Heading into release, developer CD Projekt Red had the insurmountable task of matching or even topping The Witcher 3. Judged by many as one of the best games of the entire decade, it brought with it high expectations for whatever came next. Mix in a well-crafted marketing campaign that built up an incredible amount of hype, and Cyberpunk 2077 had a lot to live up to.
Hype, however, is never a reliable source, and, as anyone who has been around the block is aware, it’s not good to get too swept up into it. As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t jump into CP2077 expecting a life-changing experience. Given the studio involved, I certainly expected something good, and I was anticipating it, but when it comes to gameplay, I just wanted a well-polished experience I could easily get immersed within.
Sadly, it doesn’t quite achieve that.
By now, most people have probably seen or heard about the game’s many bugs. Articles and videos have been discussing it in abundance, and as I sit here writing this, Sony just pulled the game from its digital storefront and offered full refunds to anyone who purchased it on its platform. It clearly wasn’t ready for release, and, during my time with it, I witnessed a little bit of everything.
(Warning: embedded videos contain strong language.)
For the sake of brevity, I won’t highlight most of it here, but I had broken side quests, random deaths caused by my character glitching into the geometry, the menu stopped working, enemies fell through the map, I fell through the map, my car fell through the map, at times I couldn’t shoot, there were moments I couldn’t move, multiple times I couldn’t jump, my character’s hair and clothes failed to load, and the list goes on and on.
Just documenting the many major and minor bugs could be an article in itself, although I may have been one of the lucky ones, as nothing was particularly game-breaking. Annoying, sure, but my progression was never hampered for too long. That is, if we’re not counting crashes, of which I had 44. My total play time was just under 70 hours, so it was roughly one crash every 90 minutes. However, it doesn’t break down quite so nicely, as there were instances where it occurred four times within a 60-minute span, and every now and then I could hit almost three hours without a single one. It was sporadic and unpredictable.
It would be one thing if, at its core, the title was worthless. I could give it a bad review and be done. But what makes the glitches most painful is that there’s a really good game lurking within the mess. Just the story and its accompanying music is almost worth the cost of admission.
CP2077 begins with the player creating their character – in this game named V. The design suite is a bit lacking, and the toolset is slightly dated, as you choose options from a list of numbers instead of being able to see all choices at once, but even with its limitations, I was able to create a protagonist that was both sexy and cool.
I won’t dwell on the plot, as the less you know the better, but for reasons best left discovered by the player, V is facing an expiration date, and what follows is a tale of existential dread. This fear of death is, ironically, wonderfully brought to life, due to strong voice acting and great writing. V is portrayed exceptionally well. I believed her when she broke down crying, hoping to get through just one more day.
It’s not only V who carries the show, as throughout my time in Night City I grew to adore most of the side cast. When someone died, I mourned. When one turned down my flirtatious advances, I felt rejected. And when others opened up about their history, I got the sense I was actually being trusted. Nearly every major quest and side quest is rife with little character moments, and it is supremely well done. These characters don’t just come across as entities within a game – they present themselves as real. It’s the most absorbed I’ve been within a game’s fiction in years. These are people I grew to love – and that a game could pull this off is all the more memorable.
It’s just a complete shame that, for all the immersion the story presented me with, the moment I ventured into the city, it was all ripped away. It tries to appear as if full of life, but it’s actually very lifeless and robotic. Drivers lack any AI whatsoever, and if you block traffic, instead of attempting to go around you, cars will back up for a block or more. Pedestrians walk around, but mysteriously vanish at a moment’s notice. The police, too, have this teleportation ability, albeit used in a different way. Hurt someone, and even with no witnesses around, they immediately know you broke the law, and instead of arriving from a random location, materialize out of thin air, literally in front of you, usually just five feet away. There’s a dated feel to all of it. Not even the older Grand Theft Auto titles had police officers that were coded this poorly. They can also be escaped in moments.
