I’m about to get my first look at a world I first heard about more than a decade ago. My fingers rap against the chair in anticipation. My jaw clenches as the implant turns on. For a second, the line between reality and this digital dystopia blurs. I’m dazzled by the chromatic landscape, its neon flair, and the … garbage? Oh god, why is there so much garbage?
I’m finally seeing Cyberpunk 2077 one year after its release. I was aware of the hype leading up to its disastrous December 10, 2020 launch, but I haven’t paid attention since. No reviews. No patch updates. Just a friend calling it “Space Witcher.” And I am aware that people who played on a PS4, Xbox One, or a lower-end PC had critical, game-breaking issues. Now I’m stepping into the world with fresh eyes on a PlayStation 5. What a tragic world it is — but is it still a Dumpster fire?
Traversing the Tragedy
Mass shootings. Suicides. Rape. Kidnapping. Terrorism. And the garbage! It’s a lot to take in. The good news is the tragedy doesn’t come at you all at once. Crime is everywhere, but you’re not shown the game’s darkest moments until you’ve walked a few miles through Night City.
Cyberpunk 2077 is about a mercenary named V who dreams of being remembered long after he (or she) is gone. During one dangerous heist, V witnesses something they shouldn’t have and is forced to install a biochip that will slowly kill them. With the help of a new ally, V goes on the hunt for life-saving answers. Hopefully, V doesn’t die in the process.
The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, allowing you to explore and experience all of Night City and the surrounding lands with however much depth you prefer. The scope of the world is particularly impressive. It’s sprawling, and not merely horizontally. You can go up and up and up, especially when you upgrade your jump ability. Going into and on top of all sorts of buildings gives Cyberpunk 2077 a vibe that’s more immersive than most other games out there.
Each district has its own vibe and fixers who assign you to local merc jobs or sidequests. The missions are fun. You’re usually doing a heist, putting a hit on a rival, taking down a cyber-enhanced person who’s gone psycho, or installing malware — you know, punk stuff in a cyberized world.
I Did It My Way!
My V? He prefers to sneak around, choke out nearby enemies, and snipe others with a silenced gun from afar. Cyberpunk 2077 lets you play your own way and at your own pace. Yes, it’s sort of a sci-fi equivalent of The Witcher, but the various customization options lean towards Skyrim in its diversity.
Much of the worldbuilding is left behind in shards. You can choose to read them, or not. You can fast-forward through dialogue or skip car rides, jumping right back into the action. Hacking your way through missions is as viable as slowing down gunfights like you’re in The Matrix. You can even switch out your manual aiming sniper rifle for an automatic aiming rifle — just in case you had a few too many Broseph Ales at dinner and your real-life aiming is not too steady.
Variety rules in this world.
The good comes with some bad, however. Even playing this game on a PS5, it still crashed nearly a dozen times throughout my November playthrough. Walls don’t always work as they should. Sometimes enemies would notice a knocked-out coworker even without line-of-sight. Often, when I squatted to perform a quickhack, I would levitate, exposing me to enemies who filled my cybernetic body with lead.
Those are annoying interruptions, but I can deal with them. If I crash, I reload. If I’m spotted or levitate, I can either gun my way out of danger or load my last save. Cyberpunk 2077 does a great job at autosaving. It would be even more disastrous if that were not the case. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to always save before a mission starts, and intermittently during a mission.
The Good, the Bad, and the Tedious
Cyberpunk 2077 excels in creating the simulated feeling of a shared experience when there is none. While running around Skyrim’s Tamriel, you feel alone. NPCs walk into things. They babble the same old inane lines of dialogue. You never feel alone in Night City in the same way. I’d get texts and phone calls, sit down for face-to-face meetings with fixers and friends, or I’d ponder the nature of existence with Johnny Silverhand, deliciously played by Keanu Reeves. The voice acting of major NPCs in Cyberpunk 2077 is excellent. We’ve come a long way from the days of developers voicing characters themselves.
Minor NPC voice acting can get a little bland and odd at times, reminding me of Skyrim but in a bad way. Random people repeat inane comments. I had several people tell me they had no reason to live. Others ask, “Did mom send you?”
You also never know how somebody might behave. Driving safely past people on the street will send them running in terror on the sidewalks. When gunfights break out, sometimes people will flee, sometimes they will walk right through the hail of gunfire and die, and sometimes they just freeze in place because of a bug. It’s like watching a glitch in the Matrix in real-time.
Enemies are also a mixed bag. Say you’re crouched around a corner, eavesdropping on interesting conversations about their weekends or relationships. Then someone spots you, and as they search, you’ll hear them all cycle through the same handful of dumb threats. Then, they stand in a corner for too long making out with the wall, giving you enough time to sneak up and choke them out. When they’re not face-first against the wall, NPCs often make good decisions in terms of taking cover and trying to flank you. Gunfights are fast-paced and challenging, but only until you upgrade your weapons. Then you’re head-shotting foes left and right.
There’s so much to talk about in Cyberpunk 2077, but not enough time or space. Let’s do a quick word association lightning round.
- Loot: Abundant
- Legendary loot that I cannot loot: Frustrating
- Cyber upgrades: Diverse
- Crafting: Uncomplicated
- Driving: Harrowing
- Super-jumping: Awesome
- Waiting for NPCs to walk somewhere: Tedious
- Relationship dialogue: Cornball
- Music: On brand
- Garbage: Overwhelming!
Seriously, the streets are lined with stacks of garbage so high you can almost smell it, and that level of immersion sours the vibe enough to make the game world aesthetically displeasing. I get that it’s a commentary on what happens when elite members of society physically separate themselves from the working class. But smells rise. The people on those upper floors would have to breathe in the rancid, fetid odors that emanate from the refuse surrounding their buildings. I have a hard time believing that mega-corps wouldn’t intervene on their behalf. (Editor’s Note: Is that why the rich Shinra elite built a massive plate over the slums of Midgar in Final Fantasy VII?) That said, I do appreciate the soft landing on refuse after I snap a neck five stories up and need a quick escape.
Ultimately, Cyberpunk 2077 still has a ton of technical issues one year later. At least there’s a major PS5 and Xbox Series X version still due out in 2022 that’s launching alongside “a major update.”
When you see this game in the bargain bin, ask yourself a few questions: Do you want to spend dozens of hours immersing yourself in a Blade Runner-style world? Do you like action-platforming games like Assassin’s Creed? Do you like amassing, organizing, selling, and crafting loot?
If you answered any of those questions as yes, and you own a PS5, Xbox Series X, high-end PC, or Google Stadia, then you should buy Cyberpunk 2077. The neon world is packed with hi-tech toys and simulated friends that’ll keep you engrossed for weeks. The best part? It’s now a year old, so you’ll get a blockbuster game at a bargain bin price.
Developer CD Projekt Red reached for the stars with Cyberpunk 2077. That made for a much longer fall, and yet the trash that cushions the fall is softer than ever before.
Inverse played the PS4 version of Cyberpunk 2077 on the PS5.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)