January 5, 2021

Cyberpunk 2077: Breathtakingly Broken

Cyberpunk 2077 reviewed by Ian Ford

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Cyberpunk 2077 is a hell of a game. Its open world is immersive, and the (short) story it weaves is one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. It is both beautiful and breath-taking in equal measures… but at the same time as ugly as a wart filled mutant and as broken a gaming experience as you’re ever likely to experience.

It’s fair to say Cyberpunk 2077 has endured a rocky release, and it’s impossible to enjoy the game while ignoring the controversy surrounding its disastrous launch state. While I’ve not had the ‘pleasure’ of playing either last generation console version (PS4 or Xbox One), I have spent the past couple of weeks digging into the supposedly less broken PC variant. Here are my thoughts on the game and a discussion of the problems I experienced for myself:

For the record: MY PC and game settings

Before we dig into the ins and outs of the game, let’s have a look at the rig I played on:

Processor: Ryzen 3700X

Graphics: Nvidia RTX 2070 Super

Memory: 16 GB (3200 MHz) RAM

Monitor: AOC 27” Curved Full HD (1080P)

Disk Drive: Sabrent Rocket Q 1TB NVMe PCIe SSD

While my PC isn’t the fastest gaming beast, it is more than capable of playing Cyberpunk at Ultra settings at 1080P, which is the way I experienced the game.

Cyberpunk 2077: The story

Cyberpunk 2077: You brought a knife to a gun fight?
Cyberpunk 2077: You brought a knife to a gun fight?

The story of Cyberpunk 2077 is a complex one. The game’s primary setting is the futuristic Night City in the eponymous year 2077. Night City is a neon-soaked, grime filled cesspool of miscreants, vagabonds, and high-rolling corporation executives.

The city is amazing to look at. At street level, it reminded me of Bladerunner’s Los Angeles — grim and glossy in equal measure. But stare up at the megacorporation filled high rises and you immediately get that Omni Consumer Products (OCP) vibe from Robocop. No corner of Night City is truly original, and the game draws on every trope of the genre. But while this leads to a feeling of familiarity, the developers have done an outstanding job of pulling everything together in an entertaining and cohesive whole that you can’t help but get lost in.

Being an RPG at heart, the game starts with the standard character choices. After the prerequisite gender, name, look, and dick (or vagina) selections (seriously!), the player is presented with the option of choosing a Street Kid, Nomad or Corpo backstory. While the selection has little impact on the overarching story, it dictates how the opening hours of the game play out. No matter which one you choose, the game will treat you to an opening section that introduces you to the game’s systems, your character, and your position within Night City.

As the game starts, you venture out into the world of Cyberpunk 2077 as V, a small-time crook and cybernetically enhanced miscreant. The first mission sees you befriend the gun-waving Jackie (a cross between Michael Rooker’s Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy and Ronald Weasley from Harry Potter — all bright-eyed and stupid). Jackie works as a catalyst for the early parts of the story and is a touchstone for players to help them understand the game’s many systems.

Together with his new BFF, V heads out into Night City to cause trouble. That is until a supposed big-time heist goes wrong and results in the cybernetic personality construct of former rock star, terrorist, and incredibly wooden Johnny Silverhand (Keanu Reeves) becoming implanted in V’s brain. Silverhand explains that V has a limited amount of time to split their conscience (by taking down the all-powerful Arasaka corporation, no less) or die.

Once Silverhand becomes implanted in V’s psyche, the game truly opens up and you are free to explore the city in any way you wish. There are hundreds of slimy sleazeballs to meet, talk to, work for, or kill, whether that be in the 20 or so hours of the main storyline or the hundreds of side quests that extend the game by double or even triple its length.

Truth be told, I was a little disappointed by the length of the game. After sinking hundreds of hours into The Witcher 3, I expected another lengthy joyride from CD Projekt RED. But sans side quests (of which there are many), the main storyline is surprisingly short. The good news is that while the story lasts, it is immensely entertaining and features some truly top quality writing. At times the game has pacing issues, but this is a minor criticism and, on the whole, the developers have done a cracking job of keeping the game fresh and the player engaged throughout.

The side quests (something that many games use as filler) are fantastically fun. In fact, many of the tasks you find by wandering the streets of Night City are easily as entertaining (if not more so) as the game’s main story. You can buy (or steal) cars and motorbikes to use in illegal street races. As you walk around, you may stumble on a police shootout and join in on the action… or just walk away. You could visit some of the local street gangs hideouts and steal copious amounts of money or other paraphernalia… or get killed in the attempt. There’s A LOT to see and do in this game… and most of it is incredibly fun… until it breaks.

