Despite the Bugs, Cyberpunk 2077 is the Game of the Year
I've played Cyberpunk 2077 for about 40 hours now and, to me, it's the Game of the Year. Here's why.
I'm an adult who plays video games. That's why I like video games made for adults. And Cyberpunk 2077, the newest action RPG from CD Projekt Red (who brought you The Witcher 3) is definitely made for adults. It's got plenty of sex, very gory scenes and a story that's emotionally nuanced enough to fascinate someone who has spent almost 30 years playing video games and thinks he's seen it all when it comes to storytelling. So this game is right down my alley. And despite quite a few bugs present in the preview version I've been playing over the last week, I've grown very fond of it.
Note: This review of Cyberpunk 2077 is as spoiler-free as I can make it. You should be able to read this and then play the game when it comes out on Thursday without being disappointed.
Yes, Cyberpunk 2077 is an RPG. And a good one at that. But what's been most surprising to me is that it's also a very good shooter. I mean, don't go expecting any revolutionary deviations from the good old cover shooter formula, but what it does, it does very well. The shooter elements are complimented nicely by the classless RPG mechanics that allow you to build your character – male or female, known simply as "V" – as you imagine it, completely from scratch. This ties in with a decent stealth system and missions that can be approached in multiple ways. Is your V a gun-toting maniac, a sleek corporate spy – kinda the megacorp James Bond of the future – or an elite hacker (or netrunner as they are known in the game) who doesn't like to get their hands dirty and works mostly from behind a keyboard? All of these playstyles are possible and, as far as I can tell, fun. Keep in mind that I've "only" played about 40 hours of the game so far and have been mostly shooting my way out of, and into, trouble. I'm not a big stealth game player and I've used sneaking and hacking mostly to get me into good positions to shoot everyone from.
What I can tell you is that the shooting is fun. The guns feel great and have a very satisfying sound. There are several different kinds of weapons ranging from normal pistols and rifles to smart weapons with guided miniature missile ammunition that seek out enemies behind cover. Or you could straight up use a railgun and punch right through the cover, too. And there are knives and swords, like some very scary looking katanas and shit. You can also punch people. That's fun! The game has its own futuristic cyber-version of the UFC in the background lore and it looks like you can become a bare knuckle killing machine, too, if that's more your style. Or you cut replace your arms with artificial praying mantis blades. No, seriously, you can do that.
I really like V. He's conflicted, he's been thrown into the deep end and he's suffering through some horrible shit, but he's no mopey Adam Jensen. You have three different backgrounds to chose from (street kid, nomad outlaw, corporate agent) and your V can, of course, be a woman. Or a man with a vagina. Or whatever. You really have all the choices here. I mean, sure, Eurogamer is complaining that they "don't understand the thought behind tying a character's gender to the sound of their voice" but that really is mostly irrelevant when you're free to chose genitals completely independently of that, isn't it? You can also chose for V to permanently keep their underpants on, by the way. Just don't count on other people in the game world to do that. There's sex everywhere. I've lost track of how many anal plugs and studded dildos I've seen laying around. And they are by no means confined to the red light district of the city either. Anyway, V's great. And so are a lot of the other characters you meet. They are as convincingly human as a video game character can be. And some of them are even convincingly cyborg.
I would even include Keanu Reeves in that, he's very convincing as Johnny Silverhand. Which is good, because he has a huge role to play in the game. Cyberpunk 2077 might be the best acting I've seen of him, actually. His character is very likable. In a complicated sort of way.
Then there's the crazy AIs and the cars. The cars are great. They feel like actual cars. Every one of them drives defiantly. And there are some crazy looking cars in this game that handle accordingly, too. The motorbikes are decent. I'm happy for them to be there, but as someone who's commuted full-time on a bike for several years and who's ridden more than 70,000 kilometres on one in the last five years, I can honestly say I've never come across a realistic motorbike in any video game. That's just not something you can simulate without a full-body cybersuit. Or implaants. That said, the bikes are handy, though. Very usable to weave through traffic a lot faster than any car could. Which is why you want a bike in a city, after all.
And what a city they've created. Night City is spectacular. The game lives and breathes cyberpunk. Not only in its missions, but in the open world, too. The advertisements on the streets, the people… Everyone's a punk or a freak (or both) on this town. It's glorious! If there's one decision I don't completely agree with, it's the fact that there's mostly no collision detection between V and the other characters in the game. That means that you're just walking through people when you're down on the crowded sidewalks. They react verbally as if you'd bumped into them, but you don't really. I understand that this makes walking along the city (and probably some missions) a lot less frustrating and annoying, but it also robs Night City of some of the realism that makes Grand Theft Auto V's Los Santos so breath-taking when you walk around it for the first time. The developers probably made this decision to accommodate the strict enforcement of the first person perspective in the game. And I am completely with them on that, the first person view is absolutely essential to this game. I just wish they had made off-mission character interactions a bit more real.
