I volunteered to write our Cyberpunk 2077 review because I'd never played any of developer CD Projekt's games before — and I was curious what all the hype was about. Yes, I skipped The Witcher 3 (I've rarely ever enjoyed swords and magic games outside of the Zelda franchise), but Cyberpunk 2077's neon-soaked futuristic glory and the promise of Keanu Reeves lured me in.
Today, I'm one week into Cyberpunk 2077 and I wish I could get that week back. As it stands now, I'm nearly done with its mainline story, and that's given me enough moments to believe I'm judging it fairly.
In that week, I've gotten my fair share of hilariously buggy moments, inexplicable crashes and even been surprised by how short the mainline story is. I've learned enough about the game to write a fairly helpful set of Cyberpunk 2077 tips and tricks.
Oh, and to get this out of the way early: I played Cyberpunk 2077 on an Xbox One X, which I selected because it's the only 4K console I have (it's still so hard to get a PS5 or Xbox Series X), and because I don't own a gaming PC. I hear the game runs better on tricked out PCs and the new consoles, but I'm of the opinion that you should only release games on consoles they'll run well on.
Cyberpunk 2077 review: Release dates and ensuing chaos
While Cyberpunk 2077 came out on December 10 for the PC, PS4, Xbox One and Stadia (PS5 and Xbox Series X and S can run the game too), Sony removed Cyberpunk from the PlayStation Store on Thursday, Dec. 17. Why? Well, it runs really poorly on the PS4. One redditor even claimed it bricked their PS4.
Now over six months since it's release and Cyberpunk 2077 is finally coming back to the PlayStation Store, starting June 21. However, Sony recommends you play Cyberpunk 2077 on a PS4 Pro and PS5 to avoid any performance issues.
Cyberpunk 2077 was arguably destined for a rocky start for some time prior to its release. CD Projekt originally slated the game for April 16, 2020. Then, it pushed back to Sept. 17, and then Nov. 19. Along the way, execs from CD Projekt promised that devs wouldn't suffer the long hours of work that have been commonly referred to as "crunch." Privately, the execs reportedly said crunch was necessary. The company even admitted it didn't spend enough time on the PS4 and Xbox One versions.
pic.twitter.com/jtF5WKCiroDecember 14, 2020
But it turned out that 8 months of extra development time wasn't enough. The game hit the ground buggy, with a new wrinkle in its chaos: the visuals used for the braindance sequences caused seizures, and Game Informer reported that the game uses blinking lights "much like the actual device neurologists use in real life to trigger a seizure when they need to trigger one for diagnosis purposes." An update added a warning.
Then, it got worse. The company then apologized for the game's poor performance — #Cyberpunk2077Bugs is a fun hashtag to spend some time on — and told gamers that refunds would be possible, except Sony rejected refund requests. Then, Sony took the game off the virtual shelves, as explained earlier.
Cyberpunk 2077 review: Story
OK, all that out of the way, let's talk about the game itself. When it's moving smoothly, you're in the modified body of V, a ne'er do-well who's moved back to Night City, who's returned home to seek glory.
Not in it for the eddies (Eurodollars are the game's currency), V wants to be remembered. He makes friends with another criminal, the big hulking teddy-bear of a man Jackie Wells (Jason Hightower), and the pair become a force to be reckoned with.
And in these moments, when you're becoming friends with Jackie, and seeing the big man's bit of vulnerability — his knee shakes slightly as you're getting information on the big mission that's going to make you infamous — that Cyberpunk actually engaged with me emotionally. Your big task is to pilfer a bit of tech from the Arasaka corporation, and you get to play a bit of futuristic detective while doing so, scanning through 'braindances" memories recorded to chips.
Of course, that big mission goes very, very wrong. I'll try and keep this spoiler-free, but eventually you find your brain over-run by another identity. Johnny Silverhand (Keanu Reeves) is a musician/terrorist who's gone through his own chaos with the Arasaka corporation. And then the big mission of the game is revealed: you need to get this digital version of Silverhand out of your head before it kills you.
Outside of the moments with Jackie, little in the game's mainline story actually resonated with me. This may be because the game (on an Xbox One) was far from immersive, but it's only through other characters, such as BD maestro Judy (Carla Tassara) and the rebellious Panam (Emily Woo Zeller) that Cyberpunk 2077 connected. Therefore, I spent large hours of the game waiting for one of these characters to resurface.
The voice work from Hightower and Tassara is exceptional, and carried a lot of the weight for making those characters more dimensional, though I have to give them credit for the quality of the nervous looks from Jackie when you're trapped in an Arasaka penthouse tower room.
V, on their own, is such an empty vessel that saving them didn't really do much for me. You can choose your backstory and your pronouns (though the game fails at providing a non-binary option), but I couldn't find a way to care about V.
Cyberpunk 2077 review: Gameplay
If I had to describe what it's like to play Cyberpunk 2077, I'd say "Grand Theft Auto, but in the future." You walk or drive around the wildly busy Night City, and then get missions (way too many missions, it could be argued). You're basically told to either kill, steal or talk to someone else, so on and so forth. There's also a world of tech to be hacked, so you can disable or toy with security cameras, vending machines, TVs and more. This tinkering is fun and opens up some creative options.
