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A totally objective Cyberpunk 2077 review.

An insightful non judgemental look at the pop cultural phenomenon.

arne neumann

December 16, 2020

11 Min Read

Today I’d like to give an account of my currently roughly 62 hours of playing the Keanu Reeves game that let’s the player drive an Arch motorcycle and shoot or stab stuff. This is an attempt at an analysis of gameplay mechanics, notably impressive technological achievements from a users perspective, potential shortcomings, core loops and implementation of story beats, including shiny screenshots and emotional commentary.

Most of the included screenshots in this post will contain minuscule spoilers due to the fact the author didn’t figure out the proper operation of photo mode tools until late in the playthrough, hence quest markers often show in the right corner of screen and no attempt at obfuscating those was made. So, without further ado, meet V:

Cyberpunk 2077, based on the tabletop RPG created by Mike Pondsmith et al., is an open world action role playing game with heavy emphasis on story elements and driving mechanics, as well as a decent amount of customization options and adaptable play styles based on player preference that takes its inspiration and setting from the same named sub-genre of science fiction that evolved somewhere in the late 80’s early 90’s and depicts a dystopian vision of the not too distant future. Ruled by mega corporations, run by mercenaries, ruined by the rest of the scum crawling about or escaping into VR or braindances to find refuge from the harsh realworld environments and lack of resources, with semi anarchistic gangs running the streets and the few flying cars passing over idle bums standing around street corners with their brains fried.

The player sets out on a grand adventure after selecting one of three available character background archetypes and will progress through the dialogue heavy storyline with a predefined set of conditions based on this initial choice. The main story progresses along a rather typical high profile RPG quest line that relies heavily on materials provided through previously created lore while also spinning its very own yarn here and there, including but not limited to not completely subtle adverts for a luxury motorcycle brand made for tall people After going through the initial familiarization phase the player then is let loose upon this chaotic sandbox filled with scattered bits of animal feces and given free choice between pursuing secondary objectives for personal enjoyment and character enrichment or following along the primary storyline, featuring Keanu Reeves, the guy from the Matrix movies, the dude that went on stage at E3 and responded something about breathing to a fan, which then became a meme and is now one of the many things, besides big motorcycles for tall people, Keanu is globally known and adored for. 

Skipping all of the particular details, the overarching story elements consist of a heartwarming buddy dynamic coupled with a good smidgeon of us against the world and four letter word for sexual intercourse the establishment but we still like nice things and mohawks. 

In typical Cyberpunk fashion the player sets out to become a legend in the quaint little area known as Night City and the initially overwhelming playspace soon becomes a vehicle to be utilized as a mechanism of transportation between quest bits. 

While one of the core mechanics of the game is indeed transportation via mostly car or motorcycle, fast traveling points for easy teleportation purposes are also scattered throughout the map  and provide a shortcut for the travel by road adverse group of people that don’t actually want to traverse Night City, which is sort of a shame, because the city itself is by far the biggest game asset and impressive set piece from a density and visual overflow perspective, at least.

Which brings us straight to one of the main observations made zipping through dense afternoon traffic and along mostly deserted badland roads: There’s way more to look at in Cyberpunk 2077 than there is to interact with.

Naturally it would be preposterous to assume interactive elements behind every door and inhabitants in all visible apartments, containers and alleyways, and there is a metric ton of curated content to interact with, like randomly finding an AI equipped smartgun named “Skippy” in an alley besides a slightly twisted dead body, but there’s a lot of bolstered superficiality when it comes to things like food stalls and operational procedures during the implanting of say, cyberware.  

There are, for example many diverse street food stalls - and probably restaurants - offering international and often lowbrow cuisine scattered throughout NC, but the player can only interact with a few select vendors and purchasing food resolves in opening a menu of consumable items, adding them to the players inventory. In and of itself not hugely surprising and possibly intended to pay homage to classics such as Deus Ex, considering the necessary animations and fine hand motor movements to complete a superficially simple task like showing noodles in one’s face, but after one of the last trailers prepared by the PR department referred specifically to the consumption of the best, albeit potentially hazardous and likely highly artificial eats in the game, expectations were high.

Another immersion breaking or reducing aspect is fashion in Cyberpunk. Also directly referred to in recent PR materials, dressing up in the game is more of a byproduct than an active choice, primarily due to the lack of a cosmetics option, meaning every item of clothing or armor that is put on the player through a selection of slots will be visually represented in game, effectively limiting choice to either looks or combat effectiveness. Whereas there’s not much reason to even modify the player character visually according to one’s style preference, since the game is first person, the only reason to dress up would be taking selfies in photo mode or driving third person on a motorcycle. It does seem awkward then, though, that there are several vendors throughout NC, selling specific styles of clothing within predefined price ranges. Some players may manage to match their visual style preference with functionality, but most players are likely going to look like some mishmash militaristic neon techno bum, but maybe that’s intentional. 

