Weekend Whammy

Weekend Whammy: CDPR’s Fall From Grace & Tenet Kind of Sucks

Cyberpunk 2077 finally launching should have been one of the beacons of hope in 2020, a moment where we could all rejoice at this epic RPG making it to shelves. Instead it seems 2020 has continue to poop on us all. Cyberpunk 2077 is a mess from top to bottom, and while the general consensus seems to be that the actual core game is excellent, it’s buried under so much digital shit that even a pig would look at it and thing, “Nah, I’m not gonna be happy in that much shit.” Even on PC it’s a cavalcade of bugs and glitches, some hilarious and some completely game-breaking. But on console, it’s so much worse, and people playing on the based Xbox One and PS4s are getting the worst of it. Keep in mind that Sony estimates only 20% of their 110-million PS4 users are playing on a Pro. Terrible framerates, crashes, textures not loading in, a raft of bugs and so much more are ruining people’s experiences.

CD Projekt RED issued a statement addressing the abysmally state of their game, saying “We would like to start by apologising to you for not showing the game on base last-gen consoles before it premiered and, in consequence, not allowing you to make a more informed decision about your purchase. We should have paid more attention to making it play better on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.”

“We should have paid more attention to making it play better on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.” What does that even mean? The game has been in development for years on those consoles, so surely by default you should have been paying attention to them. That’s what the numerous delays this year were supposedly about. And considering that Cyberpunk 2077 has been in development for at least five years the excuse that it’s meant to be a “next-gen” game being bandied about by people doesn’t hold up. This is a game developed mostly on the PC, PS4 and Xbox One, whose initial release date was well before the new hardware even launched.

I’d like to point out that CDPR themselves stated the game would launch when it was ready. Despite that, they kept announcing release dates and failing to meet those before ultimately launching Cyberpunk 2077 when it was far from being ready.

As for their decision to avoid showing the game on anything but PC, even going so far as to only provide PC review code to very select outlets, an apology at this point means nothing. It’s a tricky situation because obviously as a developer you only ever want to show your game in the best possible light. Furthermore, code being provided on a single platform isn’t actually all that unusual. It varies from game to game: sometimes I’ll be offered code on a platform of my choice, sometimes I’ll be told that PS4 code is coming in but won’t be available for another week but PC and Xbox codes are available now. And other times, the company just offers up one platform. That’s why I always list exactly what I reviewed the game on, but maybe I should be more detailed about what code was offered prior to launch.

CDPR also didn’t hand out codes until a week prior to release, which is awkward with a game of Cyberpunk’s size. Again, this isn’t wholly unusual, at least in my experience. As the owner of a small site, I’m low on the priority list so review code often doesn’t turn up until a few days before launch or even on the day. However, some companies are happy to put out code well before launch so that everyone has a chance to really delve into the game. Hell, despite performance problems with the game, review code for Control came in a few weeks before launch, so I had loads of time to play through it.

In the case of Cyberpunk 2077, though, learning that review code was limited to one platform and that it wasn’t available to the big outlets until a week before launch was…odd. The combination of those two things certainly raised some red flags in my mind, especially because a confident company is typically much happier giving everyone early access with an early review embargo so that they can bask in those glowing reviews.

I should point out that I didn’t get review code. I put in a request and was told that if I didn’t hear back by launch I wasn’t getting any. Again, nothing odd there. Companies aren’t obligated to provide review code and as a small site I always have a much lower chance of getting any. Although going back to that earlier point, really confident companies are usually happy to hand out loads of codes, even to the small-time players like myself.

Another small thing to consider from the reviewer perspective is that we typically don’t know what code is going to be available. Requests are often put in months ahead of time through forms, and those forms will typically list all the platforms the game is on and ask which is your preference. However, once it comes time to allocate codes you might find that your preferred platform isn’t going to be getting any codes, which is a tad annoying. Most times, though, you can drop the company a line and say, “hey, can I get X platform instead.” In the case of Cyberpunk 2077 I put my request in for PS4 code and nobody ever even told me that wasn’t an option.

