Review: Cyberpunk 2077

Due to the popularity of the tabletop RPG Cyberpunk augmented by popularity of The Witcher 3, Cyberpunk 2077 has been one of the most anticipated games for some time now. Having Keanu Reeves make a surprise appearance at E3 2019 to reveal that he would be playing an in-game character did nothing except fan the flames of excitement over CD Projekt Red’s futuristic title. Originally announced in 2012 and after facing several delays this year it seemed like Cyberpunk 2077 would never actually see release, but it finally made it out in 2020 by the skin of its teeth, hoping to end this shall we say unique year with a bang.

Whether or not it succeeds in this goal depends on which platform one experiences Cyberpunk 2077. This review is based on the PC and Stadia versions of Cyberpunk 2077. Normally when dealing with triple A titles that span multiple platforms the differences in quality between the formats is more or less inconsequential, but this is not the case with Cyberpunk 2077. Features such as story, game mechanics and the general gameplay will naturally be the same across all platforms, but any evaluation of technical performance and overall score in this review is only applicable to the PC and Stadia version.

In Cyberpunk 2077 the player takes control of V, a character with an existing personality and with one of three possible backstories. The player has a decent amount of creative control in determining how V looks, with the basics such as hair style, eye color, skin tone, tattoos and other visible cybernetic augmentations, but we all know which feature of character creation got the most attention prior to release. Unfortunately, this may have been premature as the customization options come up short with six permutations for male genitalia (two variations, three sizes) and only one option for female genitalia. Instead of having clearly-defined genders to choose from there are two body types — the standard generic male and female model — but you can put male genitalia on an otherwise female body or vice versa. Or have no genitals at all. Ultimately, make a character with whatever combination of parts you want to play as this choice seems to have no bearing on gameplay or the story.

The story of Cyberpunk 2077 begins in one of three different ways based on background the player chose: Street Kid, Nomad or Corpo. After playing through an introductory mission that varies greatly depending on the background, the player ends up with the same partner on the same mission. This doesn’t mean the chosen backstory is irrelevant after the intro as there are many dialogue options that are specific to each which can lead to interesting interactions and information about NPCs. Once V is settled in Night City, the goal is to become a legend that will forever be remembered in the annals of who’s who in organized crime such as Adam Smasher. V ends up taking jobs of a less than legal nature, and as one would expect in such things, people get killed and betrayed as the web of crime V weaves becomes ever greater and more intricate as V struggles to stay alive. Going into too many further details about the story here could diminish the experience for the player, but it does grow into something complex and memorable.

Night City is a sprawling megacity in Northern California that caters to humanity’s baser instincts and there’s no shortage of things to keep the player busy. Criminal activity seems to be one of the major sources of employment along with other shall we say hedonistic activities. The developers were not subtle that the sex industry is booming in Night City and the love of money is the only love people chase. When V isn’t doing missions the player is free to enjoy the services offered from the working class of Night City and take in the tourist sights. Crime is a huge problem and extra money and street cred can be earned by assisting the police by breaking up assaults and other crimes in process in the most lethal ways possible. The main story path of Cyberpunk 2077 is on the shorter size for a game of this scope and can be completed in the 20-30 hour range, but with all the available activities and side jobs, getting two or three times that amount of enjoyment in a single playthrough is possible. Plus the shorter main story lends itself well to replaying with a different character and experiencing the different ways the story can branch.

Players have a lot of freedom in how they choose to develop V’s abilities. As V advances through Night City players will gain experience points to increase their overall level and street cred, which as street cred increases more jobs will open to V as their exploits have caught the attention of bigger names in the underground enterprises of Night City. V has five basic attributes: Body, Reflexes, Intelligence, Technical Abilities and Cool. Each of these have their own subsets of different subskills with branching skill trees. It’s almost overwhelming how many different abilities the player can spend their perk points, such as in areas of Street Brawling, Crafting, Assault or Hacking to name a small sample of what’s available, but a lot of perks mostly offer incremental bonuses to such things so there’s low risk of building the character a “wrong” way, but strategic examination of the available options can be used to create an optimal character based on a chosen playstyle. Wanting to make the character a master hacker, invisible ninja or in-your-face brawler and many other types of characters can be created through effective planning. In addition to building up V this way, there are also Ripperdocs all over Night City that for a price will gladly add and switch out various cybernetic enhancements.

Cyberpunk 2077 is a massive game that’s brought to life through countless well written and performed characters. Jackie Welles serves as a decent enough friend to get V acclimated to Night City but soon V has no trouble getting acquainted with many other people. Goro Takemura, Judy Alvarez and Dexter Deshawn are some of the major characters who all have distinct personalities and motivations for interacting with V. Panam was an interesting character that ended up being involved with many side missions, and Delamain’s refusal to deviate from standard practices was rather amusing. Many of the characters that deal with V have a frenemy type of interaction filled with reluctant cooperation for a common goal. Even though Cyberpunk 2077 has no shortage of entertaining characters, the character that everyone was most curious about thanks to the hype machine is Johnny Silverhand played by Keanu Reeves. Reeves did a great job bringing Silverhand to life and made him an entertaining character that’s easy to care about even if he’s a jerk sometimes. We do get to see him perform in his band Dogstar Samurai, but those sequences are minimal. Silverhand does make a significant contribution to the game so he wasn’t just a charismatic face to help with pre-orders.

