On Cyberpunk 2077

Preface

This is not intended to be an all-encompassing review nor a summary of the game itself. Many talented content creators have already made those; go show them some love. I don’t spend time explaining characters, events, or locations, so if you are unfamiliar with the game I suggest either playing it or watching an in-depth review first. Alternatively, read along and keep a wiki page open!

My aim is to tell a story of how Cyberpunk 2077 affected me as both a cyberpunk enthusiast and a designer. Given the subject matter of the game, some content is NSFW. But first, some important context:

System Specs

  • AMD Ryzen 2600X
  • Radeon RX 580 2048SP
  • 32GB RAM @ 3200mHz
  • 1TB Samsung EVO NVMe SSD
  • Dell Ultrasharp 27" 1920x1080 monitor

Player Specs

  • Name: anchovie
  • Gender: Female
  • Brain: Smooth

I am not a game journalist, streamer, or developer in any capacity. My background is actually in UX Design and Human-Computer Interaction; that’s what I do at my day job. After hours, I play games, mess with electronics, make musical scribbles, and stream art on Picarto.

Most single player games fail to keep my interest as a casual gamer. I can’t spare 20 hours waiting for a game to hook me — my executive dysfunction would much rather spend that time drawing, tinkering, or playing a different game. The few games that I do complete are often ones I cherish and finish several times. Although the list is short there are some relevant open-world games on it:

  • Saints Row: The Third (completed 4x, 2x in co-op mode)
  • Grand Theft Auto IV (completed once)
  • Sleeping Dogs (completed 2x)
  • Night In The Woods (completed 2x)
  • VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action (completed once)

Cyberpunk is my favorite genre of literature. It inspired my undergraduate thesis on using cyberpunk and hacktivism as a design framework for near-future activism in smart cities. So while I’m no expert about games, I know a bit about the cyberpunk genre, its history, and its persistent themes.

I’m running v1.03 of the game, which originally wouldn’t achieve more than 20fps on minimum settings. Why not play the current patch? Because I wanted to experience the game as it was originally released, bugs and all. With some small hacks (thanks Reddit), I managed to bump performance up to around 50fps on low settings at 100 FOV.

There’s a certain irony in playing a cyberpunk game that is dysfunctional because CD Projekt Red overworked their employees to rush an end product out the door. There’s also a certain authentic cyberpunk-ness in modifying a corporate product so it will run on a PC that doesn’t cost as much as a fucking used car. Credit where it’s due, at least this put me in a netrunning mood before launching the game.

Expectations

It’s hardly a spoiler to say that Cyberpunk 2077 is not great. We all know that now. But this game kept me in a strange sort of limbo, feeding me small tasty morsels in between heaps of boring garbage, coaxing me on just enough to keep going.

Let’s ignore all the hype, all the Night City Wires, all the time and money that CD Projekt Red spent on making the word “cyberpunk” a brand unto itself. Here’s what I ideally expect out of an open-world cyberpunk game:

  • The most extensive character customization of any game to-date, fulfilling my wildest body modification desires.
  • A visually-immersive open world with distinct, memorable, multicultural districts filled to the brim with exploration opportunities.
  • Epic l33t hacker skills. Let me jack cars, unlock doors, melt security systems, wire money, and bring down The Man with my cyberdeck and cyborg augmentations.
  • A compelling narrative told through a combination of gameplay, worldbuilding, and cutscenes. Events and environment details in the open world should impact the overall story. Don’t waste my time.

I know these are lofty goals. None of the games I’ve completed multiple times meet all of these criteria. I wasn’t expecting Cyberpunk 2077 to come anywhere close, but I want to state my expectations upfront because they influence what drew my attention during gameplay.

Let’s compare these expectations to the Steam store page description:

Cyberpunk 2077 is an open-world, action-adventure story set in Night City, a megalopolis obsessed with power, glamour and body modification. You play as V, a mercenary outlaw going after a one-of-a-kind implant that is the key to immortality. You can customize your character’s cyberware, skillset and playstyle, and explore a vast city where the choices you make shape the story and the world around you.

