Categories: Reviews

Review: Cyberpunk 2077 misses the mark in almost every way

Note: We will review Cyberpunk 2077 again once the native next-gen versions release in 2021.

I love CD Projekt Red, I love The Witcher 3, I love Gwent, I expected to love Cyberpunk 2077. My expectations were kept in check, though. Some hoped it would be a GTA killer or be the greatest RPG ever created. I just expected CD Projekt Red to deliver a great RPG with an even greater world. I got some of that but not nearly enough for Cyberpunk 2077 to be considered a “good” game in my book.

All story, little plot

Cyberpunk 2077 takes place in a fictionalized future version of Los Angeles called Night City. You play as V, a player-created character who ends up getting shot in the head and resurrected thanks to a new chip in their head that will ironically also kill them very soon. The reason being is because it also has the construct of a long-dead rockstar turned terrorist named Johnny Silverhand (played by Keanu Reeves). After a long enough period, the chip will essentially merge V’s body with Silverhand’s memories and personality, giving him full control. If the chip is removed on the spot, it will also kill V.

The goal is to basically quickly gather all the info you possibly can and try to save your life by getting rid of Silverhand, who acts as a Tyler Durden-esque character. It’s a race against time, though you can take your sweet ass time and do every quest in the game for weeks without seeing any real consequences. The story isn’t anything that memorable unless you dive into some of the more relevant side quests.

There’s a lack of urgency in everything. The game will frequently have V stumbling over and coughing but once you hear him say “I’m gonna puke” for the 15th time, you realize it’s artificial. The threat isn’t “real”, you have all the time in the world because nothing’s going to happen to you until the game wants it to happen. It selectively chooses when V is affected by his illness, rather than creating a weaker V over time and seeing the consequences of that. He’s always at full capacity, and arguably getting better given you unlock all these skills as you level up.

Even when you are progressing through the main story, it’s not terribly compelling. It’s a lot of people just repeating the names of characters you saw once at the start of the game (and may very well never see ever again depending on your ending), repeating expositional mumbo jumbo, and so on. It’s all quite boring, honestly. Not to mention, there are only a handful of choices you actually get to make that have any impact on how things play out. It’s a very linear story with the biggest choices coming at the end of the game.

The choices you do make aren’t particularly subtle either, it makes it very clear what you’re doing and doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Some may like that but having ambiguity in your choices, not knowing how it’s going to impact every little thing that comes next, is more interesting. I’d rather face the consequences of my actions as opposed to being told them before making the choice itself. Even in moments that shouldn’t really make a big difference, the choices are made for you, creating an extreme lack of agency.

There’s a moment where a character who quit smoking years ago asks for a cigarette, you have the choice of giving them one or refusing to. No matter what you pick, V gives her the cigarette. Why would it even bother giving me the choice? You can’t be “whoever you want”, you can be V. Maybe a slight variation on someone else’s V but it still fits into a very specific character.

Diamonds in the rough

Where Cyberpunk began to hook me was with how CD Projekt Red approaches the concept of death. We all know one day our day will come but what happens when you’ve already experienced it, come back, and have to do it again for real this time? Death is knocking at the door and the fear begins to creep in. What happens after you die? What is your legacy? How does it feel? Is there really such thing as cheating death or immortality? All of this is on V’s mind and some of the best moments of the game center on heart to hearts between V and Silverhand. Being dead, Silverhand has a unique perspective.

Silverhand also has to come to terms with that time forgets many of us, even when you live so large. In the wrong hands, these themes could be an incredibly dull and surface level. They’re not exactly new ideas. But CD Projekt Red’s writing shines here, they handle it in an incredibly engaging way and have characters that can make old ideas feel fresh.

Where Cyberpunk 2077 continues to shine is in its side quests. This ranges from the ones that can directly affect the main quest and ones that don’t. One of my favorite side quests that’s disconnected from everything else revolves around a prisoner. He went to prison for murdering a man in a robbery gone wrong but found religion while serving time. It quickly unravels into something that’s quite wild so I won’t spoil it here.

Some of the other side quests directly affect the main story, going as far as allowing new endings to the game. These are all highlights, from a mission that deals with Johnny Silverhand’s reflections on his life and legacy to meeting potential love interest, Panam. All of these quests spawn larger story arcs as well, all of which are optional and missable. Again, this is where the writing I know and love from CDPR comes through.

