Review: Cyberpunk 2077 – A Failed Promise

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70%
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Underdeveloped

Cyberpunk 2077 has the making to be a masterpiece. However, shady practices, constant crashes and a multitude of disappointments hold it back too much, leaving it little more than a failed promise.

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Disclaimer: For this review, I will be focusing on how the game plays on the PS5. Any comments on performance, glitches and crashes are not representative of the game on older consoles where it reportedly fails to meet even the most basic of requirements. If you have a base PS4 or Xbox, it is widely recommended that you wait until CD Projekt RED has released enough patches to fix the game and stabilise its most intrusive issues.

Cyberpunk 2077 has a lot of potential. It has one of the best-written stories for an RPG I’ve ever played, its voice acting is generally superb (though the female protagonist delivers a slightly better performance than her male counterpart), and it’s filled with unique mechanics, choices and world-building that kept pulling me back into the game. However, while the potential is there, it’s constantly marred by abysmal performance issues, an often empty world, floaty mechanics, and a failure to ever truly wow. Cyberpunk 2077 does just enough to make me a fan of its world, but not enough to excuse all the times it falters – because it falters a lot. Give it six months to a year, and I’m sure Cyberpunk 2077 will be unrecognisable, but at current, all you ever really see is all the ways that CD Projekt failed to deliver on their promise.

The game starts with a hefty character customisation that offers you a great deal of freedom while still being relatively simple. Despite all the variations of customisation for your character, you won’t spend hours trying to create the perfect persona. Its design is concise (conciseness being one of the defining characteristics of everything to do with the game) and is implemented in a way to get you into Cyberpunk‘s world as quickly as possible. Plus, the way V looks never really feels like it matters.  The only time you see your character is during your inventory menu or when interacting with a mirror. There are no third-person cutscenes or ray-traced reflections you’ll catch a glimpse of your appearance in. Everything is first-person, and so I found myself very uninvested in the appearance of V after a couple of hours because I never saw her, and I was soon mismatching outfits for V to wear simply because they offered higher stats rather than a continuity of style. While the outfits you could wear were seemingly meant to be a unique form of customisation for your character (CD Projekt, after all, created a whole trailer dedicated to the outfits of Night City which you can watch here), for me it never really mattered.

While the lack of caring about how V looked somewhat detached me from her as a character at times, I could always count on the story to reengage me. With the campaign lasting 15 hours, there are plenty of great moments packed into its short campaign that actually made me appreciate its narrative more. I never felt the story missions overstayed their welcome. Everything about them was built with a cinematic and dramatic flair and with a sense of urgency that had me completely invested in the campaign. Admittedly, the choices you make over the course of the campaign sometimes feel inconsequential to the wider story (although some also have larger effects that are easy to spot), but even as a linear narrative, it feels like an achievement and a testament to how well CD Projekt RED handle storytelling. It perhaps pales in comparison to The Witcher 3, but there’s something more human and expressive about V that Geralt lacked at the best of times.

However, the urgency that hounds the campaign is also sometimes its paradoxical weakness. In choosing to do just the story missions, you very much so lock in the game’s “bad” ending, despite a feeling that this is very much the ending that would make the most sense given V’s predicament. Yet, in doing the multi-part side missions and developing your relationships with the excellently written side-characters, you begin to open up a world of endings that can vary a surprising amount. Plus, the side-missions themselves are rarely rudimentary “go here and do that” affairs but more so packed with story moments and insightful exposition that helps elevate Cyberpunk past this idea that only its main story matters. Everything narratively in Cyberpunk feels like it matters, and that’s why I never hesitated to reload an earlier save after completion and go out exploring once again to complete more of these side-quests.