Their marketing promises aren’t too far off. So, how does it all hold up?

Spoiler Alert

If you’re reading this and weren’t expecting spoilers, what’s wrong with you? Go read Neuromancer or something. Spoilers ahead.

The Character Creator

Cyberpunk 2077 has poor customization across the board, and starts off on a bad foot with the character creator. Some folks are very upset about the game’s seeming lack of attention to trans and GNC people, i.e. the oversight of your gender being tied to the voice you choose. This does sadden me. In a cyberpunk future, our understanding of gender (and the understanding of humanity as a cyborg construct) should be fairly decoupled from sex, voice, genitals, etc. In that sense the game has failed me —but not in any sort of transphobic way, just a clumsy one. The distinction lays in the shoddiness of the character creator as a whole. It is not a comprehensive tool that specifically excludes gender-based parameters. Rather, it is a shitty tool lacking features that even a rudimentary character creator should have.

The root of the issue is that CD Projekt Red has a phobia of sliders. You get a choice of two bodies: generic chiseled stock male, or generic hourglass stock female. There are no settings to adjust the character’s weight or build, so your silhouette will always look like this:

character creator view of the starter male and female bodies
Image Credit: CD Projekt Red. Don’t let the liability watermark fool you—this screenshot does actually represent the final look of the game with shocking accuracy.

As mentioned, you get a choice of two voices: masculine with male pronouns, or feminine with female pronouns. You get a choice of two genitals, each with two variants (or you can choose null). They can either be “Small” or “Large” predetermined sizes. There is no discrete gender (i.e. pronouns) selection.

Sliders enable users to morph character features with very fine control. A user can also use sliders to tweak a character’s most granular details with instant visual feedback. Contrast this with Cyberpunk’s multiple choice selections, which force the user to memorize a book of options. I kept forgetting what different facial features looked like, resulting in furious masturbation of “Q” and “E” to flip through the options. One at a time they would slowly load, and I would comb my memory to determine if the previous option looked better or worse.

To make matters worse, the interface haphazardly utilizes the few features it has. A grid view is used to display a disappointingly small selection of skin tones. (Why wasn’t this just a set of RGB or HSV sliders?) Yet there is no such grid for the 20 or so unique noses. If users need to toggle between a wide breadth of combinations until they find what works for them, this tedium is unforgivable, doubly so when a solution exists elsewhere within the interface but was not implemented consistently.

I gave up pretty quickly and chose some features at random. After half an hour of tweaking, I stared wearily at a character that looked almost the same as when I started. It seems CD Projekt Red missed the forest for the trees here, giving the user a multitude of samey small details and then slapping them onto two generic shells. Adding sliders for weight, height, build, and proportions would go a long way to address this problem. Replacing the plethora of noses, ears, jawlines, etc. with sliders or grids would make the character creator usable.

The character creator UI in Saints Row: The Third. Sauce

The potential downside of sliders is that they can be abused to create characters that look absurd (if you’re not familiar with Monster Factory, please correct that immediately). In games like Saints Row: The Third, this isn’t an issue because the game itself is an obscene joke. But in Cyberpunk 2077 the atmosphere is dark and the acting is semi-serious. Creative constraints are justified to ensure the mood isn’t broken. But tightening the upper and lower bounds of potentially-goofy sliders is not insurmountable. Although even without sliders, CD Projekt Red still couldn’t manage to keep people’s dicks in their pants, so maybe it’s best for everyone they opted for a highly-constrained character creator.

Transcript: #cyberpunk2077 @ CyberpunkGame noticed a glitch where female penis does not stay in pants in inventory screen. Or is it a feature? Thinking emoji.

Small final gripe: When customizing my female character, I found only one hairstyle longer than shoulder length. Saints Row: The Third was also disappointing in this regard. I guess everyone has slightly different half-buzz cuts in the dystopian future.

Things I like about the character customization:

  • The available implant, eyeball, and tattoo designs are unique and visually interesting.
  • Different characters become romanceable based on your gender. Your choices affect the game’s story and NPCs feel more real because they have romantic and sexual preferences.