Anyway, the point is CDPR are absolutely within their rights to limit the code they put out, but on the other hand CDPR would have obviously known just how bad a shape Cyberpunk 2077 was in on console and they clearly chose to hide that fact. They garnered nearly 8-million pre-orders, enough to recoup the game’s development costs, all while knowing that Cyberpunk 2077 was in no fit state to be launched. An apology is meaningless because their intent to hide that fact wasn’t an accident, it was deliberate.

In their apology statement they’ve also offered refunds to people, except its not quite that simple. Basically, what they’d done is encourage people to request refunds via Microsoft, Sony and Steam, or through the store you bought the game in. The issue here is that both Microsoft and Sony have extremely strict refund policies on digital titles that amount to, “No.” By default, they clearly state they don’t offer refunds except in certain circumstances which they never clearly define. CD Projekt Red themselves say that if you can’t get a refund, contact them and they’ll attempt to “help” get you one. It leaves people in an awkward position where they have to argue their case against companies who have already stated that they typically don’t hand out refunds. Loads of people are already reporting being denied refunds, especially by Sony who are notoriously strict. And I doubt CDPR themselves will be able to handle all the requests they’ll get.

Also worth noting is that CDPR are only offering to help out on refunds until December 21st, so if you bought the game as a Christmas present for someone you’re pretty much screwed.

I think the part of the statement that CDPR released that annoys the fuck out of me the most, though, is this: “Finally, we would always like everyone who buys our games to be satisfied with their purchase. We would appreciate it if you would give us a chance, but if you are not pleased with the game on your console and don’t want to wait for updates, you can opt to refund your copy.” I’m quite sure that 8-million people already gave you a chance, even after three delays. Really, it just reads to me as, “We have your money and we’d rather keep it until we may or may not manage to fix the game several months after its launch.”

Personally, unless you’ve been lucky and your version is running well, I’d return it. Get your money back if you can and wait. At least by the time things are patched up you should be able to buy the game cheaper.

It’s unfortunate. CDPR had one of the best reputations in the industry, riding high on the success of The Witcher 3, a game that was messy when it initially launched as well. But the Witcher 3 wasn’t in a state quite this poor, and at the time CDPR still had the benefit of being viewed as a scrappy little company with big dreams. Now, though, they’re a huge company with over 800 employees, a crazy budget and massive income. Like it or not, they are a triple-A studio and must be held to the same standards as others.

I wonder if CDPR simply weren’t ready. The story of Cyberpunk’s long development seems to be one of bad management from start to finish. Perhaps it’s just a case of CDPR biting off more than they could chew, especially without an outside publisher helping keep the project on track.

Then there’s the question of pressure. Having already delayed the game three times this year, were CDPR feeling under pressure financially to push the game out? Were they worried another delay would result in lost pre-orders, a drop in their stock value and potential investor backlash?

The good news is that CDPR worked hard to get The Witcher 3 fixed up, so hopefully we can expect the same with Cyberpunk 2077. According to CD Projekt Red they’ll be launching two major updates in January and February that may help get the game up to spec. Of course, that’s a long way from now for anyone already playing the game. I’ll be firing up the game on PS5 so that I can eventually review it, but for now it would seem prudent to hold off getting the game until at least some of the problems are sorted out. There’s certainly something special underneath all the bugs, crashes and problems, at least according to reviews and people playing it.

I guess the thing is, it’s always a shame to see a company like CD Projekt Red crash and burn. We probably shouldn’t have held them up as a paragon of the gaming industry, a shining example of how it should be done. That’s a lot of expectation to be put on their shoulders. But it was hard not to when they offered up their sincere thanks in The Witcher 3, gave people free content and launched two excellent expansions during a time rife with microtransactions. You were the Chosen One. It was said you would destroy the triple-A companies, not join them! You were supposed to bring balance to the industry, not leave it in darkness!

Anyway, I’ve not started Cyberpunk 2077 because I’ve been thoroughly absorbed in Immortals: Fenyx Rising, the best Ubisoft game that’s come out in years. That’s weird because on paper it’s basically just another Ubisoft game: big open world, oodles of things to do etc. But in reality it’s an absurdly charming game with a lush, fascinating world that’s filled with cool puzzles to discover. Games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla rely on their mini-map for exploration, but in Immortals you can constantly see cool places to explore, making finding new armor and upgrades a more organic and interesting experience. You finish up a puzzle or a challenge, look around and almost immediately spot something else on the horizon.I’ve spent about ten hours with Immortals: Fenyx Rising so far, and while I worry the basic combat might drag the game down as time goes on, my overwhelming impressions are very positive. And compared to Valhalla, Immortals is polished to a shine. I don’t think I’ve ran into a single bug yet.

