Polish Developer CD ProJekt Red (CDPR) well-known for their The Witcher series of games announced Cyberpunk 2077 eight years ago with development starting some time beyond that. After numerous delays, a ton of hype, huge expectations from gaming communities and an equal amount from the gaming press, it’s finally here 8 months after its original release date. Before we get into details a few disclaimers. Cyberpunk 2077 runs terribly on Xbox One and PS4 consoles as numerous reports and reviews can attest. The game performs slightly better on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro and is usable on PS5 and Xbox Series X in compatibility modes. The PS5 and Series X versions proper, CDPR plans to release some time in 2021. The PC version seems to perform much better. This review is based on the PC version using an RTX 3090 GPU, i9 9900K processor and 16 GB DDR4 RAM (basically a top spec PC putting us in a very niche group). We generally run games at their highest Ultra settings in 4K with things like ray tracing fully enabled where possible. So in a nutshell, we’re running the game at its best. With this in mind, our thoughts about the game will differ greatly compared to those playing on original Xbox and PS4 consoles.
To begin then, Cyberpunk 2077 comes based on the Mike Pondsmith table-top RPG series which released in 1988, entitled Cyberpunk 2020. Subsequent editions released as well garnering a reasonable fan-base. The Cyberpunk genre became somewhat popularised by movies such as Blade Runner and excellent novels like Necromancer from writers William Gibson. In more recent times though, TV shows on Netflix, Altered Carbon and movies such as the cinematic version of Ghost in the Shell, a new Blade Runner and Alita Battle Angel have pushed the genre into the fore. Cyberpunk 2077 joins a long list of games that sit within the genre, with titles within the Deus Ex series ruling the roost for many. In fact, the original Deus Ex game regarded by many as one of the best games in the genre with the other games in the series all highly regarded.
Cyberpunk 2077 then enters the fray and tells the story of a male or female character called V. You get to spend minutes or hours customizing his or her appearance using somewhat limited but easy to use customization tools. That includes looking totally silly to a more serious or menacing individual if you take the time to go through all the options. It goes without saying, Cyberpunk 2077 uses a first-person viewpoint which means aside from looking in menus, select mirrors or using the photo mode, you don’t get to see your character within the world, so the looks are purely inconsequential at this stage.
Interestingly, at the game’s start, players choose one of three life paths which place your character in a unique scenario. These are Nomad which puts V on the outskirts of the fictitious Night City. Street Kid, places V inside Night City somewhat familiar with the underground scene. Corpo, a high-end character at the very top, or high-end living within Night City. Whilst each scenario lasts about 30 minutes, they are pretty neat where your choice has an impact on conversations throughout the game. Sadly, once these unique moments conclude, players view the same montage cut-scene which basically bypasses 6 months of living within Night City. Players then work through a rather long prologue section (lasting several hours) before entering Act 2 . This act is pretty much the meat of the game where Night City opens its doors fully allowing players to explore all of its districts without hindrance. The final Act offers the conclusion and is the shortest section. Naturally, players spend hours in the prologue and Act 2 or speed through them to progress the story. The game is all about choices from the get go, meaningful or otherwise.
We’re not going to spoil any of the story specifics from this point onwards and just concentrate on the gameplay loops on offer. Night City is a sprawling, highly populated metropolis set within the USA. Within it, you have the underclasses, criminals, gangs and regular folks getting-by alongside the rich and infamous. It’s an open-world game where players are at liberty to freely walk/run on-foot, grab a vehicle and drive around the city at will. Once players find their feet in Act 2, they then assume the role of a mercenary for hire. Now this role includes all manner of jobs and it’s adopting this persona that allows for some awesome gameplay moments in the form of side-quests and gigs. Whilst the main story branch in its own right offers an excellent selection of memorable characters and intense scenarios to play through, the side content is of equal merit. A lot of really cool stuff lies hidden away within these side-missions and if you ignore them, you’re potentially missing out on a ton of what Night City has to offer. One look at the Night City map once you spend several hours free-roaming and you will see it littered with tasks to complete – in relation to being a merc for hire that is.
Players act as a bounty hunter, thief, social justice warrior, private investigator, executioner, mediator the works. All the while fleshed out with interesting background stories and information. It’s obvious CDPR spent concentrated quality time making side-missions feel meaningful to the player rather than simple tacked-on content. Looking at them simplistically, they do fall into familiar gameplay tropes of go here, collect that or kill that etc. However, it’s the underlying attention to detail within the lore of the game world that makes them standout, the choice in how to approach them giving them an edge. Players can brutishly power their way through each mission with little regard, or spend the time gathering more information by reading emails and info shards, sneaking around stealthily. Within those parameters, players can adopt a specialised approach as a Netrunner (hacker), thug, ghost or gunslinger. It’s pretty neat taking on a job completing it, then reloading a previous save-game and doing the same thing but with a different approach. This part of the game CDPR nailed with aplomb.