The Combat

Combat in Cyberpunk 2077 has fleeting moments of brilliance where rifle combat and quickhacks go hand-in-hand. Targeting someone with Reboot Optics will force them to stand upright and blinded for several seconds. During this interval, it’s easy to whip out a sniper rifle and get a free headshot to kill most enemies. It feels awesome, it’s an efficient takedown strategy, and it’s a wonderful harmony of mechanics!

It’s especially useful if you’re as inept at shooting as I am :)

Outside of this, aiming is a chore and I’m grateful for the auto-aim sniper rifles or shotguns that do the work for me. Frequently, I’ll line up a headshot with a manual-aim sniper, click “LMB”, and watch as the bullet enters lunar orbit. I don’t know if the game has weapon accuracy RNG, but it’s annoying and shouldn’t happen with such frequency that I have to question it.

Aside from Reboot Optics, quickhacks don’t influence how I fight with guns. They’re either stealth-focused or deal damage. I would’ve liked to see more interaction between combat mechanics. For example:

  • Quickhacks that directly buff my weapons (especially tech or smart weapons)
  • Stacking interactions between quickhacks and weapons with the same damage types, e.g. burn someone with Overheat and then shoot them with incendiary rounds for bonus damage

As things stand, gunplay is conventional and quickhacking is a cool novelty, but there’s very little harmony between them. You can get the same experience in a fantasy game that has guns and spellcasting (remember Magicka, anyone?).

Aiming and driving feel like you’re wading through a large bowl of oatmeal, as if there is simultaneously input lag and mouse acceleration. Fine control is out of the question. Swerve to avoid traffic and you’re either slamming into a barrier or spinning out. Apply any throttle and steering input becomes meaningless. Driving feels more like operating a tank (I would know, as a seasoned World of Tanks player). I kept a controller handy for driving between missions — a practice I also employed for Saints Row: The Third and Grand Theft Auto IV which had equally sketchy handling. Throw in an abundance of physics glitches when running on slopes, climbing over obstacles, or driving over rough terrain, and even the most mundane A→B journeys become pretty amusing.

I have over 10 GB of bug footage…but here’s the cream of the crop.

The Racing

Racing feels like an afterthought with the total lack of vehicle customization, upgrades, or storage. You’re always faster than the enemies so there’s no sense of progression from race to race, but the tracks are thoughtfully-made and pretty fun to drive. I did all of Claire’s races as soon as possible in the hopes that more racing would be unlocked after — alas, these hopes were dashed. Those are the only races in the game. Vehicle handling during races seems more responsive to fine input than at any other time in the game, which makes me wonder if CD Projekt Red built separate “cruise” and “race” handling settings. If so, can someone please make a mod that enables racing dynamics in free roam?

I wanted to talk to Claire more in the hopes of romancing her, which I soon realized was impossible. After I finished all her races and watched her murder an innocent competitor, the game gave me a modicum of phone dialogue to tidy up her story and then unceremoniously dumped me back into Night City. Her phone number was no longer available. If I went to the Afterlife to chat, she had the same old bartender dialogue options from before the races. Cyberpunk 2077 had amnesia about my time spent with Claire. Feeling cheated out of a couple hours’ worth of side quests and dialogue, I reluctantly returned to the main story missions, thinking bitterly, “…explore a vast city where the choices you make shape the story and the world around you.” At least they told Claire’s story well and gave me her trans pride truck. It’s a nice memento. It was probably one of my favorite side quests in the game, and I don’t want my romantic disappointments to detract from that fact. I just wish there were broader story impacts from the side missions beyond lore tidbits. Give me an inkling of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” vibe I was promised.

The Missions

I am terrible at stealth games, but I didn’t anticipate this being a problem going into Cyberpunk 2077 because of the class system. By multiclassing into engineering and netrunning, I was expecting to have hack-n-shoot style combat where I could lay waste to enemies with virtual and physical arsenals. For small missions this is largely the case. After breaching protocol, I usually have enough RAM and fast enough cooldowns to repeatedly quickhack enemies and finish them off with a smart rifle. It’s fun, tidy, and works pretty well except for the oatmeal aiming and somewhat finicky targeting system of your implants (noteworthy: the hotkeys to change quickhack targets is a very nice feature which overcomes that).

