Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat. I wasn’t as excited for Cyberpunk as other people might have been, largely because I wasn’t excited about the company handling it or the headlines it seemed to make. Yet, late in the year as it seemed to rear it’s head, I began to find a little hype within my soul and decided on a day one purchase. I was perhaps only a little disappointed. Cyberpunk 2077’s gameplay, world, story and character creator were touted as selling points, but it is hard to say if any of that lived up to the hype, or if it was still living in a shadow of itself back when it was announced in 2013.
For this section, I’m going to factor in the character creator. Because let’s face it, some of us probably did spend a good chunk of time flipping through the character creator options. It happens in every game where there are character creation options. Yet, somehow the options to me felt lacking. First off, setting aside the fact that gender in the game is chosen by the voice you choose (just for a moment, we’ll come back to it), it seems perhaps lazy and unoriginal to only have two voice options. I understand that ultimately, it may have been pretty expensive to have two or three voice actors for each “gender”, and have them voice all the dialogue in the game, but I find a personal disconnect in the V I made and the way his voice sounds.
By the way, if you thought you’d get out of this review without me talking about the options for genitals, you are sadly mistaken. While I still do not think it should have been an option, especially for how many times you actual see male below-the-belt genitals in cutscenes (spoiler alert: zero), I found myself upset by the lack of flair or dramatic size differences that seemed to have been promised during the game’s development. The straight male gaze is heavy in this game. There’s an episode of the podcast where I talk about how unnecessary I find a “dong slider” but if you’re going to put it in, then for God’s sake, at least make it a little comical.
All right, enough of that. Let’s talk about the actual gameplay.
Cyberpunk 2077 is nothing you haven’t played before. If you’ve played Deus Ex, or hell even Skyrim, then you’ve played this before. You are building your character’s abilities, playing stealthy or loud, choosing to kill or not. There are side-quests that may or may not help move the story, and characters to love and hate. Ultimately, the gameplay is not revolutionary. The quick-hacking is perhaps where the game gets a little original, replacing what would probably be magic or something in another first-person RPG. It is actually not a bother that the gameplay isn’t totally revolutionary. Sometimes you like things you’re familiar with. Bugs and glitches aside, the game is still fun to play and anyone with a history of video game playing, can pick it up pretty easily.
Some people seem to have some issue with some mechanics of the game, again none of which are truly that different from any other game like Cyberpunk 2077, in my opinion. I have had little issues with driving, sometimes forgetting to slow down a little around corners and fishtailing, but others seem to find the driving in the game to be mediocre and a constant issue.
Night City, and it’s outer limits, do look pretty good. Although, I find a lot of fault with much of the neon lights and somehow-still-in-the-80s effects, I do think they did a fantastic job building something wonderfully dystopian. Even the grimy, graffiti, gang-ridden corners of the world look and feel colorful. I wish I had more to say about it other than that. I recognize the time and effort put into making the city come alive inside and out. Like anyone else, I appreciate good visuals. Characters look based on real people, even the heavily-modded ones. All-in-all nicely done.
The UI and start menu could be better.
The journal section, the shard section, and the text message section are messy and despite being organized in some fashion, feel disorganized and overwhelming. Things largely feel out of place or haphazardly thrown into sections of the menus.
Cyberpunk as a genre has been around for decades, arguably made popular with the BladeRunner movie. The genre has the uncanny ability to share stories of greed, corruption, and show the worst of human society. Cyberpunk is really no different there. From the very top to the bottom, it seems like no character or even NPC, is having any kind of good time in this game. Nothing quite prepares you to enter the world of Cyberpunk. The prologue helps, but it throws the slang of the world at you with little help or effort to help you understand. Likewise, it doesn’t seem as though the game is keen on giving you details about the world outside of Night City, or even many notes on Night City’s previous players. While the genre may not feel new, the world and Night City most certainly is new to anyone who hasn’t played the Tabletop version. A “previously on” or something would have been nice to help me, or other players, better understand V and the story of the world surrounding them.
