After playing just under a 100 hours of Cyberpunk 2077, I think it’s fair to say I am conflicted in writing this review. On the one hand, the game’s primary gameplay loop is mostly spot on, and a great deal of the game’s content is compelling, for one reason or another. But the lack of polish, both in the technical and narrative aspects of the game, leave a feeling of immense disappointment.
You play as “V”, a person that- no matter what background you choose -has become a mercenary in Night City, wishing to become an urban legend. But when a heist goes wrong and a long-dead terrorist begins to set up shop in V’s own mind, V has to find a way of getting rid of him, or have their mind wiped and surrender their body for the terrorist’s use.
The game’s combat is largely enjoyable, feeling very much like a shooty-looty affair with some neat hacking mechanics for good measure.
The hacking is pretty easy to wrap your head around. You stop and scan what you want to hack, and choose from a menu of equipped programs you wish to apply to it. At the start of the game you can’t do too much, you’ll mainly just use it to ping a network to see what else is connected to it, or use it to temporarily blind someone for a bit to sneak past. But by the end of the game, I had the capability to render someone unconscious, or make them go into a psychotic rage against their own friends, without even entering the building.
You can also equip yourself with a variety of cybernetics; essentially a selection of upgrades you have to unlock by gaining a name for yourself, then purchase at a medical centre. One of the cybernetic implants I got were legs that allowed me to perform high jumps, allowing me to easily perch on rooftops for a good sniping position. Another was a “MicroGenerator”, a cybernetic that would damage nearby enemies when I became low on health.
The collection of guns is large and varied, made only more expansive by the game’s categorisation of Power, Tech, and Smart guns. Power guns sometimes ricochet off surfaces, Tech guns allow you to shoot through some surfaces, and Smart guns home in on your enemies. You can wield any of these guns at any time, but you can only use their unique attributes if you have the correct cybernetic upgrade.
Problem is, for me personally, it felt like this did not work as intended. A few hours in, I had gained a Smart gun, and the necessary cybernetic to wield it properly. Unfortunately, in my playthrough, Smart guns seemed to do nothing but actively avoid enemies, hitting walls and such, even when my aiming reticle was over an enemy at close range. According to Cyberpunk’s subreddit, some enemies are meant to be able to jam the capabilities of Smart guns, but I saw no such warning or telegraphing from the game that this could happen. As a result, I swapped my Smart gun cybernetic for the Power gun cybernetic. However if I’m being perfectly honest, when using the Power guns, I didn’t notice any ricocheting at all. Perhaps I’m just missing something, perhaps it’s a bug.
The world is positively buzzing with things to do. There are boxing and car racing tournaments you can join, police crimes to solve, gang camps and operations to take down, rogue self-driven cars to track down, political conspiracies to unravel, Mercenary jobs you can take from many different employers, as well as some collectible hunting for good measure. Most of this is just busy work, but it was enjoyable enough that I finished almost every single side quest and managed to wipe the majority of my map clean of icons. There is no question that Night City is packed with content.
Shame it’s mostly broken at the moment. First, a disclaimer. I first started playing Cyberpunk at launch, and there have been a few hot-fix patches since then, and there’s a major patch due in a couple weeks to add further bug-fixes. As a result, many of the bugs I’m about to describe may not be a part of the game at the time of writing, or when the february patch lands.
I have had a range of bugs, from unconscious NPCs spontaneously exploding into giblets when I dump their body on their floor, to cars being stuck in the ground. A couple of enemies not even attempting to shoot at me. Bits of UI sticking around on my screen longer than they should be until I have saved and reloaded. The inability to sprint after leaving a safe area, until I have saved and reloaded.
I had two separate quests completely break on me because of bugs- one where the game forced an NPC’s body back into a sitting position after I had stealthily strangled them. This stopped me from interacting with them at all, a problem given they were my target, and I had hoped to deal with them non-lethally- I had to restart from a previous checkpoint. In another mission, I was told to enter a building, but the doors that were supposed to be openable to allow me to enter a building, were locked shut, and the game wouldn’t let me hack them open. Even after reloading a checkpoint, this bug persisted. After reading online for a solution, I heard that this bug was triggered by the player arriving at the building in a vehicle, and to avoid it you had to walk to the area on foot.