Every side mission I encountered (even the ones that ask for stealth) can be conquered with alternate strategies (i.e. guns blazing). This approach broke down for me during the main story quests, however. These missions are longer and sometimes contain multiple stages of infiltration.

One such mission involves sneaking past guards, turrets, and cameras into Arasaka Industrial Park, navigating its multiple floors, and hacking a laptop (because in the cyberpunk future, hacking still needs to be done on-site when it’s convenient for the plot/gameplay). Even after disabling all cameras, turrets, and drones, if I shoot anything I promptly get wasted by endless waves of corpo soldiers. I finally cleared this mission on a total fluke. After restarting the level enough times, the game bugged and every NPC in the facility became inactive, allowing me to stroll past them undetected, hack the laptop, and move the fuck on.

The stealth requirements are made more obnoxious by CD Projekt Red’s decision to disable saving during combat. During the aforementioned mission, despite killing everyone in sight and moving into a separate area of the facility with no hostiles present, the “In Combat” status never cleared, thus preventing me from saving my progress. The end result is a mission that forces the player to either play a pure stealth game (with half-baked stealth mechanics) or clear the entire multi-stage job in one life. Thus, stealthy builds are objectively better than aggressive ones for progressing through the story seamlessly— the game has no reward mechanisms for gunning down everything. It’s a giant middle finger to both the player and the game’s own class system.

The mission “Play It Safe” is the worst instance of this: despite navigating between multiple skyscrapers, the “In Combat" status persists indefinitely. Do it stealthily, and the game lets you quicksave in between buildings (or whenever the hell you want). Go loud, and you need to clear all three sniper dens and the mini-boss in a single try. I spent the better part of two hours trying to clear this mission. It got so bad that I almost handed the controller to my partner so he could clear it for me using stealth mechanics, but eventually I cheesed my way through it with a plethora of crafted grenades and an upgraded tech rifle. Needless to say this didn’t feel like a clever or deserved triumph.

Cyberpunk 2077 pause screen. Pop-up notification says “You can’t save while in combat.”
Fuck you.

The only conclusion I’m left to draw is that the class system is fucking useless. Treat Cyberpunk 2077 like a bad stealth game, put all your points into netrunning, buy a nice cyberdeck, get the gold baseball bat for nonlethal takedowns, and don’t even bother with firearms outside of side missions. Even some side missions have lower payouts for violent completions, which makes the half-baked gunplay even less worth your time.

I’d much rather have seen a game that caters to the player’s build. A reputation mechanic would go a long way towards accomplishing this. For example, clear a mission stealthily and your reputation in the world as a discreet assassin increases. Slaughter everyone, and your reputation as a mercenary/gunslinger increases instead. Link bonus missions and additional content to this system so that the world tailors itself to the style of gameplay the player prefers. Love blowing shit up? Great, do it enough and unlock missions which become available at a certain reputation level. As things stand, the story mission feel very much so on rails.

The Romance (or lack thereof)

Playing as female body V, you get two romance options: River or Judy. If you don’t like either of them, sorry.

Playing as male body V, you get two romance options: Panam or Kerry. If you don’t like either of them, sorry. And Kerry is a jackass.

Playing as male or female body V, you get four joytoy options: two cis males, two cis females, all bisexual. Two of them are only accessible after Act 2 of the game. If you don’t like any of them, sorry.

Romance feels underdeveloped at best. The text messages I exchanged with Claire during the racing missions actually moved our relationship forwards, and CD Projekt Red gave her enough screen time (significantly more than Jackie, actually) to convince me she was important enough to be romanced. Perhaps more romances were roadmapped but never finished before release, but I’m left questioning why romantic preferences are even in the game when there are only two partner options per playthrough. I gave CD Projekt Red credit for having romantic and sexual preferences tied to the character creator, but the execution is somewhat disappointing.

