By Kelsy Polnik 22nd Dec 2020 | 6,053 views
Note that this review is based on the PS4 version of Cyberpunk 2077, but played on a PS5 console.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a mess. A beautiful, complicated mess of a game. My thoughts while playing it ranged from both “this is the best video game I’ve ever played” to “if you crash on me a 44th time, that’s the last straw” in nearly every session I’ve had with it. I’ve never experienced the same tug of war of feelings with any other game in my life, but I'm very thankful that the highs vastly outweighed the lows.
Night City is incomparable. It is, without a doubt in my mind, an amazing and interesting place to spend your time in. The care put into the design of Night City is extraordinary. It feels real, it feels lived in, it feels like it is evolving and changing as you explore it. It feels appropriately massive, while still having these little pockets of distinct communities scattered throughout it. Corporations and Gangs have noticeable presences (or lack of presence in some cases) in different parts of the city, which gives each area a special flavor.
Added to that are the Fixers you receive jobs from, the shops keepers, the people you encounter, the vehicles and missions you participate in, all of which really sell the uniqueness of each neighbourhood. The Megabuilding complexes and corporate skyscrapers, as well as the advertisements beamed into the sky of the inner city, are of great contrast to the rundown trailer parks and slums found further out, where smaller communities of nomads and road-side vendors fill the deserted outskirts of Night City with a powerful personality of its own. Hispanic, Hatian, Japanese, Chinese, and other influences and languages run strongly through the various districts of Night City too.
You play as V, a person with lofty aspirations. Beyond that he/she is malleable to your will within some pre-set parameters. Most of my experience is with the Corpo route, in which V is forcibly removed from her (I played a female V and will be talking about V as a female for the remainder of the review) corporate position and finds herself taking on all manners of job with an old friend. After one particularly big job goes sideways you’ll find yourself unwillingly partnered up with Johnny Silverhand for much of the rest of the game.
Johnny is a former underground rockstar turned corporate terrorist and a bit of a legend within Night City. It’s made entirely clear from early on that nobody trusts corporations in this world and you become intimately entangled with one of the biggest ones, called Arasaka. There's a fascinating main narrative between V, Johnny, and Arasaka that forms the main driver behind the game. Given the urgency of the main story I felt compelled to devote most of my early play time to pushing through the story, as I assumed my version of V would have, but some story events were time specific, which allowed me free time to spend on side content while waiting to progress.
As much as I enjoyed the main story, and I very much did enjoy it, this was the first major moment where I felt the game tugging me in two directions. The sense of urgency regarding the main story really made the side jobs, gigs, NPCD jobs, and nearly all of the other side activities feel expendable. I prioritized side jobs such as helping out friends, especially life or limb kinds of tasks, but it didn't feel like V should be spending unnecessary time on missions that weren’t of the utmost importance until the main story was resolved. This led me to my ending at around the 18 hour mark, which greatly surprised me; I had expectations that this would be a much longer experience and it caught me off guard to reach the end of V's story in such a short amount of time.
Now that I was “done” the game, though, it was time to see what else Cyberpunk 2077 had to offer and really dig into the side content. And it is dense and meaningful. The underworld of Night City is controlled in various districts by people called Fixers. Fixers are the middlemen taking assignments and payments from clients looking for under the table type work and hiring mercs, like yourself, to complete such tasks. They then award payments and relay results to the clients.
Fixers are one of my favorite parts of the game; they all have such amazing and unique personalities, and really flesh out Night City’s personality. From the Sarah Connor-esque Dakota Smith doling out missions across the badlands, to rough exterior but soft(ish?) interior Regina Jones having you track down Cyberpyschosis cases across much of Night City, to the enigmatic and a little unhinged Mr. Hands supplying some intriguing missions in Pacifica, I was constantly eager to get a phone call from any of them to see what kinds of dirty deeds needed doing.