They know how to write relationships, make you grow close to characters, feel something that can bind two people together. There is a tangibility in these characters and writing that’s not seen in many other games. Despite being great games, I can’t really recall feeling terribly close to my companions in the Fallout series.

The downer is that this is all tucked away. It CAN be part of the main story if you seek it out but it isn’t organically apart of it. The “golden path” is quite dull, which shouldn’t be the case. You should be able to enjoy just playing through the main quest without venturing off if you want to. Everything else should help enrich that experience not be its crutch.

An RPG that fails to be remotely fun

Obviously, Cyberpunk 2077 comes from the developer of one of the most acclaimed RPGs. CDPR set out to apply their RPG skills to a new setting, trading swords and horses for bullets and cars. While it was new territory, it was exciting to think about the potential. Turns out, it leaves a lot to be desired in so many ways.

I have never seen such an overpopulated yet dull skill tree in my life. There are a bunch of attributes such as reflexes, body, and tech that you can put points in to. Once you invest enough points into certain categories, it unlocks various perks. So many skills could be lumped into others. Things like a perk that reduces shotgun and LMG recoil could just be lumped into one skill that reduces the recoil on all guns. There’s no reason to separate these perks other than to artificially and poorly inflate character levels and progression.

It’s also worth noting there are so many skills that just don’t seem to make that much of an impact, they’re a waste of points. It’s disappointing how many perks are just “reduces recoil by 3%” or “increases damage to torso by 10%”. There are only a handful of genuinely unique, interesting perks. It makes character progression feel slow and unrewarding.

If you want to spice things up and craft items/upgrade them, it’s not going to last long. I always ended up hitting some sort of unspecified level restriction that prevented me from upgrading my weapon into anything above average. Unless you find high-leveled gear from specific quests early on, you’re not going to stay attached to many of your items. Everything is rotated in and out regularly, you’re always finding an excess of new guns and armor. There’s no reason to keep the majority of the stuff you find for longer than an hour or so, if you’re lucky.

What’s worse, these skills and upgrades that are meant to improve gameplay can’t save something broken at its core. Cyberpunk 2077 is simply not fun to play. There are moments where I was getting some enjoyment out of it but largely, I was not. Combat is floaty, never feeling tight enough for me to feel like I have 100% control. There are a few weapons that can keep things fun, just because they’re so powerful or have a cool gimmick but the basics are boring.

There aren’t a lot of dynamic ways to approach battles, save for a few red barrels placed around. Enemy AI is fundamentally broken, not knowing how to react when you do something they don’t expect. Even boss battles feel like an after thought, you can just manipulate the fight and spam them with grenades, quickly killing them.

God forbid you choose to seek out the boxing sidequest, which is a great way to make some money but only if you really need it. The hand to hand combat is terrible. It doesn’t feel powerful or impactful, it’s clunky, and it barely works as intended. You’d have more fun if you just played with Rock’em Sock’em Robots.

You’d hope that maybe if the combat isn’t up to par, traversing the world would be. It’s not. Vehicles handle poorly, particularly motorcycles. They don’t feel reactive enough, making them feel overly-heavy and a drag to use. I figured this may be a result of using the default vehicles but even cars I bought were kind of crappy. Not only that but vehicles will just randomly spawn in front of you, causing you to rear-end them. I ended up just mostly fast-traveling or running by the end of the game.

A whole new perspective

CDPR has made the jump from third-person to first-person, creating a whole new perspective. The city towers over you, creating a steel labyrinth around you. The first-person POV creates an experience you can’t get from third-person. Buildings seem so tall that when you look up, it seems like they go on forever and reach the stars. It really grounds you in this dystopia.

The first-person perspective, while immersive, creates a lot of issues. Unless you look in a mirror (which is glitchy in of itself), you’ll never see your character. There’s an extensive character creator allowing you to customize everything from your eye color to your genitals but it doesn’t serve much purpose. Even when you’re in the shower, the game will either keep underwear on you or just keep your clothes on, even if it means you now have to wear soaking wet jeans.

