Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that defies casual analysis and transcends its genre
It’s fair to say that CD Projekt Red did not handle the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 very well. I mean, when Sony banishes your game from their digital store, meaning that you effectively don’t have a Playstation version of your game available for digital purchase, you have rightly messed up. I am not defending this, nor do I argue that the game doesn’t have some really weird bugs and janky physics issues, because it does, and I’ve experienced all of them in my over 100 hours playing it since I got my hands on a PC copy this month.
Yes, over 100 hours in like six days.
If the game is buggy and has weird physics issues — it is and it does — then why have I played it for over 100 hours?
Because it is one of the best CRPGs I have ever played.
Welcome to Night City, both the setting and the star of Cyberpunk 2077
It does some things so much better than I have ever seen them done, that I am simply floored by it, and the longer I play it the more I’m astonished by this game. This isn’t a review per se, because I don’t have anything like a final opinion of it yet. In fact, I’ve deliberately stopped progressing in the main story in order to spend all of my time pursuing side missions, fleshing out character stories for the people I’ve met along the way, and generally experiencing Night City. Because make no mistake, it is Night City itself that is the draw in Cyberpunk 2077 — not Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand, not the playable character V (although I do like my V, she’s played well by Cherami Leigh with just enough of an edge to balance out her occasional vulnerability) and not even characters like Jackie or Takemura or Judy or Panam, all of whom are excellent.
I’ve seen people argue that Night City is a character in the game, but in my experience, it’s more like Night City is the game. You are tasked as V with exploring it, surviving it, and making a name for yourself through your actions in the city and the badlands surrounding it, and the main story of the game is inexorably entangled with the environs of the city. In a way, while the pandemic has kept me isolated inside my actual, physical environs, I’ve been learning and exploring a wholly virtual city and one that feels far more tangible and real than any I’ve ever explored in any game. You’ll memorize where the shops are, you’ll grow familiar with the specific layout of its crowded streets, you’ll know not to take certain paths because of how crowded they are at specific times of day.
The squalor and filth contrasted with the elegance and affluence, the violence and how it is normalized daily by the in-game media, the corruption and the futility of fighting against it — Night City feels like the perfect setting for a Gibson novel, a love letter to the entire Cyberpunk genre.
The setting is the story
If all CD Projekt Red did was make a Night City walking tour game, it would be good enough to be in my list for best games of the past five years. You can spend hours simply traversing the place, taking in the scenery, and whenever a quest or objective takes you to a location it never feels arbitrary or that the location was simply put there for you to quest — the deserted rail junction with the atomic powered train, the fleabag motel outside of town, the parade in Japan town all feel organic, part of the world, not just there for you to have set pieces on.
And there are set pieces. Combat in the game is frenetic, and I’ve found myself taking a much more aggressive role than I’d intended or expected, while the game’s stealth sections are unforgiving — if you’re a stealth player, you will quickly learn that you cannot rush yourself through this, you need to be meticulous and plan out every move carefully. The boss fights range from this guy is a walking tank to so, you’ve decided to tick off a cyborg ninja with laser swords coming out his forearms and a lot more besides, and the central storyline — which I won’t spoil for you here — could be straight out of a Neal Stephenson novel.
The Cyberpunk themes are spot on, but sometimes weighed down by shock value
The game definitely has its themes, and they’re pretty on point for a Cyberpunk-themed game — the loss of identity through technology that can copy or edit the mind/brain, the consequences of wiring your body with technology that can surpass human limits, the point where you realize your actions have made you someone you never intended to be, whether death is the worst possible fate that can befall you. The irony of a game this anti-capitalist being churned out by a capitalist system are similar to that produced in The Outer Worlds, but here, it feels almost stiflingly real.
Elements that I would caution people about are the game’s tendency to go for shock when it really feels somewhat overdone. I get that the Animals gang are not good people, but all the gendered insults screamed at me by roided out thugs gets tiresome. And there’s a real danger in getting oversaturated with some of the vulgarity. The game could definitely stand to dial back some of the language, and there are moments in the game I imagine would be capable of triggering some folks PTSD. Plus, CD Projekt Red, y’all went way over the top with flashing lights.
I won’t pretend that every story beat is the best thing I’ve ever seen, but there are a lot of moments that were shocking entirely because of how quiet they were — in between guns blazing, explosions, and the other tropes of high octane fury there are moments around a campfire, or two people talking in a quiet deserted farm, or the story of a boy who grew up to be a monster but who still clings to the cartoon that he used to survive a nightmarish childhood. As you navigate all these stories, you’ll come to define V — who they are and what they’re willing to do, what their ethical lines are. Companion/romance option quests are more than just give X character enough presents and they’ll like you — you help them with their goals, decide how much you agree with what their choices are, and in time either sink any chances you have or fond a lasting friendship, and maybe more.
You could forget this is just a game
The quality of acting varies, but is generally good. Keanu Reaves is doing something here that took me a while to catch. His Johnny Silverhand initially comes across as a one note character, but over time — as he reveals more of himself and moderates his I’m a rock star attitude — you get to see the more nuanced performance I was expecting. Other characters, like Judy and Panam, and even relatively minor performances from others — Evelyn Parker, as voiced by Kari Wahlgren. comes to mind here — convey a great deal about the world through a few specific choices that I haven’t seen often in a game of this size and complexity. All of the potential friend/romance options I’ve seen so far are well acted and add a lot to the game.
But the bugs, you might be saying. And yes, it is buggy. I’ve had weapons disappear and reappear from my inventory. I’ve had game saves just screw up. I’ve had quests just refuse to progress. I am not trying to tell you that this game is perfect, but I’ve called it a flawed masterpiece on Twitter, and I think that tracks. The game was more ambitious than could really be delivered seamlessly, even in 2021 — I don’t know if any game could possibly give us Night City and not have it be glitchy in places. I am not trying to excuse those bugs or tell you that they aren’t there, that they aren’t annoying at best and sometimes outright gamebreaking and progress halting at worst.
I’m simply saying that they don’t matter, ultimately. The game does something truly rare — it creates an entirely virtual space that has real verisimilitude to it, to the point where your brain may memorize that space and feel like you’ve lived and moved within it. Honestly, I can’t do the game justice. I can say that if you can play it on PC, or on a next gen console, you should seriously consider it.
Also, the music is amazing. Didn’t feel like I could end this without mentioning that.
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