I ended up choosing Judy for the extra story content, despite knowing very little about her at the point in the game where I needed to choose. It felt backwards from even the simplest of visual novel routes. I had to trigger dating flags (i.e. metagame and decide to romance her) before getting any of the dialogue or scenes where we, y’know, develop our relationship and learn about each other. After playing through the rest of her branch and getting to know her, I’m not convinced she’d be my (or V’s) type. Maybe if I had a chance to get to know her before being locked into her romance path, I could’ve changed to the other option. Oh well. We still had some good times.

photo of V and Judy posed together on the lakeside porch of an abandoned home, the morning after the diving side mission.
Sapphic moment

As for the saucy stuff, sex in Cyberpunk 2077 is surprisingly tame. None of the viewable scenes with your partner or joytoys are very graphic unless you count booba. Sex scenes are also the same regardless of your genitals — instead, they’re generic enough to work for any equipment. One notable exception was my sex scene with the female Jig Jig Street joytoy, in which there was a brief shot of us scissoring even though I had a dick. That was hilarious.

The really kinky porn (according to the game’s NPCs) is on Braindances for sale at Jig Jig Street, but they aren’t actually accessible. It’s all labelled as “Bonus Content”, and no upgrades or missions let you view them.

Braindance I found labelled “Bonus Material”. The line “Incompatible with your software” is especially ironic, considering the big deal the game made about Braindances, the BD wreath, etc.

I hopped on the forums and user Shadowbane1213 confirmed my suspicions that those BDs are total duds.

In some of the prerelease footage, we see that one of the features in V’s apartment is Braindance. I could forgive the exclusion of the feature if BDs weren’t available to buy in the red light district and if Judy didn’t give us the Braindance wreath to keep. What are we supposed to do with them? They’re useless. Why buy them? Just to say you have them?

On Jig Jig Street, there’s a computer terminal which can be hacked to access a black market website titled “Pleasures of Night City”. Here there’s some brief descriptions of enticing illegal activities going on in the area (none of them are actually playable/visitable, unfortunately). There’s also a tab for illegal (“extreme”) braindances. These BDs, unlike the ones available for purchase in the Sex Shop, have brief text summaries. If you have an overactive imagination it might be enough to get you going. Personally, I got bored and wandered off to kill some nearby thugs.

Pleasure of Night City website. Transcript of the illegal braindance description: “Death’s Head Moth Vol. 49: Death’s Head Moth — Netrunner. What lies beyond the Blackwall? He’s seen it for himself. Gore, snuff, bondage, fear, extreme sensations. Real braindeath. Contact: LennyN”

To clarify, I’m not expecting Cyberpunk 2077 to be a porn game. But…sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and all that. For this game to be lighter on sex than The Witcher 3? Kinda sad, especially with the litany of hypersexual ads and sexual spam email plastered throughout Night City that create the impression of a lust-addled environment.

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/800/1*yUJcmlJ0dhihlTVfiZrmhg.png
I found this spam email on an NPC’s computer. It’s funny flavor for the world, but provides no gameplay value.

The User Interface

Cyberpunk 2077 has a gorgeous user interface. Unfortunately, it’s a classic case of form at the expense of function. Hotkeys are bound to actions that are never explained or even visually referenced in the game (press “N” for Photo Mode, double-tap RB to toggle the next radio station, hold “Alt” to bring up a weapon wheel, double-tap “Alt” to toggle between weapons, press “F5” for quick save). There’s plenty of unused real estate on the HUD for any of these hotkeys to have indicators there, but they are invisible. At a minimum, take the time to tell the user that they exist in a tutorial. Funnily enough, upon revisiting the game a year later I am referencing my own write-up here to remember what the hotkeys are. That’s not a good sign.

Another blunder is the weapon inventory, which consists of a two-column list with sorting tabs for guns, melee weapons, optics, and mods. In order to scroll, the mouse needs to hover over a weapon on the list. On hover, a description of the weapon appears that blocks the entire adjacent column. I spent far too much time scrolling through this list, yanking my mouse to the right, and then hovering over a series of identical guns to find the one with the highest DPS. If a gun has attachments or mods, dots on the upper left corner of the weapon tile are filled in. Unfortunately, these dots get obscured when scrolling across adjacent weapons, making it difficult to find the assault rifle with the good scope as opposed to the assault rifle with the shitty scope as opposed to the assault rifle with ironsights. This happens frequently as someone who put a lot of spec points into Crafting, since picking up enemies’ guns and dismantling them is an excellent source of components.