In short, save often, these bugs are infuriating at times without a recent save to fall back on. These bugs aren’t even the worst of it, I’ve been playing Cyberpunk 2077 on my new PC, and graphically it’s handled it really well, I was able to play it with ray-tracing, with only the odd bit of pop-in textures and a couple graphical glitches. As we have all heard by now, people who have bought the game on consoles have had to deal with far, far worse bugs and glitches.
Bugs aside, the world itself physically feels very constructed sometimes. I mentioned earlier I got a cybernetic that allowed me to jump to high ledges. Well there are some high ledges the developers clearly didn’t think you’d get to, or didn’t want you to. Some rooftops and ledges will see your character get insta-killed the moment they stand on them. Sometimes there are invisible walls for no discernable reason. And sometimes you can see through the world at a certain angle, or phase through some of the ground and walls. Such flaws as these were annoying to me, when all I wanted was a good sniping perch which, to be fair, is what you get most of the time.
Getting around the city can also be incredibly annoying. Want my advice? Either fast travel, or use motor-bikes. I thought it was just me being a terrible driver, but I’ve heard other people complain the handling on the cars can be really poor. In fact it’s another flaw I’ve seen modders attempt to fix. But even with the game’s poor car handling, don’t ever worry about police chases. Because Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t have them.
You can anger police and get into firefights with them, but they never chase after you in their own cars. They just spawn on foot on the pedestrian walkway. This is something I hope they change with updates, especially as one of the side missions has you use a spike strip to stop a truck on the road, and it contains the game’s one and only police chase. Although they did despawn eerily quickly for me, in a way that did not feel intended. Regardless, it feels strange they introduce police aggression, with a star system ripped straight from GTA, but have no car chases with them.
The game’s narrative and roleplay aspects are… a mixed bag.
To begin with, the game’s character customization menu is fine, but fans who want to spice themselves up with visible cybernetics and mechanical appearances will be left disappointed. There are some for your character to don, but it is a very limited selection, and there are plenty of cool looking cybernetics that you will see on NPCs, but never get the chance to be placed on your own character. Some community mods are already changing that, which is nice, but not as nice as it just being allowed in the game to start with. Happily however, the in-game clothing and armor choices allow much more choice, but it still felt like there could be more variety if the developers were willing to spend the time in allowing it. Similar to cybernetics, there are plenty of clothing you see NPCs wear, that you can simply never collect. There is no way to transmogrify your clothing or weapons. The most you can do is upgrade your old weapons with crafting components, but it gets more expensive the more you upgrade them, so you are eventually forced to make a choice between style and practicality.
Additionally, your character’s personality feels very rigid. No matter what, V is mostly an abrasive cynic. They’ll always treat certain characters the same way, and there’s no real way to be a bad guy if you want. The most you can do is be slightly greedy and ask for more money on jobs, be a little sarcastic here and there, but beyond that you are given very little say in what V’s personality is. There are a couple notable dialogue moments you can have if you have a high enough points in the “Cool” attribute, but those moments are very few and far between. The extent of your choices appears to be mostly how you approach missions, and which person you romance.
Additionally, despite a comment from Lead Concept Artist Marthe Jonkers, Non-Binary players will need to choose a gender to play as. While you can choose which genitals and body type you want, your voice appears to be the be-all and end-all of your gender. There are only two voices available: A masculine voice, and a feminine voice. Depending on which one you pick, NPCs will refer to V as either a he or a she, there is no option for a they/them pronoun. Arguably, this is still a massive step-forward for trans representation in video games, but it seems like a massive oversight to not allow non-binary characters. Not to mention that even as a Cisgender Man, it was disappointing to not have a collection of male voices for V to have. You want to have a male voice? Well you’re forced to sound like an action hero for the whole game, gravel voice and all. Where’s my more timid sounding voices, or reserved and sly voices? Heck, this is Cyberpunk, why can’t I have a robotic sounding voice? It is especially annoying given I had finished a playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins about a month before Cyberpunk 2077, and it is beyond me how Cyberpunk failed to do something that an 11-year-old game did, and what RPGs have done since.
In fact the game disappoints all-round when it comes to the topic of sexuality, and fair warning, I’m about to go on a massive rant about the game’s approach to romances.