Cyberpunk 2077: Night City

Cyberpunk 2077: Bladerunner eat your heart out
Cyberpunk 2077: Bladerunner eat your heart out

I’ll be honest, whenever I jump into a new open-world game, I often find myself overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to do. Cyberpunk 2077 is no different. Whenever I fire up GTA 5 or Red Dead Redemption 2, I look at the overflowing quest log and sigh. And more often than not, instead of robbing a train or killing a double-crossing drug dealer just to clear a quest from my log, I’ll roam the landscape, marvelling at the scenery or jumping my horse/car from a cliff.

I love to explore a new world and feel part of it, even if I’m not completing quests. But for this to happen, the world has to feel alive in the first place, and Night City is truly alive. Around every corner something is happening, whether it be a police car chasing a perp or an illegal street fight. The city is a stunning place to explore. Every street glistens with potential and every neon draped building is begging for exploration. The number of times I happened upon a conversation that led to an hour-long series of quests just by wandering through a back alley astounded me.

The city is enormous, with skyscrapers towering over rundown slums. The designers have filled every corner with things to see: people going about their business, cars driving down busy streets, inconsequential characters enjoying a meal. No game has ever captured the truly bustling nature of a city quite like this before and wandering the streets is a pleasure. It’s just a shame that the game’s quests don’t encourage more exploration because some corners of the city remain untouched unless you decide to head off the beaten track.

Cyberpunk 2077: A treat for the eyes and ears

Cyberpunk 2077’s lighting is truly amazing
Cyberpunk 2077’s lighting is truly amazing

Cyberpunk is easily one of the most amazing looking games I’ve ever seen. Night City is a serious design achievement and one that CD Project Red should be incredibly proud of. Wandering around the dirty streets while gazing at the looming buildings above is a truly breath-taking experience. But it’s the minor details down at street level that impressed me the most. Sharp graffiti fills crumbling walls two stories high. Detailed rubbish bags litter the dirtiest street corners. Video screens adorn the insides of lifts advertising the latest TV shows. The environments of Cyberpunk 2077 are insanely detailed, but there’s nothing random about them. Each vista tells a story: look up and you’ll see the squeaky-clean offices of the rich but look down and you’ll see a swamp of broken citizens fighting to get by. While the game looks stunning, it’s the intention behind every artistic choice that truly impresses.

Technically, the game is a marvel… at least graphically… most of the time… if your PC can handle it. The game on my mid-rangeish rig looked stunning, with all the settings set to Ultra and ray tracing and DLSS turned on. Playing in 1080p kept frame rates steady at over 60 fps, with only the odd drop as scenes became hectic. Obviously, an upgrade in resolution might require an upgrade in rig, but for Full HD anything around mid-range should be adequate.

Texture quality is insanely high and the environments are ridiculously detailed. The game’s lighting, especially if you can enable ray tracing, is as realistic as it comes right now. Character models are fantastic with a variety seldom seen in a gaming, and animations (especially facial animations) are ultra-realistic. Every piece of the game creates an atmosphere so thick that you’ll think Johnny Silverhand is embedded in your own brain.

Sound design is also a high point with voice acting good and a swirling symphony of cyberpunk drenched sounds assaulting your ears at every turn. Sofas squeak when you sit on them. Cars thud when you drive over bumps. Voices become muffled when they move away from your position. The quality of sound in the game is flawless, with nary a hiccup in sight… unlike the graphics.

While the graphic fidelity is mightily impressive, it isn’t flawless. On the surface Night City is beautiful, but a peek behind the facade shows an ugly underbelly that isn’t quite as glossy. Some background characters look lower quality with low-res textures and poor animations. Thankfully, these characters generally lurk in the background where they don’t spoil the immersion too much.

The same can’t be said for the glitches. So many glitches. From characters missing faces to arms on dead bodies flailing around like demented octopus tentacles, the number of graphical problems I experienced must be a record. And while none of the issues spoilt my enjoyment too much, they were at best distracting and at worst irritating. If only the games bugs stop with the graphics. Unfortunately, they don’t.

