Jack Into Your PlayStation Samurai
Whether you’ve loaded up for some apocalyptic sidequests or simply come to gaze at the neo brutalist architecture in this new digital frontier, CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 certainly has plenty of appeals. Clad in chrome and lit in Neon, the latest from the Witcher Studio hit PC, PlayStation, and Xbox on 10 December, and we jacked in to find out if it was worth the extensive wait.
It’s fair to say that if you play video games, you’ve probably already got an opinion about Cyberpunk 2077. With eight years behind it, we’ve weathered some seriously impressive previews and spectated on some utterly horrific gaffes during our wait. As the team at CD Projekt Red took yet another iconic literary source and distilled it through their own cybernetic lens, the constant barrage of press promotion, teasers, and the inclusion of a certain Mr Reeves kept much of us on the edge of our seats as we hoped for a crushingly beautiful follow up to the classic Witcher series, but does the final form meet all those expectations?
It’s clear, from even picking it up off the shelf, that this isn’t what we’ve come to expect from the Polish studio. Where CD Projekt Red’s last trio of titles descended into a medieval world full of haunted forests and creatures of the night, the demons of Night City wear a much different skin. The new generation of adventure introduced us to an unprecedented jump in graphical fidelity. The PC release of Cybperunk 2077 is thrust onto screen thanks to new technology like DLSS and Ray Tracing, pumping out visuals that make CD Projekt Red’s Witcher 3 distinctly average. However, we didn’t get to load up the PC version, instead of grabbing the PlayStation 4 release of Cyberpunk 2077 to check out this new adventure from the comfort of a couch.
A First Look
For any wannabe Deckard the first foray into the depths of Night City is clearly designed to impress. Descending from atop a massive communal block out into a busy marketplace, and then off into the bustling metropolis beyond is almost overwhelming. There’s no doubt that first impressions are, well, impressive and the mix of vibrant colour, overcrowded streets full of conversation and overblown architecture is made to make you feel minuscule. From the city blocks that dominate the skyline to the backlots of Pacifica, much of the game’s aesthetic approach owes a payment to plenty of other modern sci fi programming, presenting like an acid etched relative of 2012’s Dredd.
These two very disparate zones are just two of the absolutely gargantuan areas you’ll traverse in Cyberpunk 2077. Spread out over a map that supposedly dwarfs GTA V’s San Andreas, the story of mercenary and primary protagonist V cuts across the chasm that separates successful corpo shills from the desperate gangs of Night City, while providing plenty of backdrops to play in. While the central ctiy and corporate districts of Night City are recognisable for their sci-fi influences, cast a wider net through regions like Japantown or Pacifica and you’ll find a vastly a layered range of cityscapes to explore, each with their own flavour and apparent culture. The work that CDPR’s environmental and design teams put into the literal building blocks of this living world cannot be understated and the rich variety of adventure that calls as you drive down the freeway invites you to lose yourself in the future.
While a litany of quest lines, stories, and delightful new problems await you in your new role as a merc for hire, the journey through Night City and off into the back channels of the net is almost as impressive as the actual destinations. Early on, during a series of unfortunate events, you’ll find yourself playing passenger as the game chauffeurs you between jobs. This isn’t just the first time that Cyberpunk 2077 properly takes a step back and impresses the scale of this project upon you, but also introduces different transport options. While fast travel stations and plenty of legwork might get you where you need to be, fans of the aforementioned GTA series will be all too well aware that driving the distance holds its own appeal. Cyberpunk 2077 borrows heavily from this anarchic run and gun playstyle, allowing gamers to car jack innocent civilians, purchase a range of new automobiles, and pick up side gigs while they crash through the streets and highways of this new world. Coasting across the game in a brand new car, chasing down trouble and avoiding the rather dysfunctional teleporting police forces proves a great way to get around and even allows anybody who wants to just lose themselves in the everyday hustle of Cyberpunk 2077 to make the most of this gorgeous open world.
While you crash through the open-world you’ll find plenty of interesting characters wedged in between the cesspits, chop-shops, and homely old roadside diners, all fashioned with a near future twist. While this new world seems mind blowing massive, the writing team do a fantastic job grounding V in this adventure. A cast of central characters feels genuine and relatable with their own troubles and cares in this outlandish environment. Some fantastic voicework coupled with a well-scripted narrative arc manages to punch through the bewildering array of distractions on offer and provide some touching moments. In particular, V’s changing relationship with the now infamous Johnny Silverhand, part rockstar, part terrorist, and all cybernetic ghost is well crafted and never falls into melancholy. Keanu Reeves does more than simply be breathtaking in this role. Silverhand is an excellent foil to the central protagonist during early entries, simply because he is never entirely likeable. The unfettered rage and disdain Mr Silverhand shows for the world around him is eventually softened by the empathy we might feel for the unfortunate fate of both johnny and V, and the writing does a great job of turning this tale of resurrection into something of a buddy story. Ultimately, the core narrative is a fantastically crafted scenario, thrusting this dynamic duo together and Johnny, who starts his resurrection as a selfish mess, even manage a little redemption despite his bullish demeanour.
Like any great choose your own adventure, a multitude of dialogue options doesn’t just give the central figures in this adventure something to regurgitate. The other central characters also have nuance and real agency in their own right. Characters like Jackie, Judy, and Panam are all particularly engaging characters that you’ll ultimately end up invested in even when the rest of Night City’s background NPC’s are busy imitating a broken record.
