Cyberpunk 2077 - synthesis of a grand tradition
I hope this will turn out to be a fairly non-conventional review, but that it is also useful for those who enjoy the analysis and perhaps for some who are considering the game.
I’ve reached a point where I’m not easily taken in by hype, and my expectations toward anything, especially entertainment, are tempered. That’s not to say that I’m pessimistic that a game or movie could blow my socks off - in fact I’m ready for that moment whenever it comes - but that I go into anything expecting an on-par performance and nothing more.
This typically means that some aspect of a game or show or film will surprise me and make my time/money investment feel worthwhile, and occasionally the piece as a whole will floor me.
I’m lucky to even have a copy of Cyberpunk as this one was gifted to me by my Mom. I laugh because even near mid-life sometimes our Moms treat the boy in us. If it weren’t for that I wouldn’t have been able to justify the cost since I can be ascetic like that.
All that out of the way, I think my overall impression of Cyberpunk 2077 can be boiled down to this:
I am duly impressed.
This is not ‘the game I’ve been waiting for all my life’, or ‘the greatest game I’ve ever played’. But it’s far far far from a disappointment, or even a ‘buggy mess’ as some have termed it. Most of your feed is going to be littered with quick takes, interesting or silly screenshots, and polarized commercial-level opinions calling it ‘disappointing’ ‘mediocre’ or conversely ‘solid’ ‘enaging’ or whatever.
The truth of what you’re getting in this game is this:
It’s a massively ambitious art project with the goal of synthesizing the Cyberpunk TTRPG ethos into an accessible yet wide and sometimes deep package for the masses to enjoy.
On the art:
I appreciate this greatly as a fan of sci-fi and cyber aesthetics. More, I’ve spent hundreds of hours pursuing game development as a hobby (mostly in Unreal Engine) and I deeply appreciate the craftsmanship that’s gone into this game world.
One can tell, I think, that the goal of the art direction wasn’t to push forward the cyber aesthetic but to sum up what’s come to this point. We’ve got neon, corporations, invasive advertising, and mixed cultures. There are grunge, punk, rave, high fashion, military, police, and business peeps all moving through the city at their various paces.
If you pick it up, or if you’ve got it already, then next time you play take a slow stroll through Night City and look around. You’re seeing millions of 3D models and thousands of textures coming together to immerse you in a cyberpunk world, and the fact that such a program can work, especially with all the animated crowds and vehicles, and the rpg system underlying the player character running too, is astounding. Think back to your youth in gaming and see it through those eyes.
Will you find the rough edges of the theme park if you look? Yeah, but that’s because the only thing as well made as real life is real life.
On the story:
I’m just inside act 2, and I think the story is very good. There have been some moments of truly excellent writing (which I won’t spoil) and much that does its job at an above-average level, with a small helping of average and very little of low quality. That last is only to the point that I remember it’s there but couldn’t give you a concrete example even if I was doing spoilers.
The story tackles some ideas that I’ve been playing with myself, such as (and I don’t think this is a spoiler given the promos and hype) having another person in your head.
As far as the stuff that impressed me, I’ve been pleased with the themes of family, found family, loyalty, honor, and legacy. I expected none of that in what is normally considered a nihilistic genre. I certainly didn’t expect the main story to have this much heart. The fact that the player can lean into it just adds an extra dimension you can’t get in other media.
Is it perfect? No. Again, nothing is. Some story beats take way too long when what the gamer in me really wants is to roam the town on my bike and slice and dice criminals with my katana like the love child of Hiro Protagonist and the Punisher.
The first interlude for example had me interested in the story but still drumming my fingers for what I think was forty minutes. I think we could have streamlined that a bit, though I enjoyed it for what it was.
On the technical side:
I touched on this in art, but once again I was impressed that though some people are reporting issues, I’ve had surprisingly few despite running the game with only a 2Gb graphics card. I’m sure my 32Gb of RAM figures into that, not to mention my decent CPU and SSD, but it’s still impressive to me that they’ve optimized the game that well.
On the gameplay:
You probably won’t hear many diverging opinions here. It’s hard to make a AAA game that misses the mark with its RPG mechanics, skill trees, loot variety, etc. So all that is good.
The brain dance ‘minigame’ is pretty impressive but I’ve only done one sequence.
What impressed me the most was the melee. It feels visceral and hectic in a way most games don’t. I want to get deeper into the boxing situations because it just seemed to flow so well. Melee is so enjoyable that I think I would be a katana vigilante even if I wasn’t trying to channel my love for Snow Crash.
Which brings me to my last point.
What can CDPR do to cement this as the definitive cyberpunk game, a classic of ye olde 2020s? I’ll give my thoughts as if they could ever see them here.
This DLC needs to be either free or low cost. It needs to add the rest of Cyberpunk’s life paths, and ideally would have new stories (maybe shorter?) with more personal stakes rather than taking us through the main story again. They can do that too, but I’d put that as a secondary objective.
We need control over it. I should be able to fall from a balcony and catch a ledge rather than die. We should be able to pilot the AVs and own one. The higher reaches of the city need to be in play. This is a lot of technical level design work, but it will bring the city to its true potential.
If they really want this game to be legendary, this dreamy and ambitious leap should be on the table. We need Snow Crash DLC. We need elements of Cash Crash Jubilee brought in, if not a whole quest line. Let other cyberpunk IPs make their cameos and even take over the stage for a little bit. Adapt them into Night City for a fresh experience for everyone. It sounds crazy and it’ll never happen, but if it was done it is something that would not be surpassed in gaming for decades if ever. Maybe the modders can make it happen...
Those are the main things I think of, and I’d hope to see some of that come to pass.
So, generous as usual with my thus nearly worthless numerical score, I’d easily put Cyberpunk at a 10/10. That probably means it’s really a 9 for me, once I’ve played enough to shed any dopamine blinders, which probably means for the average person it’s an 8. Do with that what you will.
What it all comes down to is that if you want to videa game a Cyberpunk experience with modern tech and mechanics, this game is it. Not that there are really any other options… So thankfully I think 2077 has succeeded in its mission.
If you’d like to take some magipunk superheroes out for a spin, give RawJack a try.
If you want to see my idea of a high-powered heroic protagonist, go pick up Coming to Power.
If you’re interested in my idea of fun world-building check out How Black the Sky.