and even if you turn nudity off, it’s not going to remove the oversexualised nature of Night City. Having said that, some of the most interesting plotlines in the game come from assisting the Mox, the unionised sex workers of Night City. But I think it’s important to know what sort of game you’re getting into – it’s intense, violent, and highly sexualised – and if that’s not your thing, that’s fine.
For those who were expecting Blade Runner, the video game, you’ll be disappointed to find that Cyberpunk 2077 draws more heavily from the grittier late 80s and 90s cyberpunk – Robocop, Total Recall, Demolition Man – but particularly Kathryn Bigelow’s underrated science fiction film, Strange Days. Both Cyberpunk 2077 and Strange Days share similar technologies and plotlines. Both exist in a world where pleasure is projected on individual devices, so that people can experience psychological stimulation firsthand. With Cyberpunk, it’s the Body Dances, or BDs for short. These are memory captures that become increasingly significant through the game, providing investigators with clues through analysis.
The noir of Cyberpunk is less that of Blade Runner’s film noir tribute, and more that of James Ellroy’s Los Angeles – dark, dirty, and full of secrets. With Night City’s corrupt cops, murdered sex workers, chop shops, and car thefts, the game is a science fiction Grand Theft Auto. And it’s in these dark plots where the game gets interesting, although it will take you a few hours of play to get there.
I’m not the first critic to raise the distinct feeling of nostalgic cyberpunk, but I’d argue that the nostalgia is very intentional. It’s not an accidental by-product of development based on a certain era of tropes. However, it seems easy to rely on pre-existing cyberpunk material to create a game of the same genre. And in its dedication to the stalwarts of the genre, Cyberpunk 2077 risks veering into satire – sometimes this future feels most like the one where Biff Tannen got his hands on the almanac.
The technology in Cyberpunk feels both futuristic and redundant. Despite the ability to overhaul your body with technological implants, V still pulls a long cord from her hand to connect to devices. In the age of wi-fi and wireless charging, it’s superfluous to ‘jack in’ to computer systems. Likewise, the device for viewing BDs is notoriously quaint. I would have liked to see Cyberpunk 2077 push the envelope of contemporary technology, rather than rely on pre-established tropes from the 80s and 90s.
Cyberpunk as a genre has been around for a long time. There’s a good piece over on Wired about how a lot of technological fears in cyberpunk have come out of the ‘Yellow Peril’ – fear of Japan and Asia taking over Western (read American) technological development. Apart from this, there are plenty of nods in Cyberpunk to the giants of this literary genre – William Gibson and Philip K. Dick – to satisfy science fiction fans.
While Cyberpunk 2077 might reference a lot of Verhoeven films, unfortunately there are enough bugs in the PS5 release to audition for Starship Troopers. In the first 48 hours of gameplay, I had six game-stopping bugs. While there’s been a major patch since then, I’ve still had problems where I’m not tracking people in combat, or moving locations as I’ve been walking along, minding my own business. It feels like it was released too early, and I’ll also say to anyone considering buying the game, to wait a few weeks until the game is more stable. Also, if you’re playing on the PS5, I’d highly recommend waiting until the PS5 release – the graphics aren’t as great as they could be. Which leads me to…
Graphics and environment design
I’m playing the PS4 release on the PS5, which means the graphics aren’t as good as a dedicated 4K PS5 game. And it’s evident on the big screen – the rendering seems a little odd at times, pixilated at others, and downright unfinished at times, particularly when people are standing in front of opaque glass objects. I will be really keen to compare when the PS5 version comes out next year.
Having said that, it’s no surprise Night City comes alive at night. During the day, it’s a trash heap of epic proportions – literally and metaphorically. At night, the high contrast, neon lighting illuminates exactly what you’ve come to Cyberpunk for – aesthetics.
You can spend a lot of time in the photo modes, getting just the right shot. But on the PS5 it feels a little clunky compared to photo mode in other games.
And because the environment is so mazelike, without visible landmarks, you’ll rely on the map directions more often than not. This is helpful in some ways, but in others, it discourages exploration and discoverability – you’d rather just get to the place you need to go.
At the start of the game you’ll choose from three life paths – nomad, corporate, and street kid. All three have different starting stories and opening points, and different dialogue options. I’m playing through on street kid, but part of me wants to go full corpo and swear allegiance to the Arasaka corporation for a completely different experience.
One of the significant aspects of Cyberpunk 2077 is the flexibility of its gameplay. Wanna go full out run and gun? It’s got you. Wanna explore and find stuff without fighting? You can search out graffiti through the city. Wanna stealth your way through factories taking out one crime lord at a time? We got that too.
The gameplay really opens up once you develop your quickhacking and breach protocol skills, which allow you to sabotage technology from a distance. And in Night City, just about everyone and everything is jacked into the matrix. Stealth is encouraged, but challenging even in normal mode, and can quickly devolve into an all-out brawl if you’re not careful.
While you can play with a variety of weapons, including the much-mentioned katanas, I’m finding I prefer to play with a mix of netrunning skills (tech hacks), sniper rifles, and pistols. It’s worth picking a specialty and levelling up accordingly – whether that’s as a tank, tech, or stealth focussed. You’ll be able to play missions differently depending on your skill levels, such as forcing open doors with strength or technological skills. Likewise, different dialogue options open up with skills, street cred, and your origin story.
It’s hard to tell how the choice system will affect game outcomes so early in; it feels that the urgent choices are significant within the parameters of the quest itself, but not necessarily the story as a whole. I’m ready to be proven wrong. Your combat approach will certainly affect the outcomes of some quests, so choose wisely. It’s always best to scope out a situation before rushing in, guns blazing.
Frankly, one of the coolest parts of Cyberpunk 2077 is running riot through the city on your motorbike while dressed in a leopard print bra, toting a hot pink pistol, and taking out bad guys. At least, cyberpunk is true to its neon 80s roots.
Despite the bugs, Cyberpunk 2077 is a cool game with an intriguing plotline. And while it’s a red-hot mess at times, it matches the hectic chaos of Night City itself.