'Cyberpunk 2077' Console Review: Colossal Potential Crushed By Ambition
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Featured Image Credit: CD Projekt RED
I like Cyberpunk 2077 a lot. I think it's driven by some great characters, excellent missions, and impactful side content that I genuinely found myself wanting to seek out beyond the in-game rewards they offered. There are many, many flashes of true brilliance in which you can really see what CD Projekt RED spent eight years working on. When that passion shines through, Cyberpunk 2077 soars.
Unfortunately, the experience is often derailed by a clunky UI, systems that feel entirely superfluous, and the kind of glitches that would make Bethesda blush. I've been playing Cyberpunk 2077 on PlayStation 5, and my overwhelming feeling after all that time is one of disappointment that it wasn't given more time in the oven.
And yet, I can't stop coming back to it. When Cyberpunk 2077 hits, it really, truly hits, providing some of the most fun I've had in a video game this year.
My V truly feels like a character of my own creation - an emo biker who likes a drink and makes her way through Night City with all the grace of an elephant on roller skates. You can choose from three lifepaths at the start of the game, although this doesn't seem to change much apart from the prologue and the occasional bonus dialogue option at various points. I opted for Streetkid, balking at the prospect of a suited-up Corpo and feeling an intimate knowledge of the city would give me an edge over the Nomad, who starts their journey beyond the city limits.
I put most of my points into strength and reflexes at the very start of the game, so my V doesn't really "do" stealth. She much prefers to walk in through the front door and start blasting with a shotgun until the screaming stops. Is that because I'm shite at stealth and lack the patience to plan ahead and go into areas undetected? Yes, but that's who I am - and Cyberpunk 2077 makes it so that that's who my character can be, too.
There's a fair bit of freedom to approach missions in various ways, of course. While I prefer to storm in like the Terminator, ripping open doors and removing heads from bodies, you can absolutely take the sneakier route.
An initially overwhelming combination of perks and abilities combined with ripperdocs who can infuse your limbs with various boons and upgrades mean that Cyberpunk 2077's encounters can be as deep as you want them to be. If you'd rather play it as a straight-up FPS, you can turn the difficulty down safe in the knowledge that you'll soak up bullets and give out plenty of punishment in return. After more of an intense stealth-action experience? Drive the difficulty up and really dive into the wide variety of quick-hacks that allow you to mess with enemies, cameras, and other devices.
While I remain a fairly devout believer in the direct approach, I've started to dabble with these hacks and body mods a little more now that I've picked up the cash from various missions. Picking the correct loadout lets you do everything from disable cameras to convincing a nearby guard to blow themselves up. It's fantastic stuff, and it only gets deeper and more rewarding the further your progress and lean into certain specialties.
With that said, there are still elements of the game's systems that I can't quite wrap my head around. Not because I don't understand them, but because there's either very little point to them or they've been horrendously explained, if they've been explained at all.
There's a crafting system, for example, that allows you to assemble various weapon mods. I've used this all of twice, and will likely never go back to using it again. For one thing, the menu is horrendously arranged and is a pain in the arse to use. Beyond that, there's no point getting used to it. You pick up new weapons with such frequency that by the time you've dicked around and built or upgraded something, you're probably going to find a superior replacement on a corpse anyway. It feels entirely unnecessary. The same can be said with outfits really, which beyond serving little purpose in battle are even less useful from a cosmetic perspective given that the game is entirely in first-person.
Night City's various unlockable vehicles are guilty of this same excess. Your phone will ping to an alarming degree over the course of your travels, with texts alerting you to new cars and bikes to purchase. Not only are these prohibitively expensive, but there are about three street races in the entire game. Oh, and driving is horrendously clunky. Bikes are just about fine, but the cars move as is someone's smeared jam all over the wheels. Why am I forking out my hard-earned cash to buy these? Especially when you start with a perfectly fine car and are given multiple bikes and vehicles just for completing missions. Like I said, superfluous - much like the game's open world itself.
On the surface, Night City is a beautiful creation. The towering skylines and glittering penthouses offer a stark contrast to the grimy, cramped markets and criminal gangs that seem to be constantly at war, both with each other and the police. Wandering through the smoky streets and taking in the sights and sounds of each distinct neighbourhood is a delight, from the neon-soaked vices of Jig Jig Street to the long-abandoned Pacifica - the latter a monument to the failed promises and unrealised ambitions of Night City's leaders... and, perhaps, an unwitting analogy for Cyberpunk 2077 itself.
Dig a little deeper, and it soon becomes apparent that Night City is far from the game-changing open-world experience that many were expecting. Shops and buildings promising fascinating wares with gleaming signs inviting customers inside are suspiciously locked and inaccessible. NPCs mumble generic dialogue, often without moving their mouths. Characters pop in out of nowhere and textures can take a few seconds to load, even on PlayStation 5. There isn't even a place one can go to change their hairstyle or facial features, which seems like an astounding oversight to me in a game so focused on augmentation and modification.
