Cyberpunk 2077: Seven Years to Come Out Unfinished
Reading Time: 4 minutes
“Cyberpunk 2077” is perhaps the most anticipated game of the last decade. Announced by CD Projekt Red in 2013, the game had seven long years in development to build hype on a global scale. This was only spurred on by the massive online discussion surrounding the game, initially because of CD Projekt Red’s previous successes, but later from the announcement of Internet darling Keanu Reeves’s role in the game, as well as the months of repeated delays. Alas, “Cyberpunk 2077” was never going to live up to the years of accumulated hype. Even when considering inflated expectations, the outrage created by its buggy, broken state at launch is completely justified. Yet, under its rough exterior, “Cyberpunk 2077” can be a genuinely enjoyable game, delivering on an immersive and engaging narrative, a fun and complex open world, and perfectly serviceable action.
The strongest part of “Cyberpunk” is, surprisingly, its story. CD Projekt Red’s gritty, tragic plot is genuinely poetic and emotional in a way few games manage. From the jump, players take control of V, a mercenary in the dystopian, crime-ridden corporate hell hole that is Night City. One thing that “Cyberpunk” does well is making the player care about its characters, whether it’s the protagonist, Johnny Silverhand (Keanu Reeves), or anyone else you meet in Night City. The mix of well-written dialogue, impressive animations, and cohesive individual arcs bring the characters and their world to life. Of course, Reeves is excellent. As Johnny Silverhand, cyborg rockstar, he is literally implanted into your head early in the game and plays a big role as V’s imaginary friend or alternate personality. There are even a few missions when you play as him, and Reeves excels at being likable, obnoxious, and unbelievably cool all at once.
Looking at the gameplay of “Cyberpunk,” it’s important to remember that it is, first and foremost, a role-playing game. Its biggest concern is immersing players in its world, and for the most part, it delivers. There’s very little you can’t do, or try to do, in Night City’s intricately crafted network of streets. A few hours in, and the massive metropolis is completely open, with all of its stores, apartment complexes, and ramen booths fully accessible and functional. Night City is vast, but every corner is packed with thought and detail, with some side quest or collectible to find. V is a blank slate, and the game includes everything from basic stat allocation to customizable genitals to fully absorb the player into the cyborg mercenary.
“Cyberpunk,” however, has a disappointing lack of importance placed on player choice and an absence of any real customization outside of combat. One of the main focuses of the game’s marketing is the idea that your actions would visibly affect the open world of Night City, but outside of the final missions and distinct endings, there are few tangible outcomes for the hundreds of decisions the player makes. The complete omission of any dialogue skills also contributes to the more linear feel of the game’s story, and while other RPGs allow players to talk their way through situations, “Cyberpunk” insists that every problem should be addressed through combat.
This increased focus on action makes “Cyberpunk” almost work as an action game within an RPG, with high octane cyber violence and first-person shooter mechanics clearly the focus of most of its encounters. One of the reasons that “Cyberpunk” seems to have overshadowed other RPGs is that, while RPGs have a relatively limited target audience, shooters and action games appeal to almost everyone. So how is the action? Compared to most other games it’s perfectly fine, if not a bit generic. Combat is varied and fun, with the game’s wide array of customization opening the door to a number of distinct playstyles, each one approaching encounters in a unique way. Though shooting is downright painful at lower levels, with experience allocation into shooting skills, gunplay becomes much smoother as the player progresses. Every new weapon or cybernetic enhancement affects action in a noticeable and exciting way, and it feels really amazing to run around the futuristic world as a lawless cyborg.
On a more sour note, some of the more subtle parts of the action seem to be crucially underdeveloped. Stealth bounces between laughably easy and soul-crushingly impossible, while driving, which makes up a significant portion of the game as you traverse Night City between missions, is unnecessarily difficult. A much larger problem is the incredibly poor balancing between playstyles. “Net Runner,” a kind of super hacker, is by far the most original, deep, and fun playstyle the game has to offer, involving hopping through camera feeds and frying people’s built-in electronics, but the difficulty is so low that there’s no reason to ever invest time into this more complicated, slow-paced approach. When you can punch the final boss to death in 15 seconds on the hardest setting, actual thought put into combat starts to feel pointless. There’s also the problem of the game constantly throwing new side missions at you, often during other assignments, without a comprehensive or navigable way of organizing them.
The more controversial problems with “Cyberpunk” come not in its design, but in the long list of bugs that hugely detract from player experience. Those on PS4 or Xbox One—the majority of the playerbase—were bombarded from start to finish with distracting and often game-breaking glitches. While the game can look amazing, most of the time it’s visibly loading in textures or spawning NPCs in walls. Combat, with a high number of enemies and particle effects, can lag the game to an almost unplayable extent, making aiming incredibly difficult. A number of bugs make progression impossible, forcing players to reload entire missions, and the game sometimes crashes unpredictably every few hours. It seems very likely that the constant delays on “Cyberpunk”’s release were due to its inability to run on anything other than next-gen consoles and high-level PCs. Even on more powerful computers it remains plagued with technical problems.
“Cyberpunk 2077” is certainly disappointing, but it is by no means the disaster people portray it as. Though it’s not the genre-defying masterpiece many expected, it still has a masterfully designed open world, interesting characters, and a well-written story. It feels like a game with a huge amount of potential, but one that needs months more in development to be fully released. The majority of the game’s elements are broken, unbalanced, or unfinished, but the complete pieces hint at a game that could be truly excellent. CD Projekt Red will likely be able to patch “Cyberpunk 2077” into a more stable state, but as it stands now, the game’s enjoyability is overshadowed by its extensive amount of embarrassing flaws.