Playing Cyberpunk 2077 can be described as mix of Fallout, Deus Ex and Grand Theft Auto and that’s meant in the most complimentary way. The quest system separates the main quests from sidequests so the player has the choice of trying to speedrun the main story or put that on the backburner to explore the other activities offered by Night City. As previously stated, people who just want to complete the main story can do so quickly, but like exploring any major city, rushing through isn’t the recommended way to enjoy it. The player is free to explore Night City at whatever pace they want, taking on jobs, finding vigilante work or just enjoying the attractions Night City has to offer. Night City is a huge place to explore but thankfully the developers were generous with the location of fast travel points, but if one of those isn’t convenient V can always take out one of the many purchasable vehicles or “borrow” one from a random driver. The story and side quests are progressed through standard dialogue trees along with phone calls and text messages, which is a feature that also helps bring Night City to life. One of the more interesting features is the detective modes when viewing a Brain Dance to help solve a crime. Watching video is a common practice in investigating a mystery, but thanks to V’s cybernetic enhancements the videos can be inspected by isolating the visual, audio or thermal layers to undercover clues that wouldn’t be available in standard viewing.

Night City is a violent place but V has many different ways to handle situations that get out of hand. V can equip up to three weapons at once for quick changing in combat. The melee arsenal includes basic items like wrenches and baseball bat along with nice things such as stun batons or katanas. The firearm variety is no less impress with revolvers, shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles and submachine guns to name a few. Combat is fast paced and feels satisfying whether using a gamepad or mouse and keyboard, and this is a game that isn’t afraid to depict gratuitous violence. Dismemberment and decapitation are common occurrences and on more than one occasion an enemy continued fighting after they were disarmed. Literally disarmed, as in they were shot in the elbow and their arms flew off. There are less confrontational approaches too. Sneaking up on an enemy to stealth kill them is always an option. Hacking has a lot of applications for combat. In addition to disabling security cameras to help sneak undetected, hacking can set booby traps, make machinery malfunction to distract guards and in some cases cause attack drones and droids to self destruct. While death doesn’t seem to be frowned upon in Night City, there are several non-lethal alternatives to taking out enemies. Whatever approach V chooses to do combat happens regularly and because of the tight and responsive controls, the fighting is enjoyable.

There are bugs and glitches in Cyberpunk 2077, but on a high-end computer the game runs fantastic and looks even better. There are a few concessions that need to be made as there probably isn’t a machine that exists that’s capable of running this game with all the settings maxed out at 60 FPS, but even on High or Ultra settings things still look great even if it is 30-40 FPS. This isn’t the biggest game world or longest game ever made, but creating such a massive city that feels alive is no small feat. One of the more amusing bugs is occasionally after a lengthy battle enemy corpses would lay in rather bizarre positions, like their dead body will be seated in a lunge position with their arms sticking out and their head laying horizontally on their shoulders.

Cyberpunk 2077 looks great, both in terms of technical graphics and artistic design. The character models look lifelike and the motion capture quality gives a lot of the animations are more true-to-life quality than many other games are able to achieve. Most characters appear lifelike though there are a few of them where the textures with their hair looks strange. There are a few graphical imperfections even when things are running exactly as they are meant to but overall Cyberpunk 2077is a visual triumph. The animation is fluid which helps in bringing everyone to life. Most of the voice acting is extremely well done and the mix of the delivery combined with the motion capture helps make everyone feel alive. The soundtrack of heavy electronic music fits the dystopian vibe of Night City perfectly, and in addition to help setting the mood, it’s easy to just lose yourself in the pulsating beat.

Earlier it was mentioned that all versions of Cyberpunk 2077 are not created equally. During the review it was played on Stadia and a PC that exceeds the specs to run it on Ultra settings. As the previous paragraphs stated this was a positive experience but not without its issues. PC suffered from pop-in errors and visuals bugs for about forty percent of the time prior to the Day Zero Patch. After this patch was installed there were still visual bugs and glitches, but they became significantly more rare. There were other minor issues with textures, but things ran smoothly for the most part. Surprisingly the game didn’t crash a single time but there were three separate missions where it didn’t register it was completed to progress. Loading the most recent autosave solved the problem so it was more of a minor annoyance than anything game breaking, but ideally the number of times that should happen is zero. The Stadia version surprisingly experienced no bugs, but did suffer from the occasional streaming hiccup and the graphics didn’t look as nice on PC, but overall the Stadia’s performance was the most impressive and is highly recommended to someone who didn’t have a good gaming PC as an alternative to the console version.

Closing Comments:

Cyberpunk 2077 is excellent and one of the must-play titles of 2020, but unfortunately this statement needs to be clarified depending on the platform. CD Projekt Red should be applauded for crafting such a memorable game that checks off every box for excellent game design, but they neglected to make the game run well on two of the main consoles it was designed for. But keeping the quality of the game and the practices of the company separate, as well as the PC and console versions separate, Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the best PC and Stadia titles to come out this year and lives up to the developer’s legacy of excellent games built through The Witcher franchise. The relatively short main story encourages multiple playthroughs with different playstyles and choices, and Night City is big enough to spend countless hours exploring and completing the massive amount of side content while being interesting and enjoyable enough where the player would want to do that. Cyberpunk 2077 combines an engaging story with a huge open world to explore, filled with memorable and interesting characters to work with and plenty of ways to kill them. There are bugs, which is also part of a bigger discussion about the ethics of releasing a game with technical issues with the mentality of patching it later. Currently on PC the Day Zero Patch has reduced their occurrence and there haven’t been any major game-breaking ones, but even so it will be at least another patch or two before it can be said it runs flawlessly. Hopefully with the scheduled patches over the next few months the console versions reach a point where they too are worth playing, but maybe Cyberpunk 2077 will fare better on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.