One of the most hyped games of 2020, should Cyberpunk 2077 pull off everything that fans had hoped for, it could have easily been the game of the decade or the perfect end to what has been a console generation less about delivering brand new experiences but pushing the boundaries of what is possible with new hardware. Instead, what was got was easily the most divisive games of the generation. Underneath the surface you see a creative game with an enticing narrative, beautifully designed world, memorable characters and gameplay which is not groundbreaking but approachable to all playstyles. But on the surface, all the game’s rich content was let down by one thing… it was a buggy mess.
I think the industry can learn a lot from the launch of Cyberpunk 2077, which might profoundly affect video game development and launches in the coming years. Should consumers tapper their expectations and be a bit more understanding when games get delayed? Should publishers lay off the idealistic view that one should launch a game at a particular time to ensure the best sales? Should development teams embrace a more community-facing approach to public relations where future players are joining in on the team’s development journey? Ultimately the buck falls with the leadership who approved the game for launch in this state. The result is that Cyberpunk 2077 has firm foundations – but requiring players to go through it knowing their progression could be snuffed out at any point by a game crash.
Cyberpunk 2077 takes place primarily in Night City and its surrounding areas, an alternative-reality futuristic city residing in the United States’ west coast. You will fill the shoes of a player character nicknamed V, who begins their experience either as a nomad looking to make it into Night City, a street kid on the streets of Night City or a corpo who finds themselves left on the street after being royally fucked over by the Arasaka Corporation. Regardless of their progression in life, they find themselves doing a series of freelance jobs alongside a guy named Jackie Wells – who serves as their companion throughout the first steps in the game. Things quickly escalate as V finds himself/herself experiencing a botched mission against a major conglomerate, left for dead, and now stuck with the virtual ghost of Johnny Silverhand (voiced by Keanu Reeves) in their head.
The storyline is your standard open-world affair, although the change in setting from either fantasy or modern-day to a futuristic haven of debauchery and smog is a refreshing one. While the progression of events usually involves going from X to Y to do Z, what makes the story so rich is that each mission has had lots of thought put into it. Not only does each task usually take you to different, hand-crafted areas of the city, providing different shades of the city’s construction and class disparity, but are individually designed to shock, entertain and morally challenge you. The story writing team at CD Projekt RED also delved into some darker subject matter which many games try their hardest to stray away from. While confronting, it was also welcome in the context of a dark, virtually lawless society 50 years in the future.
Split across two arcs, the main story of Cyberpunk 2077 will take you between 20-30 hours to work through. Offering content which will triple or quadruple the main story’s length is the side content, most of which you will be able to work your way through during act 2. These range from missions to defeat eighteen cyberpsychos to assisting the Night City inhabitants you will meet on your journey. Your decisions during these paths will provide different rewards, and may lead to something more than that…
The gameplay takes the form of a first-person shooter and action-RPG system, which in itself is kind of off-putting at first if you are not used to exploring open-world environments from this perspective. However, once you adapt to this style, I could not imagine playing Cyberpunk 2077 any other way. It feels like you are witnessing the often depraved world from the perspective of V. From there, you engage with the world much like you would a modern-day open-world action-RPG, albeit with many futuristic concepts added to the mix. You will take part in combat with a range of ranged and close-combat weaponry, navigate the world in a range of vehicles from retro clunkers to post-modern supercars which glide across the road, and customise V with a range of cybernetic gear to give you new skills and abilities.
If you expect it in an action-RPG, you will likely see it in Cyberpunk 2077. There is a good mix of fresh takes on these concepts, especially when built into the narrative experience. One such example is that while you are behind the car’s wheel 90% of the time, some missions see you take the passengers seat and go along for the ride. This might sound boring to many, and CD Projekt RED evidently thought so as well by giving players the chance to skip the scenes, but the immersion was brilliant and let me sit back and enjoy the world as a citizen would. Honestly, would have loved to have this option with the game’s teleport option, spawning a cab rather than just teleporting with a momentary loading screen.
But ultimately, this is where the bugs begin creeping in. It is hard to pinpoint what precisely causes the issues, but these range from user interface elements not disappearing, being flung half-way across the map for unknown reasons, identical NPCs spawning together in the same area, or the game just crashing. The crashing is easily the most notable bug, occuring in the middle of more intensive missions or (especially) when driving around the city at more-than-legal speeds. I have managed to put 80 hours into the game in the last couple of weeks, and when the game works for a couple of hours, I have a more than enjoyable time. But when the crashes come rolling in, and the game doesn’t autosave at the right moment, you lose quite a chunk of progress and are forced to retrace your steps – perhaps once, perhaps two or three times. On more than one occasion, I just shrugged, turned off my console, and moved on to something else.
I think the big thing for me is that, after several decades of gaming, this is the first time I have ever gotten to the point where a console game has crashed on me not only once, but several dozen times. One would expect there to be the odd glitch, which tends to be patched out in a pre-release or immediately-after-release patch, especially with open-world games where playtesting can only go so far. I remember playing Skyrim on the PlayStation 3 when it first came out and remember dealing with game-breaking bugs and slow-downs, but never to the point a game would crash on me four times in an hour.
It really sullens an experience that many talented people clearly put much time, effort, and passion into developing. This is especially true when it comes to the construction of Night City, where there are so many uniquely designed assets that every street and building feels hand-crafted. In terms of production quality, the voice acting and music choices were also top notch. While I usually sigh when it comes to an iconic celebrity being introduced to a franchise – whether musical, anime or video game – Keanu Reeves was a perfect match for Johnny! Opting to play as a female V, Cherami Leigh was also flawless throughout the entire game.
With the work that CD Projekt RED have put into fixing some of the major issues currently in Cyberpunk 2077, I believe that the developers will manage to pull it to a much more favourable state than it currently is in. Cause ultimately, there is a lot of creativity and passion that has gone into making this game that could still make this a landmark game. But until that time arrives, all the issues are patched out, and we see whether it is available at a discounted rate by the time it happens (or even becomes available on select digital platforms), you may want to hold off and dedicate your current funds to other newly released games. But regardless, Cyberpunk 2077 is the game to keep your eye on going forward!
This review was conducted on a PlayStation 4 version of Cyberpunk 2077, played on a PlayStation 5 Disc Unit.
A review copy was provided for the purposes of this review by Bandai Namco Entertainment Australia, who serves as the game’s regional distributor in Australia and New Zealand.