Reviews

Cyberpunk 2077 Review – The Best Mess Of 2020

Say what you like about the game itself, there’s no denying that the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 has been anything but dull and is probably the most controversial launch in recent memory. Three delays in 2020 suggested that CD Projekt RED were planning on sticking to their mantra that it would only be launched when it was ready, and given the company’s stellar reputation pre-orders were through the roof with over 8-million copies being sold before it was even playable. And then everything fell apart faster my mental wellbeing after trying to speak to an actual living, breathing, human female. Only PC review code was handed, performance on base consoles is unacceptably bad, Sony removed the game from sale on the Playstation store and CD Projekt RED have managed to dig themselves into a hole so large that future archaeologists are going to assume there was a massive asteroid impact. Either they knew about the game’s horrendous amount of bugs and poor performance and chose to very deliberately keep that information quiet, or they honestly didn’t know how bad things were, in which case they are wholly incompetent. Either way, it doesn’t paint CD Projekt RED in a good light. So, now that we’re a little removed from the initial chaos, let’s review Cyberpunk 2077 on the Playstation 5 and try to figure out whether the game under the mess is any good.

We’re shoved into the boots of V, the male or female protagonist of our story. Unfortunately for V, a job gone wonky results in him getting the cyber- ghost of long-dead rocker/anarchist/terrorist Johnny Silverhand (ably played by everyone’s favourite human, Keanu Reeves) stuck in his head where it begins to slowly overwrite his mind. Now able to see and talk to the virtual Johnny, who is equally shocked to find himself “alive” after 50-years, V needs to find a way to get the chip out of his head. This relationship between Johnny Silverhand and your vision of who V is forms the central core of the story. Johnny is an asshole, an arrogant jerk who treats those around him poorly, but he also follows a firm set of morals that leads him to assault one of the biggest corporations in the world. Despite how bad a human Johnny is, he correctly sees the future of his world as corporations gain more and more power.

Available On: PC, Xbox, Playstation
Reviewed On: PS5
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Publisher: CD Projekt RED

As for V, he ( I played male) resembles Geralt of Rivia in that he’s a partially defined character already with a voice, and therefore you aren’t free to completely define who he is yourself. Instead, you sort of guide and nudge his personality in certain directions, making him more cold and calculation or perhaps warmer and willing to help out simply to be good rather than always need compensation. The options you are given in dialogue let you hash out his personality as well as simply delve more into the topics at hand or just move things along.

The story was the highlight of Cyberpunk 2077 for me, a riveting tale filled with a cast of intriguing characters, a few of whom get better fleshed out in the game’s side-quests. The relationship between Johnny and V is engaging stuff and through your dialogue you’ll slowly learn more about Johnny and push him to become more like you, or find yourself becoming more like Silverhand. By the end Johnny and I weren’t best bros, but we understood each other. And speaking of the end, there’s quite a few different ones and each feels worth getting, including a tricky one. The writing is sharp throughout with some excellent conversations, which is great because there’s actually a lot of just sitting and chatting in Cyberpunk 2077 during the main storyline. You’ll chat while riding in cars, you’ll sit in bars and shoot the shit, you’ll lean on walls and flap your lips. In fact, straight-up action makes of a relatively small part of the storyline unless you branch out to the various jobs and “gigs” and engage in some of the mini-quests like shooting up a gang at the side of the road.

Speaking of the side-quests, there’s a slightly odd dissonance between them and the main storyline that stems from the fact that CD Projekt RED clearly weren’t able to judge when you might opt to complete certain ones where Johnny appears. That can lead to odd situations where Johnny behaves toward you differently than your relationship in the main storyline would suggest. At one point I headed off to find my old car in a junkyard, and Johnny came across much friendlier there than we were in the story missions. It isn’t a huge issue, but one that does point to some of obstacles CD Projekt RED came across.

