• Latest News

    Tuesday, December 8, 2020

    Cyberpunk 2077 Review Round-Up: ‘Flawed and Fantastic’

    Cyberpunk 2077 reviews began pouring in on Monday night, after developer CD Projekt Red lifted the review embargo.

    This narcotically spectacular digital imagining of Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk role-playing-game arrives under an extraordinary amount of pressure in this most extraordinary of years. Since its breathtaking performance at E3 2018, Cyberpunk 2077 has stoked hype and faced multiple delays, while its developer CD Projekt Red has come under scrutiny for its reportedly brutal working conditions as its creators ‘crunched’ to get the project over the line. During a global pandemic, no less.

    The result is a fascinating game that brings all of this to bear, veering wildly from the sublime to the ridiculous as you find your way in the hyper-violent, neon-drenched alt-future of Night City. A sprawling sci-fi adventure of unfettered brilliance blighted by the scars of prolonged development.

    As in-demand merc ‘V’ (hewn by you in a heavily customisable character creator), the first time you step out from your apartment and onto the streets of Night City is an extraordinary thing. Neon chasms stretch out ahead of your first-person view, garish holographic billboards spew adverts for genetically modified burritos and hi-tech corporate propaganda. But even more arresting than that is the teeming streets below, full of bustle as the city’s cybernetically-enhanced denizens go about their business and automated cars glide past. Clattering food stands are abuzz with customers, steam rising from colourful pots in such a way that you can almost smell it.

    I am not sure there has been a video game city that feels quite so alive on first glance. It is rich in detail and intrigue, every inch designed to suck you into its world. As you stretch out from your home, into the Tokyo-inspired hustle of Japantown, through the favelas of the gang-controlled Pacifica --where street kids hurl rocks at busted government sentry turrets-- and even beyond the city walls into the sweeping Californian desert you are left in no doubt that Night City is the real star here. Definable swathes of land that give rise to different opportunities in V’s sprawling quest.

    To delve too deeply into exactly what that is would be wading into spoiler territory, but the basic setup is a suitably twisted cyber-nightmare. After some thunderous, relatively linear opening hours, a series of unfortunate events see the ‘ghost’ of Keanu Reeves’ revolutionary rocker Johnny Silverhand embedded into your head. The game then gives you the keys to Night City as you explore the whys and wherefores of your situation, all the while taking on jobs to build your reputation as the city’s go-to mercenary.

    Much like CDPR’s previous work, The Witcher 3, this gives you a clear goal but a wide berth to dig into gigs around the city and build up V’s skills and arsenal as you see fit. There is no defined ‘class’ to choose from; instead giving you free rein to drop skill points into different areas that improve gunplay, strength, stealth and ‘netrunning’, the game’s term for special hacking skills that aid you in both exploration and combat.

    While Cyberpunk 2077’s systems are definably RPG --with vast skill trees, enemy levels and constantly improving loot-- in feel, it more closely resembles games like Deus Ex and its ‘immersive sim’ ilk. Encounters can be approached in a number of ways, from all-out assault to stealthy infiltration and even measured discussion. There is a definite sense of freedom here; you can sometimes go hours without pulling your gun, should you wish, but still make heavy progress.

    When the action does kick-off --and it will, some missions require the more direct approach-- there is plenty to enjoy. Gunplay and melee combat has a punchy and satisfying kick --if not the precision of a dedicated FPS-- while being able to hack your opponent’s cybernetic implants to temporarily blind them or overheat their systems opens up an impressive array of options. Go the quieter route and you can blind cameras and hack nearby vending machines to pull goons out of position.

    This is married with some splendid variation, particularly in the game’s main story missions. Cyberpunk seems happy to swing from high-octane action to more lingering, slow-burn sections. Some of my favourite diversions are the Blade Runner inspired sleuthing, which has you spooling through ‘Braindances’, video recordings pumped into your cyberdeck to find key pieces of evidence.

    In truth, 2077’s interpretation of ‘cyberpunk’ can veer towards pastiche -- there is nothing particularly revolutionary about its corpo-controlled technoworld-- but it builds a sense of cybernetic otherworldliness into its gameplay with some style.

    So far, so good, then. But Cyberpunk 2077 currently comes with a potentially ruinous caveat: it simply still isn’t finished. It is, in its current state, absolutely riddled with bugs and technical hitches. To borrow a phrase everyone’s favourite replicant Roy Batty: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe”. Night City denizens and discarded guns float in the air, untethered from gravity. Sound inexplicably cuts out. Multiple holo calls from contacts dial in at the same time, talking over each other in garbled conversations. Mission-critical enemies get stuck in lifts. Your tracked quest will suddenly change without warning, with you only cottoning on after you’ve driven several hundred metres in the wrong direction.

    Much can be brushed off as visual quirks, but there are more serious glitches too. Twice I have dropped dead for no apparent reason after stepping off a slight incline (my guess being that it registered my step off a fire escape as massive fall damage). Once I failed a mission because the unconscious body I was transporting in a car trunk levitated up, smashed through the back window and crashed back to the pavement, dead.

    There is a certain understanding that pre-release code can come with issues that are ironed out in time for release. I played on PC and cannot speak to the solidity of the console versions. Indeed a Day One patch is promised for all platforms that will doubtlessly smooth some of these over, but the issues seem too systemic to expect Cyberpunk 2077 to be free of much of this on release.

    Doubtless CDPR is frantically continuing its work to stamp as much of the issues as possible --The Witcher 3 was constantly improved, for instance-- but it does point to the intense pressure the developers were (and continue to be) under to produce a bewildering amount of stuff to do in the game. Perhaps to the detriment of its stability.

    It is a shame because when Cyberpunk 2077 hits the high notes, it really sings. Immersion is an overused word in games, but at its best Cyberpunk can provide exactly that. There is a sense of dynamism when talking to its many characters, for instance, which feel like actual conversations rather than strained exchanges of dialogue.

    While the writing itself can come off as try-hard and over edgy --particularly from V themself-- there is a skill in its characterisation that makes the people you encounter throughout the city its lifeblood. From Reeves’ surly Silverhand, to the multiple fixers that hand out jobs with their own quirks and motivations and companions that accompany you along the way.

    One lengthy story thread was a mission that involved thunderous turret sections, a daring assault on an electrical substation and a dust-billowing motorbike sprint across the dunes outside the city. All terrific stuff, but what sticks in the mind most is the instant connection with the companion and the Nomad settlers outside the walls, sharing a beer in a motel bar, making elaborate plans and raging against the machine.

    That is the rich core of Cyberpunk 2077 that should most stick in the mind, a game that has more heart and humanity than you might expect. So it is unfortunate that, for now at least, it comes with so much other baggage that is impossible to ignore.

    • Blogger Comments
    • Facebook Comments


    Item Reviewed: Cyberpunk 2077 Review Round-Up: ‘Flawed and Fantastic’ Rating: 5 Reviewed By: BrandIconImage
    Scroll to Top