The array of missions is enough to keep any particular type from getting stale. Espionage, heists, rescues, hits, deliveries, driving, puzzle-solving, and protection are just some examples. Honestly, though, the most appealing part of the missions is speaking with the person supplying the mission before and after the missions themselves. Some of the stories you uncover through the side jobs are as fascinating as the main story. A fair number of these even flesh out the main story further by adding context to your goals and the effects of your (and others') actions surrounding them. It's euphoric to take on a small job that you simply expect a payout from and see it spin off into something far greater and more important than you could have imagined when you first took the job.
The characters you meet through these jobs are just as interesting and full of personality as the rest of the game. Many of them left lasting impacts on me that lingered beyond my time with the game; from a mayoral candidate wrapped up in a sinister conspiracy, to a sentient vending machine, it was rarely not worthwhile pulling a thread to see where it ended. The biggest notable exceptions to that are the NCPD assault cases, which are just filler, where you need to take down all of the enemies in various different locations. They're jarringly sparse and uninteresting compared to the rest of the game. Fortunately, none of the other mission types ever feel unnecessary.
As characters go, V and Johnny are definitely the stars of the game. Forced together as they are, they have a lot of back and forth dialogue that really worked for me. They start off fiercely butting heads, but have to learn to work in tandem over the course of the story. Johnny really gets a chance to shine the more you dig into the world of Night City. He gets fleshed out in some of the most surprising missions just by the fact that he feels the need to comment on nearly anything remotely concerning or interesting to him. The conversations between Johnny and V, from start to finish, are captivating and made many moments that could have been slow and boring a lot more intriguing. Most of the NPC dialogue is also engaging, but I did run into several clunky moments with non-essential characters where the same points would get repeated, as if the characters hadn’t just talked about that subject a moment ago. This was a rarity, but pretty jarring when it did happen.
The actual gameplay of Cyberpunk 2077 is as varied as every other part of the game. As someone who doesn’t typical play a lot of first person shooters it was my hope that I wouldn’t need to lean very heavily into gunplay to make my way through Cyberpunk 2077. And that definitely proved to be the case. Spending a majority of my stat points into both hacking and stealth skills I was able to progress through the game in a way I’ve never experienced before. Stacking hacking perks allowed me to spread viruses like diseases across unsuspecting enemies while I skulked around in the shadows, which was incredible. I could commandeer turrets and cameras to assist in both my onslaught and traversal, all while hiding. And also hack enemies to make them temporarily blind or deaf, ensuring a quick incapacitation, or just simply sneak past them. I could even use objects around the environment to distract or explode and directly damage enemies. The game offers up a delightful variety of methods to approach each combat situation.
That said, the weapons aren't lacking either. Pistols, shotguns, various rifles, and a plethora of melee weapons such as swords, knives, and bats are present, each of which are also very customizable. Through item mods you can customize each weapon to your preference, or to help with a specific mission. For example, if a mission requires that you don’t kill the people you come across while infiltrating then you can mod a gun with a non-lethal chip and silencer in order to sneak around and non-fatally incapacitate your foes. The real stand-outs though are Smart Guns. These guns have a programmable AI, which means that you can determine its behavior. I wanted to play Terminator 2 style for a bit, so I programmed a Smart Gun to aim for the lower extremities, and all of my shots would seek out my targets' knee caps, rather than the more damaging headshots.
A big part of the customization comes from the skill trees and crafting abilities. Investing a skill point into Intelligence (the stat related to hacking) doesn’t just make V a better hacker, it also opens up new skills in the hacking tree the more you invest in Intelligence and allows you to use perk points to decide what type of hacker you want to be. How quickly do you want your RAM to reload? Do you need extra time to breach systems? How important is the cooldown time on your hacks? All of this is determined through skill tree management. And so too is the typical RPG stuff, like higher stamina, damage points, more health, and so on.
Throughout Night City you’ll find and can purchase crafting materials, or you can disassemble spare items and obtain crafting materials from them as well. In close association with your skill trees you’ll be able to use these to craft various items. Being able to craft Legendary and Epic level mods for your weapons, armor, and cyberware allows you to bend the game's rules to your liking.