The game takes place in Night City, a bustling Cyberpunk metropolis that is independent from America, following its own rules. It’s dominated by massive corporations such as Arasaka who wield huge influence over what happens, while the local police constantly struggle to keep up with the constant assault of gang wars and crime, often turning a blind eye to citizens dealing with things themselves. It’s a place of neon signs, dirt and opulence. CD Projekt RED’s choice to go with a first-person views pays of magnificently, upping the immersion factor. Only two things stop you from getting properly drawn in: the first is the sheer amount of glitches which we will talk about later; the second is how oddly quiet the city is with very little traffic in terms of both vehicles and people on the side-walks. It’s worse when you’re driving around, feeling more like a ghost town than a city jam-packed with people because the game frequently struggles to stream in objects, resulting in pronounced pop-in.

Night City is like most open-worlds in videogames – filled with a lot of icons. Many of these are basic side-missions that involve little more than shooting some bad guys, but some of them are longer chains more akin to the Witcher 3’s amazing storylines. Some of the game’s best moments can be found in these missions, making them worth seeing through to the end, especially if you like to get some romancing done. But one thing Cyberpunk’s world isn’t is a sandbox where you can make your own fun. Yeah, you can ride a bike up some stairs or maybe find a fun jump or something like that, but Night City is not a reactive, organic place that will create fun situations as you go. Various crimes can occur round the city, but these are always in pre-destined locations and will even repeat after some time. It’s weird to clear out a robbery only to drive past later and see the police cars are still there, or even to notice that the bad guys have respawned. About the only thing you can do that doesn’t feel at least partially scripted is to commit a crime and get the police involved. They’ll magically teleport (even if you’re in a room with one entrance they can actually appear behind you) and open fire. Early gameplay showed the ability to bribe cops and that high-level mercs could even come after you, but that’s not the case anymore. Instead, you can easily evade the police by driving a block or two, at which point they’ll give up even if you’ve basically massacred half the population of Night City with a katana.

Despite being touted frequently as a next-gen title there’s a lot of archaic game design to be found within Cyberpunk 2077 that while not bad does feel…disappointing. The incredibly basic AI of both enemies and random NPCs is a prime example. If you park a bike in the middle of the street traffic will come to a halt because it’s incapable of moving around the obstruction. Fire off a shot and people will get out of their cars to cower, but do nothing else. Even old GTA games would have some people screeching off in their cars, some running, some hiding and maybe even one or two attempting to fight you. NPCs don’t have full day and night routines like we initially saw, either, and will instead either stay in one place all the time while repeating a basic animation or might do a loop around the block while stopping at three different vending machines. Other odd behaviour happens all the time, like going back and forth over a cross, walking into walls, bumping into each other and acting confused. Another bit of old game design is how people and cars will simply vanish when you turn around, entire crowds of folk simply disappearing because you looked away for a second.

Even the mission design can feel annoyingly old. You might encounter a door that needs a certain level in tech skill that you don’t have to unlock, but if you look about 5ft to the left there will be an alternative door or window. It’s not exciting, and different routes and paths are incredibly limited, making your choices when it comes to levelling feel a lot less important. Again, going back to Deus Ex, having different skills could give you access to quite different ways of getting into places, so it’s strange that Cyberpunk would offer much less flexibility in 2020.

Nor do your life choices and stats benefit dialogue much. When you first fire up the game and go through the decent character customization options (including the size of your tallywhacker and whether it’s cut or not, although for some reason there’s only one vagina option) you’ll be given the choice of life stories describe where your version of V comes from. Sometimes you’ll run across a dialogue option that’s only available if you have enough points in that specific tree or if you’re a Nomad or something. But instead of offering really different dialogue these options typically just give you a slightly different line and a bit of extra colour. They don’t actually change anything in any significant way.

I couldn’t find any gigs or jobs that offered much in the way of impactful choices, either. Everything seems to play out almost identically, with only small changes to the quest or to the main storyline. Even sparking certain people makes no difference because they never appear again anyway.

Things like this kill the game’s supposed replay value. Prior to launch, CD Projekt RED played up the fact that the story was much shorter than the Witcher 3 because they wanted people to replay it again and again. It was a cool idea when they presented, conjuring up images of radically different paths and conversations based on who you were and how you specced V, yet the reality is much less interesting. Everything plays out mostly the same with a few small differences, but not enough to tempt me into playing through the story for a third time.

