Cyberpunk 2077: The Review

IF there is an award for most hyped game in recent history, Cyberpunk 2077 would be a shoo-in.

Developed and published by CD Projekt Red for PC, PlayStation and Xbox, the game has been tantalising gamers for a few years now with its promises of an immersive ‘classic cyberpunk’ setting, a huge world, engaging story and amazing visuals.

I will say that, surprisingly, the hype around Cyberpunk 2077 is justified for the most part. Just remember, however, that despite all the hype and buzz, it’s still a videogame. It won’t cure your ailments, make COVID-19 go away or bring you a refreshing drink and some snacks.

It will, however, entertain you, surprise you, and make you think, too.

So, without further ado: Here’s my review of Cyberpunk 2077.

Night City is a believable and immersive setting for the game – even more so if you’ve got an RTX-capable graphics card.

The game’s setting draws on everything from standard cyberpunk/dystopian future tropes that we’re all familiar with via same such as Deus Ex, Syndicate and Shadowrun, movies such as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Idiocracy, and the works of authors such as William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and Phillip K Dick.

It leans very heavily on the 1980s/1990s vision of the future, as seen in things like Blade Runner – a world where Japan is economically and technologically one of the most powerful in the world, where the Soviet Union still exists, and where people still smoke cigarettes and read actual printed newspapers. Everything from the cars to the fashion draws from that 80s/90s vision of what the future would look like, and does it extremely well.

The game’s world – Night City – is incredibly believable. It feels like a real, believable city – a place that really could exist and indeed may very well exist in the future. Night City combines aesthetic elements of Los Angeles and Las Vegas which will be recognisable to anyone who has visited those places, and Cyberpunk 2077’s vision of a neon-electric retro-futuristic dystopia is frighteningly real because the city feels like a real location.

Night City’s districts all have a different flavour – I really liked Pacifica, with its decaying Californian Beachside aesthetic.

I reviewed the game on PC and Night City really comes to life with Ray Tracing (RTX) enabled. At night, the city is bathed in a hellish but vibrant neon glow, with ads for sex toys, firearms and food of questionable nutritional benefit blazing in the darkness and reflecting from puddles of water, the windows of passing vehicles and shiny surfaces in general.

It’s more than a neat visual gimmick; it’s an integral part of the experience. I’m fortunate to have a Nvidia RTX 3070 in my rig and can confirm it can run the game smoothly in 1440p with everything including RTX maxed out.

Another area where the developers have excelled is in facial animations. While not quite up there with some of the work we’ve seen in games like The Last of Us Part II, the facial work here is among the most fluid and expressive I can recall seeing in an RPG to date – characters can and do communicate with their facial expressions, and their mouths really seem to be forming the words they are speaking. Their heads follow you around the room as you move and seeing the cybernetic implants (including in eyes) lighting up as they’re used is really impressive.

There is a lot of unashamedly mature content in the game, including these in-world ads for adult entertainment.

The game is unashamedly sexual and adult and very much warrants its R18+ rating; ads for sex aids, porn and drugs abound and the game also contains full-frontal nudity and unambiguous sex scenes. As someone who likes adult content in games, I was pleased to have a game simultaneously treat me as a grown-up while also making an artistic point about what would happen to a society where we openly encourage publicly pandering to our base urges, but I appreciate not everyone wants to see digital dildos and virtual sexytime either.

The story itself, while starting off as a standard “Shadowrun gone bad” piece, is outstanding and full of twists, turns, diversions, sidetracks and unexpected surprises.

The emotional beats of the game are superbly handled as well, with some genuinely touching and moving moments which serve to bring an emotional lift over the background buzz of neon lights and gunfire.

This is all backed up by an electro-synthwave inspired soundtrack, with everything from EDM to 1960s jazz featuring as well.

Keanu Reeves is excellent as Johnny Silverhand, the activist and rockstar you find yourself working alongside.

Keanu Reeves turns in an inspired performance as Johnny Silverhand, a character one might describe as an unholy combination of Nathan Explosion, Tyler Durden and John Wick; his appearances throughout the game provide some interesting insight into events and Mr Reeves is perfectly cast as the activist-rocker.

There are as number of other interesting characters in the game too – I particularly liked Panam, the Nomad courier/smuggler – and the overall writing is excellent, particularly for V. There were countless times where V said almost exactly what I was thinking, asking about a gap in information or a flaw in a plan, or even straightforward “You’re quite capable of this, why do I have to do it?”