In regards to the much discussed performance issues on several platforms, the game generally runs well on Stadia, which is to say that performance has decreased over time. Occasional glitches that include item clipping (stuff melting into other stuff), weird animations in relation to the mostly affected NPC’s in the room or world, like someone moving along a hallway in a sitting position without moving their virtual and possibly cybernetic legs. Recently the game likes to start moving the camera up when left undisturbed for a couple seconds, akin to the player passing out. This also happens while driving along densely populated city streets at 189 miles per hour, which isn’t optimal, to say the least. 

As the story progresses along it’s prerecorded and partially motion captured arc, the player will be able to modify certain decisions, alas the conclusions available stay at a constant number, again, due to the technically defined interactive CGI movie nature that’s been proven tried and tested over the years. In essence, nothing the player actively chooses to do has a massive effect or consequence as its either preordained or related to AI behavioral loops. To give one example that isn’t related to the apparently controversial, insufficiently politically open, liberal and progressive tale spun in Cyberpunk 2077: if the player randomly drives along one of the many beautifully sculpted and painstakingly handcrafted side alleys of NC and sees a pair of punk kids spraying “no future” graffiti on a wall, decides to decapitate the hooligans for damaging someone’s or public property, then drives away a couple hundred meters and returns to the same spot, the rascals will be right back at it, without making progress on their painting, of course. 

NC is full of those kinds of interactions that in their superficiality offer little satisfaction and are executed, at least in my case, for the sake of being able to speed down highways at high speeds, since the motorcycle driving mechanic is an absolute blast and the choice of radio stations, with its limited selection of original music provides great additional layers of entertainment, high quality headphones recommended.

After completing the Keanu Reeves Cyberpunk RPG character related story, which he possibly actually created in the 90’s and had a greater career as a musician with than his real world persona, by picking one of several story endings whose selection potentials are determined by previously completed side content and direct choices made within several build up story moments, the player is transported back to the crucial point of no return moment, in front of a high end restaurant owned by the Arasaka corporation - that cannot be accessed for the enjoyment of fine spirits or splendidly prepared meals outside of that crucial story bit - given a pair of gorilla arms for their street samurai build and left to either scrap up the remaining side quests, containing samey gigs, police report related violence or similar.

Purchasing random vehicles offered by random NPC’s throughout the entire game by method of effectively video chat spamming the player with their offers at relatively high prices also remains an option at this point, which is to say, in theory, since stealing or taking control of any vehicle also is a given, with certain limitations, naturally.

Other ways to obtain highly exclusive vehicles by choosing the correct story beats exist but are mostly limited to one very expensive car and one very nice bike, made for tall people, decked out Valentino style.

Car dealerships or workshops are nowhere to be found within the game, so the player has to accept being offered junk on wheels frequently and not spray painting their race bike in black with a lightning bolt on the side to match the characters outfit, minor gripes. 

LQBTQ related issues aren’t so exactly discussed or brought up directly, but exist to some degree as an integral part of the setting, while sexual relations are only superficially dealt with. Options for randomly hooking up with people of the night, for example, are limited to two individuals in a certain area of town and the interactions always result in the same short clip being played.

My character is a person with all female parts included voice and she did start an intimate and meaningful relationship with one of the games female NPC’s, though further details shall be omitted here, as per aforementioned self proscribed no spoil doctrine.

Comparatively, adds running on the many 80’s TV screens scattered throughout town and available for a chilled back yet slightly disturbing viewing in the V character’s unisex apartment - also offering no customization - featuring silver chromed couch cushions and sort of sugar skulls, often offer a hyper sexualized view towards all participants of such activities unrelated to the act of procreation, simply as a carnal pleasure, but that’s also part of the whole deal with the lore (says the dude who never read any of it outside of the video game).

Overall CP2077 presents itself as a giant sandbox chuck full of extremely detailed environments that are often completely overlooked by either zipping past them or teleporting from one point of the map to another, which lets to wonder how many environment artists CD Projekt hired, that are sitting in their Warsaw apartments, breathing high amounts of coal related fine dust, crossing their fingers for someone of the 8+ million people already playing, or trying to play this game, to find that very piece of hilarious and thought provoking art they’ve left under an overhang west of Westbrook, but that’s a bit dark. 

The game has a charming, to some, yet somewhat predictable and not completely original story line, that lost part of its punching power due to the increasing prevalence and relevance of Cyberpunk as a cultural artifact and the resulting saturation throughout modern media and isn’t nearly as full of possibilities as the developer would have liked the (potential) buyers to think. The technical issues cannot be overlooked while the visuals are positively gorgeous and stunning, at least on my platform of choice.

There is potential for many quality of life improvements, fixes and updates that could radically alter the experience, someone somewhere on the internets wrote something about multiplayer, but in its current state Cyberpunk 2077 is a very nice to look at and drive a fast motorcycle through set piece that falls flat on many advertised aspects.

It is culturally important and will likely remain on people’s minds for quite some time, but, as Bugs Bunny always says: They kinda jinxed it a bit. Didn’t let me eat this pizza.

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