Unfortunately, despite some great writing and laudable voice acting by the cast, this doesn’t mean that the end result is always exactly how everyone is treated in Night City. It’s commonplace to find the background of Night City plastered with sexualized images, fetishized portraits of all sorts of individuals all framed by a distinctly misogynistic leer. While there’s no denying that CDPR clearly wanted to comment on the commoditization of the human body, sex, and gender the core narrative doesn’t touch on it, instead finding itself more centred on the nature of the soul. This decision largely dismisses the exploration of personal identity to nothing more than fetishized background scenery and doesn’t really earn its place in this world. The reduction of these images to pointless background dressing is problematic for a multitude of reasons, not least of which was the controversy surrounding some of CDPRs less than nuanced handling over social media posts that did indeed trivialise some sensitive topics around gender identity.
What makes Cyberpunk’s handling of sex and gender in the far future feel like even more of a botched job is the strange manner in which it seems to handle character creation. While it’s nice to see an attempt to provide increased diversity and body options, I’m still not entirely sure if the addition of genitalia is a wholehearted swing and a miss or just for titillation value, since after assigning your shlong you’ll find that character voices are seemingly labelled as either male or female. Furthermore, this has a direct influence on who players can romance as if these are biologically immutable facts. It’s weird and makes me feel that it undermines that other fantastic work building a very personal route through the multitude of potential paths in Night City
Accessing many of these paths will require some time to replay and reach, but they are fairly obvious when they do arrive. Far more often than not, Cyberpunk’s best moments are during the journey, picking options that diverge but reach the same destination with a few seemingly crucial moments to manifest a change in destiny but only sometimes really feeling like they make a massive difference in the end.
Combat & Character
This is largely replicated for the game’s combat. Much like the story scenarios players plunged into first-person combat will find a range of routes out of trouble. Whether it’s hunting down outlaws in the open world or rescuing citizens in distress, going in shooting isn’t always the first option. While gunplay is simple enough with plenty of aim assist to plough through anything that stands in your way, Cybperunk provides plenty of other tools in your arsenal. Should you decide that guns are too loud of flashy there’s an entire melee combat system allowing players to punch, dodge, and weave their way through an encounter, or just drive a katana through the heart of some cannon fodder. If the Voodoo Boys, one of Night City’s feared gangs, have too much firepower pointed in your direction then the robust player progression systems can assist with that issue. A huge library of bonus stats and an additional layer of perks provide plenty of customization, allowing V to unlock new areas, hack locked doors, soak up more bullets, or even skirt entire encounters as a stealth action adventurer.
This is flexibility is further enhanced, and somewhat surpassed, by hacking. Essentially a twist on the traditional skill bar, hacking allows players to purchase and slot skill upgrades that allow a wealth of environmental and NPC interactions using onboard cybernetic enhancements. What seems relatively unassuming at first, allowing V to distract dim-witted enemy AI slowly turns into a game-changing combat replacement for active debuffs and crowd control mechanics. This ingenious new take on casting spells can be game changing in many cases, levelling the playing field or redirecting the flow of combat and while hacking really starts to become an essential aspect of combat during the second act of Cyberpunk 2077, the core cover shooter mechanics don’t ever particularly evolve. Blasting apart everything that gets in your way quickly undermines crafting. which becomes largely useless as bodies litter the sidewalk and the loot is extremely generous, rewarding V with oodles of gear and an arsenal that would arm a small militia.
This shoot first and ask questions later approach is encouraged, further by AI that rarely provides many challenges. Enemies coming out for a fight tend to scurry out of hiding of their own accord, rarely communicate well, and are easily outwitted. Its an element of Cybperubnk 2077 that certainly isn’t going to be an issue restricted to PlayStation versions of this near future dystopia but certainly emphasised when I power up something like Horizon Zero Dawn and a still relatively predictable set of iron clawed predators ensure that shooting first and asking questions later at least elicits an engaging response.
These aren’t the only bugs that haven’t yet been squashed by CDPR and unfortunately, console gamers have it worst. While I want to be balanced, I still encountered a nest of bugs. By the end of the first act of my first playthrough, I had a crashed repeatedly, spawned inside NPCs, bounced across the screen, spontaneously died, and had a small selection of NPCs walk on screen looking like a GTA 3 extra. This all comes powered to you by a brand new PlayStation 5. With recent admissions by CDPR that they “Should hav paid more attention to making it play better on Playstation 4 adn Xbox One” and reports of utterly unplayable experiences on the last generation of consoles, we can’t really say more than you should very much be aware of the problems before you buy this game. While I had an acceptable experience, I dread to think about how a PS4 would cope.
So Is It Worth It?
Despite the problems, Cyberpunk is an engaging tale about the human condition. It asks what it is to be alive and what exactly makes us who we are, be it the people we touch or the memories we hold dear. There’s a great story told by a team who know exactly how narrative works and that saves the game on so many levels. Driving down the highway, listening to the radio, Cyberpunk feels like a far flung GTA V enticing you to dive into a gorgeous new world, until you get up close and spot the imperfections. There’s a lot to like about Cybperunk 2077 and just as many problems with the way it’s been put together, crunch included. If you want to buy Cyberpunk 2077 on the Xbox or PlayStation platforms then hold on until you’ve bagged the Series X or PS5, and Sony let you buy it again. We’re going to revisit Night City some more when the Playstation 5 version of Cyberpunk 2077 arrives. Until then, consider this a flawed but enjoyable bit of escapism.