Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Microreview [Video Game]: Cyberpunk 2077 by CD Projekt Red

Hackin' and Packin'.

It’s no secret that the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 was an abysmal mess. The console versions were unable to run on their native hardware. Constant crashes, massive game-breaking bugs, and wonky animations (among many other things) made the flame of day one adopters’ enthusiasm flicker, and their trust in the revered developer CD Projekt Red turn to ash in their mouths. Okay, maybe that was a bit much, but it’s fair to say a lot of people were upset. As a day one buyer, I knew I couldn’t play the game in its release state and instead waited for the promised next-gen patch (for PS5 and Series X). Fast forward one and a half years later. The game that was announced in 2012, delayed numerous times, and released in 2020 is finally playable in 2022! What a ride. I wanted to ensure I played the game at its best before giving it a go for two reasons; A) to witness the developer’s final vision, and B) because I wanted to enjoy the game (as I’d been highly anticipating it).

And enjoy it I did. Cyberpunk 2077 is a great game filled with lots of lore, plenty of gameplay options, and unique and interesting characters with well-written quests. Almost two years later, Cyberpunk 2077 is worth putting some time into.

Night City is a place of contrasts. It holds both beauty and hideousness. In some parts, it's bright and vivid, in others grime and filth are prominent. Slums surround hundred-story buildings that glisten in the sun’s shine. This is a place where high-class citizens intermingle frequently with the lowest of the low. Gang members make pacts with CEOs to get jobs done that need doing, while fixers send hired assassins to kill corpos who harmed some poor soul living in a hovel. In Night City, many are out to become a legend—to be remembered for their deeds. Most die in the process or fizzle out. But now it's V’s turn to shoot their shot. V is a mercenary who does jobs for her local fixer. Do enough gigs in Night City and you just might get noticed.

V is whoever the player wants them to be. For my review, I will refer to them as female, as that's how I built the character. The player is given many options to customize their V right from the start. They can alter how they present V’s gender as well as which gender V identifies as. The customization even allows for a choice of genitals (which are seen in some romance cutscenes). The player is also allowed to make their character look cybernetic or natural. There are only two options for voice, however.

While I didn’t get a chance to hear V’s masculine voice in action, I had plenty of time with the feminine one. At first, the voice actor (Cherami Leigh) would grate on my nerves, a mix of the dialogue and the actor’s portrayal of the character irritated me. Over time, I came to appreciate Leigh’s performance, even if there were a few lines here and there that seemed off (the character always sounds like they have a rough grittiness about them, even during sensitive line delivery). In the end, I think she was the right choice for the role and I'm glad I stuck with my decision.

What am I doing talking about voice actors and environments before actual gameplay? Well, Night City is not just a setting, it’s the impetus of every character’s actions. It forms their opinions and personalities. It’s one of the most realized game worlds since Rapture. In most games, the environment is a backdrop, a place for the player to traverse that takes a back seat to gameplay and/or narrative. But Night City is wound into every quest you do and the effects of the city and its inhabitants are with you every step of the way, there’s no way to talk about Cyberpunk 2077 without first mentioning what makes the game work. The city isn’t perfect, but it’s incredibly well done. Night City is the star, and V is just one of the many planets orbiting it. The game makes you feel special like you've got what it takes, but you don’t ever truly feel like a legend. There’s always something further to achieve, and I found that Cherami Leigh’s contribution in combination with the other VO performances and the ever-present Night City fully immerses the player in their quest to be remembered.

In the initial hours of the game, you’re offered a big job. A heist to be precise. What starts as an elaborate robbery somehow goes wrong and suddenly Keanu Reeves is in V’s consciousness and you spend the next seventy hours trying to get him out. I say Keanu Reeves because even though the character he portrays is rocker-boy terrorist Johnny Silverhand, it is still always Keanu Reeves (just go watch one of his movies if you don’t understand). It doesn't help that the character is modeled after him. This may work for some people, but for me, it was disengaging. His delivery was stiff and unnatural at most times. And though he came to irritate me less later in the game, Keanu never sold me. This wouldn't be a problem if the character was needed for a one-off side quest, but this isn't the case. He’s with you the entire game. I’m not saying Keanu’s not a great person, he is. His brand of acting, however, was one of the biggest hindrances to my enjoyment of Cyberpunk.

Despite Keanu’s overall performance, he does deliver a few good lines that made me chuckle. Not to mention, Johnny Silverhand plays into the plot quite well and it makes for good entertainment to see V engage with the construct in her head that’s slowly killing her. The main quest is pretty straightforward, but CD Projekt Red gives the player the ability to solve the issue in multiple ways. A multitude of endings are available for players who complete certain character’s side missions, and each one is distinctly different unlike some other—yes, I’m looking at you Mass Effect 3. I save-scummed for the multiple endings (I certainly wasn’t playing the game four times at eighty hours a pop). I was pleased by the detail that went into each ending, as each one has playable portions that could have easily been accomplished as a quick cutscene. And, depending on the players’ romance option in the game (Hi Judy, I miss you already), the ending may present that character for a final dialogue. This means that there are technically many more than four endings, though the template for them will be similar.