As promised, you can also modify V directly at a Ripperdoc. These healthcare 'professionals' - often found buried deep in basements and alleys - can add or remove cybernetic upgrades through your entire body. Want to take less damage from falls by fortifying your skeleton? Wish your legs could double jump? Want your brain to reload RAM faster, allowing quicker hacks? Just visit your local Ripperdoc and, for a price, he’ll make you better than you could have ever imagined.
Given the initial character customization options, as well as Ripperdocs being widely available in the game, it is a bit disappointing that you can’t further alter V's appearance after you’ve initially customized her. There are even a couple characters I’ve met in game that have plainly said that they vastly changed their appearances to become different people, so the option certainly exists lore-wise. It's a bit of a bummer that you can’t modify your body for purely aesthetic reasons.
Since Night City is a place I constantly wanted to be in, I rarely used fast travel points and instead opted to drive or walk between locations. Being on the streets was pure pleasure. There are essentially three types of vehicles you can operate: cars, bikes, and heavy vehicles like trucks and vans. Bikes are my preferred method of travel, solely because they offer the greatest field of view when in first person view. If you’re fine driving in third person then you’ll likely have a great time with the cars as well, but in a first person view the dash takes up far too much real estate on the screen to use effectively.
The music ties in closely with the vehicles, since like many open world games there are radio stations to keep you grounded in the world while you travel. My personal recommendation is PEBKAC, which is a pumping synthwave centered channel, but honestly all of the music I heard was very well suited to the world and I was continually impressed with the soundtrack.
Something I always hope to never have to write about in a review is technical issues. Unfortunately in this case it cannot be avoided. Despite all the wonderful time I spent playing Cyberpunk 2077, the game actively fought against me with tech problems. Firstly there's some NPC and vehicle pop in/out. This didn't happen constantly, but enough to be pretty distracting. Then there's occasional character model clipping out of a vehicle or chair. Twice in the middle of a scene someone stopped talking and the game wouldn’t progress, forcing me to reload.
One of the stranger technical issues I encountered was that a specific line of dialogue (and the subtitle attached to it) would appear on screen each time I booted up the game, after about the halfway mark. This annoyance meant that every single time I booted up to play I had to also go into the settings and turn off subtitles and then turn them back on again so that it didn’t just sit there the entire time.
Stepping on an electrocuted floor is an instant death in most cases. About half a dozen times, often with no electricity in sight, I would step from one platform to another and it would behave as if it was electrified. This is only fixed by reloading the area, at which points things would work just fine.
All of the above are minor gripes, but they do eventually add up into a significant problem for the game when combined.
But the worst offender is the game crashing. During my first run through of the main story I encountered minimal crashes. But when playing through the side content after that the crashes became far more frequent. I kept record of each crash and after approximately 80 hours of playtime I had 44 crashes, one of which was so bad it locked up my PlayStation 5 and required me to cut the power. That is nearly one crash every 2 hours on average. It happened so often that it began to just feel like part of the game and frequent quicksaves were extremely necessary.
I do need to emphasize that despite all the technical issues - and there are many - it didn't bother me enough to sour the overall experience. Even after that inevitable 45th game crash I'm still going to reload my most recent quicksave, jump back on my motorcycle, and cruise down to Pacifica to take down some Animals.
Cyberpunk 2077 feels like two games to me. It feels like the story of V and Johnny Silverhand vs. the dystopian Arasaka corporation, and a story of personal growth and developed friendship vs. corporate greed and terrorism. Cyberpunk 2077 also feels like the story of V, an ambitious mercenary out to make a name for herself in the sordid world of Night City. I loved all of these experiences dearly, but they do feel at odds with one another because of the urgency of the main story. If you can separate them in your mind, like I was eventually able to do, then each offers a breathtaking and valuable experience. And of course it's a story of a fully realized cyberpunk mega city and your place within it vs. the sheer variety of bugs and glitches in Cyberpunk 2077, which is staggering. It's a real test of fortitude dealing with them, even on the new consoles. Cyberpunk 2077 is a magnificent disaster, but if you don't want to wait for the fixes to all of these technical issues then it really is worth struggling against them to experience all that Night City has to offer.