Video games

Cyberpunk 2077 Video Game Review

Normally, I do a review of the video games that I’ve beaten once I beat them, on top of whatever I’m doing for Nintendo Power Retrospectives or other works. Cyberpunk 2077 puts me in a weird spot, because due to how spectacularly high-profile it was and how high profile its failings were, it’s a game that has been picked apart by hordes of other critics, like starlings attacking a freshly restocked suet bird feeder. So, on the one hand, what do I say that other people haven’t said while picking this game apart? On the other, it would be somewhat negligent if I didn’t say anything. So, here goes.

Cyberpunk 2077: An Ambitious Failure

The hype leading up to Cyberpunk 2077, in a weird way, shows just how far CD Projekt Red (CDPR) has progressed when it came to the Witcher series, because of how far they backslid. The Witcher was a game with a big expansive open world, but clunky combat and navigation, and which generally was a buggy mess.  Witcher 2 was more polished, but also more confined in its environments, and finally, the Witcher 3 got the big environments they were shooting for with the first game, but with improved combat and traversal (particularly with the inclusion of horses).

This makes sense, as The Witcher was basically CDPR’s first game. It was a spectacularly ambitious first title and was clearly a case of someone biting off more than they could chew. That said, the game showed promise – which was eventually realized in subsequent titles, to a degree that most people don’t remember how absolutely clunky The Witcher was.

Consequently, when Cyberpunk 2077 came out and was a clunky, buggy mess, there was the valid question of what the hell happened here? While I haven’t read all the behind-the-scenes reporting from Jason Schreier at Bloomberg (because Bloomberg has an NYT and WSJ-esque paywall) – though I did read his article on the game’s development. The article fits with the read I had on the game, which is that the game felt like CDPR backsliding to the level of quality for The Witcher, rather than the polish that players had come to expect from The Witcher 2 & 3.

Thoughts on Cyberpunk 2077 (The Game)

The problem here is somewhat two-fold. First off, CDPR, as the article points out, was stepping into uncharted territory. First-person gameplay instead of third. Guns and ranged combat instead of swords. Urban environments instead of the rural countryside. American-style urban planning instead of European. Cars instead of horses.

An example of CP2077's poor traffic modeling.

Those differences are where a lot of the bugs come in – stuff like car traffic-stopping dead (in multiple lanes even) if you pull off to the side of the road, with no one being willing to drive past you. The roads of Night City don’t give you a place to pull off the road frequently either, so you have to drive onto the sidewalk. Cars will get stuck in place when driving into a parking lot, meaning that you’re unable to get out of the lot in your car – you’ll need to either summon another car when you’re done there or fast travel somewhere else and then retrieve your car through summoning it to the new location.

Example of driving in the first person in Cyberpunk 2077

I also ran into an issue with a bug at the start of Cyberpunk 2077 that locked me into first-person driving for the first couple of hours. I’ve previously given my thoughts on first-person driving – and while it’s better than the first person driving in Far Cry 4 (though to be fair, a poke in the eye with a sharp stick is better than the driving in Far Cry 4), it’s still a mess to control, and I was thankful when I was able to recover from that bug. The car handling in general is also a bloody mess, with cars swerving and sliding around the road like they’re on the razor’s edge of losing control – assuming they don’t steer like a boat.

Some of Cyberpunk 2077's combat.

That said, the shooting was generally pretty satisfying in the game. The way the Smartguns, in particular, were executed was generally nice, especially the smart-shotguns, with the weapon sort of serving like a pellet Itano Circus. It made for a really fun and inventive weapon, and I wish there was a Legendary Smart Shotgun that I could have equipped on my character in the later game.

Panam and Saul talking in Cyberpunk 2077

The writing for the game’s primary sidequest lines, based around some of the NPCs like Takemura, Judy, Panam, Kerry Eurodyne, and even Johnny Silverhand is also pretty well written, with the characters having some real depth. Even some of the one-off side-jobs have some solid moments of writing to them, like a side-quest based around a hacker who changed the programming of a fortune teller terminal to spout socialist messages.

Thoughts on The Setting

That leads, though, into issues with the larger setting – and the unavoidable elephant in the room. Specifically, the criticism of how generic Cyberpunk 2077’s setting is. The thing is, near as I can tell, the R. Talsorian Games Cyberpunk Tabletop RPG, the one whose setting this game uses, is the first cyberpunk tabletop RPG, having come out in 1988, predating Shadowrun (1989) and GURPS Cyberpunk (1990 – though it would have come out in 1989 were it not for the raid of Steve Jackson Games). It predates Ghost in the Shell and Bubblegum Crisis, not to mention Snow Crash. It’s a game that’s actively in dialog with the cyberpunk genre, as the genre is being formed.

Screen shot of the 6th Street Gang from Cyberpunk 2077
One of the gangs in Cyberpunk 2077 is the 6th Street Gang. Their gimmick is that they’re ultra-nationalists. You have exactly one quest with them, and otherwise they’re just another gang.

So, in terms of the discussion of the setting, in one respect Cyberpunk falls into the same category as Dungeons & Dragons, in terms of evolving with the genre, and actively being in dialog with the genre – D&D has been part of Heroic Fantasy for so long that criticizing a heroic fantasy novel for being “D&D-esque” is a little like criticizing a first-person shooter for being a “doom clone” or “derivative of Street Fighter”.

That said, there are numerous D&D settings that put their own spins on things, whether it’s the way the setting is structured in the Forgotten Realms, the “the gods abandoned us” pathos of the War of the Lance period of Dragonlance, the magitek elements of the setting in Eberron, the mix of gothic horror and heroic fantasy in Ravenloft, and so on. Cyberpunk 2020 has a few alternate settings based on other cyberpunk novels (When Gravity Fails and Hardwired to be specific), but those are licensed from those novels and aren’t being used in this game.

In a weird way, this also isn’t helped by the nature of Cyberpunk 2077’s name. Greyhawk is a generic setting, but when Temple of Elemental Evil came out on PC, the fact that the setting is generic didn’t hurt the game that much, because the name on the box wasn’t “Fantasy Role-playing: Temple of Elemental Evil” – it was “Dungeons & Dragons: Temple of Elemental Evil” – having the game name attached to the genre really underlines how standard the setting is.

Final Thoughts

This all leads to, an extent, where I ended up being disappointed with this game. The cyberpunk tabletop RPG that I have the most emotional attachment to is not R. Tal’s Cyberpunk – it’s Shadowrun, due to that being my first, and that setting having the inclusion of magic, and the empowerment of indigenous populations by that magic to shake things up dramatically. Instead, the world of Cyberpunk tabletop game doesn’t have anything to distinguish itself like that – combined with the setting arbitrarily tossing in some ill-considered notes to make the world even more of a slow-burn apocalypse (like the government killing off all wildlife to stop a plague, instead of trying to find a cure or vaccine for the plague – which would be a lot less expensive, and wouldn’t cause a now unavoidable ecological collapse that would lead to Earth becoming uninhabitable and rendering humanity extinct).

I’d hoped that this game would give me something to help me get why this roleplaying game’s world has the fanbase it does – and it did a little. I’d certainly like to spend some more time in the setting either in a tabletop game or with a theoretical, more polished sequel, though I don’t know if the setting’s grabbed me enough to want to run a game in it.

If you do want to pick it up, you can pick up a physical copy of Cyberpunk 2077 for the console of your choice on Amazon (though I’d recommend only getting it if you have PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, or the Xbox Series S/X or PS5), or getting it for PC through the Humble Store. Buying anything through those links helps to support the site.

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