A remarkably well-executed open world game whose greatest heights exceed its deepest failings
Cyberpunk 2077 is arguably the most anticipated game of the decade, arriving just at the cutoff date before the new decade starts in 2021. Announced in 2012 and in production since 2015 or so, CD Projekt RED’s latest AAA title is a focused, detailed, and quite obviously lovingly-crafted RPG – yet, remarkably, even with all the hype it managed to generated over the years, it mostly delivers.
A handcrafted and cinematic journey throughout the dystopian futuristic metropolis of Night City, Cyberpunk is a first-person shooter RPG about a character named V set in a wonderfully created open world. That’s right – handcrafted and cinematic, which means heavy narrative, scripted sequences, handcrafted moments, and more importantly, a lot of predetermined outcomes. Cyberpunk 2077 feels a lot like Fallout 4, where an overarching story and backstory guides your decisions and streamlines choices – in some key points, you don’t have the choice to say yes or no, as the game literally requires you to respond a certain way; you get two or three options that are all different ways of saying “yes”, in a “All roads lead to Rome” manner.
Personally, that doesn’t bother me. Between old-school RPGs with text options and fully voiced RPGs like Fallout 4 or Cyberpunk, I would take the latter any day of the week – but it does mean the game feels a bit more on-rails than I expected. Take the beginning, for example – you get a choice of three Origins in the character creator: Nomad, a desert-dwelling people that lives in tribes constantly on the move; Streetkid, a low-level thug in the underbelly of Night City; or Corpo, a mercenary agent employed by one of the biggest capitalist organisations. All three options feature bespoke backgrounds you have zero input on customising and a different prologue lasting between 20 and 40 minutes, and all lead to the exact same point in the story: a 2-minute cutscene about how you started a new life in Night City after the prologue and before the start of Act 1.
That cutscene is especially jarring, because it is always the same regardless of background and actually depicts events I would rather play myself, such as V moving in with a friend, making their name in Night City, taking a bunch of unique jobs, buying a car, and even finally getting their own apartment. I understand the attraction of skipping the setup, but fast-forwarding 6 months seems a bit much – it not only diminishes the emotional connection to your character and relevant NPCs, but it also creates a weird disconnect between V knowing everything about the city and the new player not even understanding the lingo. You can’t even argue this time-skip was done to let players loose in the city, because the first 6 hours actually uses an unspecified “lockdown” excuse to take that horrible old-time GTA approach of restricting you to a single area of the city for hours on end before letting you explore the whole map.
Curiously, that early-game restriction and the general story beats are the most restrictive Cyberpunk 2077 ever gets – the game most definitely does not hold your hand in any way. It is weirdly refreshing and slightly scary, as most open-world games nowadays throw tutorials and training missions and upgrade prompts like rice at a wedding, but not Cyberpunk. After the prologue and a slightly draggy virtual training session, you are let go in the world with nary a pop-up for hours. There are no prompts to buy better items, no main or side mission that takes you to a vendor with an upgrade, and no pop-up telling you when you’re in way over your head – the developers meant for you to lose yourself in this world, and by God, do they accomplish that.
Cyberpunk is ridiculously immersive. From the sheer sense of scale in the city to the way 90% of actions have a first-person animation, Night City doesn’t feel like a place to be seen, but a place to be experienced. Driving and especially walking around the metropolis feels straight out of an E3 game, with crowds of people swarming amid towering skyscrapers as flying cars, trains, and billboards crisscross the sky. It is unbelievably dynamic, and it would almost feel scripted if it didn’t happen almost every single time you stop to take in your surroundings.
In fact, that immersion is undoubtedly one of Cyberpunk 2077’s strongest suits. Everything from driving to walking to climbing to shooting takes place in first-person (though driving has an optional third-person view), creating a consistent perspective and lending some serious physicality to the world. As you sprint around an area during a firefight, sliding behind an object and popping out from cover to shoot at the myriad of enemies around you, you can’t help but feel like you are in a game trailer – except you’re playing it.
Interestingly, this feeling isn’t due to the gameplay mechanics themselves – Cyberpunk 2077 is a game similar to many others and it does not reinvent the wheel, it really doesn’t. Instead, it achieves that through a mix of fantastic graphics and very tight combat mechanics, as if Far Cry 2 and Fallout 4 got together one day and had an extremely pretty baby. Guns are extremely satisfactory to shoot, possessing a remarkable kick and weight that mirrors games like Rainbow Six: Siege in sheer terms of weapon feedback.
Of course, some uniquely Cyberpunk mechanics obviously exist, like the modules that temporarily slow time with the push of a button or trigger a Berserker mode that increases damage and lets you perform a superhero landing when falling from great heights. However, the most important ones are quick hacks; during normal gameplay, you can scan the world around you in real time to hack machines and cameras and read car details and people’s identities, but during combat, the hacking interface slows time to a crawl and lets you affect enemies and the environment in multiple ways.