The first person perspective is essential because it is an integral part of the story. Without going too deep into the specifics of why that is, and spoiling the main questline for you in the process, the developers of the game use it as a device to integrate cyberspace into the player's experience of the game world. You're essentially experiencing what V is experiencing through his implants. This allows you to see parts of cyberspace in real time when you hack devices or get a mission briefing. And it explains the player's HUD: Elements like your ammo count are data an interface in your hand picks up directly from your smartgun and displays right in your field of view by using your cybernetic eyeball implants. Other games have explained the player's HUD in similar ways, but Cyberpunk 2077 takes it to the next level. It's actually quite hard to describe, basically you have to play the game to grasp fully how beautifully CD Projekt has executed this. The game's user interface truly is a work of art.
It really is a shame that the game is so buggy. It runs very stable on my five year old machine, albeit at greatly reduced graphics settings. But it's never crashed once. I've mostly had animation issues like T-posed characters and objects floating in space or sticking out of people or walls. This doesn't make the game unplayable, far from it, but it has ruined many a dramatic cutscene for me and breaks immersion a lot. Which is a shame, because immersion is what this game otherwise does best. And when a game that makes visual glitches an integral part of its story line then has unwanted visual glitches, it unfortunately leads the player to constantly wonder if what he's seeing is a glitch that's part of the story or if it is an unwanted bug. One or two missions also had odd scripting problems and sometimes progression in the game is weird, making me doubt that it is working as the developers intended. Ant there seem to be even worse glitches that I've never encountered, according to this collection of problems from my fellow reviewers that PC Gamer compiled.
Most of these problems are supposed to only occur in the PC version, according to CD Projekt. I'm not quite sure how believable that is, but I can't tell you anything about the console versions as I haven't seen those at all. Many of the animation issues are streaming problems that occur when the system can't read assets it needs fast enough, says CD Projekt's PR department. They recommend installing the game on an SSD (which I have right from the start) and turning down graphics settings when animation glitches occur (which I found to not be helpful in my case). Some of the issues were fixed in a massive patch that I got halfway through the review process. But many others still remain. A lot of this seems like polish issues and will probably be fixed in the next few weeks. Still, in a game that's been five years in the making (released almost nine years after it was first announced) and had its launch date postponed twice, this doesn't inspire confidence. Even if CD Projekt's development process is historically known to be a mess, you'd think they'd learned by now. And used some of that Witcher 3 money to fix their approach to making games. Unfortunately, as it stands, the bugs keep the game from what would have been a damn near perfect score.
CD Projekt has created a beautifully adult game that tackles the heavy issues that underlie the cyberpunk genre in a mature manner. Believable character, a riveting story, great quest design and good shooter and RPG elements blend into an open world that's more than the sum of its parts. Despite the bugs it will have at launch, this vision of the dark future is a must play.
🦊 FAB Score: 97 / 100
CD Projekt have designed a really good RPG here. But it's also a very nice shooter, a decent stealth game and it even feels a tiny bit like it actually has some racing simulation genes mixed in there somewhere. I love the main quest line, but there are also many neat side quests and what seems like hundreds of odd jobs that enable you to get to know Night City intimately – down to every last alleyway – if you want to do that. A shame about the bugs. The version of the game I played never crashed once, but there are lots of animation and object glitches. A lot of this will be fixed before (or shortly after) release and some of it is probably due to my five year old PC not completely coping with the game's demands, but it unfortunately does prevent a perfect score.
🕹️ Fun: 47 / 50
Cyberpunk 2077 is a work of art. The graphics, the sound design, the voice acting, the writing …it's all top notch. The designers wouldn't have had to invent three separate art/architecture styles to inform their game world, but they did. And while I'm not sure I can tell them apart in the game, the version of Night City they came up with, is breath-taking – and absolutely believable. Add to that characters that feel like real people and a story that's actually got me riveted to find out what happens (which I haven't seen in a video game in decades) and you have a work of art. A dirty, fucked-up, depressing piece of art, but art nonetheless.
🎨 Artistry: 25 / 25
The thing that stands out to me about this game the most is how mature it is. And how well it incorporates what the cyberpunk genre is actually about. Cyberpunk 2077 isn't just a label slapped on a generic RPG. Just like The Witcher games actually feel like Sapkowski's Witcher, this game lives and breathes cyberpunk. This is nowhere more evident than in the brilliant user interface CD Projekt has developed for this game. It is as much part of the game world as it is part of the story. They have managed to actually make the retro-future cyberspace idea from the pen & paper RPG come to life. The game's user interface is as revolutionary as it is brilliant. Hell, they even managed to make subtitles diegetic.
💣 Boldness: 25 / 25
In summary, Cyberpunk 2077 isn't perfect, but it's damn near close. If there's no miraculous surprise game release nobody knew about in the next twenty days, then this is without doubt my Game of the Year. It might even be a Game of the Decade candidate. Do not miss playing this! It should have something for anyone in there. The only reason to skip this game is if you can't stomach its adult themes, some of it can be quite dark at times. If you're up for that, those scenes are what makes the game so good and there's plenty of fun to be had, too.
🦊 Total Score: 97 / 100 • Game of the Year
Disclaimer: I played a pre-release version, provided to me free of charge by CD Projekt Red.