Cyberpunk 2077 has been on store shelves for almost a month now after a disastrous launch and proceeding criticisms about the transparency of the development studio, CD Projekt Red. From Sony removing the digital version of the game from the Playstation Store to the rabbit hole of social media posts highlighting an unfathomable about of bugs, Cyberpunk has been put through the ringer, and, unfortunately, may still have a ways to go. Game new outlets and independent reviewers have had plenty of content to circulate regarding the game’s shortcomings and technical failures since the December release, and with the modding community steadily breaking into the scene, it won’t be long before talk of the base content of Cyberpunk is behind us. That is why, after having played 170 hours of the game on Playstation 5 (what one can only hope is enough time to quality as a fair shake). I’m here to give you my honest, gamer-to-gamer Cyberpunk 2077 postmortem review.
The City of Dreams…. or of Nightmares?
Talk of Cyberpunk’s technical fidelity has been done to death, so we’re going to focus primarily on the game’s capacity to brandish itself as a Triple A RPG title of the sci-fi genre. To start, let’s talk about Night City, the so-called “City of Dreams”. Open world sandboxes are far from an original idea, but they are consistently the most popular among RPG fans, so when advertising of Cyberpunk highlighted a living, breathing metropolis, home to thousands of of NPCs with unique pathing and schedules, it was quite jarring to see how relatively lifeless the cityscapes actually were. That is not to say there weren’t many NPCs, there were, in fact, the city was quite lush with diverse civilians adorning unique styles relative to the districts they were in. Nor were the environments bland or barren. More times than I can count, I found myself slowly pacing through a club or alleyway, taking in the immaculate design and careful placement of assets that went a long way to grant believability and immersion. Trash and debris along the streets of neglected, poorer neighborhoods with beggars shambling about with outdated and malfunctioning cyberware while just a few miles away in City Center, the social elite gallivant around haughtily, draped in dapper suits and expensive fabrics while talking business on sidewalks or cruising in six-figure vehicles beneath polished skyscrapers – the city is gorgeous.
Which is why it’s such a shame that the game seemingly does everything in its power to break that immersion. Between the wonky AI pathing that will have NPCs walking in place or in circles, spawning and despawning directly in front of the player, animations that don’t properly line up, floating objects, invisible limbs, T-posing, and so much more, it’s hard to attribute the city to realism when everything constantly renders itself technical. That’s nothing to say of the absolutely atrocious driving AI.
Additionally, side missions don’t often seamlessly blend in to the environment, most of them being gigs that involve a fixer calling you when you near within 50 meters of a mission. The phone calls are neat at first until you realize every single gig of the 100+ begins with one, they interrupt anything you’re doing, and you can’t ignore the call ever despite there being a button to pick up the phone which apparently is there to give players the illusion of choice (much like most of the game, but we’ll get back to that). It also doesn’t help that the gigs come in six different types, and while I can give them credit for crafting small unique lore content for each one that sometimes connect with others as well as giving the player an excuse to delve into otherwise missable locations, the actually tasks become very cut and dry quite quickly. With the robotic AI and side missions that resemble hand-placed radiant quests, Cyberpunk doesn’t do much for creating a rewarding exploration experience.
Less ‘Living Legend’ and more ‘Legend That Already Lived’
In Cyberpunk 2077, you play as V, a young mercenary looking to gain fame and wealth in Night City. A primary point of advertising for the game was the agency the player had in customizing and defining their V in everything from appearance to personality. By all accounts, Cyberpunk 2077 was to be V’s story, your story. For better or worse, it turns out that is not the case. The main story of the game can be summed up as “how quickly can Johnny Silverhand kill you and take your body?”. As soon as that plot point is introduced, all other notions of making a name for your V in Night City are off the table as the concerted effort henceforth is to survive essentially being eaten alive. This isn’t necessarily an objectively bad story arc, it simply doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the game. If the matter with Silverhand slowly killing V is so urgent, realistically, why would one spend time on side content rather than the tasks involved with keeping your character from imminent death? This, I think, is one consistent shortcoming with games that follow similar outlines where the plot is driven by a factitious sense of timeliness.
With that in mind, I would be remiss to say the experience with Johnny Silverhand isn’t an absolute blast. The relationship Johnny has with V feels organic and genuine and truly gets you to care for (or despise) the rockerboy with Keanu Reeve’s face, and his input on most objectives V sets out to complete really makes it feel like less of a solo adventure. Johnny, himself, isn’t initially an amicable character, but as you journey together, V and the long-dead rocker craft a dynamic that strum the heartstrings. For better or worse, the player’d best get used to Johnny, as most of the crucial plot development in the game revolves around the character.
From flashback sequences that have the player relive the most iconic moments of Silverhand’s infamous career to present-day missions that potentially involve him taking over V’s body, a considerable portion of the RPG whose advertising suggested extraordinary amounts of player decision is enclosed in this linear, pre-written narrative around an already established character. In fact, the game’s arguably most interesting side missions involve V going out of their way to help Silverhand rekindle 50+ year old relationships. Fun, but not at all about V. Fantasies about chronicling a story about a V that worked their way to the top of Night City are short lived as it becomes more and more apparent that the very notion isn’t so much as an afterthought in the final product. But, hey, if you ever wanted a game that is essentially a Keanu Reeves friendship simulator, then Cyberpunk should be right up your alley.
It’s a good game… for what it is.
Cyberpunk 2077 sold itself on being the frontrunner for the future of role-playing video games. This…. was not that. All in all, this game is an extremely linear experience, and while that isn’t altogether negative, it was a disappointing realization brought about by the deception of the game’s marketing. Player agency – with respect to dialogue choices, lifepath decision, the “street cred” system, etc. – does next to nothing as far as impacting the world or offering lasting consequences. The factions introduced in the game are little more than reskinned enemies assigned to different zones; even worse, there are no opportunities (beyond the Moxes) for V to involve themself with or antagonize the gangs as the player sees fit. This pretty much surmises the Cyberpunk experience as a whole: underbaked, with a shiny coat of neon and chrome.
This Cyberpunk review was not made to bash the game by any means but simply to reflect on what the state of the game is in actuality rather than the dream CDPR sold to consumers. Beyond the bugs, beyond the rude awakening that is the story, beyond the wonky AI routines and lack of realized RPG elements, Cyberpunk 2077 has the bones of a decent game. But only decent. I played nearly 200 hours of this game praying that I was wrong, that the game would somehow become the this masterpiece of technical design and storytelling, that I could somehow convince myself that this game was everything it was marketed to be, but unfortunately, that game simply does not exist, at least not here.