TL;DR – A buggy experience that even when you power through it, you find a mostly surface-level game failing to delve into the world they had created
Warning – Contains scenes that have been reported to induce seizures
Cyberpunk 2077 Review –
To be honest, I was wondering if I was actually going to write this review. The discourse around this game has been unpleasant, to say the least, and what difference would be one more voice howling into the void make. I mean, I even found myself cleaning the house to put this off. But in the end, I paid full price for this game, a game that was clearly not ready for release, and also this is my profession, so I kind of owe myself and the working hours I put into this game to contextualise that into words.
So to set the scene, in a boardroom, on the streets of Night City, or in my case on the northern outskirts of the city, we meet V (Gavin Drea/ Cherami Leigh) as his car is being put together. He is a nomad but without a clan or family anymore and is just trying to get ahead. One uppity sheriff later and he is on the way to meet his contact Jackie Welles (Jason Hightower). All V has to do is smuggle this little crate into the city, and he will have enough money to set himself up. There is just one border crossing between him and freedom … what could go wrong. When he thinks he has survived that skirmish, he is offered a chance to put together the heist of a lifetime involving the mysterious Johnny Silverhand (Keanu Reeves). From this point forward we will be looking at the game as a whole, so there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.
Now before we can get into the game proper, we need to talk about the elephant in the room, and that is the games many, many bugs. I started playing this game on the release day, and you can read my thoughts on the launch game in my First Look. However, now that I have played the game through to completion (the main story and most of the side quests) and sat through two different patch updates, I would say that you can categorise the many bugs into three distinct layers. The first is those Bethesda-level graphical glitches, you know heads clipping through walls, psychics suddenly glitching out. These are the bugs where look they should have been fixed before release, but in a big open-world game, you are willing to let slide and are mostly harmless even amusing at times. However, it does kind of take you out of the moment in a critical scene when a character puts down a guitar, but then the game keeps it locked on to the tips of his fingers for the rest of the cut scene.
However, the game also comes with two more levels of bugs. Now, I was playing this game on a PC. It is not the best PC, so I went into this not expecting all the bells and whistles, no ray tracing for me. But even then, I was not expecting this game to be as un-optimised as it was. There were many occasions where I was talking to a boxy model which would have looked bad during the PS2 era while the game chugged along. It also becomes apparent how empty the world is when you can see all these tail lights in the distance, but as you approach, they disappear into nothing like a mirage breaking the immersion. Finally, I experienced the major tier bugs throughout my playthrough and they are those game-breaking bugs. I experienced several times when the game would not exit ‘scan mode’ forcing me to restart. There were several times when I had to go online and google in a quest because the game would not proceed. Sometimes, the game would glitch, and someone would not appear who is meant to appear, so an in-game trigger would not fire. Sometimes it is because the game would actually not tell you mechanically how to proceed, like how to skip to the next brain-dance. Then there are the hard crashes to Windows, of which I experienced many. Frankly, at this level (and for the price I paid) any of the 2nd and 3rd tier bugs means that is a game that I cannot recommend while they exist.
The game bugs are one frustration; the next is how the game works mechanically. I am not sure how this played on consoles, but the key bindings always felt awkward. I spent 50+ hours in the game, and it never felt intuitive. Then there is the driving which felt less like driving a car and more like trying to ice skate a fridge down a slope which I think the game knew given how many times they took the driving away from you. There is the odd way they introduced fast travel in the game, which felt like a step back. It also took me a long time to find a gun that felt good to play with. I eventually found the Lizzie which I kept for most of the game. One area where the game did feel interesting was the quick-hacking you could do to distract enemies or directly attack them. By the end of the game, I killed 95% of my enemies by a combination of Overheat and Contagion. It became so effective that rarely did anything else.
I love playing RPGs, so the one thing that got me to continue through the game was the serviceable story. I was honestly surprised by how they introduced Johnny to the game. I thought he would be this chaos-fairy that would appear at points in the story, which is not that different to what we got, but he is in it much more than I thought. This would be good if I didn’t hate Johnny Silverhand, but he is such a pain in the ass. He got more engaging as the story when on, but then he would jump back to being annoying because the game is very inconsistent about his presentation.
Most of the story was straight forward with you trying to find a way to exercise Johnny from your head before he goes and kills you by taking over. We will get to the setting in the moment, but two personalities waring over the same brain was a compelling start. Overall I found most of the main story and many of the side quests to be engaging but don’t bother with any of the gigs because they were all a waste of time. I did like that they broke the quests up into sections, so you would have many going simultaneously and just jumping around in-between them. While it was all kind of fun, only one of the quests stood out to me. This quest was where you get roped into being part of an execution, where you can take part as the executioner. Every aspect of this quest was confronting and made you think through every choice you make. Rarely do I see faith engaged within such a complex manner, and I was thinking about this quest in the days after.
While the story was serviceable with some occasional high notes, the world is where things become frustrating. Night City is this fantastic place that looks right out of its cyberpunk setting. However, as you go around, it becomes soon apparent that most of the world is a veneer. I have been talking with people about it, and one of my friends mentioned that it is ‘a mile-wide but an inch deep’ and I can’t agree more. You see part of this because nothing you do changes any aspect of the city as if it is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that can’t change because it has many players … but this is a single-player game. I carved a wave through many of the game’s gangs, which made no impact on the world. Then there is the setting. It honestly felt like they wanted all the cool aspects of the cyberpunk genre, but they did not want to do the leg work to explore the themes that got brought up. Given we have settings like Ghost in the Shell and even Altered Carbon that have the same world but actually delve into the themes, it feels like a missed opportunity. For example, one of the first things you can add in customisation is a Tā Moko, a form of a Māori face tattoo, however, at no time in my playthrough did the game engage with Polynesian culture. It is a small thing but part of the ‘this will look cool, but we won’t actually engage with it’ mentality of the game. The only time the game even delved into these themes was at the very last moments of the ‘corporate’ ending, but then the game is over, and we never delve into the implications.
In the end, do we recommend Cyberpunk 2077? Look as things stand at the moment unless you have the very top of the line PC I cannot recommend the game to you. The bugs and graphical issues make this a non-starter. Then there is an okay story but nothing ground-breaking, which might be more frustrating than anything else.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the staff of Cyberpunk 2077
Game Direction – Adam Badowski & Konrad Tomaszkiewicz
Game Design – Grzrgorz Mocarski & Matqusk Kanik
Game Story Director – Marcin Blacha
Lead Writer – Tomasz Marchewka
Voice Actors – Cherami Leigh, Gavin Drea, Keanu Reeves, Emily Woo Zeller, Carla Tassara, Robbie Daymond, Jason Hightower, Rome Kanda, Matt Yang King, Jane Perry, Martin McDougall, Diarmaid Murtagh, Alpha Takahashi, Erica Lindbeck, Samuel Barnett, Alix Wilton Regan, Michae; Gregory, Alec Newman, Michael Leon Wooley, Kari Wahlgren, Hideo Kimura, Grimes & Masane Tsukayama
Developer – CD PROJEKT RED
Publisher – CD PROJEKT RED