Many praise CD Projekt Red for their quest design on The Witcher 3, myself included. I’m happy to say that Cyberpunk 2077 doesn't disappoint. Whether I was chasing down a serial killer that keeps people locked up like farm animals, retrieving a set of lost vehicles—each with an individual personality—that were separated from their AI host, getting revenge on gang leaders for selling sex workers for spare parts, helping a convicted murderer to reenact the crucifixion of Christ, or if I was just assisting a sentient vending machine named Brendan, I appreciated the creativity and effort that went into the writing.

Everyone in Night City is looking for a good high. Whether that’s sexual or substance-induced comes down to the individual (though most frequently take advantage of both). Cyberpunk 2077 is rated M for Mature for a reason; every city block and every elevator has ads for a pleasure offering establishment. In the world of Cyberpunk, many opt to use a brain dance instead of going for the real deal. BDs, as they’re often referred to, record one’s experience and put it into a file that someone else can then participate in for their pleasure or a thrill. BDs are primarily used for pornographic purposes in the game’s world, but some main quests use a hacked BD that allows the player to become a detective of sorts. Going through someone else’s mind and using that to discover clues and create plans for upcoming quests was an enjoyable aspect of the game, even if solving the brain dances was quite simple.

The core gameplay is that of a first-person shooter. The game gives you many options when tackling your quests. You can use melee (either blunt or sharp, think spiked bat or katana), you can use guns, you can use stealth, or you can use your hacking skills. It’s possible to hack a camera so you can see things from a different angle, then hack enemies from the perspective of the camera. The game lets you play any way you want, and the gameplay is quite satisfying. You can slash someone up with a katana, knock them back ten feet with a heavy swing of your crowbar, blast their arm off with a shotgun, or simply use the short-circuit hack and fry them out. Whichever way I approached a situation, I consistently enjoyed the combat. I did have a few issues where the game had a bit of slowdown during intense engagements with lots of enemies, but not always. The music that accompanies combat can get irritating at times, but it doesn’t outweigh the enjoyment of the gameplay. Blasting my way through a stronghold with my double-barreled shotgun while hacking everything in my way always felt good, especially combined with my cybernetic enhancements. After all, who doesn't love a double jump?

The beauty of the gameplay is that not only do they give you the tools to use all of the skills, but they also allow you to solve most missions with them. There is always a way to sneak into/out of a building if you wish to focus on stealth. While there are a few missions you can’t sneak your way out of, they are never overwhelming or unbalanced (now I'm looking at you, Deus Ex: Human Revolution). Many times after blasting my way through a building (what can I say? It’s what I do), I would discover a back door or side window that I could have accessed had I wanted to use stealth, something I appreciate from a level design perspective.

There are five skills in the game, each with two to three sub-skills. To level up the sub-skills, the main skill must first be leveled up. Intelligence, Body, Cool, Reflexes, and Technical Ability are the skills that govern everything you do. Want to be able to hack turrets, craft the best items, and open tech-locked doors? Technical Ability is where you'd invest. Want to have a lot of HP, be able to tear doors off their hinges, and control the spread of shotguns and LMGs better? You want to put those points into Body (bet you couldn't guess I maxed out this skill). However you invest, each of the skill sets is fleshed out, with each sub-skill offering perks to tweak to your gameplay style.

Though most of the bugs had been ironed out by the time I finally got around to playing Cyberpunk 2077, a few remained. At one point, I was stuck in a tutorial for twenty minutes. I had to deflect an incoming attack and I couldn't understand what I was doing wrong. I eventually reloaded a save and discovered it was a glitch. Another time I found that when I fast-traveled out of an area before my previous “Quest Complete” marker popped up, I couldn't do anything. I couldn't hack, I couldn't pull out my guns, I couldn't climb. It was the weirdest thing and I essentially had to become a QA tester to figure out what was going on. Eventually, I figured it out, but it took over a half hour. I had about a dozen game crashes as well. Luckily the SSD booted the game back up quickly and my saves weren't corrupted. Even still, another minor irritation.

Unfortunately, Cyberpunk also suffers the plague of many other open-world games: too much padding. Many of the little extra missions are quite similar, especially the NCPD missions (which pretty much all have you stopping gang violence). The map is littered with so much to do, but as you go down the list, you find a lot of it is quite similar. But amidst the padding, the good stuff does shine.

Cyberpunk 2077
had me riding a motorcycle at one hundred-sixty miles per hour, speeding between traffic on the highway, and narrowly avoiding pedestrians—yes, I was that person. I would blame myself, but I believe that Night City brought it out of me. I went around hacking and shotgunning every gang-banger and corp-loving jerk in my way. In a world where corporations manipulate everything at the expense of the poor, what better way to make a name for yourself than to take the power into your hands? While CD Projekt Red doesn't always hit the notes they want with their vision for Cyberpunk 2077, when it does, it’s fantastic. And even when it doesn’t, it’s still an enjoyable game to play. It’s a shame it took so long to become playable. In the end, I'm glad I waited to play.

For those on the fence; put on your mercenary gear, update your cybernetic enhancements, and call your closest fixer. Night City awaits.

The Math

Objective Assessment: 8/10

Bonus: +1 for incorporating fluid sexuality seamlessly. +1 for a great dystopian open world. +1 for exciting gameplay. +1 for multiple fleshed out endings.

Penalties: -2  for technical issues. -1 for too much Keanu. -1 for too much padding.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.