To say that Cyberpunk 2077 was hyped up for it’s release would be a massive understatement. CD Projekt Red claimed this would be the next step in RPG gameplay and would feature a living, breathing futuristic world that would have NPC’s with daily routines, dynamic events and a compelling story about technology and the terror of corporate power. Now that the game has actually been released, does it live up the the expectations the developers laid out for us? Let’s find out! Also please keep in mind I played the PC version on a high end system and as such your experiences may differ from mine.
The story sees you playing as V, a merc in Night City who after choosing your backstory ends up working as a small time criminal within the lower districts and after a particular job winds up having an imaginary digital friend in their head, Johnny Silverhand. It’s up to you from there to figure out who Johnny is, why you keep having blackouts and seizures and figure out exactly what it was that landed him in your head. This of course is just the main story and just like any RPG the game has a massive amount of sidequests and worldbuilding activities that you can choose to follow with some of which having you do very interesting activities from performing heists to capturing cyber-psycho criminals for the police or even doing something as simple as going to a location and looking at pretty scenery. The story is most definitely the strong point of this game as while the actual main plot just ends up being another spin on the typical cyberpunk genre tropes (big corporations, corruption, digital people etc) the characters are what truly make this experience interesting. Many of the characters you meet are utterly fascinating and really believable with backstories and character development that made me want to continue interacting with them and learn more about their past. Some of the side missions too were very interesting and while they unfortunately only have the illusion of choice in many situations in how to actually deal with different scenarios they were at least interesting enough. I am rather confused however at the choice of having a pseudo-custom protagonist as many characters you meet or who directly contact you seem to have a past with V and speak to them as though they are on first name basis but when they all came up I had absolutely no idea who they were or why they were contacting me. Perhaps this was just something that was cut along the way but as you will see this will be a trend to come back to later on.
Presentation wise the game at the highest levels of power looks great. Now this is highly dependent on what system you are playing on and for myself I never got to try ray tracing or any of the fancy RTX functionality due to not having that kind of power but still at my level the visuals looked very nice. Characters looked detailed, Night City was huge and really did feel like a lived-in city with many vistas and interesting places to see and there was so much detail put into every little visual flair that it was astounding. I also thought the voice acting was top notch as there wasn’t a single performance that I felt was out of place or didn’t quite match the tone they set up so props for that. In terms of music it’s essentially your standard cyberpunk techno/electric mix with some custom songs for radio and other such places though the high intensity of the music combined with the volume really makes combat feel high octane and fits the fast pace well. However I am absolutely not a fan of the UI as while I started off playing as an intelligence/hacker character I quickly changed into a melee brawler as the UI felt way too cluttered at almost all times and there was so much going on in just the menus and screens concerning hacking that I felt completely overwhelmed and put off by it and opted to just stick to something more simple so my head didn’t hurt by the end of trying out the game. I got more used to it as the game went on but it was still initially an onslaught on my senses. I also experienced large amounts of framerate problems in various parts of the story and as such it really killed the pacing and dramatic tension in these certain parts which is a shame as some of the locations you visit can feel downright gorgeous when systems are working correctly. So presentation wise it ultimately feels quite nice but a few things do unfortunately let it down.
For the gameplay the best comparison I can give is that it’s a more stat-focused GTA as you play in the open world of Night City between missions, pick up gear and level up to boost stats and get perks for your character, try different gameplay styles and weapons in order to fit a more defined character role. You also have access to several vehicles to get around the city, can perform small side activities that you discover while driving around and of course get chased by the police if you perform crimes. I felt however that the open world nature of the game felt almost unnecessary as I didn’t enjoy the way vehicles drove in this game and aside from buying weapons and new abilities for my character I didn’t feel as though there were many activities to do in Night City that couldn’t have been accomplished from just playing through certain areas and going to missions, similar to how Mass Effect handled hub-areas. The actual combat itself is a mixed bag as I didn’t enjoy gunplay too much as it felt a bit too fast paced for me to keep up with enemies and as I mentioned before the hacking side of things while it does look cool and can make you very strong was visually off-putting and so I ended up playing a melee character running around with a sledgehammer. This was a more fun gameplay style for me however this game has some of the worst melee hit detection systems I have ever seen and frequently just flat out had me die to punches or swings that I never realised had even connected with me. A lack of awareness in combat seemed to be a common trend as at various times when you get attacked by hackers yourself you might end up catching on fire or losing access to your weapons but because there is so much visual clutter going on you can’t even see this is happening most of the time. You also have a lot of skill checks in dialogue and related to your backstory choices but in the end it all felt rather pointless as it didn’t seem to actually open up that many other options aside from allowing you to skip combat encounters at several times so it doesn’t really feel like there was any point to them at all aside from flavour.
If I was to pick three main criticisms I have with the game it would be the fact that it is (of course) very buggy, it’s very visually ‘busy’ and that it feels like so many systems and ideas have been cut from the game that it almost feels like an Early Access title. The bugs are of course legendary and well known from this title and depending on what time you are reading this many of them may already be fixed. During my time however I dealt with character models not loading in, characters not moving their lips when speaking in important cutscenes, visual glitches on the UI, items not loading or being picked up correctly and even some gameplay breaking bugs such as abilities I unlocked in perk trees not actually functioning correctly making me feel as though I just wasted some of my character development. These bugs are especially frustrating when they happen during important story moments or cutscenes as they can completely ruin the mood or tension a scene builds up if you notice something screwing up in the background or characters apparently communicating with you telepathically. I mentioned of course about the cluttered UI but this feeling of your senses being assaulted extends to gameplay and audio too as everything at times just feels too fast paced and chaotic that you can lose a lot of the drama and worldbuilding as your brain filters out a lot of the white noise. Bars and indoor locations are usually the worst for this as loud music and seizure-inducing visuals in the background can completely take you out of a story experience and in combat this can even lead to you losing track of enemies and feeling sluggish as the over-use of explosions, bright colours and high intensity music can cause systems to slow to a crawl. Finally with regards to cut content it honestly feels as though this game could have used maybe another year in development in order to get everything working perfectly as the amount of inconsistencies, story threads that end up going nowhere, dialogue that doesn’t really make sense without some proper context and of course deeper RPG systems such as proper character appearance customisation in game, extra transport systems and several interior locations just feel incomplete. As I said, this feels like an Early Access title with stuff expected to be missing and if they labelled it as that I wouldn’t have too much of an issue as I would go into the game not expecting a full experience but with this being sold at full price with no mention of missing systems or unfinished work I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. It’s not a deal breaker or anything to me and I’m sure down the line the performance and bugs will be addressed and missing features/systems will eventually be added and at that point this will be a much better game.
In conclusion then the game certainly doesn’t live up to the expectations that the developers set out for it but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. I did enjoy my time when things worked and I played to story end but I don’t see myself coming back to Cyberpunk 2077until things are sorted out over the next year. The story was nice, the visuals were gorgeous (when they worked) and ultimately they built a very interesting world that I enjoyed learning about but when it came to the actual game part of this video game they faltered greatly. For the price this is at and due to the fact that the story and characters are actually pretty good I would give this a miss for now until things are more polished in the future and at that point then you can enjoy the emotional story moments and interesting locales without the fear of things messing up and ruining some good moments. I will be interested to see how this game looks in the future.