Considering body modification and augmentation is one of the biggest themes in the cyberpunk genre it’s surprising how very little it impacts the actual game. There’s one early scene of V getting bits chopped off and replaced that looks awesome, but after that whenever you visit a Ripperdoc to get some new chrome installed it just involves picking things from a menu. Only a few of the available augmentations make much of a physical difference, too, such as being able to double jump. Certainly, getting some new cyberware can make big stat differences, but I was personally hoping for some Deus Ex type options like cybernetic arms that could let me lift heavy objects. With that said, you can get some sick armblades for dicing up bad guys.

It’s also a tad odd that within the cyberpunk genre one of the biggest concepts are the mixture of genders, race and body types, and yet there’s absolutely no way to change your appearance throughout the game or reset your stat points in case you fancy changing your playstyle. Sure, the year 2077 might be incredibly different from 2021, but I’m fairly certain that plastic surgery and getting a haircut are things that will still be around in the future.

There’s also a lot of evidence suggesting that Cyberpunk 2077 went through a lot of changes during its development, including stuff like wall-running which simply doesn’t exist now even though it was shown in earlier trailers and footage. You can’t buy new apartments or paint your cars. Some of these mechanics don’t even seem to have been stripped out properly – there’s places to buy food, for example, but food provides such little benefits that I never once actually stopped and bought any. Then there’s a perk that lets you take a human shield, except you can’t use your gun at the same time and you can only grab an enemy when sneaking up on them anyway, unless you get another perk that lets you grab bad guys in the middle of combat. Basically, those two perks are kind of useless. Hell, there’s another perk that makes you undetectable despite the fact that during my 40+ hours in the game I’ve only ran into one mission that involves swimming, and it didn’t have any enemies in it. These feel like remnants of gameplay mechanics that were stripped out of Cyberpunk 2077.

I am please to say that when you get into a fight the basic feel of the combat is actually great. Yes, the enemy AI could have done with being a lot better, but the armoury of guns you get to play around with feel awesome to fire, packing lots of meaty punch. There’s a basic loot system at play, letting you hoover up new guns with increasingly better stats, too, and if you fancy you can even upgrade older gear so that it remains useful. While there’s nothing special about the whole system, it’s still satisfying to slowly get more and more powerful weapons, and the variety is pretty solid. Getting new clothing isn’t quite as good, though, mostly because the need to pick the items with the best stats results in you looking like someone who got covered in super-glue and then dragged backwards through a charity shop.

You can employ quickhacking in a fight too, slowing down time by holding down L1 and then maybe burning out some synapses or triggering a bad guys grenade so that it blows them and their mates sky-high. See, all that time spent connected to Facebook really is bad for you. Occasionally, a foe will attempt to hack you, leading to a fun moment where you have a brief window of time to find them and put them down.

Speaking of hacking, with technology everywhere and people running around with cyberware being able to hack into it and use the connectivity of everything around you is a huge boon. I wondered a lot prior to the game’s launch how CD Projekt RED would handle hacking. Turns out, they went down the simple route by basically having hacking be magic. No, seriously. You target an enemy with L1 to bring up a list of quickhacks based on what you have equipped and then you “cast” that hack, which costs you RAM, or mana. The downside is that it’s a magic system without the visual flair that magic can provide, so your hacking is kind of…dull? You know, you hit someone with a burnout hack or something like that and all that happens is you wait a few seconds and then they sort of stumble around. But while hacking maybe lacks the excitement factor of a magic system, you can become pretty dangerous if you’re willing to sink some points into hacking perks. Contagion is a prime example, easily able to decimate a group of bad guys as it spreads through their network.

Hacking feels more interesting in the otherwise very basic stealth systems which otherwise boils down to the typical formula of avoiding vision cones. You can ping electronics to detect enemies and other pieces of tech in the environment, take control of cameras and use machines to distract foes. Handy hacks include rebooting someone’s optics so you can amble past, and for some baffling reason there’s even a quickhack that lets you whistle to lure unsuspecting idiots to their death. I have no idea why you can’t whistle without a quickhack. Maybe you replaced your tongue with a mechanical one? Sneaking around is perfectly serviceable, and it always feels good to complete gigs without being seen. You can even opt to go non-lethal, either knocking people out or by converting your weapons into non-lethal tools, although from a gameplay perspective there’s no reward or incentive to go down this route.