Okay, so each gender only has two possible romances, one of either gender. Male V has one female romance, and one male romance. It’s the same deal for Female V, but they’re two different characters to what Male V has available. So if you’re not bisexual, you’re forced to choose to either romance no-one, or the one character the game has designated you. For example, as a Gay Male V, I only had one possible romance: Kerry Eurodyne, an impulsive rockstar who is, honestly, a bit of a dick. Even straight people seem to have been done dirty by Cyberpunk’s romance system. If you’re a Straight Male V, you can only romance Panam Palmer, a Nomad girl who does deeply care about the people around her, and is very much a rebel. And yet, it feels like half the fan reactions I see from this game is men lamenting the fact you can’t romance Judy Alvarez instead as a Male V.
What’s more upsetting is that the game feels like it has to take a 180-degree turn whenever you try to romance a character your gender isn’t allowed. For example, I did a series of side quests with a character named River. You solve some crimes, one of which has a personal connection to River, and you are invited to come over to his family’s place for dinner. The quest feels very tongue in cheek, with an air of ‘Hey, he’s a family man, ain’t he a catch’ and so on going on with some of the dialogue. Heck, the last scene is you and him alone together sitting on a water-tower quietly talking, and this is after he yanked you from his sister who asked you if you’re seeing anyone romantically. Here, You get a dialogue option to try and kiss him. This is where the game diverges based on your gender. If you’re female when you try to kiss him, you succeed, romance complete, the quest line ends with a natural conclusion. If you’re male when you try to kiss him, River rejects you and you proceed to have an awkward ending to the conversation, and the quest line ends with you just being friends. But everything before that is the same, and as a result, it feels like the game is rubbing your inability to romance him in your face. Similar things happen for all the other romances when you aren’t the correct gender.
Now this sort of thing I could forgive if the game was based on a rigid source material, like for example CD Projekt Red’s Witcher series. When they’re established characters, you do want to show some respect for the original creator; it would have been weird to see Geralt kissing Jaskier. But Cyberpunk 2077 is based on a tabletop game, essentially sci-fi Dungeons and Dragons, there is no reason why they had to lock off romances for specific genders. It’s arguably one of the most flexible source materials you could possibly have. These are original characters, and yet they needlessly apply these rules to the romances. I’ve heard some people argue it’s more realistic to have characters with their own set sexualities, but I have a few problems with that argument.
First: If realism was the objective, then why are there no bisexual characters? There are no characters who even express an interest in both genders, an erasure that is sadly common in media. Even when Bisexual characters are represented, it is often in a light that portrays them as only really interested in one gender, only sleeping with the other for personal gain. To have a Bisexual character would’ve not only reflected a more realistic span of LGBT characters, but also have provided positive representation.
Second: I hate the notion that realism makes a game or movie better. Remember Tenet? Remember how people complained that you couldn’t hear any of the dialogue in the action sequences, cause the action was louder than the characters? That’s realism. Did it make the film better? No, it made it worse. Whilst playing Cyberpunk 2077, would you want to be forced to drive all the way back to your apartment every night to go to sleep, or suffer severe status effects for failing to do so? For most people, the answer is no, it would break the flow of the game. But that’s realism for you.
Third: If you really want to go down this path, then give people of each sexuality more than one option. If one date doesn’t work, most people keep looking for someone else to date, rather than just go “welp, guess I’ll die alone.”
In video games, it shouldn’t have to matter what sexuality a character is, they should just be romanceable by anyone. Allow Kerry to be romanced by women. Allow Judy to be romanced by men. I can’t help but imagine it’d be easier to just have the game allow both genders to romance a character, than to actively discriminate and have a “if woman true, then reject; else allow bonking,” or vice versa. It is especially annoying as, without wishing to spoil, after looking up the various endings, it’s very clear which character CD Projekt Red wants you to romance, as their ending gives you the most hopeful ending. And, what a surprise, it’s the one romance that’s exclusively available to straight men. But don’t worry women, non-binary people, and fellow gay men, ALL the endings are horrible and depressing to some degree, but I’ll get to that later.
Additionally, the game’s attitude towards some of it’s characters is very… problematic. Whilst yes, there are both female and male prostitutes in the game, females receive far more objectification than the male ones. For example, I lost count how many in-game ads sexualised women to a ridiculous degree; A woman holding a beer between her breasts, are you serious? It does feel like these ads were made with a knowing nod to GTA’s satire, but such satire isn’t present anywhere else in the game. This makes these ads jarring and at odds with the rest of the game’s tone at best, and absolutely, abhorrently sexist at worst.
