Remember when you were back in school (or university, whichever was more recent) and there was that one kid that was exceptionally cool? You never spoke to them, mind you. They were too cool! Everything about them was stylish, trendy, and constantly appealing to anyone that looked their way.
Then, through some twist of circumstance, you were provided an opportunity to actually converse with this Entity of Chill. What a marvel! What a day! Finally, you could prod around inside their brain, dig around and figure out how they became so cool! It should have been a monumental moment, a step ahead for your social standing, and yet… there was just nothing.
Turns out, this Creature of Vogue was vapid, barely capable of stringing two sentences together without reminding you how cool they thought they were. It’s a sad thing to admit, but that high-school reality faced by so many people is what Cyberpunk 2077 reminds me of more than anything else.
As an aesthetic it’s remarkable and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy my time with it. Yet every time I thought I was really having fun, something stupid would smack my hand and remind me that there is a lot wrong with this game.
I don’t want to start with complaints though because there is a lot to like about Cyberpunk 2077. The biggest success of the game is the writing within its main and side quests. As young upstart by the name of V, your goal is to become “made” in Night City, a cultural hybrid of California, Tokyo and Beijing.
You’re a merc (with motivations that depend on your origin) that takes on odd jobs that mostly need a little muscle. It’s the setup for a story that’s soaked in the kind of eye-rolling cynicism of Grand Theft Auto V but truth be told, Cyberpunk 2077 is remarkably genuine. Given the aesthetic and the connotations of the genre it’s pulling on, I was shocked at how… nice people were. Sure, there are sleazeballs galore but the game tends to turn the lens on those lost and lonely souls just looking for a friend in dire times
V themself is a fantastic character, even if they don’t start out as much. The repercussions of their high-risk lifestyle expose the core of a person who’s terrified of what they could become if they dwell within the dirges of a city that’s so corruptible. They grapple with concepts of mortality, loneliness, vengeance and fear more than anything else.
They’re helped along by a cast of characters that, again, stand out against the grime of Night City. Every supporting character feels purposeful in their interactions with V as the themes of their stories weave into the players. There’s a masterful amount of storytelling in Cyberpunk 2077 and actually placing a character with emotion at the core of it makes everything resonate all the more.
To put some things into context, there’s an entire quest dedicated to V just attending a funeral. Mingling with the guests and saying a few words. There’s a confidence in that, in taking such a mundane event and spinning it out into a full-on quest. The best part about it is that it works. I’m glad the game focuses on the humans in Night City as it would have been very easy to continually bash the player of the head with sentiments of, “Look, technology sucks, right?”.
That theme is still present but it’s never so obvious as to become Black Mirror levels of paranoid. By the time I rolled credits on Cyberpunk, I was exhausted yet satisfied with the ending I got. It’s an excellent story that’s populated with complex characters, set pieces, and memorable conversations from start to finish.
Yet I was also exhausted because there’s a lot about Cyberpunk 2077 that just doesn’t work and, I would go so as to say, is badly designed.
Firstly, let’s talk about the game’s UI which is terrible. Passively, it’s inoffensive yet the second combat breaks out and you’re forced to bring up your cyberdeck to hack enemies as well as the constant flow of information as to where enemies are, what objects are hackable, and where some netrunner is attempting to connect to your brain… it’s overwhelming to say the least.
The problem with the UI becomes even worse the second you bring up any kind of menu with everything appearing as a cluttered mess. The inventory is a pain to navigate through, the map is just a buckshot spread of markers that block your view and the quest log is just tedious. Why is every available car classified as a quest? That’s an entire submenu that needs to be scrolled through when literally buying a car is no-where near as important as the game’s actual quests. I used the word “cluttered” a little early back and I think that’s the phrase that best describes the game’s approach to UX and quest management. This is surprising, given that you’d hope CDPR would have fixed the biggest issue which was also present in The Witcher 3.
Once you mash the exit button and retreat out of the game’s menus you’ll be doing a whole lot of things around Night City, but the bulk of your activities will most likely be driving and combat. Let’s start with the driving which for the most part works in the sense that holding down a button makes your vehicle go forward. Cars don’t handle very well at all, seemingly sliding over the words and never exhibiting the tight turns you want in a location with as many sharp turns as Night City. My advice would be to get a bike as soon as possible. The more slippery handling works better for two wheels and you’ll look cooler anyway.
That “looking cool” sentiment is applicable to Night City itself because beyond the main and supporting characters, there’s very little on offer. The world is robotic, turning its cogs like necessary and not doing much else. NPCs don’t engage with you and everything is just… unresponsive. We’ve seen a great deal of evolution in the open-world spaces of the last generation and none of that is present in Night City.
Remember how in Red Dead Redemption 2 the world responded to you? NPCs would comment on what you were doing in a parlor trick of clever design to really make you feel like you existed in the world rather than the world being built for you. It’s the opposite in Night City as nothing really feels like it matters. All the factions and street cred don’t mean a thing if I’m going to gun down a pack of Scavs only to be able to walk past a crew down the street that doesn’t seem to care or remember me for slaughtering their brethren.
It’s disappointing to say the least.
Combat is fun at best and terrible at worst. To elaborate, using firearms is clearly the intended way to play the game because melee combat sucks. It’s just straight-up bad. Firearms in Cyberpunk 2077 often deliver a solid, meaty shot (depending on the type of gun you’re using) and while not all guns are equal, there’s certainly fun to be playing as a gunslinger with a big chunk of iron on their hip. Yet the second you need to throw fists the game morphs into a Bethesda title. Impacts are barely noticeable, and smacking an enemy usually results in them being stun-locked so you can simply wait for your stamina to recharge and keep wailing. It’s not an engaging form of combat and given that the vast majority of encounters will involve being shot at, I can’t imagine it would very fun either.
I also just wanted to touch on the game’s performance. At this point, we all know about the bugs and glitches so there’s no point in carrying on about them. I decided to write this review a little after everyone else to see what kind of effect the big Day One patch had and while it certainly fixed a lot, there’s still plenty wrong. Even on my fairly beefy PC the game often stutters and hitches, with character animations still ceasing at random intervals.
While I fortunately haven’t experienced any hard crashes since the patch, I’m aware of several colleagues that have said the game is virtually unplayable on PS4 and Xbox One. You might be tempted to just excuse that with a “Well, don’t play it on last-gen” but considering those are the platforms the game was meant to launch on, that’s a laughable defence. While certainly better, CDPR has a lot to work on if they want their game to meet any kind of easily playable standard.
That’s the problem with delays, I think. Sure, most of the time the game comes out as a better product, but when a game has been in development for such a long time, the industry moves on. It changes. There’s so much about Cyberpunk 2077 that feels like a game that was designed and built seven years ago, barely acknowledging how we’ve evolved both as players and as an industry.
Ironic, given the game’s setting. There is fun to be had in Night City; a fantastic story and engaging side characters that made the experience worth the time for me. Yet there’s also so much that the game just whiffs. An unresponsive and cold open-world, a literal hit-or-miss combat system, irritatingly slick navigation, and UI that’s painful to be saddled with. Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t the game people wanted it to be. There’s good to be found in Night City but you have to put up with a lot of the bad to get there.
Last Updated: December 14, 2020