During one side quest, the story called for me to flee the cops as they swarmed in from multiple directions, and not even seven seconds later, as I was a mere 10 feet away from them, they forgot about me and moved on. What should have been a high-intensity police chase instead became Driving Miss Daisy.
More than anything, I really wanted to be immersed within Night City, but there’s a shocking lack of things to do. Arcades exist, but the machines can’t be interacted with. There are only four races and these are for a specific side quest. Outside of quests, there’s really just something called NCPD scanner hustles, and they’re all almost exactly the same. Just copy and pasted a bunch of times within each district. Go and loot a specific item and you’re done. That’s it. There are no instances of emergent gameplay. Nothing interesting happens throughout the city unless tied to a quest. Sure, you can sometimes find random enemies scattered about, but that’s truly it.
Not even exploration is satisfying. Everywhere you go are locked doors, and for the mirage of verticality the city gives off, most of the time you’ll be on the ground, moving among an empty shell. I would have much preferred a smaller location that was densely packed with things to find and do. Think Prague from Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. In that title, almost every building and room could be entered, and secrets existed in abundance.
If there’s one thing the city design nails down, it’s the overall aesthetic. When this game looks good, it looks damn good. From a garbage dump in the desert that’s filled with junk to the neon-lit skyscape of the city itself, the game is gorgeous. Visual bugs can ruin it at times, but when it’s running properly, it’s a sight to behold.
All the art assets blend together to tie the lore and the environments into one beautiful package. It feels like a grungy future city, and the way sex and drugs are plastered everywhere really suits it. This is a future where humanity has given into its vices to an excessive extreme. Speed is advertised on TV. Television series are all about banging. And, speaking of sex, nudity and fetishes are used to sell every product under the sun. A trans woman with a throbbing penis under her leotard selling a drink is just as normal to see as naked women or men shilling various other products, usually with some form of kink mixed in. Because here, people don’t want to think – they want to escape. They want an endless stream of quick-hit vices – a life choice pushed by the heavily corporatized world that is all too ready to enable them.
This is the grimy and degenerate cyberpunk city I want to get lost within, and it sucks that the immersion is only skin-deep.
To tie CP2077 back into Deus Ex, pre-release, I was hoping for something along the lines of the series’ recent entries. I wanted to tackle the world in a play-your-own-way style, but the game doesn’t permit much of that. You won’t pick up boxes or move other objects within the environment, either weaponizing them or using them to reach new points of exploration. And for a title that appears as if its gameplay is full of choice, it’s actually quite rigid.
You can hack, shoot, and stab to your heart’s content, but try anything else and the game actively works against you. A perfect example of this is a minor quest in which I was tasked to take out a sniper on a bridge. I drove up to it, and, at a certain threshold, I was automatically booted from my car. This disappointed me as, instead of taking out the baddie the same way I’d already up to this point taken out tons of enemies, I wanted to play around and do something different, in this case, run him over. This disappointment only swelled when, on the bridge, I saw another car, but on entering it, I was automatically kicked out once again. I simply don’t understand why something as basic as running a person over is forbidden – you’re given tools, only for the game to tell you, ‘No, you must do things this way.’
Once I accepted how little leeway I had, I resigned myself to what the game wanted, and I did have fun. Thanks to a fairly deep leveling system, there are quite a few paths that open up. You can be a stealthy hacker who has a contagion virus that’ll kill many enemies at once, or you can be a brute who runs and guns while every so often still making use of hacks. If neither of those suit you, create your own custom build, because the options are there. Each skill tree is rife with upgrades – it’s quite daunting at first.
Adding more enjoyment to movement and combat are cyberware upgrades. Think of these as body augmentations, and there’s quite a bit of mixing and matching. Playing on hard difficulty, where a strong attack can practically kill me instantly, I was especially fond of an upgrade called second heart. This allowed me to revive upon death during a fight. There’s also something called mantis blades, and these are cool. Your arms split apart as deadly weapons protrude from them, and hacking off enemy limbs and heads was a blast.