The weapon UI when hovering over a gun. Note how the right column of weapons is entirely obscured by the Quasar’s description.

Moving onto the good, the multiclassing tab is very intuitive and straightforward to navigate. Within each class there are tabs to unlock attributes, and distinct colors are used to differentiate between attributes that are unlocked, acquired, or locked. From an accessibility standpoint, I would have preferred to see a secondary non-color signifier. The one issue is the tree which connects all the attributes together. Since you can spec into any unlocked attribute without acquiring ones closer to the central branch, the linking is a bit misleading. Had I realized that sooner I probably would’ve spent my points in a different order, but it didn’t negatively impact my build. Some attributes are level-locked, which are communicated in the on-hover descriptions.

The Attribute Tree

The quickhack menu and breach protocol minigames look stellar and function well. I especially like the soft row and column highlighting used in the latter; looking across the grid to find the next value I needed was effortless because of it. Camera mode controls are also straightforward, and actually remind me a lot of the camera in The Crew 2. It’s really easy to take great pictures in-game.

Breach Protocol minigame UI
Cyberpunk 2077’s camera mode. tabs exist for various controls, lighting, focus, photo frames, etc.
Cyberpunk 2077's Camera Mode UI.
One of my favorite in-game photos I took using Camera Mode. There’s some thugs underneath this highway that you can take out for a quick buck.

Small final UI gripe: Why is the main menu in this game buried behind two layers of shit? Why do I need to press the spacebar, wait, press the spacebar, wait, click “Continue” at the main menu, wait, and then press the spacebar one last time to launch the game? Either give me a main menu or dump me straight into the game. These redundant splash screens are stupid.

Grand Theft Auto 2 main menu screen, with three items: start game, options, and quit game. start game is highlighted.
Bring👏this👏back👏

The Storytelling

This is where the game shines, which should be expected given CDPR’s history. I adored Cyberpunk 2077’s flavor, with its archetypal larger-than-life characters and high-tech sci-fi bullshit lore.

Immersive visual storytelling is bountiful in Night City. Each district is crammed with lore. It’s scribbled on walls, carried on the lips of NPCs, stashed away on inconspicuous datashards. Occasionally, reading some of these shards will unlock missions. Cool! You are rewarded for exploring what Night City has to offer, though it would be nice if that happened more often. Place fewer datashards in the world, but make all of them important breadcrumbs to bigger events in the game.

I remember strolling down a flight of stairs to check out a nearby market and accidentally triggering a prompt for a side mission about Johnny Silverhand’s old band, Samurai. There’s some great dialogue in that mission about music and the passion of creativity. It also adds depth to both the Samurai cast and their discography. Really cool mission, all-around, and a wonderful reward for my exploration.

Another time, I followed a side job beacon into an alley and discovered a talking gun that occasionally misfires when you aim him. His name is Skippy and he’s an insufferable piece of shit, but he’s fully animated and I found myself chuckling at how much effort was spent making sure that this specifically was part of the Cyberpunk 2077 world.

Grimes makes an appearance as Lizzy Wizzy, who you can do a quick side quest for. This is a well-designed mission that’s much more than a shoe-in cameo, and I highly recommend finding it. Lizzy Wizzy’s character has more substance than some of the minor characters in the main plot, so it’s gratifying to be able to spend more time with her.

The Plot

Unfortunately, the main plot line is mostly incoherent. It’s the kind of story that’s fun as long as you don’t give a shit about anything making sense or anyone having closure. There isn’t much to say beyond that. I opted to not care and had a good time with it.

The opening act of the game features you and…Jackie (I could not remember his name without consulting my notes) planning a heist to steal a chip with Johnny Silverhand’s conscience on it from the president of Arasaka, one of the largest corporations in the world. So large, in fact, that it was one of two responsible parties in a devastating war in the 2020s (there are some very cool datashards I found that document this history). And yet V, a total nobody with no reputation beyond a brief montage of them and Jackie building some rep as mercs together in Night City, is tasked with this mission of astronomical stakes.

