The oft-delayed Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the biggest games of 2020. But with a big launch comes big hype. In the few weeks since its release, developer CD Projekt Red has come under fire and publicly apologized, for the game’s technical performance on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, in addition to the usual hilarious and not so hilarious bugs that often ship with big open world games. Refunds have become so prevalent on console that Sony pulled the game from the PlayStation Store.
Judging from these headlines and more, you may think Cyberpunk is an unmitigated disaster. Even the New York Times wrote about its problems. The game is far from perfect, but there’s also a lot to love from this open-world RPG-shooter.
The world of Night City is staggeringly large. The first act is limited to a single city region, and even that area is filled with side jobs, gigs, and hustles, all of which are increasingly dotted on the map as you earn Street Cred, a secondary XP bar that represents your reputation.
Hustles involve a bunch of gangsters sitting around doing gangster stuff, drawing you to take them out and collect a quick, easy reward. Gigs are given out by a Fixer – the head criminal organizer in that region, and involve a few extra steps and scenarios, such as sneaking into a well-guarded dockyard to plant a tracker on an imported car, or infiltrating a night club to assassinate the leader of a crime ring.
Cyberpunk uses the Ubisoft method of throwing a bunch of icons on the map, along with frequent fast travel points, making the sprawling metropolis much easier to navigate. But the sheer amount of content in every city block means I’ve only explored two of the six city regions in 20 hours – and I’m far from a completionist when it comes to exploring every available task.
While I enjoy picking up the short and sweet gigs, the real draw for Cyberpunk are the side jobs and the main story, and the memorable characters who drive them. Judy. Panam. Takemura. Jackie. Rogue. Viktor. And of course Keanu Reeves himself, who plays a satisfyingly large role in the main story as passionate rockstar and anarchist Johnny Silverhand. The writing can be hit or miss, but the voice acting and character designs are incredible. I found myself wanting to spend as much time as possible with these memorable denizens of Night City and learn more about their interesting stories.
The character building and advancement are the biggest RPG components to Cyberpunk. Each of the five attributes have multiple branching skill trees, and you gain both attribute points and perk points when you level up. Using skills also increases their own levels, unlocking new perk points and other benefits.
It’s a fun system that utilizes the best of both worlds: earning skill points and leveling up like a standard RPG, while rewarding me for focusing on certain skills. By using the Stealth, Handguns, and a bit of the hacking skill trees, I could effectively build a stealth assassin who specialized in headshots with a silenced revolver, while relying on certain Quickhacks to pinpoint enemies and shut down cameras.
The reason most open world games don’t do modern or futuristic cities is it’s hard simulating all the people and traffic. Everything about Cyberpunk’s attempt at simulation is purely illusory and immersion-breaking, from disappearing cars in traffic to teleporting cops that appear right behind you when you break the law. How can crime even exist in this city?
The NPC AI is disappointingly rudimentary for a modern action game, and it’s glaringly obvious all the short cuts that were taken to craft an open world. Cyberpunk 2077 barely measures up to Grand Theft Auto games from two generations ago.
Some of that could be forgiven if the world was at least fun to drive around in. You won’t find any pilotable flying cars in Night City, and while motorcycles exist, you’ll never see one being driven. The driving feels basic and tacked-on, despite the story constantly offering exotic cars for purchase. When it comes to vehicles there are no stats, no mods or customization, and there’s no special vehicle-based content like ramps or races – and no way to keep stolen cars for yourself.
The tone of Night City also reeks of teenage try-hard. The designers felt like sex and violence are an integral part of the genre – especially sex, and bludgeon you over the head with explicit billboards and ads at every corner. And yes, there’s a sex shop where you can purchase a giant floppy dildo to bludgeon people with, a gag ripped straight from Grand Theft Auto, a series purposefully dripping with parody and satire of American culture.
The cyberpunk genre is more than just edgy sex jokes. Cyberpunk 2077 leans too hard toward punk and not enough cyber (which is ironically slang for internet sex). In this case cyber refers to navigating a 3D cyberspace with fun visuals, a la Tron. Instead, jacking in to terminals presents a painfully simple mini-game of codebreaking for loot (replacing a lockpicking minigame in fantasy RPGs), while hacking is done entirely through first-person at the press of a button, essentially acting as your spellcasting system. It’s not terrible, and if you dedicate yourself to those abilities they become very impressive, but it still lacks that cyberspace feel.
The reason Cyberpunk 2077 and developer CD Projekt Red have been lambasted the last few weeks is due to the egregious amount of bugs and glitches, rendering the last-gen console versions almost unplayable, and leading to joke videos like this one.
For a montage of bugs, including T-posing NPCs and flying cars (not the good kind), gaming site GameSpot has put together a hilarious compilation of glitches (mostly culled from Reddit) on YouTube.
Intrepid players have even discovered corners of the world that are seeming unfinished, further exposing a game that was rushed to release, despite the delays. My personal experience on PC has been mostly blissfully bug-free, but I have gotten stock in hack-view (prompting a reload) and seen the occasional T-posing NPC.
Big open world games are notorious for funny visual glitches and other oddities, and it’s disappointing that Cyberpunk 2077 not only continues the trend, but seems to set a new low standard.
The good news is that it should get better from here. Developers are usually quick to release hotfixes and patches, and to date Cyberpunk 2077 is already on 1.06. That doesn’t excuse the poor state of the game on release, however, particularly the performance on PlayStation 4. CD Projekt Red had garnered a lot of good will with exemplary post-launch support for The Witcher 3, though much of that has been compromised with Cyberpunk 2077’s release.
I’m still having a blast completing missions and delving into the story, but its many open world limitations are certainly disappointing. Cyberpunk 2077 may be yet another cautionary tale on overhyping and preordering.