You get pings that highlight every enemy in the area, overheat and short circuit targeted attacks that overload the implants of a single person or contagion viruses that hit everyone in a certain radius. You even get stealth-specific options, from disabling enemies’ eye prosthetics leaving them blind to a short-term memory wipe that snaps them out of a combat state. These abilities can be acquired the same way as weapons – through shops or by finding them in the world – but are more importantly governed by one of the games’ most interesting menus: cyberware.
Cyberware is your augmentation inventory, similar to Deus Ex’ legendary upgrade menu. In Cyberpunk 2077, virtually everyone is modified to a certain degree, and these expensive prosthetics plug into every part of your body. You can affect time perception by modding your nervous system, increase inventory capacity, jumping height, or add a double jump capability by modding your legs, and even add rocket launchers to your wrists and giant mantis blades to your arms. There are literally hundreds of mods to combine, but the most important is arguably your main operating system – it increases the amount of quick hacks slots you have, as well as how much RAM you’ve got to use during combat.
Speaking of combat, that is both one of Cyberpunk’s strongest and weakest points. As mentioned, the guns feel remarkably fun to use, and the game makes a good job of adding three types of weapons: Power, which ricochet projectiles off surfaces with the right mod; Tech, which lets you natively charge bullets for a more powerful shot; and Smart, which allows projectiles to track towards the enemy, again with the right mod. You also get a number of grenades like frag, EMP, flashbangs, and even scout grenades, in addition to heavy carry weapons that can’t be kept in the inventory and an assortment of melee weapons.
However, the game has one of the strongest cases of bullet sponge we’ve come across in a title, comparable to the worst moments The Division series had in its 4-year run. The vast majority of enemies take a lot of bullets to put down, and an uncomfortably large number of enemies can absorb a literal 30-bullet magazine to the face without dying. Thankfully, Cyberpunk’s enemies are very reactive to fire, stumbling with almost every shot, collapsing when you shoot them in the legs, and even being stunned by bullets to the face. It’s a beautiful work of reactive animation and game design balance.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the fact you often spend hundreds of bullets on most encounters even when equipped with the best weapons for your level. I sunk all my points on the damage increasing perks for pistols and rifles, and I spent the first dozen hours of the game emptying magazines in people’s faces to no avail. It was only after I upgraded my cyberware operating system to a point where it was actually usable in combat that things start to improve.
You see, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t want you to do things a single way. Why, yes, technically, you can go guns-only and spend 500 bullets when fighting 3 people, but that will quickly deplete both your in-game bank account and your enjoyment. The game is designed to mix-and-match approaches – hit someone with an overload hack to burn them alive, shoot them dead with a headshot, hit someone else in the torso a few times before short circuiting their brain to finish them off. This not only makes fights way more dynamic and fun, but also partially solves the issue of enemies eating lead as if they were Frosties for breakfast.
It most definitely doesn’t solve the issue with bullet sponginess, however, as even exploding map objects like pipes and servers or throwing a grenade right on top of enemies takes out half their health at most. In fact, the best options I found for quickly taking care of enemies was the use of snipers – which take a long time to unlock due to the level requirements – and stealthily wielding silenced guns, which require the right perks and attributes to use effectively.
Stealth is another very controversial topic with Cyberpunk, because it is frankly, infuriating. While stealthing is often the best option to solve or start an encounter, letting you take out isolated targets before going in guns blazing, it is maddeningly inconsistent. You can grab enemies from behind and take them out both lethally and non-lethally with your bare hands (and even hide their bodies), but you can’t wield a sword and kill someone from behind in one strike with a nice animation. You also can’t leave bodies in the open, as enemies can spot them even behind crates covered by darkness half a kilometer away.
The biggest issue, however, is how unreasonably binary the system is. Being spotted by a single enemy 9 times out of 10 leads to the whole area going into high-alert, even if you take them out before they open their mouths. Enemies instantly know EXACTLY where you are, and similarly, hacking turrets to create a diversion lead to every NPC in the area completely ignoring the huge caliber military emplacement killing their friends and beeline towards your hidden, covert location. I don’t know if it’s a bug or just bad game design, but the unforgiving binary stealth system is frankly something I expected from a Playstation game back in 1997, and not from a CD Projekt RED product in 2020 – especially one that’s been in development for 5 to 8 years.
As bad and frustrating as stealth and bullet sponge combat is, outside that – or during mid to late-game open combat – Cyberpunk shines. The characters, narrative, and general writing is superb, and virtually every named character you talk to is somewhat remarkable. Even better, the actual story mission beats (and a few side-missions) are extremely cinematographic, with the camera work, dialogue choices, and music all coming together to create an unbelievably exciting sequence of events. That doesn’t even need to be during action scenes, mind you – the game has a penchant to put you into a car with an NPC and let you chat to them as they drive, in moments that range from the “argh, again?” to “holy crap, that’s beautiful”. The desert missions are especially good for that, and the game writing truly shines when it decides to go full emotional with its plot beats.
