This is not an easy review to write...I find myself torn.
In the first few weeks after the now-infamous launch of Cyberpunk 2077, I sat and watched the internet implode with rage: Endless reports of bugs, glitches, exposed phalluses and just some generally odd goings-on seemed to expose some sort of hideous monstrosity of a game that should never have made it to market. People who had never even played it for themselves mocked it mercilessly as it spawned a new generation of memes and provided countless hours of online content, but I found the whole response to be a bit baffling.
Having found myself unable to obtain one of the new generation of consoles (and being too cheap/broke to buy a decent gaming PC), I was reliant on my Xbox One X as the platform of choice over my OG Xbox One, Xbox One S and base PS4. While I will admit that I ran into a few minor bugs and some freezing and crashing, there was nothing so bad that I was anything more than slightly irked when I had to reboot. It didn’t seem to happen that frequently and the way the game auto-saves at the point of crashing meant that I never really lost any progress (in fact, I often found that it reloaded directly to the exact location I was in). In those early days, I was arguing vehemently that the sheer number of players sharing their small number of unique issues had been snowballed and magnified by compilation videos and forums that collated all individual parts into the guise of a ‘general experience’. I just felt like people were over-reacting.
Before you hang me from a crudely-erected crucifix and gather at the base with your blazing torches!
I’m not saying that it’s ‘okay’ for companies to release games that aren’t really ready. All I’m saying is that if you are playing it on a system which you might expect it to run decently on you probably won’t see too many problems for yourself (or at least not as many as you might expect if you’ve watched any videos). In all honesty, I’m surprised they even brought it out on the previous gen consoles, that is something they should have come to realize early on and taken steps to address, but if you genuinely thought a game like this would be phenomenal on a system you can pick up for less than 100 bucks second-hand then you really should have known better.
Aside from some slow-down and pop-up, I thought Cyberpunk looked amazing when I first jumped in. Insane lighting, incredible character animation (not necessarily on the NPCs, but the main characters look outstanding) and a pretty nifty photo mode which kept me entertained for hours really drew me in and I have to admit that I became slightly enamored with my travels around Night City. Once the combat became more fluid and I had leveled up a bit, the combat became a sight to behold with explosions, sparks and a massive arsenal tearing up the screen through numerous intense missions featuring beastly cyborgs and countless goons. Beyond the slight judder in frame rate, it all just came together really well and performed just as well as many FPS games and better than some RPGs. It just didn’t match up with all the fuss.
I suppose it’s the blend of styles that kept me coming back as it feels like a combination of GTA, Far Cry and Fallout. The driving is pretty well done and the handling feels better than even the latest Watch Dogs, for the most part, but in the city it’s certainly more preferable to walk as you never know what you’ll find down a random alleyway. As with most games of this ilk, you’ll probably pick up endless tat on your travels and it won’t take too long before you get the dreaded ‘You are over-encumbered and cannot run’ message flashing before your eyes as you drag your ass along at a snail’s pace. I’d highly recommend upgrading so that all junk is automatically scrapped into components for crafting although this will mean that you can’t wave all the scattered dildos around, which is a shame because there are lots. I found that I ended up with so many guns and random bits of clothing that it almost became comical and you have to manage your itinerary pretty frequently if you get a bit loot-happy. As you may expect, you can increase your strength and get a higher carrying capacity, but it will still be full of things you probably won’t use (not that this will stop you).
While the city can feel a bit sparsely populated (and sometimes entirely barren) it is still atmospheric and the different districts are distinct enough, but the size of the world outside means that there are countless opportunities to explore in the hope of stumbling across something exciting or valuable (or both). There are so many pieces of lore and messages that lead to high-quality loot that it’s easy to throw countless hours away just mooching about and seeing what you happen to find. I didn’t really dive headlong into the story, as I like to see what else a game has to offer, but the sheer number of side quests, job offers and new contacts amassed over the first five hours or so is pretty staggering. If you want to ‘step into a role’ beyond the narrative then there is plenty of scope for you to do so, whether that’s a part-time cop or cybernetic headhunter.
To begin with I found the combat to be fun but too drawn out, with each enemy being a relentless bullet sponge who could eat headshots all day long before finally succumbing to my assault rifle’s lack of prowess, but once I had a few decent weapons under my belt and a few perks unlocked it becomes incredibly satisfying. Headshots, limbshots, dismemberment and insanely overpowered boomsticks give a good sense of weight, while the range of sharpened steel implements is a great way of mopping up those last few stragglers (or helping out in place of a swift reload). The idea of becoming a cybernetically-enhanced badass is the real backbone of this experience and it’s surprising how quickly this becomes a reality.
In terms of narrative, the key plot involves your character, V, trying to make a name for themselves on the streets so that they can be heralded in the history books (or databanks, but whatever) as a legend of Night City. Cue some bungled attempts at robbery and some dodgy goings-on before you find yourself confronted by the digital embodiment of one of the greatest weirdoes ever to grace the city’s streets: Johnny Silverhand (played brilliantly by Keanu Reeves). Without going into too much detail, what starts out as an intense and unsettling encounter becomes a strangely compelling relationship where you have to decide how involved/engaged you want to be with his view of the world. His bizarre mixture of encouragement, derision and random outbursts are more than a little entertaining once you get used to them.
In all honesty, I was really enjoying my time with Cyberpunk and it was progressing nicely until a couple of things happened.
Firstly, the constant updates and fixes seemed to causing more issues than I had experienced before and then I was watching a video of the game running on a high-end PC and it blew me away. The population density of the city was vastly improved and the roads were packed with traffic, making it feel more alive and vibrant. When I went back to play it again, I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing out on the full experience. In light of this, I decided to quit while I was ahead and returned the game for a refund with the mindset that I’ll pick it up again when it comes out on the Xbox Series X or PS5 (or on PC if I ever get round to getting a decent one). I suppose I just want to experience it in all its glory and there’s a part of me that says good things come to those who wait.
It’s only been a few days and I miss it already, but I can’t help but feel that coming back to it in a year’s time will make everything better. Adios for now, amigo.
Image: Adobe Stock – By Fotoeventis