The world also explores sexual freedoms, and this is where things get tricky for me. This is certainly a personal issue, but I find issue with the idea of a sexual revolution that gives our sexuality to corporations to use the “sex sells” method quite literally. Likewise, I find issue with the idea that we are so sexually free, that we cannot or do not enjoy physical interactions nearly as much and instead put on VR headsets to live out our fun. These are probably not issues of the game itself, but perhaps of the genre.
Ultimately, I think the game could do more to introduce players to Night City and to the Cyberpunk RPG lore. It falls pretty short in that regard.
I do not fully agree with the reviewer who stated that the side-story quests and side-story personality of “V” seems to not factor into the main story. In fact, there are some side-quests that need to be done in order to get to the best ending of the game. However, I do not fully disagree with that reviewer either. The side-story content seems to lack much consequence, even from the side-story questgivers. There is no reputation for working with certain people and not others. No gear-based, or progression-based decisions to make. While the content seems to help flesh out the world a little and give context to things like “Cyberpsychos”, it does little to actually engage with the player beyond that.
The main story is interesting, but still leaves something to be desired. It is hard to say exactly what that is, but I find that while the story is fairly original, it comes off as being less about your character and their journey, and much more about the Johnny Silverhand character. Any uniqueness given to V, is basically given the backseat for Keanu Reeves. In fact, I am almost of the opinion that this game probably started as a Johnny Silverhand story whose sequel would follow V. Kind of like how we got Raiden instead of Snake for Metal Gear Solid 2. It is tough to see V take a backseat in a game that is supposed to be about them. I continue to think a Carl Johnson, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas-like, story would have worked better for V, than what we were given.
Good Game? Good Media?
As a game, I think Cyberpunk 2077 is worth at least picking up at a sale price. It is a fun video game. It comes with all the violence we know, love and expect. It has a freedom of playstyle, exploration and it generally feels good to pick up and play.
As a piece of media, one which we take the stories, morals, and everything else that comes with it, it perhaps needs work.
To begin with, Cyberpunk and the developers made promises they just could not keep. The one thing we should certainly take away from the past seven years, is that no developers should be rushed into making a game. It is a lesson we’ve attempted to learn for years now, but one that feels absolutely telling in the case of Cyberpunk 2077. Likewise, the media coverage of the game’s development was not always the best. In fact, it is largely because of both negative and positive press that we went into this game with delusions of grandeur and came out on the other side disappointed.
Every attempt that the game makes to appeal to certain audiences (trans-folk, BIPOC, etc) simply comes up short of what it could be. Don’t get me started on the Chromanticor drink ad. Transfolk have already boycotted the game for multiple reasons. Chief among them being the voice-equals-gender decision.
The game just seems stuck in the 80s, as I said before. Perhaps it is time for the Cyberpunk genre to be updated a little. We’re 50 years away from this game’s timeline and nothing in it feels within reach. And I am not wholly talking about the prosthetics, body modifications, hacking, and so on. The aesthetic as a whole is a neon-colored pop-rock fight-the-power drug-induced fever travelling in a 30-plus year old vessel that hasn’t quite grown up to meet the current era. What does Cyberpunk look like with a more modern aesthetic that draws perhaps from the original source material, while combining some new, current era ideas?
The world may never know.
The Final Take
Cyberpunk is still a fun game to play. If story is your thing, you may not find it to be the most interesting or compelling. If you’re just kind of looking for a fun romp through a filthy yet beautiful city, this might be for you. My recommendation would be to wait for a sale. Though CD Projekt Red has been working to address bugs, glitches and performance issues, in it’s current state, I think it isn’t worth a full $60. Even still, in a later state, I do not think it is worth $60. Cyberpunk does nothing different than games you’ve already played. It still comes up short and does nothing to really change or add to the conversation we have around video games. It does not engage the player beyond “here, play this game and have fun”–which, by the way is completely fine. So wait for a 20% off deal, make sure your hardware is up to date, and have a gay (but not gay enough) old time!