Cyberpunk 2077: The gameplay

Cyberpunks graphics while glitchy are still impressive and the story is entertaining. It’s in the gameplay that Cyberpunk 2077 falls a little flat. At best the game’s mechanics are fun but at worst, they are clunky and unintuitive. That’s not to say I expected Call of Duty level gunplay or the fluid parkour movement of Assassins Creed (RPGs often prioritise atmosphere and story over action) but a little more refinement wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Stealth is a viable option but if (like me) you get bored with sneaking around, then missions soon descend into shoot outs or brawls. Gun mechanics just aren’t snappy enough to feel satisfying, and enemies, especially at higher levels, are the very definition of bullet sponges. I just wish the combat in Cyberpunk 2077 felt as interesting as it does in CD Projekt RED’s previous game, The Witcher 3, where hacking and slashing was such a joyous experience.

But combat isn’t the only piece of the Cyberpunk puzzle, and as well as the usual upgrades, crafting, and levelling up, the game includes hacking and a variety of cybernetic upgrades for you to experiment with. While these systems work as you would expect, they are often clunky to use and difficult to understand. For example, it took me an absolute age to figure out how you added perks to your character as the game does not show you how to do it (you have to go to the attributes screen and press a specific button to go to the perks screen).

Driving is similarly unrefined with cars feeling like they are skating on ice rather than gripping futuristic tarmac. This is a real shame as driving around Night City (and we suggest you do this as much as you can by avoiding the fast travel stations) is one of the best ways to take in its splendour.

Once you’ve found your way around the many RPG systems in the game, things run a bit smoother. I just wish CD Projekt RED had put more time into making things easier to navigate, control, and understand from the get go.

Cyberpunk 2077: The bugs

Cyberpunk 2077: Wait for it…
Cyberpunk 2077: Wait for it…

And we come to the biggest problem with Cyberpunk 2077, the bugs. There are so many problems in the game that it’s impossible to ignore them. Of course, other games have had problems on release, but none can touch Cyberpunk for the sheer number of issues I experienced while playing.

We talked earlier about the graphical glitches that crop up every few minutes. While these are distracting, they are at least tolerable. What isn’t tolerable are the many times I had to reload a checkpoint because a character I was talking to fell through the floor. Or a door I needed to go through wouldn’t open. Or, one of my favourites, the car I was driving got stuck on an invisible bump in the road. Problems come at you so thick and fast sometimes that the entire game feels broken. God only knows how the poor PS4 and Xbox One owners are coping with their (supposedly) buggier versions.

No game should be released in the state that CD Project RED have released Cyberpunk 2077 in. It is clearly not ready for public consumption yet. The upper echelons of management need to have a long, hard look at their work processes to make sure future games meet the standards consumers expect. Or maybe they won’t. The game made its budget back in a day, after all.

With two patches already released (at the time of writing) and more promised, CD Projekt RED will probably turn the game around and come out smelling of roses. But this is scant consolation for the millions of early adopters who’ve struggled through a broken game.

Cyberpunk 2077: My take

Cyberpunk 2077 is without a shadow of a doubt a mixed bag. Its strengths are breath-taking… buts its flaws spoil so much of its power. Playing the game at times blew me away. It is truly immersive, and the art and sound design are quite staggering… until you look behind the glossy facade. But for every impressive moment (and there are so many) there is something, whether big or small, trying to destroy the great work of the developers.

At the end of the day, Cyberpunk 2077 is far from a perfect game. The towering achievements are just as memorable as the blemishes that litter its glossy facade. But despite its shonky nature, I’ve really fallen in love with the game. The main story is a blast, even if it is a little short, and the side quests are just as memorable. Night City is a stunning place to while away the virtual hours and I can’t wait to get back to its dirty, neon-soaked landscape regardless of the nagging feeling that it could be so much better. Hopefully, CD Projekt RED can perform a similar level of surgery to the game that they’ve done with previous releases. If they can, then Cyberpunk could be the defining game of this or any gaming generation.

the virtual hours and I can’t wait to get back to its dirty, neon-soaked landscape regardless of the nagging feeling that it could be so much better. Hopefully, CD Projekt RED can perform a similar level of surgery to the game that they’ve done with previous releases. If they can, then Cyberpunk could be the defining game of this or any gaming generation.

WRITTEN BY Ian Ford

Maths teacher, author, driving instructor, gamer, film buff, comedian, eco-warrior, gigolo, prime minister, and fantasist.

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