I’ve been playing Fenyx Rising on the PS5 and my thoughts on the console haven’t changed much since my review, except to say that the system as a whole seems a little more stable. I’ve not had a crash in a while, for example. Although I did encounter that annoying thing where my console decided to download both the PS4 and PS5 version of the game without bothering to ask me and then I couldn’t figure out which damn version it was updating.

And aside from Bugsnax I also wrapped up Astro’s Playroom, which turned out be such an excellent little adventure. Sure, without all the content aimed specifically at demoing to the Dualsense controller it’s nothing special, but it’s still a solid, charming platformer that I was happy to spend a few hours with. But as a tech demo…..GAWWWWD DAMN, BOI! I genuinely had a little moment to myself when Astro popped open his umbrella and I could feel the raindrops hitting the controller, and hear their metallic ting as each drop landed on Astro eminating from the Dualsense’s speaker. It just hit me for a few seconds as I thought, “Oh my God, I can feel that. That’s so cool!”

My final game-related topic is how I don’t think I’m going to review Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. I bought the game, played a load and then reported that I’ve hit a bug that’s literally stopping me from finishing the game. That’s left me in the position of being unsure as to whether I should even review it. Is there any point when I can’t finish the damn thing? On the other hand, not reviewing it is making me feel like I wasted 30+ hours of my time. Should I review it? Is there a good reason to if I’ve already said I can’t even complete it? I definately not willing to restart the whole damn thing.

(EDIT: A new patch has come out that fixes a whole crap-load of issues. Mine wasn’t specifically mentioned in the patch notes, but I’m still going to fire Valhalla back up and see if I can get through the bug.)

I got a chance to watch Tenet, the new movie from Christopher Nolan and…didn’t really like it. I can imagine the irate comments waiting to decimate me, so let me explain. I don’t believe Nolan makes bad movies, quite the opposite. They’re often inventive, intriguing and feature some excellent concepts, like the rotating hallway scene in Inception. But there’s just something about his style, especially his action scenes, that does not click with me. Even in the Batman trilogy I found the action to be the weakest parts of the movies. Tenet is the same. Cool ideas, but something about how Nolan films his work does not sit right with me. I can’t put my finger on exactly what the issue is. I watch his movies and I can see that they’re good and I can appreciate so many of the ideas but by the end I look back and think, ” I didn’t enjoy any of that.”

It’s a shame because I want to like Tenet. It plays with time-travel in some great ways that the movie kind of struggles to completely explain. It doesn’t help the characters are flat, at best, another issue I have with Nolan’s work. There’s no emotion, no connection. The main character, literally The Protagonist, is supposed to like the woman (whose name I honestly can’t remember) and the film keeps indicating that’s the case, but I don’t see it. At no point do they seem to like or even dislike each other. They exist. That’s it. It makes it harder to get invested which in turn makes it harder to digest the time-travel mechanics that Tenet sets up.

I also feel like Tenet doesn’t go anywhere. It’s an amazing concept, but that’s it. Once the credits role the plot hasn’t moved anywhere. I didn’t know anything more about the world or why this was happening. The ultimate plan doesn’t seem to make sense, even after hours of pondering it.

But the biggest, worse damn problem is that I couldn’t hear the bloody dialogue. I don’t know who keeps handling Nolan’s sound-mixing, but they consistently drown out the actors. I have great hearing, and could barely make out what anybody was saying. My dad has bad hearing, so for him the film is a complete cluster-fuck without the subtitles.

I don’t like most Christopher Nolan movies but I still think they’re good. They just aren’t for me. But I genuinely think Tenet isn’t very good. Sorry! But it’s true. The concept of objects and people being inverted so that they move through time in the opposite direction is astounding, but when I don’t give a damn about the characters, can’t hear what’s going on and don’t find the action interesting, what does that leave? A cool idea?

Right, let’s finish up this bloody ranting Weekend Whammy, yeah? I hope you’re all keeping well, playing hard and all that good stuff. Drop me a comment with any thoughts you might have, and take care!

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