Cyberpunk 2077 somewhat falls apart to a degree in terms of its execution and misleading presence. Night City’s massive size and pre-release PR speak suggests players can partake in a number of activities, and whilst the game isn’t short on content, it does feel like the player interaction is less than purported for whatever reason. Games such as GTA V allow massive amounts of interactions with the city of Los Santos, and although Cyberpunk 2077 is not an all out action game like GTA V, the RPG elements are lacking. There are no side-activities with regards to just living in city. No customization to personalise the game post character creation at the start (aside from changing clothing), an absence of mini-games and quirky moments to distract players. The game world’s sexualized imagery bombards the player at every turn, yet players cannot embark on any meaningful sexual activities or relationships though as you would expect. Leaving a general feeling that although the core game is solid, a lot of content didn’t make the final-cut or will become a DLC addition at a later date. If not, then Night City’s promise is somewhat disappointing if you expect more activities to kick-back.
Cyberpunk 2077’s main gameplay loop of exploration, combat and character upgrading is great though. CDPR’s combat mechanics are satisfyingly brutal and far more competent than expected. Shooting feels well-crafted as does blowing up gang members leaving them dismembered in the process. At times, it almost feels like this game is a re-branded Robocop experience, the parallels are uncannily similar. Driving vehicles is oddly fun, although some handle pretty badly and the default first-person view isn’t the best position if trying to avoid collateral damage (luckily you can drive around in third-person). Players use skills and upgrades to improve their character’s stats, but also choose how they wish to specialise in either shooting, melee, stealth, brawling, hacking and technical abilities. It’s easy to make a balanced jack-of-all-trades character, but the experience is very different if you specialise. This is the role playing part of the game, which comes across meaningful beyond conversations which largely don’t affect the outside world as a whole. It’s not that type of game where your character exists to save the world, rather save themselves instead.
Visually, Night City looks fantastic in 4K and Ultra settings (especially if you get the HDR working properly) and is the perfect playground for the V mercenary character in a cyberpunk world. Each district has its distinct look, and feels well-populated to suit. On the surface at least Night City is a visual assault on the eyes, full of colour and dancing neon light. Digging deeper and the cracks begin to appear. Some areas don’t look as fleshed-out as others, NPC interactions and AI appears to be very low-quality and then there are a number of niggly bugs. You will find plenty of bugs/glitch videos on Youtube from all versions of the game, but the degree and severity of them differs depending on the platform. After 40 hours beating the story as female V and completing many side-quests, we encountered zero crashes and just a number of silly glitches (mostly clipping issues, poor AI routines and disappearing NPCs). However, not long into the male V story we encountered 2 crashes to desktop. Take that as you will. CDPR released an unfinished game as far as we’re concerned, and no matter how delicious the game looks on PC, it needs more work before it’s considered complete. Performance is reasonable here but even with the RTX 3090 can’t run at a consistent 4K 60 fps using the max settings and with DLSS & ray-tracing enabled. Pretty much the same as Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs Legion. Still, performance stays within the 40-60 fps range which is good enough considering all the visual bells-and-whistles.
Audio needs mentioning here, because the soundtrack created specifically for the game by Marcin Przybyłowicz [composer] is fantastic. It really bolsters the moment at times especially during combat. Storming a nightclub with a shotgun alongside a pumping soundtrack is unforgettable.
In terms of longevity, as mentioned there is a lack of alternative activities for V to mess around with. Things like customization, and mini-games don’t reside here which is odd given the size of Night City. However, what is on offer is plentiful and varied. Night City itself is a joy to behold simply walking/driving around at various times of day. Hats-off to the artists and designers here. We’re 60-70 hours in and still hooked on looking around Night City. For those who wish to concentrate on just the story, then you’ll see around 15-25 hours of gaming. For those who become enveloped in Night City’s embrace, then the hours could easily enter over 100. We can’t state enough how playing missions in a different way or upping the difficulty can change how events play-out, making replay value very-high especially if you force yourself to use a specialized build each time.
To conclude then, Night City is the host of a very neat and cool playground for a mercenary, gun-for-hire, bounty hunter type persona. We can’t fault CDPR’s handling of the main-story and fleshed-out side quests. These are both excellent and well worth playing the game for. Whilst the game does feel lacking in other areas as if unfinished, and has its fair share of bugs, it’s still a cracking top-notch experience on top-end PC. That says a lot then at the quality of what is offered here. The question one has to ask is, can you overlook the negatives, how much of an impact do they have on your overall enjoyment. Frankly as far as we’re concerned, Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City is way too fun to pick at the dodgy issues and lack of features. It delivers an excellent cyberpunk experience. That’s all we wanted, and CDPR delivered in spades.
Score 9/10 – PC code NOT supplied by publisher. Playtime 60 hours+