Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that has been hotly anticipated for the better part of nine years. Delayed by both the mammoth juggernaut that was The Witcher 3 and its DLC plus the inability to get it to work on current generation consoles, it was finally released in the tail end of 2020. The people here at Grimdark Magazine were hotly anticipating this game and I had to fistfight the others to see who would get to review it (I’m still looking for my teeth – Ed.).
“Capitalism, capitalism never changes.”
Cyberpunk is the purest expression of the grimdark science fiction series. It combines noir, moral ambiguity, a nihilistic worldview, and genre tropes to create a world where doing good is possible but only on the individual level. Most of its antiheroes don’t even bother with that, only caring about their next paycheck and their partners (if even that). On the Keanu Reeves scale, they tend to be Johnny Mnemonic and John Wick over Neo. Which is good because this game stars Keanu Reeves as your inner Tyler Durden.
I’m familiar with the world of Cyberpunk 2077 from my experience with Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk 2020. Crafted in the Eighties, it was never the biggest seller among tabletop roleplaying games but it managed to combine Mad Max, Akira, Blade Runner, Max Headroom: The Series, and a half-dozen other sources to create a fully realized dystopian world that went on to inspire dozens of other settings. If you think about a generic cyberpunk world, as if such a thing could be, you’re probably actually thinking about Mike’s vision as it could do anything from the movies you loved.
A brief rundown for laymen is that the United States has broken up into several new countries due to the collapse of the economy due to a combination of corporate malfeasance as well as depleted resources. Environmental devastation means that much of the Midwest is now ruined wasteland with feuding nomadic clans, cities have become overcrowded urban hellscapes, and corporations now wield the power of nations. Technology has flourished, though, with cybernetics becoming ubiquitous even for healthy able-bodied people and space travel is commercialized.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a future extrapolated from Mike Pondsmith’s future of 2020, not our time so some people may be confused by this. Either way, it is a world that is still relevant due to the fact our 2020 is pretty much a hyper-consequence of the policies enacted in the 1980s. Many of the same greedy materialist corporate executives who rose to power then are still in power today, looting the economy and feeding the masses a steady diet of propaganda.
Cyberpunk is inherently political and this game manages the careful balance of making its points clear while not feeling the need to lecture on what is self-obvious. When you ask whether the marketplace shrimp is fresh and the vendor says, “Absolutely. It’s all raised in the aquarium downtown. None of that toxic crap from the bay.” You know what it’s saying without sounding unnatural. The game touches on everything from for-profit health care, police brutality, corporate malfeasance, rising poverty, defunded social services, and the treatment of sex workers. All within the first few hours and it uses these to tell interesting stories.
The plot of Cyberpunk 2077 is an interwoven set of crime-based stories around a central narrative that is about a miraculous peace of technology gone horribly wrong. I’d call it, “Ghost in the Shell meets Fight Club.“
The stakes are very low in Cyberpunk 2077, at least compared to most Triple A games with it being more science fiction Dragon Age II than Dragon Age: Origins or Inquisition. This is about personal stakes and protecting your small corner of Night City rather than anything world-changing.
Gameplay-wise the game ranges from being excellent to a mess. It basically plays like Skyrim with guns, cyberware substituting for magic. There’s also elements of Deus Ex and Watch Dogs with the ability to sneak up on enemies to auto-kill them or hacking security cameras. Honestly, it doesn’t exactly mold all of these divergent gameplay styles together perfectly but feels more like a Frankenstein’s Monster combination of whatever they thought was cool. There’s just too much going on with looting and shooting, gathering armor types, cybernetics, and hundreds of perks. Gameplay would strongly benefit from being much simpler and closer to Deus Ex or even just the tabletop game.
The character creation engine is pretty robust with the option of making characters ranging from the absolutely gorgeous to the supremely ugly. Much has been made of the power to make characters of trans identity but this hasn’t been anything new since Saints Row 2. Your pronouns are also tied to your voice, which is a cheap fix that kind of undermines the benefit. Still, I had a lot of fun making Agent G from my cyberpunk novels and playing him. You get to choose an origin for your character but these scenes take about ten minutes to resolve and aren’t really that interesting.
Generally, the game consists of you traveling around Night City and shooting up the place at various gang bases while also performing various investigations on behalf of clients. V is a mercenary and criminal for hire so they don’t need to justify why they’re doing 90% of the missions they do. The writing is top-notch with virtually every type of corruption available. Sadly, their character is a bit pre-set with often very little variation on their responses. V is a likable character but, unfortunately, the straight man to a lot of the more eccentric character’s reactions.
The game runs pretty smoothly on Playstation 5 and the newest Xbox iteration but is a pretty buggy mess at launch for Playstation 4 and Xbox One S. It was actually hard to see in places due to the lighting too with it moving from atmospheric to, “how the hell do I get out of this room?” Patches have already improved a lot of the most glaring flaws but long loading times, clipping, and the occasional floating head. Still, I had a lot of fun just shooting up Night City’s gangs and breaking necks like a cybernetic Punisher or Solid Snake and that worked just fine.
In conclusion, this is a solid and entertaining game but people should adjust their expectations. The amount of bugs and somewhat confusing overcomplicated gameplay hurts the overall experience. If you’re using a last generation console, you’re probably best to either wait a month or two for patches but current gen should definitely buy this right away. It is a fantastic setting, characters, and full of amazingly written stories. I also feel it is a game with many strong opinions that are presented with a world that makes them fun to hear.
Plus Keanu Reeves is awesome here, proving himself the undisputed god of non-literary cyberpunk. Maybe co-god with William Gibson of the entire genre.