Report Card: Cyberpunk 2077 (Review)

When Cyberpunk 2077 was first announced all the way back in 2012, it was instantly put on notice. Fans of the original Mike Pondsmith board game from which it gets its name, and fans of the cyberpunk genre alike bonded together over the dream of an open world RPG rendition of Night City. Influenced by genre kings like the 1982 film Blade Runner, manga and anime series Ghost in the Shell, and other video games like System Shock and Deus Ex, Cyberpunk 2077 promised to be the next major installment into a genre dripping with a gorgeous, future-gone-wrong, sci-fi aesthetic. Games like Deus Ex (2000) set the bar for what an RPG in this setting could be, and CD Projekt Red knowingly had some genre-defining shoes to fill over the 8 year development cycle that would follow the announcement.

So what exactly happened? Well, I’m sure we’ll find out someday, but as it stands, CP2077 released in what most critics would agree is an abysmal, unplayable state; at least as far as the base model consoles of the PS4 and Xbox One generations are concerned. The quality is only marginally improved on new PS5s and Xbox Series S/X. So then, why am I releasing a review almost 2 months after the release? Well, after a little over 40 hours of game time and a surprisingly depressing ending, I think the game is worth talking about from the perspective of a PC gaming enthusiast who has managed to roll credits on what’s actually a really great game, or will be.

*It’s worth noting that this review was conducted on a “high-end” PC, with an AMD 3700X, an RTX 2080 TI, and 32GB of memory.*

Let me set expectations up front, even with the recent patch 1.1, CP2077 still has issues, mostly in the form of complete and total hardware crashes; at least that was my experience with the game. Before and after the big 1.1 update, I experienced game errors that came in 2 flavors, a mildly annoying crash back to my desktop, or a total “blue screen of death” hardware crash that forced me to reboot my entire system. The former seemed to happen completely at random, while the latter happened more often at the start of what would be a major dialog scene at the start of a quest. Thankfully, and luckily, CP2077 has a very generous auto-save feature that is constantly updating as you move through the world, especially right before combat scenarios or after starting a quest.

On PC, CD Projekt Red also enabled a super useful 1-touch quick save feature which can be bound to any otherwise unused key. After the 5th or 6th hard crash, I started to use this option frequently. I’m glad it exists, but I would obviously have preferred to have not needed it. The only other real “bugs” I experienced were the occasional de-syncing of audio to animation, usually in the form of a quest scene in which V is talking to some NPCs. Sometimes the scene would play out, but the facial animations wouldn’t render and I’d be left having a telepathic conversation with a ripperdoc, my local fixer, or some other quest-related NPC. After that, however, I had a relatively smooth experience, and really enjoyed my time with the game once I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to wait for patch 2.0 or whatever the big, grand super patch is inevitably going to be called.

Now that we have that cleared up, let’s talk about the game itself and what works and what doesn’t, starting with the jaw-dropping visuals and presentation of Night City and its population. The character models themselves look great, but they aren’t mind-blowing like what we’ve seen in games like The Last of Us Part 2, but the world itself is on another level. This is the first game that I’ve gotten to play with ray-tracing enabled, and in an environment as colorful and wet as unicorn vomit, I couldn’t help but stop and stare. The sheer amount of glowing neon bouncing off of every reflective surface just begged to be admired.

Through the power of DLSS 2.0 (read about it here: DLSS 2.0), I was able to crank the settings up to 1440p, ultra settings, and medium ray-tracing, all while keeping a steady 60 fps. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another visual treat like what’s on display here in Night City. Beyond the bug fixes and gameplay patches, this is what I hope CD Projekt Red brings to the PS5 and Xbox Series X versions later this year. It really is mind-blowing, and that doesn’t take into account the possible effect that HDR could have, since I’m not able to replicate that on my SDR monitor. Seriously, this game is stunning to look at, and I hope the next-gen (current-gen?) systems are able to reproduce this feeling later on.

I wish traversing the world was nearly as entertaining as admiring it. When worlds are massive and open, developers have to make sure they populate that space with character and charm, and in some regards that exists, but for the most part, the world just feels empty despite hundreds of interesting looking NPCs and vehicles all moving about the map. I never expected every NPC to have dialog trees, but the fact that every single one of them reacts and treats the player with the same level of contempt makes them feel like little more than set dressing. Even the way they react when a crime is committed in front of them is boring and repetitive. Pulling out a weapon while walking down the street causes every NPC within direct line of sight to either run away in an awkward panic or get down on one knee in fear. This might be cool in theory, but as soon as the weapon is holstered, they stand back up and continue on their set path like nothing happened; it’s as if the act of putting away your weapon resets the AI to a previous state. Its jarring every time it happens, and I hope this is one of those AI things that can be fixed in a future patch.

