Cyberpunk 2077, in a nutshell, is a very paradoxical game. For every brief enjoyment there is a glaring flaw. It feels nigh impossible to review, because in spite of the controversy swirling around it, and in spite of the current state of the game, there’s an enjoyable game buried here. Separating the two out is a difficult process facing both developers and critics.
First of all, Cyberpunk’s marketing ideology has been far more cruel to it than any negative review. The game is not a Rockstar-esque experience, nor is it a deeply immersive translation of the tabletop RPG. It’s not a raunchy dating simulator, or even an evolution of the prior CD Projekt Red games. Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the best western action RPGS in the last five years. However, it’s lacking in a level of immersive depth found in its contemporaries. Cyberpunk holds the potential to be a defining open world experience, but it’s held back by some design flaws.
In Cyberpunk 2077, you play as V, the blank slate on which you can pick any of three life paths that allow you to familiarize yourself with a part of Night City. During my playthrough, I picked Street Kid, giving me the backstory of a young thief. The other two paths, Corpo and Nomad, give you the backstories of a failing corporate higher up, and a traveling member of the slums outside Night City. After an electric (if very guided) first act, the game takes you from the poorest parts of Night City to its wealthiest peaks.
The majority of your time in Night City will be taking on the massive story. While most choices matter, there are several finishing touches missing that limit the story from being outstanding. For example, outside of dialogue and a different opening, your life-path never comes into play. It will however determine some of your quests. However some choices that matter are never telegraphed, like your character customization being final and unchanging.
For a game marketed on being immersive and expansive, there seems to be a lack of afterthought to what a player might want from a game of this style. People who are familiar with the Grand Theft Auto series will notice an immediate similarity in the way Cyberpunk chooses to handle its story, but Cyberpunk chooses to hold your hand instead of letting you run free. Despite there being numerous types of missions (carjacking, murder, theft, etc) under the banner of “side job”, no distinction is made as to which is which.
Of course, one of the most well known aspects of Cyberpunk’s launch is the abysmal performance. While the multiple patches have alleviated some of the worst spots of unplayability, the standard Cyberpunk 2077 experience is sluggish. The original hardware specs do not match my personal experience, as I was well within the medium range, but never even hit 60fps on low. Performance can fluctuate rapidly, with driving through certain areas being almost impossible. Because of the immense drop in frames, cutscenes and event triggers can often misfire, undercutting the story. When the game runs well though, it’s a sight to behold.
Visually, Cyberpunk 2077 takes gaming graphics to a new plateau. Even at the resolution I played at, the attention to detail is astounding. Character models, especially the protagonists, are modeled to an unmatched level. On higher resolutions, the game is almost lifelike. The world of Night City matches this level of detail. The dynamic weather and day to night give the city a lived in feel. Unlike other open worlds, Cyberpunk’s Night City features numerous interiors and open buildings, making it stand out among others. Overall, when Cyberpunk 2077 runs well, it can be beautiful.
While boasting a varied bouquet of gameplay, you’ll spend most of your time in Cyberpunk in intense shootouts or driving around. Optional sidequest activities are diverse, but most of them involve more shooting. One thing sorely missing from the gameplay loop is an inclusion of more leisure activities. Outside of racing and the occasional back alley street fight, there aren’t any activities that don’t involve killing. In addition, the car handling makes travel a chore that almost always ends in manslaughter.
When considering that the game boasts a wide variety of experiences in a bustling Night City, the lack of immersive activities is shocking. While on the surface the game world is lively and responsive, when you aren’t engaging in combat it becomes lifeless and dull. Cars follow set paths revolving around a few blocks, and a large crowd of re-used character models will kill your framerate with mediocrity. Ultimately, if you long for another deeply immersive open world, you might want to look elsewhere.
Cyberpunk 2077 has full voice acting, and contains a staggering amount of dialogue, even for a AAA release. All of the characters are unique, full of personality, and accurate for their in world origins. Many voice options feature unique dialogue based on your chosen lifepath, fleshing your character out. The branching dialogue is staggering at first, and almost flies in the face of the story that can railroad you along a certain personality at times.
All of the professionally acted characters are phenomenal and take the story beyond what’s on the paper. However, the cameo characters are almost always jarringly worse than their surroundings. In particular, the recurring ghost of Johnny Silverhand that functions as your grumpy foil, played by actor Keanu Reeves, comes across as wooden. While his physical performance is good, especially in the brief flashbacks to the Night City of 2020, his iconic surfer vocal affectation doesn’t translate well to someone who’s supposed to be a punk rocker. Despite a few outliers, the auditory experience of Night City, from speech to the fantastic music, is worth turning up.
Getting back to fucntionality, poor performance aside, Cyberpunk 2077 is pretty buggy. After playing for over 100 hours, I experienced several game breaking bugs that required several reloads. My game also crashed several times. As the patches came, some of the overall “jank” was alleviated, but it still has a ways to go. Some common issues include prompts not going away, a large amount of pop in, and event triggers misfiring. Despite the poor handling, I was able to play somewhat smoothly, and the game’s performance improved after the hotfixes. It seems that CDPR is committed to crafting a better playing experience, but the current version just doesn’t handle well.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a massive undertaking, and unfortunately this undertaking doesn’t completely hit its mark. It has potential, but the product currently available needs more work. I enjoyed the experience, but it was a struggle at times.
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