Navigating the 'braindance' video clips is the big novel bit of fun in Cyberpunk 2077. Once you jack in, you get to rewind, fast forward and jump around three layers, one for visuals, another for thermal signatures and another for audio. There, you find clues, and it's pretty neat.
I selected Normal difficulty for the game because I always want to see what the creators think the baseline difficulty should be. It turns out that Normal in Cyberpunk is kinda easy. The enemy AI is remarkably unintelligent, letting me get away with sloppy play left and right, and I most noticed this when trying to be stealthy. Enemies take a while to actually notice you — a meter appears with an eyeball to show how long they're taking — and you can run away or around them (while still being near) to lower the meter. Metal Gear Solid this is not.
Boss fights can be frustratingly never-ending or surprisingly short, so Cyberpunk 2077 fails to strike the right balance in that regard. For example, I took down a mech-riding Arasaka employee with a grenade and a shot of a gun, while the sledgehammer-wielding Sasquatch (who runs the Animals gang) took about 25 headshots with a pretty decent shotgun. And she wasn't even wearing any head armor.
There's tons to be done to customize your character for greater fighting and techy efficiency, with upgrades to your arms, legs, immune system and more. But I just skipped over all of it because I never felt a need to. If the AI were smarter, or the game's mainline missions more demanding, there might have been a point to it all.
Character customization feels hollow at best. If you choose male genitals, you can decide whether you're circumcised or not, and that's good for a chuckle or a glitch depending on your experience, but the aforementioned lack of a non-binary option rubs me the wrong way — and reminds me of the arguments that the game's release (and some of its in-game ads) were riddled with transphobia.
Oh, and if you pick any hair option you might not see it when you inevitably look yourself in the mirror: there's a glitch where wearing headwear including a balaclava can make you bald.
Cyberpunk 2077 review: Performance
If you're on a high-end PC with a mighty GPU, or a next-gen console, you might experience Night City and its missions as it was meant to be seen. But for as beautiful as the town looks in stills (or from inside cars as you're chauffeured around town), the game I played failed to run smoothly early and often, and this ruinined any chance I had at immersion. At the end of the day, the Cyberpunk 2077 I played felt more like fodder for YouTuber videogamedunkey (who pokes fun at glitch-filled games) than the presumptive Game of the Year nominee it was marketed as.
That starts with the little things, like the game freezing as I walked around a bar in a very early scene. And just simply observing your surroundings will lead you to see low-res assets used in the game, such as a machine that your new eyeball is put into by ripperdoc Viktor Vector, or the pizza on the table at the diner where you meet up with Goro Takemura.
Cyberpunk 2077's big, wide, beautiful world truly falls apart if you peruse it with too much excitement. Specifically, if you run or drive fast around town, you'll see the game's framerate slowly dip, and it's best described as visually unappealing. And it gets worse.
When I ran into that diner to meet Takemura, the game simply froze and crashed. Another crash happened after I was saving a video clip of gameplay, and then returned to play the game — which had to boot up. Apparently it just zonked out in the background. I could go on, but I don't want to waste your time — that's Cyberpunk 2077's job.
NOW is the time to actually buy cyberpunk, while the bugs are still hot and hilarious, not refund it! cherish this pic.twitter.com/CSEmyKmrQlDecember 17, 2020
If you can enjoy glitches and bugs as an absurdist art, then maybe you should be playing Cyberpunk 2077. I got a lot of laughs out of the game's biggest fails, like when I popped out of a car to shoot down drones, only to have the shotgun I was firing not actually show on screen. Or when I drove with Panam to a meet up, but instead of sitting beside her, I sat inside her, seeing her eyes from the inside, as well as her hair.
The most comical of all moments involved trying to break into a shack through its window, only for that window frame to propel V back hundreds of feet, like it's an ejector seat. And these aren't isolated incidents, I've seen footage of others running into them online.
Cyberpunk 2077 review: Verdict
Having finished my Cyberpunk 2077 review, I am ready to scream "I'm free!" Though the masochist in me is considering spending more time to finish the mainline story (There are multiple endings, which is why I might just read synopses online), I'm happy to be done with this game. If you were thinking about getting it (if you can even buy it), my best advice is to hold off for a while.
At the end of the day, I feel bad for the engineers and developers who worked to get Cyberpunk 2077 in this working condition. The game is set to get major bug-fixing updates in January and February 2021, and I don't want to imagine how little personal time will be left for those workers this holiday season.
Anyone with any power at CD Projekt should have tested this game on a PS4 and Xbox One to see how the vast majority of gamers would likely play it (PS5 and Xbox Series X scarcity was as predictable as anything in 2020). Pushing it to 2021 might have been bad for the company, but not pushing the game has hurt CD Projekt's reputation to an astronomical degree.
In glimmering moments, even I saw the Cyberpunk 2077 that CD Projekt wanted me to see. But in one of the game's most emotional scenes, one of its more absurd glitches ripped me right out of the moment, and it's issues like that which leave me unable to tell anyone to spend $60 on this, unless it's for the lulz.