What helps Cyberpunk’s story is the approach to mission design. While a set-goal guides all missions, the way you approach these goals is left very much up to you. My favourite mission has you attempt to break into a high-security base and install some software to override a vehicle’s security, but the approach to the design of this mission gives you so much freedom that it expertly showcases all that Cyberpunk has to offer. Before the mission begins, you are offered a chance to recon the area to find weaknesses in the defence – but you can miss the chance of recon if you make the wrong choices during a conversation. Then, when breaking in you are presented with three options, one of them only obtainable by purchasing a piece of pricey cybernetic enhancements, the other locking you into a head-on assault and the third allowing you to explore later approaches. Once in, you have different paths you can take to the vehicle (some doors are locked and need a higher-tech skill, other needs a high body stat, and some need to be unlocked via computers all over the place), with the many paths either relying on you going gun-heavy, using stealth, or making the most of your hacking abilities to clear a path. It sets up so many different aspects for you to think about, and this 45-minute mission was delightfully slow-paced (I used stealth and hacking) and made me think of enemies and level design as a puzzle to be solved. There was this undeniable sense of freedom that exemplified all the aspects of Cyberpunk I was loving; many of the missions try to offer you the same amount of freedom but in varied ways.

Despite how great and well-designed mission areas are though, the rest of Cyberpunk‘s world sadly feels remarkably empty and an afterthought. Those large bustling crowds promised at our first look of the game back in 2018 are nowhere to be seen, the roads soon empty whenever you jump into your own vehicle, NPC AI is relatively lacking, and for all the intrigue that this heavy metropolis spawns around you, there’s still this sense of Cyberpunk being too tame. Naturally, I could forgive the smaller crowds and the empty roads if the game was sacrificing these elements to look stunning, but frankly, Cyberpunk is no more of a technical or visual marvel than the five-year-old The Witcher 3. Many games have come out in the meantime which have looked more remarkable (Red Dead Redemption 2, The Last of Us 2, even Ghost of Tsushima) and so to find nothing in the game that made me stop in awe was rather disappointing.

In terms of technical achievement, the game isn’t much better either. The driving mechanics are floaty as hell, and the gunplay is rather uninspired. With its three archetypes for the weapons (Power, Tech, and Smart), and nine variations from shotguns and sniper rifles to pistols and light machine guns, none of the weapons feel or play particularly different. Sure, smart weapons can track targets with the right cybernetic enhancement, and Power weapons are meant to pack a punch, but other than aiming somewhere and pulling the trigger, Cyberpunk never does much to make the weapons feel different. The only weapon that ever truly felt powerful was a sniper rifle which can one-shot an enemy when aligned with their head. Foes are largely just bullet sponges that only become more absurd during boss fights. Boss fights in Cyberpunk take everything wrong with the game’s gunplay and throw it at you at full force. These battles all rely on you pumping as many rounds as possible into an enemy until they’re down and the game fails to make any other approach viable. It was frustrating because it was these moments that rely on a particular playstyle, and all the emphasis on hacking and player freedom is instantly abandoned to make way for these frightfully dull encounters. It hounds an already bad element of the gameplay and leaves it inescapable.

Now, this brings me onto my last point – the bugs and crashes. In 20 hours of gameplay, my game crashed in excess of 1o times. Sometimes during missions and sometimes just out and about in exploring the world. Thankfully a usually good autosave feature meant I didn’t lose too much progress, and the PS5’s SSD could get me back into the game in less than a minute. Yet, the amount of crashes is still inexcusable. Then you have the bugs and visual glitches, which never inherently broke the game, but did often pull me out of the immersion of the story. Frankly, the sheer amount of them demonstrates a lack of technical polish that shouldn’t be there in a AAA game. I mean, these bugs and crashes rival even a Bethesda game, and that’s saying something.

Cyberpunk’s biggest issue is that it was released prematurely, meaning CD Projekt RED could never deliver on their promise. The game is so unstable that it could have benefitted easily by another 6 months to a year in development to iron out the kinks and fix some of the gameplay elements. It’s a shame because there is so much potential and ambition that guides the game that it could easily have been a masterpiece if more care and thought had been taken over its development. As the game stands now: it’s one that was enjoyable to play and one I haven’t put down yet, but it’s a tiring affair at the same time.

Cyberpunk 2077 is available everywhere (apart from the PlayStation Store) now. Check out “The Gig” trailer below: 

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Previous News Editor (20-21) and now The Editor (21-22) just trying to make his way through the world of journalism... (trying being the keyword here).

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