It seems things like changing the size of your penis were for nothing but a marketing tool that would go viral on social media. It worked but imagine if they had used that time to punch up other parts of the game. Funnily enough, the game bugged out at the end and stripped my character of his clothes. I still had the benefits of the armor of the clothes I had equipped but my junk was swinging around in people’s faces, dodging bullets, and it made for a very interesting NSFW photoshoot. Under normal circumstances, this shouldn’t have happened, though.

A buggy game broken at its core

The most controversial element of Cyberpunk 2077 is the state its in. I played the game on Xbox Series X via backward compatibility and tested it on Xbox One X as well. While the Xbox Series X version is stable, the One X version is not. Some have said theirs works fine, mine would tank in FPS and crash frequently. If I tried to load up a save, it would crash within 5 minutes every single time. You can view a clip I recorded on One X below.

The way this game released on consoles, especially with an Xbox One X console bundle for Cyberpunk, is wrong. Even on Series X, it’s one of the buggiest games I’ve ever played. Keep in mind, I reviewed Fallout 76 at launch. As already mentioned, my game glitched and had my limp genitals flopping around at the end of the game.

In the heat of battle and in more somber, character moments, my character was acting as a nudist. I saw cars disappear as they honked at me. NPCs fell out of the sky after spawning. A chair attempted to murder me. Enemy AI will disengage in combat for no reason. My gun disappeared in my hand, making me use finger guns that did no damage. Cars would crash into walls for no reason.

There’s even stuff that just sucks the wind out of the game’s cinematic sails. Sound will be totally absent in key moments, characters won’t speak their dialogue, sound effects will be missing, and the music is silent. For a game that boasts Hollywood star power like Keanu Reeves, it lets him down by basic cinematic elements not even being present. The list of weird bugs/glitches goes on and on. Some of these are bugs that can happen with any open-world game but some of it goes right down to how the game was designed.

There is no vehicle AI. Cars are on a path with no destination, they all do the exact same thing. In GTA, they react to your driving. They may become more hostile or caution depending on the situation, they park their cars, they go places, and so on. In Cyberpunk, no one leaves their vehicle unless you create a threat. No one has anywhere to go. It’s just creating that illusion of life.

This extends to the police in Cyberpunk 2077. If you get in you car while cops are after you, they will not follow you in cop cars. There is no such thing as a car chase in Night City. They have cop cars, they exist, they just don’t use them. Instead, as you flee, cops will just spawn in front of or behind you on foot. For a game marketing itself as the “next-generation of open world” gaming, it doesn’t even have the basic mechanics the first GTA had in 1997.

The one thing I keep hearing is “It’ll be a great game once they fix it!” Will it? If you clean the mud off of it, there’s not much substance at the core of Cyberpunk 2077. It’s a lot of style and dressing, creating the illusion of this elaborate world but in reality, its very static. Despite the world being large, it’s incredibly bare. CDPR made the incredible card game, Gwent, in The Witcher 3. This mini-game was such a success it spun-off into its standalone game as well as a single-player spin-off. While it’s asking a lot to have something of that exact caliber again, any sort of mini-game in Cyberpunk 2077 would be great.

Night City is not the “living, breathing world” that many other open world games aspire to be. It’s a world with nothing to do but shoot, drive, and fuck. And two of those things aren’t fun to do.

I wrote earlier this year about why I love revisiting Red Dead Redemption 2’s world. It’s not a backdrop where everything revolves around you, you revolve around it. The American Frontier is independent of you but your actions do still have an impact on it, of course. Night City is not that. It’s just… always the same. It’s a big map that falls into the Ubisoft trap of too much space with little to do. There’s nothing to do in it outside of the quests, there’s nothing that makes you really want to explore it. Night City lacks wonder or intrigue, it’s a largely surface level attempt at a dystopian future.

The Verdict

Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t just a disappointment because it misses the mark for CD Projekt Red. It’s a disappointment because it misses the mark as a video game from any developer. It lacks the fundamental basics of a good RPG with a lack of choices or meaningful character progression. The best moments in its narrative are in side quests. Night City is a boring, lifeless illusion of something greater. Perhaps that’s a good analogy for Cyberpunk 2077 itself: A boring, lifeless illusion of something greater.

Cade Onder

Editor-in-Chief of GameZone. You can follow me on Twitter @Cade_Onder for bad jokes, opinions on movies, and more.

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Cade Onder

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