There’s amazing detail in the game world too. For example, there’s a scene where V is sitting in a diner having a heated conversation with Johnny Silverhand – who is in V’s head and not visible to anyone else. As your character gets angrier, you can see other diner patrons stopping what they’re doing and start to look at you, before you realise: They can’t see Johnny Silverhand, so they think I’m a crazy person shouting at an empty seat.

A few missions involve going into what is known as a “Braindance” – essentially an all-senses recording of a person’s experience (and the game makes it explicitly clear a lot of Braindances are pornographic or incredibly violent in nature) – to get clues to events. It’s a great twist on the usual “recreate events at a crime scene from clues” mechanic, especially because it requires you to be looking for audio, visual and even thermal cues in the playback.

The game doesn’t just take place in Night City’s urban environments – several missions take place in the desert surrounding the city, too.

Cyberpunk 2077 goes beyond the streets of Night City too, with several missions taking place in the “badlands” – basically the deserts outside the city, and reminiscent of the landscape of Fallout: New Vegas, except in this case there hasn’t been an atomic war in the area. I really enjoyed the missions out here, and was impressed at how the developers made it feel like a totally different world to the city which was (in game distance) only a couple of kilometres away.

The developers have done some excellent things with visual representation as well, making full use of optical glitches and the like as part of the storytelling experience in some creative ways.

The firearms handling in the game is great too – the guns ‘feel’ right and as a shooter myself, I was deeply impressed by how the guns recoil differently. For example, one handgun kicks up and to the right, while a sub-machine gun’s muzzle lifts as it fires. There’s also other factors like reloading being a bit faster if there’s still a round in the chamber (just need to swap the magazine out) and the way the different guns just handle differently. The smart guns (which fire homing projectiles) are also a lot of fun to use too, especially for shooting enemies around obstacles.

You can also get some neat cybernetic implants, including a wrist-mounted explosives launcher, forearm mantis blades, and the ability to short circuit the cyberware of enemies, essentially electrocuting them. It’s all very Deus Ex, although the metaphysical implications aren’t touched on as strongly here as they are in that series.

Combat itself is about what you’d expect from this sort of game – it’s not as slick as a dedicated FPS like the Call of Duty or Battlefield games, but it’s also not as clunky as the 3D Fallout games either. The hacking stuff is functional and reminiscent of the Watch Dogs games but with slightly more detail, although I found once combat started it was basically too difficult to deploy offensive hacks effectively unless the enemies were silly enough to stand still.

The animations on the game’s characters, particularly their faces, are outstanding.

There are also some truly next-level Easter Eggs in the game too. I’m not going to spoil the surprises, but there were multiple times I found myself saying “No way! How on Earth did they make that happen?”

Lest this piece sound more like a hagiography than a game review, it must be said Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t perfect and does have some flaws.

For a start, I’m not sure how much your decisions, particularly dialogue choices, actually matter in the game.

In something like the Fallout games, it’s usually pretty obvious what impact your dialogue choices have. You can say things that will obviously annoy or please the other person in the conversation, whereas in Cyberpunk 2077 your input seems to be divided into “Additional info” or “Move the conversation along” options. It’s such an involved game that it’s entirely possible your choices do matter in a larger sense which I haven’t discovered yet, but there’s certainly been several encounters where I’ve reloaded a save and replayed with different dialogue choices and still gotten the same outcome.

In the interests of full disclosure, it’s a massive game but I’ve only had six days with it and have managed to put in put about 45 hours in so far, including finishing the main quest, and I honestly can’t tell if my decisions had much of impact on Night City or the game’s unfolding story.

According to the game, it took me 32 hours to complete the main questline, which seems surprisingly short for what’s being touted as a massive RPG. It’s worth keeping in mind there are a lot of sidequests to do – I spent about 15 hours on them and there were many, many more to do when I reached the end of the game.

The cars have a fantastic 80s and 90s vibe and style, but they don’t handle particularly well.

The cars don’t handle particularly realistically either – they seem far too light and have absolutely terrible brakes too, not helped by a minimap that doesn’t show you far enough ahead for effective navigation from the driver’s seat view in Night City’s urban environments.

The game also suffers from one of my pet hates, which is levelled weapons and identical guns doing different amounts of damage and random clothing items with arbitrary armour ratings, both the sort of things you’d find in a looter-shooter of The Division 2 or Borderlands 3 variety. It means I spent far too much time comparing two otherwise identical weapons to find out if one did slightly higher damage than the other, or trying to work out how a T-shirt could possibly, possibly be more effective at stopping small arms fire than a military-grade ballistic vest.