To be honest, a huge part of that impact comes from the graphics and sound design. Not only are the voice acting, soundtrack, and sound effects top-notch, but the game built in 5.1 support is amazing. As when using a home theater, the directional audio implementation and the way headset voices only come from the back left are unbelievably immersive. The actual game visuals are also breathtaking, as Cyberpunk 2077 makes full use of Nvidia’s DSS and ray-tracing capabilities – the end result is a game so pretty that it finally looks like those many E3 game trailers from 2015.
The bad side of that is that performance can be pretty atrocious if you have anything but the latest RTX 30xx cards – which due to the global shortage, can be tricky to obtain. Due to the high profile of both the game and its technology, we ran tests on a couple of machines: while the 3080 can handle the game mostly okay on max settings, the 2070 and 1070 struggle with it even on medium-high and medium-low settings, respectively. We’re not even talking 4K, here – running this game on 1440p or 1080p with a card older than a year is a very painful proposition. It still looks gorgeous, mind you, but it is vastly below what can be achieved on Ultra settings.
Aside from that, there are some minor disappointments we had with the game design, from missing features communicated before launch – like the lack of car customisation or the inability to use flying cars either as a pilot or a passenger (not even as a fast-travel option, really?) – to QoL improvements. The later are especially egregious, including things like the inability to mark inventory items to be sold or the fact even though every ripperdoc is a separate character with a backstory and unique store items, they are ALL named just “Ripperdoc” on the map, making them impossible to find unless you either visit all of them to find what you want or remember which of the 15 individuals sell.
The biggest problem the game has at the moment, however, are the bugs. My comparison to Fallout 4 earlier extends beyond the general “story action RPG” direction Cyberpunk takes, but it’s also a reference to the internet joke that Bethesda games are very buggy (even though personally, I never had that many issues with them). Cyberpunk 2077 is riddled with bugs:
Enemies see you and bodies through walls and cover
Characters taken out by sneak attacks don’t register as dead when they die and trigger combat states on the whole area if you walk in front of their dead corpse
Level geometry traps the player character and stops you from moving, with only a reload fixing it
Some objects are not climbable while others are
The same NPC plays two different conversations at once and gives you conflicting dialog choices
Mission progress is derailed due to the doors that don’t open when they should (yet NPCs can phase and clip right through them)
Weapons show their damage in the inventory as “0.00”
Clothing items equipped show up as invisible
Invisible walls stop your car or bike from going into alleyways
Lootable guns float in the air instead of staying the ground
Those are actually not all the bugs I encountered – all those bugs above happened at least 3 times, and I haven’t mentioned any bug that only happened once or twice. Luckily, bugs can be fixed with patches, but we can clearly see now why the game was delayed so much.
Still, even with all those bugs and the frustrating and terribly designed stealth, Cyberpunk 2077 is a fantastic game. It is also huge – even though I spent a week with it for the review, I am positive I have not seen even remotely all it has to offer. The game was clearly designed to be lived in, and beelining the main story actively harms your enjoyment – you are meant to lose yourself in the city, exploring all districts and every nook and cranny as you meet its various characters and enjoy its various quests and sidequests.
The problem is that when it works, it works, but when it doesn’t, it really doesn’t. Luckily, the game’s low points like the horrible binary stealth system and the bugs and lack of QoL are either fixable or vastly outweighted by the good bits, and the overall tally still ends up being much higher than the average of many other games out there. That’s helped a lot by the moment-to-moment gameplay, which pays off just as much as the story beats; the movement system lets you climb almost any short object, vehicles are weighty to drive and have fantastic interior and exterior designs, and guns feel properly loud and heavy. It’s story and narrative kept me glued to the screen, and everything – from sex scenes and romance options to Keanu Reeves trying to kill you or help you throughout the game – are remarkably well done. Cyberpunk 2077 is a game crafted with love, and it shows.
CYBERPUNK 2077 VERDICT
A remarkably well-executed open world game whose greatest heights exceed its deepest failings.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Pretty much every second of it, except when the stealth was giving me a bad time.
Classic worldbuilding, full of lore bits to read about
Great voice acting, and 5.1 is beautifully implemented
Stealth is binary and infuriating
UI was clearly designed for consoles, and some of the keybindings are nonsensical
Enemies are more bullet-spongy than The Division and Borderlands combined
Performance is quite bad on anything that isn't a 30XX card, even under 4K with ray tracing off
More bugs than Klendathu in Starship Troopers
About Marcello Perricone
Passionate, handsome, and just a tiny bit cocky, our resident Time Lord loves history, science, and all things that fall from the sky.