Even if you disregard the ads, there’s as couple of side missions where you are forced to watch female prostitutes perform for you in first person. Granted, they are side missions, and the scenes are short. But the objectification is still there, and as a gay man, it was frustrating to be forced down that road when I wanted to do that side mission. On the other hand, there are a number of female characters who are not objectified, and manage to come across as genuine people with strengths and weaknesses. They are not damsels in distresses, or whose only strength is being a punching bag, or that they’re physically strong, or that they’re an independent woman who don’t need no man.
The game also has a bit of a racism problem. In the course of the main story, you will be introduced to the “Voodoo Boys”. A gang of African people, who occupy a chaotic and lawless part of Night City called Pacifica. Almost every single member has a thick african accent, they mostly speak in broken english, they are depicted as untrustworthy and backstabbers, their subtitles sometimes substitute “They” for “Dey”, “With” for “Wid” and so on. And yes, that is genuinely what they are called in-game. This entire group and their portrayal struck me as racist stereotypes. To be fair on CD Projekt Red, from what I can gather, this group and their racist depiction was grandfathered in from the tabletop game Cyberpunk 2077 is based on. Regardless, some of it should have been reigned in a bit, or at least knowingly addressed in some way, like how Lovecraftian games often address and/or comment on the racist routes that Cthulhu stories had. But Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t do that, instead it just seems complacent and uncaring about the implications of the Voodoo Boys’ depiction.
Unfortunately, the narrative’s woes don’t end there. The game has a huge pacing problem. I mentioned earlier I’ve spent nearly 100 hours in the game. Well, at least 90% of that was side quests. The main series of quests isn’t very long at all in comparison to other games in this genre, and I can’t help but feel you wouldn’t have much attachment to the characters without the side quests: a complaint I’m seeing constantly in the discourse around this game from people who did do just the main story. There are many side quests that do feel like they were originally intended to be part of the main story, and I can very easily imagine a GTA-like story structure working, with multiple quest givers given equal importance in the main story. But Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t do that, instead you have the linear main-questline, with side-quests spawning off of it, that have as much going on in them as the main story missions. Many of these side-quests help develop the characters and your relationship with them, character development that really shouldn’t be optional, especially as they are one of the few things that factor into the ending.
Without wishing to spoil, the game’s approach to it’s different endings are… consistently disappointing. Despite CD Projekt Red’s talk of a rich choice-consequence story, very few choices affect the ending, and the ones that do are almost all part of the final mission, the most important of which is made right at the start of the mission. The other choices are mostly who you’ve romanced, and which character’s side quests you finished- and even then, arguably only one of the characters has a major effect. Additionally, all the endings range from melancholic to downright depressing. When I finished the game, I did not feel satisfied, or as if I had won anything. I felt empty. Like the game had just punched me in the gut and told me I should celebrate that it did. When I looked online to see if the other endings were any better, I was sorely disappointed.
What’s most depressing about these endings, is the feeling they were all rushed. Some of them are very intriguing, and with a couple more drafts, may have been good, But it feels like the developers weren’t sure of the best way to end it, so the way they chose was an incredibly disappointing one. Not to mention, almost all of them are very vague as to what actually happens to V, and the context as to why is both depressing, infuriating, and is exactly what caused the punch in the gut for me. Especially as the story really does have it’s moments, and can be at times, fantastic and enthralling. But there’s no getting around the pacing issues and the immense disappointment you’re guaranteed to feel at the end. Generally, the endings all seem to be the most depressing rendition of the “real treasure was the friends we found along the way” cliché.
I know this review is mostly negative, and I can imagine a few people asking me “If it was so bad, then why did you play so much of it?” There are two answers to that question.
First, despite how broken it was, I actually found the gameplay fun and enjoyable at times. Repetitive, yes, but enjoyable. It was satisfying becoming a fully specced-out technological badass. Second, I had faith that the game’s main story would find its footing, correct it’s pacing, and allow for a satisfying ending. I am disappointed to report my faith was misplaced. But honestly, I still think I enjoyed my time with Cyberpunk 2077 overall. I would wait until the major bug-patches have come out, and then maybe purchase when it was on sale. I’ll also be curious as to how the modding community grows, as it has already begun working on the game, and CD Projekt Red seems to be supportive of them. But currently, I would say it’s plainly average at the moment, with the potential to be something special after a bit more polish.
Cyberpunk 2077 feels like a person trapped beneath an ice lake. You can see them struggling underneath, and you know exactly what they’re trying to do, but they lack the tools they need to break through.
Feature Image Source: Cyberpunk 2077’s Press Kit