Cyberpunk 2077 review in progress – living up to the hype

The makers of The Witcher 3 finally release their latest game but how well does this new sci-fi epic live up to expectations?

After years of waiting, and more delays than almost any video game in recent history, Cyberpunk 2077 is finally here. The game launches this month for last gen consoles but only the PC version has been provided in enough time to create this review in progress. What that means for the console versions we couldn’t yet say but having played the PC version for over 40 hours we can at least begin to comment on that.

Night City, the setting for Cyberpunk 2077, is an overwhelming open world. It’s a massive, sprawling melting pot of the worst of humanity, trapped in a dystopian megacity that’s halfway between Blade Runner and Judge Dredd. Rather than simply being The Witcher in a sci-fi universe Cyberpunk 2077 is a significantly different style of game, mostly obviously because you play from a first person perspective as an avatar you create – not as an existing character with a pre-defined personality.

As such, the first thing you do is choose a difficulty and then a lifepath, from the choice of Nomad, Corpo, and Street Kid. Night City has a very ridged class system, as represented by the lifepaths, which determine the background and starting circumstances for your character. We created a Street Kid, whose peers are gang members and fixers, but each class finds it easier to talk to certain groups and has unique dialogue options to do so.

The other important element of character customisation is your appearance. There are 42 different types of eyes alone and you’re encouraged to cover your face in cosmetic Cyberware, but there’s also the option to turn on genital choices that give you a whole set of gender fluid possibilities – and some rather stylish lightning bolt pubic hair. Once you get over the initial enjoyment of being able to adjust your penis size you might wonder if maybe some of this detail is wasted on a first person game, but you will enjoy seeing your long silver nails gripped around a baseball bat.

Your stats are divided into five categories and there’s a satisfyingly broad perk system, grouped into trees associated with each of the game’s main attribute types: Body, Reflexes, Technical Ability, Intelligence, and Cool. For example, we maxed out in the Dazed perk, which gives each melee attack a 30% chance of stunning your opponent and we also put points in Effective Blows, which reduces the cost of stamina by 50%.

The I Spy perk is very useful as it reveals enemy netrunners who are trying to hack you, allowing you to shut them down first. The ability to hack into any camera, to get a closer eye on enemies and overheat their brain, sounds complex but in practice it’s a simple and intuitive gameplay mechanic. The more you use related perks the more you rank in that skill’s progression; there are hundreds of perks and you’re free to place points in any of them, which gives you a huge range of combat choices.

The first act of the story is a little slow to get going but you start the second act with a chip on your shoulder, in the form of Keanu Reeves’ cyber-ghost character Johnny Silverhands (who, oddly, doesn’t sound or look much like Reeves a lot of the time). He initially wants to take over your consciousness but when that doesn’t work out he starts to help and becomes an integral part of your internal narrative.

The main questline centres around you trying to solve the assassination of the emperor, for which you have become implicated. However, this is where the game begins to stray from being a true role-player, as it doesn’t feel like you have all that much choice of what you can do during key story missions and the dialogue feels on the rails and rarely lets you say what you want to. There’s also a disconnect in the fact that your investigation is implied to be time sensitive and yet you constantly need to take on side jobs for extra money.

It’s the side jobs and gigs that are the meat of Cyberpunk 2077’s experience. In one a barman has a job for you, as he thinks his wife is having an affair, which has you following her through a film noir sequence as Jonny Silverhands narrates in your head like it’s an actual movie. Another takes you on a tour of Night City, hunting down rogue AI cabs, that proves a clever excuse to familiarise you with the city. The only problem with side quests is it doesn’t seem as if the game takes into consideration your current stats, which means that some missions can become almost trivially easy if you happen to be well suited to their task.

Although it remains to be seen how the last gen consoles will handle it, this is a game to get a new graphics card for. Night City is a vertical city with towering architecture that creates dark dirty alleyways full of danger, but each district is given its own distinct aesthetic and while there are obvious nods to movies such as Blade Runner and Akira (as well as lots of punk references in the dialogue and soundtrack choices) it never feels derivative.

The game’s combat has always been a concern, given CD Projekt Red has no experience with first person shooters, but you have so many special skills and gadgets that making comparisons with a more single-minded shooter become meaningless. Hacking opponents to blind them or set them on fire is often much more effective, and entertaining, than just shooting them, and the controls are fluid enough to allow you to use multiple different hacking techniques while you fight.

There’s a definite difference in how all the different guns handle though, with the shotgun offering a satisfying amount of recoil that’s very different to just wielding a pistol. The feedback isn’t just limited to the weapons in your hands though, as the destructible environment explodes around you whenever a bullet (or rocket) misses its mark.

The melee combat is, if anything, more enjoyable, with a simple baseball bat offering a satisfying sense of weight and crunch when you use it. If you still want to use ranged weapons, but are worried you’re not very good at first person shooters, then smart guns are a useful option, as they only have to fire in vaguely the right direction to hit your target.

The script has also been a worry for some fans, especially given the rather obnoxious dialogue in some of the trailers. Cyberpunk 2077 certainly doesn’t try to be as naturalistic as The Witcher and often strays into 80s action movie cheese (and yet somehow with even more swearing) although the game tries to make it seem as if the various degenerates you’re talking to are the ones being try-hards, not the writers.

Although the restrictive choices in story missions seem like the major flaw at the moment there are other problems. Cyberware is extremely expensive, which is likely meant to encourage you to do more side quests, but it always feels like you’re miles away from affording anything good. There’s also a peculiar disconnect between the look of your clothes and how much they protect you, with things like athletic shorts having an inexplicably high armour rating.

Cyberpunk 2077 always had a danger of becoming a case of style over substance and we’ll leave the final judgement on that until later. In terms of the environments, characters quests, and gameplay options though there’s little sign of Projekt CD Red trying to take a shortcut.

The best sign of how enjoyable the game is, is that we’re not even finished as a Street Kid and yet we’re already looking forward to trying the Nomad lifepath from the start, and Corpo after that. Cyberpunk 2077 has been a long time coming but there’s every sign it’s going to end up being worth the wait.

Formats: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, and PlayStation 5
Price: £49.99
Publisher: CD Projekt
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Release Date: 10th December 2020 (TBA next gen)
Age Rating: 18

By Lucy Orr

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