Why isn’t the player allowed to play those early missions, rise up the ranks, get to know Jackie and T-Bug intimately, then do the big heist and experience the full impact of losing a sidekick? The entire structure feels like a hasty excuse to get Keanu’s voicelines in front of the player as quickly as possible, as if the game has no legs to stand on other than its over-advertised antagonistic tulpa. I chalk this up to the devs and/or writers running out of time, and cutting both the introductory missions and anything associated with your character’s background (as things stand, the only thing background does is unlock occasional dialogue options which almost never change the outcome of a conversation or mission).

Revisiting the game a year after my initial playthrough to explore side missions I may have missed, I can’t say I remember much about the plot. As a designer, I don’t have much to say. As a fan of cyberpunk literature, I think you’d be better off re-reading Snow Crash for the millionth time. Or just skim through the lore of Cyberpunk 2077 buried in datashards, computers, and snippets of dialogue. There’s some interesting diamonds in the rough there.

The Everything Else

That’s what I’m left with on the whole. Cyberpunk 2077 is a game of diamonds in the rough. And when I stumble upon one, it fills me with a deep vindication. I knew this game could be good. The proof is right there! And some of the diamonds are so, so good. What has become abundantly clear to me over the course of playing this game is that the individuals who worked on Cyberpunk 2077 cared immensely about it. The passion shows in the smaller side quests which are far more polished than the main story. Gems like Skippy, the sentient vending machine, the fortune teller machine, Samurai, Us Cracks, the tarot cards.

But it’s always fleeting, quickly pushed aside by long stretches of numbness. Night City is a desolate world filled to the brim with locked doors, canned dialogue, and copy-and-paste quests where I enter a building to kill or rescue or capture a target; a world which is ultimately a reflection of its maker, CD Projekt Red.

This game was hyped as the pinnacle of open-world gaming and ironically may be a linchpin in the genre’s demise. It has driving and braindances and crafting and skill trees and character backgrounds and drugs and sex and rock music and Keanu Reeves and netrunning and body modification and romance! And all of it is underwhelming.

When I play Cyberpunk 2077 I can’t help but think of senior staff relentlessly pushing the goalpost further, adding deliverables in a desperate bid to capture every conceivable target audience and woo more sponsorships from motorcycle companies. I can’t help but think of how outstanding the game could have been if its scope was cut in half, if they wrote a tight story with a small cast in a small world that evolved as you played and delivered actual replay value. What we’re left with is a cold, half-baked open world with a few features rattling around inside it. The diamonds keep me coming back, but there’s no patching the broken core concept.

The original Cyberpunk 2020 roleplaying game put these dynamics in the hands of the gamemaster and players, but an open-world videogame requires them to be baked in upfront and discovered by players later. Ensuring those discoveries are frequent and impactful is critical to keeping the player engaged. As the player, I don’t need my expectations subverted constantly, nor do I need a sandbox to create my own fun in. I just want a world that shouts back at me when I scream.

And once again there is that tinge of cyberpunky irony. The boring hyper-capitalist dystopia game is ruined by expectations thrust upon it by the corpo execs of our own boring hyper-capitalist dystopia. People who are so mind-bogglingly detached from the game itself that they shouldn’t have a word in its development. (Yet they do because otherwise who would be there to shill to shareholders?) People who will keep failing upwards for the rest of their careers, crunching labor and keeping their precious profit lines pointed upwards. People who, just like the games they publish, are unaffected and uncaring about the actions you take a mile below them.

I hate this game. Yet I keep coming back for the inklings of passion tucked away in the corners of the final product despite the crunch, despite the budget mishandling, despite the scope creep, despite the bugs, despite everything. Those tiny pyrrhic victories against The Man.

Right on, random YouTuber Antonio Renas from the comment section of “Never Fade Away”.

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anchovie

anchovie

UI/UX designer with a passion for creating art, music, and on occasion writing.