"I feel like my mother when she tries to send an email."
'Cyberpunk 2077' brings out the boomer in me
The open-world game is overwhelming by design and that can make it feel alienating.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a gigantic spectacle. Even with its many technical issues, CD Projekt Red’s open-world game is a staggering feat from a design perspective. Night City is massive, there’s no shortage of activities to do, and it features a towering stack of gameplay mechanics to tool around with.
That’s all exciting for diehards who have been hyping the game for eight years, but when I play Cyberpunk 2077, I just feel old.
At 31 years old, I’m certainly not what most would call ancient (perhaps zoomers would disagree). I’ve been gaming for most of my life and I play a pretty wide array of titles, from simple puzzle games to grand strategy titles like Crusader Kings 3. I may not always fully grasp the complexities of certain games, but I rarely feel in over my head while playing something.
That’s not the case when I play Cyberpunk 2077. Every time I boot it up to give it another shot, I immediately feel overwhelmed. Phone calls constantly pop up on screen, cluttering my HUD. I’m picking up an overwhelming amount of loot and I don’t know what 90 percent of it does. The menus are crammed with so numbers and stats, which may as well just be The Matrix’s scrolling green code. I feel like my mother when she tries to send an email; I just have no idea what I’m looking at.
Much of this is by design. Cyberpunk 2077 wants to hit its players with sensory overload. It’s a game that’s set in a dystopian future littered with shady corporations, and many of the design decisions reflect the feeling of capitalist excess present in Night City. Narratively, it makes perfect sense that V would see the world through constant, distracting pop-ups.
While I admire the game for its dedication to creating a specific mood, it doesn’t ease how alienating it feels to actually play it. Like it’s own excessive metropolis, the game feels like an amalgamation of mechanical clichés haphazardly glued together to create the “ultimate game.” Even just looking at the game’s waypoint-loaded map is an overwhelming experience that makes me want to give up before I even try to understand what every icon means.
The myriad of systems are complicated enough as is, but any gameplay confusion is compounded by the game’s current unstable state. Bugs are so prevalent that I’m often left wondering if basic things are broken or I’m just going crazy. In one mission, I snuck into a garage to find several guards standing around an empty car and firing full clips into it. That could have been the intended set piece, but the moment was sandwiched between two particularly bizarre bugs (a guard clipping in and out of existence in an elevator and tiny trees appearing all over the screen during the game’s most dramatic story beat), leaving me feeling lost.
Dialogue has been an especially rough spot during my slow playthrough. Conversations are filled with technobabble that reads like another language entirely. It’s hard to get invested in any narrative beats or mission when my eyes are glazing over vague, but wordy explanations about nanotechnology. I tend to leave story missions with the same feeling I get when I’ve spaced out while reading a book and need to flip back a few pages.
The cyber MacGuffins are hard to follow, but it’s the game’s barrage of slang that most makes me feel like a fish out of water. Cyberpunk is crammed with alien words like "weefle" and "linefoot." Even looking through a glossary of terms, it’s still hard to determine what some of these words mean at a glance, as they rely on understanding the factions and dynamics present in the game's rich world.
That’s where my own insecurities especially begin to flare up. I’ve always felt like someone who’s remarkably “with it,” but 2020 was a year where I started to feel the disconnect, especially when it came to the evolving gaming community. I’m still not totally sure what "poggers" means and it feels too late to ask, lest I out myself as an old. In a weird, existential way, Cyberpunk perfectly captures that feeling of the world slowly passing by under your nose.
To a certain degree, science-fiction should make us feel a little out of our element. It’s through over-the-top future shock that the genre is able to heighten and expose the weirdest parts of our present day situations. Like any good sci-fi, Cyberpunk 2077 accomplishes that goal by offering a scathing (though often half-cooked) critique of the systems of power in our own world.
Perhaps it’s a testament to Cyberpunk 2077’s power that I feel left behind when I struggle to understand its crafting system, while hipper gaming YouTubers are effortlessly breaking down its nuances every day. I desperately want to grasp its rich worldbuilding and complex mechanics so I can keep pace with a constantly changing gaming landscape. But at the moment, Cyberpunk leaves me feeling like a sitcom dad starring dumbfounded at an overblown exaggeration of what “games these days” look like.