The crafting mechanic isn’t well explained at all – it’s pretty standard stuff so I didn’t have too much trouble working it out, but I don’t recall the gaming actually going out of its way to explain it any detail either.

For a city which is so dangerous and crime-ridden the local police put out PSAs reminding people not to leave home without a gun and ideally not to walk anywhere, residents of Night City are disturbingly chilled out about V crashing into their cars or accidentally running them over. While I appreciate a gunfight every time you hit the car in the next lane or crash past at an intersection while heading to a destination wouldn’t be great from a gameplay perspective, having people literally just say “Awwww, man!” when you plough into their car because you were driving on the other side of the road for whatever reason doesn’t really fit with the world-building the developers have done either.

I also encountered the usual minor bugs and glitches you’d expect of a game of this size and magnitude – dead bodies lying at weird angles, the occasional NPC appearing to just glide across the floor instead of walking, that sort of minor thing.

There’s also the old trope of “Just gotta duck off and do this other thing for a sec”, whereby characters are quite happy to wait around as long as you need – even for allegedly time-sensitive things – while you go and do something else.

The dialogue choices don’t seem to have a great impact on the way the story plays out, from what I could tell.

It’s such an integral RPG mechanic that it’s hard to criticise, but it does break the immersion somewhat when people are saying “V, we need you here urgently to do this extremely important thing and time is of the essence” and you’re like “Sure, but first I might go and see what this random person who texted me wants, and once I’ve done their thing there’s a car for sale I wouldn’t mind checking out, then I need to swing past the gun dealer to sell all these firearms I picked up after the last gunfight, and then I have to make a stop at the cybernetic implants guy so I can buy some new stuff using the money I made from selling all those guns I looted, and then I might have a nap, but then sure, I’ll be right over” and everyone is patiently waiting for you when you eventually deign to roll up.  

I just couldn’t shake the feeling there were a few things missing from the game – for example, the fast travel system requires you to get to a map booth and then lets you travel more or less instantly to any other map booth.

It’s a good system, but there are a handful of references in the game to a company called “Combat Cab” who will take people around the dangerous streets of the city (and one of the company’s taxis featured in promo material for the game), but I didn’t see of their vehicles in-game and got the impression they were supposed to be included as a form of fast-travel (like in Grand Theft Auto V) but didn’t make the final cut for whatever reason.

Inventory management – in particular loot-shooter-style gear quality and stats – was something of a drag for me.

Having a taxi being able to whisk V from one predetermined point to another makes a bit more sense than V having to find a map booth before being able to instantly transport himself from an abandoned petrol station in the wasteland to an exclusive nightclub in downtown Night City, but ultimately all games – including this one – contain stuff that essentially boils down to “A Wizard Did It” and we just collectively go along with it in the interests of enjoying the game.

In the grand scheme of things, these are mostly fairly minor quibbles and don’t so much mar the chrome so much as take some of the shine off a bit.

The big challenge is there simply hasn’t been enough time to fully explore everything the game offers before the embargo lifts, and whether completing sidequests will make much of a difference (I completed one fairly lengthy side-arc and it didn’t seem to make a significant impact on other events) is still unclear to me as a result.

From what I’ve played so far – including going back to side quests after the main storyline was completed – it’s clear the game should be treated like quality sushi, with each bite enjoyed and savoured at a leisurely pace; not shovelled in as fast as possible with both hands.

Right from the start, Cyberpunk 2077 draws you into its world.

I honestly don’t know how I feel about the main storyline’s ending, and that’s partly because I don’t know if it’s something I could have influenced the outcome of or not. I’m also surprised at how (comparatively) short the main quest was – 32 hours just doesn’t seem like a long time for an RPG like this, especially given the high expectations most people rightly have of the game.

Night City is such a fascinating place with countless stories to tell, and it feels like there’s a lot more yet to come for the setting – although whether that’s a series of story DLCs (as we saw with The Witcher III), a Rockstar-style Cyberpunk Online MMO experience (which the game and setting would be ideal for), or something else remains to be seen.

 Right now, for anyone reading this before launch or just afterwards, my summary is this: This is an outstanding and highly enjoyable game, but take your time with it, do all the side missions (think of them as extensions of the main quest, in fact) and don’t rush the main storyline.

You should absolutely take the earliest available opportunity to explore Night City and everything it has to offer. From the visuals to the music to the vibe, it’s a superb experience and one I am looking forward to spending a lot more time with.

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