If exploring the world at your leisure is one of the biggest selling points to an open-world RPG, CyberPunk 2077 nails you in the head over and over again with reminders that there are tons of side missions and quests that can be taken while on your journey, and the reminders aren’t subtle… at all. During one particular mission early on, I was tasked with meeting a client out in the Badlands (the desert-like area outside of Night City), so I called for my vehicle and started driving towards my destination.

Every single time I passed through a newly discovered district or location, V’s cell phone would either start ringing or a new text message would populate from a new NPC that was either offering a new side-job, a gig, or the opportunity to “purchase” a new vehicle. I racked up more than 10 auto-accepted side quests just by driving to meet this client for the mission I was trying to complete. This happens all the time, and if you make the mistake of completing a quest while on the move, a new phone call could populate and override the conversation you were previously having. More than once I missed out on what was ultimately trivial information, but it was annoying nonetheless.

Thankfully, the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is littered with fast travel points that become active once you pass by them for the first time. This made avoiding those interrupting phone calls much easier, though it does limit your ability to discover small diversions along the way, such as stopping random crimes, taking out groups of opposing gang members, and other interesting reasons to bust out your growing arsenal of lethal means.

Combat in Cyberpunk 2077 is fast, frenetic, and not at all like an FPS despite the developer’s insistence on making that the only playable perspective in the game. I played as a fully specc’d Netrunner (read: mage), so my combat experience will be different to that of someone with a melee or run & gun build, but certain aspects will remain true regardless of your character build. As a stealth-based character, all of my premeditated encounters began by hacking into whichever security systems were around, and either disabling the cameras, or putting them on friendly mode so I could scope out my enemies. CP2077 treats friendly cameras as an extension of the player, so I was able to mark each enemy, and more importantly, as a net runner, I was able to remote hack any enemy in sight.

This level of stealth, while incredible to experience, trivialized several would-be difficult encounters. Without spoilers, I got to a point late in the game where I wiped out an entire elite squad with exactly two remote hacks, that, through my build, spread to multiple additional enemies. That same encounter would have ended in knock-down, drag-out firefight had I gone with a more traditional build, but I think that lends to what I enjoyed about my time with the game. When I wasn’t able to plan my attack, when I didn’t have a choice but to go in guns blazing, things were crazy! Seeking cover was absolutely a requirement, and the game played like a mix of a cover-based shooter and Counter-Strike.

CP2077 let’s you play the way you want, and it deserves to be acknowledged for the level of player freedom. Did I feel incredibly overpowered towards the end? Sure, but isn’t that the point of a power-fantasy? Level progression felt meaningful, and while I can’t speak to the proficiency of epic weapons, the epic level remote hacks fundamentally altered my combat approach each time I got a new one and found new ways to combine them as I progressed through the story.

As I mentioned at the top of this review, I spent a little over 40 hours in and around Night City, the bulk of that time was spent roaming around and doing side-missions. When I wasn’t chasing down a seemingly random person of interest, or chasing down rogue, autonomous taxis in one of the best side-jobs in the game, I was working through the plot involving Jonny “Keanu Reeves” Silverhand and the corrupted AI that gives players their sense of agency. It’s hard to discuss the primary story without delving into spoilers, but know that what you think you know from the trailers and preview footage, is not at all the reality of V and her companions in Night City.

Like all open-world RPGs, the game, can at times, feel too open and free. The main plot suggest that V should absolutely mainline her objectives, but more often than not, I found myself pursuing romantic interests, finding time to scuba dive, and visiting strip clubs and bars because… why not? This is less of a knock on Cyberpunk 2077, and more a pervasive issue with the open-world genre itself. If a player is given the choice to explore and take their time, then the primary plot can’t truly be urgent in nature. These types of distractions often lead to lessening the impact of major story beats, or making these points feel forced and unnatural. That said, like The Witcher 3 before it, some of the best writing in CP2077 comes in the shape of side quests, including some fantastic cameos that I won’t spoil here.

CD Projekt Red lost a lot of good faith and the trust of gamers with the release of Cyberpunk 2077. It’s obvious that the issues prevalent on all systems, including high-end PCs, were known, and were attempted to be swept under the rug. Reviewers weren’t given access to console versions, and even the PC version of the game released in an exceptionally buggy, though completely playable state. The team has a long way to go to not only regain that lost trust, but also to fix the game they’ve already sold to consumers.

That said, even with the crashes and bugs I experienced in my 40+ hour play through, I really enjoyed my time with the game, and perhaps in 6 months to a year I’ll play through it again with a new build. By then, I hope that the millions of console owners that pre-ordered the game have a product that they can enjoy at the highest quality possible on their system of choice. It’s hard to score this the way I would normally score a game review, since my experience is so hyper-focused on PC, but for those with a system that can handle it, and in it’s current patch 1.1 state, I give Cyberpunk 2077 a 3.5, out of 5.


You can catch more of my personal thoughts on games, parenting, and the world at large by following over on Twitter @SGTBones_ and catching me live on the MegaDads Twitch channel at Twitch.tv/MegaDads

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