Cyberpunk 2077 is an open-world action-RPG from developer CD Projekt Red, set in a grim, dystopian future. It has also been one of the industry’s most anticipated titles for the better part of 2020, and a series of release date delays has done little to extinguish hopes for the game. What’s arrived, however, needs a lot of explanation, and those expecting Cyberpunk 2077 to generate some sort of tectonic shift in video games would do well to re-adjust their expectations: the game is good, even great in places, but does very little to shake things up.
What Cyberpunk 2077 feels like is a game that is a collection of what defined the last generation of gaming, executed to varying degrees of success. This amalgamation of systems is held together by a story that is satisfying as it slowly comes together and a world that, even when side questing, feels like it is being changed by protagonist V and the player’s decisions. Overall, after wrapping the main campaign with about 40 in-game hours, Cyberpunk 2077 is excellent, but it’s not so much innovative as it is an attempt to master what defines a good, compelling open-world RPG.
It’s hard not to feel a mixture of excitement and dread when the title card for Cyberpunk 2077 finally rolls around about five or six hours into gameplay. That’s what players are signing up for: a game with so much content packed into every corner of its world that it can’t even introduce itself without a half-dozen hour intro speech. Truthfully, the early hours of Cyberpunk 2077 feel disjointed when compared to the experience that follows. V is dropped into their back story, plays out a brief quest line that sets them up for the convergence point all backgrounds meet at out of necessity, and then is fast-forwarded through months of adventures as a mercenary and thrust into an important gig. Somehow, Cyberpunk 2077‘s gargantuan tutorial feels rushed, a feeling that persists throughout the game’s closing moments, too, as it feels like things suddenly hurtle towards an endpoint almost unprompted.
Cyberpunk 2077‘s world is ripe with storytelling moments that are pretty hit or miss to match the strange pacing. Some narrative beats are compelling, exploring the anxieties of tech progression, privacy, capitalism, and more with a surprising level of nuance. Others feel like shock value just for the sake of it, with a few questlines in particularly likely to generate a lot of discussion once fans get to them. Character customization is deep and V’s personality does begin to shine more as their journey progresses and allows for the player to mold what person they are. However, early concerns over handling sensitive material haven’t dissipated over 40 hours of up-and-down storytelling. In particular, the game’s treatment of sex workers leaves a lot to be desired, and there are a few other situations that feel similarly clumsy.
Cyberpunk 2077‘s narrative concerns are established early, as V attempts to puzzle out a solution to a unique life-or-death situation related to the construct of Johnny Silverhand (played by a very charismatic Keanu Reeves) that inhabits their head. Early hours in Cyberpunk 2077 also establishes the different ways the game can be played, and it’s here that its inspirations become clear. Clunky run-and-gun approaches feel similar to Mass Effect in a way, though gunplay does get tighter as players unlock more attribute points and perks. Hacking and stealth feel like the best parts of Deus Ex combined with an absolutely breath-taking environmental design, so that each completed mission feels like it had four other ways to get the job done.
Cyberpunk 2077 does an excellent job at balance, and there wasn’t a single mission that felt like it was unfairly stacked against a particular playstyle. Even boss fights are doable regardless of chosen approach, which is something stealth players in particular will doubtless be grateful for. Most Cyberpunk 2077 missions make good use of the verticality that adds depth to Night City, too, and main or side story exploration often has a lot of lore to uncover for those interested that can even point them in the direction of a hidden treasure or two if they’re paying attention.
Keeping a close eye on things certainly isn’t an issue thanks to Cyberpunk 2077‘s visuals, which are mostly gorgeous. Every major Cyberpunk character featured in the story has memorable aesthetic and personality to match, and the world is as pretty as it is full of possibility. Characters will often contact V as their story progresses to offer their own developments, and picking up the sprawling threads of side-narratives is easy. Some of Cyberpunk 2077‘s best characters from early in the game aren’t even present in the main story, which showcases the depth with which the game’s world has been realized. The caveat here, though, is that as the game rushes along its narrative’s main issues, it can feel like some characters get lost in the shuffle without resolution – though that’s only a problem for people rushing through the main quest somewhat.
Vehicles are also more of a miss than a hit in Cyberpunk 2077 – driving cars feels awful to begin with, and only improves when players get access to nicer options as their notoriety increases. Thankfully, fast travel helps pace Cyberpunk 2077, as well as the nice option to let other characters drive in questlines to open up the option of chatting with them while progressing to a new mission marker. Eventually, driving becomes more exciting, and some moments with specialized vehicles are even great in their execution, but the early going can be frustrating, especially in the few quests that require driving to succeed.
NPCs and cars tend to behave kind of oddly, too. Whatever V does, it doesn’t seem to faze the citizens of Night City, who have little issue being bumped into, run over, or cut off in traffic. They’ll react, of course, but it feels very plastic, a far cry from the Grand Theft Auto style that open-world games with vehicles tend to emulate. This isn’t to say that the world doesn’t have a pulse to it, though, and the beating, automated heart of the bustling Night City is still audible in its overheard conversations and off-screen event audio.
Cyberpunk 2077 does a remarkable job in making victory malleable for players at every turn. Most missions will give V an inkling of their “preferred” method – document theft, for instance, sees the client tell V stealth is the best approach – but that doesn’t lock players in by any means. Subtle extractions can be done by simply bruteforcing through wave after wave of enemies, while battlefields littered with trained soldiers can be traversed without them ever knowing someone was there. That flexibility is key in a game that features as many customization options as Cyberpunk 2077, with its many branching skill trees, cybernetic implants, upgrades, and perks largely given opportunities to shine in the right build.
While Cyberpunk 2077 does many things well, however, it doesn’t feel as though it’s really innovated much. Its gunplay is good for an RPG but obviously lacking when compared to FPS games, while its driving doesn’t hold up when compared to other open-world titles like GTA. It’s also buggy, with Bethesda-like levels of weird happenings occurring. Most of these aren’t game-breaking, and the ones that are frustrating – sometimes getting stuck in the grainy filter of surveillance camera vision outside of it, for instance – can be fixed with a quick save and reload. Still, there’s been plenty of glitches, ranging from V becoming bald for a few moments to a motorcycle launching a truck into the sky just by nudging its bumper. A consistent bug seen throughout the game has been guns floating, suspended in mid-air above dead enemies, which can certainly make for a strange picture after a particularly grisly shootout. Sometimes, during key narrative moments, the character doing the driving careens into a parked car without missing a beat of their exposition.
Cyberpunk 2077 is ultimately a game that is tailor-made for multiple playthroughs. The more skills V unlocks and the deeper they sink into the conspiracies of Night City, the more it becomes clear that this is a game which fans will happily sink their time into, well past the relatively short main campaign. CD Projekt Red assembled a collection of the finest open-world mechanics we’ve already seen, and most of them work well. Ultimately, it feels like Cyberpunk 2077 is a fitting bookend for the previous generation of games and a strong starting point for current-gen. Now it’s time to start innovating again.
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Cyberpunk 2077 releases on December 10, 2020. Screen Rant was provided with a PC code for the purpose of this review.
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