LOS ANGELES – If E3 2018 had a single darling game, it was probably Cyberpunk 2077.
After its cinematic trailer’s surprise debut during the Xbox press conference, fans and critics alike flocked to its meeting room, desperate to get an hourlong glimpse of its action/RPG gameplay and complex narrative decisions. The game takes place in the near future, and the scenario it envisions is unfortunately all too realistic: overpopulation, unbridled corporate hegemony and a sense of hopelessness for the have-nots.
But adventure and beauty still exist, and Cyberpunk 2077 gave us a glimpse of how to find them.
I saw CD Projekt Red give an extended demo of Cyberpunk 2077 at E3, and so far, it looks like the game will provide the same level of detail that fans have come to expect from the Polish developer. Previously, the company tackled The Witcher series, and while Cyberpunk 2077 is about the furthest thing imaginable from a fantasy epic, a lot of the same elements are present: robust character customization, meaningful story choices and an enormous, populated world to explore.
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Cyberpunk 2077 takes place in Night City in the Free State of North California: an enormous metropolis that looks like it stepped right out of a William Gibson novel. (Gibson himself, incidentally, didn’t think much of the trailer, but is open to liking the final game better.) A developer told us that the city will have six distinct zones, with plenty of vehicles to drive in order to reach sprawling apartment complexes, shiny corporate headquarters and seedy underworld clubs. Case and Molly would probably feel right at home.
Unlike in the Witcher games, players will get to create a protagonist from scratch (although his or her name will always be “V”). You can customize your character’s backstory (the death of a sibling, running away from home, and so forth), choose his or her appearance and pump stats into six different attributes. It’s worth noting that one of the stats is “Cool,” and while we’re not exactly sure what that one does yet, how could you not want to invest in that?
The game’s introductory mission gave us a taste of Night City, where life is often nasty, brutish and short. V and her companions, Jackie and T-Bug, had to infiltrate an apartment building in order to rescue a woman named Sandra. The kidnappers in question were human traffickers, literally taking people apart in order to get to the valuable tech inside their bodies. The whole game (save for cutscenes) takes place in a first-person perspective, so combat resembles gameplay in a first-person shooter. V made her way through each room, stealthily taking down enemies from behind before engaging them in a firefight with a machine pistol.
After saving Sandra and turning her over to a pricey medical team (decked out like soldiers — healthcare is expensive and terrifying in the future, much like now), it was time to start the game in earnest. V had two assignments: Meet with influential gangster Dexter DeShawn, and visit a “ripperdoc,” who could improve the tech inside her body.
DeShawn’s tempted V with promises of “eddies” (short for “Euro dollars,” the game’s currency) and more profitable jobs in the future, so she agreed to take on an assignment for him. The setup was traditional cyberpunk fare: a group of hardline transhumanists, who believe in almost completely replacing their organic bodies with cyberware, stole a shipment of high-grade military tech. DeShawn wants it, but he doesn’t want to buy it outright.
After visiting the ripperdoc for an ocular implant (which lets you scan NPCs for strengths and weaknesses, as well as items for quest and lore information) and a subdermal implant (which lets you see a holographic ammo count, and locks your gun to your biosignature), V weighed her options. The stolen hardware would cost 50,000 eddies on the black market. She could undertake a bunch of side quests to earn the money herself; she could try to steal the hardware; or she could work with the corporate officer who let the tech slip out from under her nose in the first place.
V wound up contacting the corporate officer: a harried, chain-smoking woman who saw no issue with treating V like a disposable tool to solve a problem. She and her men set up an ambush for V, but scouting the area first allowed V to turn the tables, asking Jackie to keep a gun trained on them. What followed was a tense standoff, where V elected to keep her cool and convince the officer to take a chance on working together. However, V also could have called for help from Jackie, or drawn her own gun. Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t tell you how to play; it just gives you options and lets you decide for yourself.
The highlight of the demo was when V finally arrived to buy the hardware: a powerful spiderbot, which can crawl through tight spaces, up walls and upside-down. During a tense standoff, V and Jackie had the option to either cooperate with orders from the gang’s prickly leader, Royce, or else start a fight. V stayed peaceful, handing over the credit chip that the corporate officer gave her. Of course, the chip turned out to be bugged, sparking a desperate standoff and escape from the facility.
With the spiderbot in tow, V made her way through the warehouse, making use of a variety of weapons. A combat shotgun let her get up close and personal with enemies, and a smart rifle fired dozens of bullets that actually followed enemies wherever they went. My favorite demonstration, though, was from the Mantis Blades: serrated melee swords that could slice and dies foes at close range. Combined with V’s impressive jumping abilities, the Mantis Blades made the protagonist into a terror at close range. Again, since you’ll customize V’s abilities, this is only one possible build.
The mission culminated with an exciting boss fight against Royce, decked out in a combat exoskeleton. But again, the encounter did not have to end this way. Depending on how V approached the situation, she could have blown Royce away when they first met. She could have paid with her own credits and avoided the whole situation. In addition to influencing how missions play out, V’s choices will reverberate throughout the game’s larger story as well.
Although Cyberpunk 2077 is a very different genre than CD Projekt Red’s most beloved franchise, the core mechanics are still in place: great combat, varied environments and lots of choices. The game will most likely be out in 2019.