As ultimately hollow an experience as the open world is, the characters and stories you meet within it are anything but. Cyberpunk 2077 tells an engaging story that doesn't overstay its welcome and forces you into some difficult choices and unthinkable situations. There are allies who live or die depending on the smallest action or inaction, making every decision that much more agnosing as you try to assess the potential outcomes. Fortunately Keanu Reeves is right beside you through it all as the much-discussed Johnny Silverhand.
Silverhand is, without doubt, a complete and utter asshole - one that develops an incredibly complicated relationship with V over the course of the game. My feelings on him pretty much ran the gamut from fear and loathing all the way to understanding and genuine affection, but I never lost sight of who he was or what he wanted. He'll often attempt to nudge V one way or the other when presented with a choice, and frequently judge players on their actions... but Silverhand is his own character with his own agenda, adding a fascinating extra layer to some of the game's deeper choices, especially later down the line.
Then there are the supporting players, many of whom appear throughout the main story and later return to offer their own questlines that branch off in all manner of unexpected directions. Standouts for me include Delamain, a kind of AI Uber that malfunctions and has you chase down his various errant personalities across Night City. This quest comes to a head in one of the game's more memorable sequences, involving taunting text messages from an angry sentient car, and yet another tough choice that I found myself mulling over for a good few minutes before taking action.
There's also Panam Palmer, a tough-as-nails Nomad who became a real partner and friend over the course of my adventure. Any time she called up asking for help, you can bet I'd hightail it over the Badlands in a heartbeat to see what she had for me - not because I was arsed about the in-game rewards (although she does give you a sweet rifle and bike eventually), but because she was a great character that I enjoyed spending time with.
I have to give a final mention to Judy Alvarez, one of Cyberpunk 2077's most human characters, and a comforting port of call in an entirely cold and unforgiving world. Judy is, in short, bae. She might just be my favourite romantic option in any video game ever: a complex and caring individual stuck in a world that doesn't deserve her, not that it ever stops her from trying to do the right thing. I wish my V was more like Judy, but I keep riding my motorbike into complete strangers and killing them, which I don't think she'd like very much.
Night City is filled with incredible stories and characters just like this, all waiting to be discovered. The bad news is that it starts to become increasingly apparent that the world beyond your character and their allies and enemies is almost entirely devoid of life and personality. Radio stations, news reports, and adverts do their best to pepper these in-between moments with some colour and life... but after seeing your tenth sexually suggestive advert, it all starts to wear a little thin.
We get it. Night City is obsessed with sex. The way it constantly reminds me of this fact with sex toys and graphic window displays and raunchy TV ads puts me in mind of an old friend from secondary school who had a poster in his bedroom of a topless woman straddling a Lamborgini. He came off as more than a little desperate and sad, too.
Endless sex jokes aside, Night City doesn't feel finished, and that lack of polish has a serious impact on the game's ability to immerse me in its surroundings. There's so much on offer, and yet so little you can actually engage with on any meaningful level. Given the incredible gap between the quality of the missions and the quality of the more generic open-world stuff, I often found myself wishing that CDPR had opted to make Cyberpunk 2077 a more contained experience with various sandbox style levels rather than one massive map that's coming apart at the seams.
Then there are the bugs. I've been playing Cyberpunk 2077 on a PlayStation 5 and enjoying a relatively smooth experience. The game has unexpectedly crashed on me a handful of times now, but almost every game I've played on my PS5 since launch has done that, so I'm not sure if it's a hardware issue, a software error, or a combo of the two. With that said, there's absolutely no excusing the state of the game on last-gen consoles. CDPR has apologised and offered refunds, sure, but I don't think anyone will be in a hurry to forget the way the company stayed quiet about the way Cyberpunk 2077 runs on PS4 and Xbox One until after launch.
As it stands, I don't think I can recommend Cyberpunk 2077 to you if you plan to play it on a last-gen machine, at least not right now. Based entirely on my own experience of running the game on the PlayStation 5, I still think you might be better holding out until 2021 and the "true" next-gen versions of the game, at which point I've no doubt many of its more glaring issues will have been fixed.
For now, Cyberpunk 2077 on consoles - on new-gen consoles, that is - is a good game. It's often a truly great game - one that I've been having a ton of fun with. There's no doubt in my mind that I'll continue to enjoy myself in this world for many hours to come as I track down the last few side missions... but I'll never shake the feeling that a much, much better and more focused game could have been released, if only CDPR had been given the time and space required. Not to add more content, to be clear, but to assess all the things the game never needed in the first place.
7/10: Very Good
Pros: Some of the best stories and characters I've experienced in a video game this year, lots of freedom to approach encounters your way, Keanu Reeves (obviously)
Cons: Frequent crashes and other bugs, significant visual downgrade compared to PC version, Night City feels empty, too many systems and features that the game never needed
For fans of: Fallout 3, Mass Effect, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Cyberpunk 2077 was tested on PlayStation 5 with code supplied by the publisher. The game is available now on PlayStation 4, PC and Xbox One, with a next-gen version for Xbox Series consoles and PlayStation 5 due in 2021. Read a guide to our review scores here.