If there’s one disappointment, it’s that the blades serve as nothing more than a flashy melée weapon. It would have been neat if they’d provided extra utilitarian purposes. Let me climb walls for a better advantage point or stick myself to a ceiling or… something.
Where combat most shines is its gunplay. Weapons feel fantastic to shoot. I had an overpowered revolver and exploding heads never got old. Initially, I was surprised by how much of a numbers game it is, and the first few hours on hard was a hassle, as everyone was super bullet-spongey, sometimes taking 15 or more shotgun blasts to the head to die, but once I dove into the upgrade and crafting system, or found ever better weapons on the ground, I reached a point where even the game’s most difficult foes could be toppled in seconds.
Funnily enough, my best weapon turned out to be a gigantic dildo. I got the sucker up to well over 2000 damage per second, and I ran around bopping everybody on the head. Call me immature, but beating people with a massive dick never got old. This became all the more hilarious when I obtained the ability to double-jump, so I’d hop all around the map, charging up my heavy attack in the air, only to land near an enemy and smack ’em. Instantly taking them out.
Big dick energy FTW.
Where combat most lacks are the enemies themselves. For all the upgrades that canonically exist within the world of cyberpunk, the bad guys are relatively tame. As I was double-jumping around thwacking people with my dildo, many just stood there. Why don’t they too jump around for a better position? Why do none of them seemingly have mantis blades, or gorilla arms, or any of the other cool upgrades. Even an actual penis in this world could theoretically serve as a weapon, so why are they all so boring? Sure some can hack you and cause you to overheat, but it’s nothing too special. The rest mostly just shoot or melée you. It’s baffling how dull they are.
Somewhat filling the previously mentioned void are cyberpsychos, and these enemies are varied and cool. But there are only 17 of them in total, all tied to a specific side quest, and hurting their presentation is that quite a few of them broke. I’d engage in combat and they’d just stand there, not reacting to me as I stripped them of health. This lack of reaction extended to a few other minor bosses in other missions as well. What should be epic fights turning into me beating an unresponsive foe. It’s simply just broken – another thing to add to the pile of aspects of this game that don’t work.
It has to be stressed just how much of this title feels half-baked. For example, you can customize your genitals in the character creator, be a chick with a massive dick for all you want, and there’s a ton of clothing options to boot. But being a first-person shooter, you don’t see your character all too often, yet for the things you can see, like cars or your own apartment, nothing can be done with them. It’s a real missed opportunity. You drive all the time, and the car is a physical entity that is seen, so why does my dick have customizable public hair, when the color of my vehicle can’t be touched? It’s weird.
And that is what this game is: it’s weird. It is a title of two halves. On one hand, it’s a phenomenally well-crafted story and a gorgeously realized world with combat that, while not deep, is still fun, but on the other, are gameplay choices that don’t add up to much and features that seem like they’re missing. Throw in the many bugs and crashes, and the reality is that the game isn’t done. I have zero doubts that car customization options will be added in later, as will more combat techniques. I fully believe the world will be further fleshed out, with more to do, and the bugs will eventually be squashed. Likewise, the police will likely be altered, as will the overall NPC AI. But I can’t review a game on what it might be later on, I have to review it on what it is now, and, in its current state, is an immensely fun experience but one that, at every turn, left me disappointed at what it could’ve been.
Many people will pick up Cyberpunk 2077 and have fun. Admittedly, I had a lot of fun. Even factoring in all my many complaints, it’s one of the most enjoyable experiences of the year, but a game can give you a first impression only once, and I recommend people wait until this title has been updated and completely revamped. In six to 12 months, it’ll be a different experience, and I think people owe it to themselves to play it once it finds its true potential. For if it can unlock that, then this could share a tier with The Witcher 3, but it’s going to take a lot of work for CDPR to get it there. Hopefully, they have it in them, because it deserves more.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
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