Remember when it was 2018 and CD Projekt Red’s reveal of Cyberpunk 2077 took the world by storm? Absolutely everything about this game seemed perfect right off the bat. Open-world RPG created by the devs behind The Witcher series? Check. Kick-ass appearances from trendy action stars like Keanu Reeves? Check. We were once again getting ready to immerse ourselves in an entirely different world filled with tech-hungry bandits, data heists, and trauma-induced celebrity appearances. But, did we really get what we were originally promised? Read on to find out.
1 - Visuals
Walking around Night CIty and getting acquainted with the is a near-unbeatable highlight. Each NPC has a distinct feel to them that gives off a certain vibe about their personality. If they look like they want to try and stab you, they do. While the yellow triangle over their head that indicates whether the NPC is a potential threat can be phenomenally helpful, by equal turn, sometimes it was unnecessary. A major aspect I kept track of coming into the game was how much a personality was conveyed visually, and whether those personalities lined up. For the most part, they did.
While the visual models for NPCs have their triangle quirks, the main characters really do look like badasses. When you first meet Dex in his car, you really feel like you’re sitting in the backseat with a heavyweight crime boss. Shader and texture downgrades aside, a lot of these models serve their purpose of getting you immersed really well.
When they wanted to. Please be warned, this game is not at all optimized for last-gen consoles. The Day 1 patch definitely smoothed out a lot of the visual issues, but for others, the effect lingered.
For a valiant, stunning visual effort undermined by a select few hiccups, visuals get 4/5 stars.
2 - Audio
Normally, I’m more of a “skip every sentence in the cutscene” type of gamer, but there are franchises out there that I’ll lend an ear to if I’m really invested in their story or really invested in making fun of their voice acting. The latter wasn’t the case here. Much like the visual design, the voice actors did a fantastic job making you believe they were the legendary choombas they’re portraying. One of my favorite early examples of this is Jackie. The voice fit absolutely perfectly with that character model, and Jason Hightower’s vocal work quickly won me over as a fan of his.
Voice acting can get cheesy without being bad, and I think that’s where Keanu Reeves lands in the game. Reeves sold the Johnny Silverhand character; being a Matrix and John Wick action star helped. There were some lines that just felt so cheesy I couldn’t help but crack a smile, and sometimes, that smile was exactly what I needed. Gavin Drea and Chermai Leigh provided the voices for our protagonist characters, and through my few playthroughs, their voice acting work was solid when it counted.
For winning me over on the voice acting front, audio gets 4/5 stars.
3 - Story/Progression
CyberPunk 2077 is hands-off when it comes to its objectives. Yes, it’s going to give you directions and help you out when you’re stuck, but you’re left to enjoy the story at your own pace. You’ll find that some missions will require you to come back to a certain place at a certain time to help you progress through the story, allowing you to do whatever you want to do. Whether it’s small side-jobs, busting up a crime, or just selecting how much time you wanting to wait to finish up the objective, the game is in your hands, which is appreciated.
Still, game-breaking bugs in the form of reduced frame rates, constant crashes, and horrible textures took that progression right back out of our hands. These glitches were and are very common among XB1 and PS4 players to the point that refunds are now being offered as a remedy.
For a free-form narrative with plenty of choice despite its setbacks, story gets 4/5 stars.
4 - Gameplay
When the game worked, everything was phenomenal. Night City has so much to offer players, and I had a blast barreling through the streets looking for things to get myself involved in. One minute I would be fighting off a gang of cyber-punks with a shotgun, and the next I would be fleeing down the street to evade cops because my bullet ricocheted and killed a woman. Would I go to the bar to see how hammered V would get after stealing some eurodollars from a vending machine, or would I just hurry home to brush my teeth?
CyberPunk has one problem that all RPGs share: repetitive gameplay. I don’t see this problem plastered throughout the entire game, but you would be surprised how boring street gigs can get after a while. Yes, the gigs make V stronger and I can cut through them faster the more I do, but I rarely found myself challenged when it came to the street gigs. The smaller, more mysterious side-jobs helped me take a break from the chaotic and mundane.
This isn’t even to mention the already-discussed bugs, which perhaps impacted gameplay most dramatically of any category.
For a sometimes-repetitive, sometimes-glitchy, sometimes-enthralling gameplay experience, Cyberpunk gets 2.5 stars for gameplay.
5 - Context
RPGs are a dime-a-dozen every year, so to stand out among other heavy-hitters, you have to have a certain flow to your storytelling. The concept of revenge is anything but original, but CyberPunk was able to take this concept and place it in a near-future scenario. We haven’t had many noteable CyberPunk-style games come out in recent years, and it was fun seeing this gritty sci-fi style represented in an interactive medium.
What’s more, the hype. Oh my god, the hype. Fans have been clamoring to get in on this game for years, and buying the game right after it came out and rushing home to play was a thrill that lasts despite any hiccups in bugs, gameplay, or mechanics. Context also helps ameliorate those hiccups when taking into account CD Projekt Red’s prompt apology for its bugs and quick patching response to try and smooth over errors.
CyberPunk’s context was great, and I found myself wanting to replay it again and start off with another lifepath. For a full-fledged gaming thrill and a stunningly original atmosphere to boot, Cyberpunk 2077 gets 5 stars for context.
The idea of a “Cyberpunk” is a bit of a contradiction. How can such an advanced hyper-technological society have such an active crime underbelly, filled with punks and renegades? In the same way, Cyberpunk is a contradiction in a (digital) box, filled with equal parts stunning visuals and elementary bugs, riveting gameplay and dull repetition, internet-breaking originality and internet-breaking… Everything else. While I’d love this game a perfect 5/5 stars for its tried-and-true effort, there are too many things holding it back. Like some others, after playing this game, I’m a bit frustrated.
Still, I’m also overjoyed. I’m also engaged. I’m also ready for a potential replay. With two new patches coming out in 2021, this game seems like more of a work-in-progress than we thought. Despite the road bumps, when all’s said and done, I get the feeling we’ll be glad to have come along on the Cyberpunk ride.