Personally, I sank my points into being a badass with a handgun and crafting new gear for myself. The way you level up is by completing missions, but you also earn XP for just doing things, be it jumping over fences or shooting people in the foot because you’re a sadistic bastard. The XP you earn will earn you new levels in that particular skill as well as a perk point to spend, but you’re free to put that perk point into whatever skills you want. There’s not really a lot of exciting skills to earn, most of them just bumping up basic stats, but it’s still a solid levelling system, apart from those weird perks I mentioned previously.

In short, Cyberpunk 2077 plays just fine. Not great. Not bad. Just fine. In this it resembles CD Projekt RED’s most famous game. For as much as I love it and hold the Witcher 3 up as one of the best games of all time, I’ll be the first to admit that from a purely gameplay perspective it’s nothing special and even quite clunky in places. Cyberpunk 2077 is the same, lacking anything truly special about its gameplay but still perfectly competetent in most of its mechanics.

And now for the technical woes. Take a deep breath, because here’s just a small sample of the bugs and glitches I’ve personally encountered: floating cars, cars stuck in the ground, objects randomly vibrating until they explode, guns equipping themselves when performing stealth kills, equipped clothing unequipping itself, the camera becoming detached from aiming the gun, not being able to change view when driving, view being zoomed in after exiting a vehicle, mission triggers not working properly, equipped gun becoming invisible, enemies stuck in walls, multiple lines of dialogue playing over each other, NPCs striking a T-pose and gliding across the ground, falling through the map, the crouch button acting like the skip-dialogue button outside of actual dialogue, mislabelled objects, getting stuck in scenery, and so many more. By far the worst, though, is that on PS5 the game crashes constantly, roughly every 30-60 minutes. Most of my Cyberpunk 2077 sessions didn’t end with me closing the game, they ended with it crashing and me not bothering to start it up again. The sheer variety of glitches on show and how often they occur is almost impressive. I don’t think a single dramatic moment wasn’t somehow undermined by a weird bug, and the very last cutscene was turned into a comedic moment because my character’s hair and clothes were missing.

At least aside from being unable to complete a couple of small events I never encountered anything that actually broke the game entirely. But that isn’t very high praise, and I have no issue stating that the amount of issues within Cyberpunk 2077 is unacceptable, and I sympathise with anyone who tried to play the game on base PS4s and Xbox Ones because on top of everything else the raw performance is atrocious. At least on the PS5 the framerate is steady.

If there’s some good news to be had from this mess it’s that things are slowly getting better. The game’s in a better state than it was at launch, and the first of the major patches is supposed to arrive this month, hopefully improving the experience. However, you’d still be wise to wait until that second big patch is out or until people have checked out the first big update and reported on how much it manages to fix.

If I’ve come across as negative in this review, then let me say that I genuinely do like Cyberpunk 2077, to the point that I’ve gone back and mopped up a bunch of side-missions and Trophies. However, there’s no ignoring it’s obvious problems, both from a technical perspective and from a design perspective. There’s a lot about Cyberpunk’s basic mechanics and concepts that either feel old or are simply okay. Both the shooting and the stealth are solid but have been done better many, many times before. But the gameplay is good enough to keep from you resenting actually playing the game after 20 or 30 hours, while the story weaves its way into your brain, slowly breaching your synapses and unleashing its malware. The joint story of V and Johnny Silverhand is the biggest reason to play Cyberpunk 2077, while the longer side-mission chains are the icing on top of the synthetic cake. All of this makes scoring Cyberpunk 2077 a daunting prospect. Strip away all the bugs and technical woes and you have a great RPG, albeit not as impactful as The Witcher 3 in terms of its game design. There’s a lot that could have been done better or that feels janky or plain old, and yet there’s plenty of like, such as Night City itself, playing around with getting new cyberware and generally just exploring. We can’t ignore the poor state of the game as a whole, though, especially given how often glitches and bugs destroy the immersion, make life miserable or interrupt key story moments. So, if CD Projekt RED manage to sort the majority of issues out, I’d happily raise the score by a star. For now, just wait so that if the game does get fixed you can play it as it deserves to be played.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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