“Cyberpunk 2077” was highly anticipated by video game enthusiasts throughout all of 2020, but just two months after its release, the game proved a complete letdown.
The launch of “Cyberpunk 2077” on Dec. 10 was an unmitigated disaster. The reviews for players using a PC were rave, but reviews for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions were embarrassingly low. For many weeks, the game remained near-unplayable on older consoles because of its awful functional performance and numerous game-breaking bugs. The problems were so bad that Sony outright removed the game from the PlayStation store and offered full refunds.
Before the recent “Cyberpunk 2077” meltdown, Polish developer CD Projekt Red had positioned itself as an industry darling after releasing critically acclaimed 2015 fantasy “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.” However, all of the goodwill they had built with fans evaporated in mere days as the company apparently pushed out an unfinished product just to cash in on Christmas sales. CD Projekt Red eventually apologized, pledging to spend the rest of 2021 patching the game’s issues, but the damage to its reputation had already been done.
Nonetheless, the circumstances surrounding the game’s launch are a genuine shame. Underneath the technical issues lies a good, if flawed, role-playing game with a beautiful open world, satisfying combat and strong writing for its story and characters.
“Cyberpunk 2077” is set in a dystopian, hacking-inspired future where megacorporations rule the world and cybernetic body modification is ubiquitous — from robotic arms to wire outlets installed directly into the brain. The game’s setting, Night City, resembles a futuristic Los Angeles, and from ad-covered highrises to dusty Badlands outskirts, CD Projekt Red’s art direction is vibrant and stunning.
Gamers play as the customizable mercenary V, who originates from one of three backstories called lifepaths: Corpo, Street Kid or Nomad. Unfortunately, the choice has little impact beyond a 30-minute introductory mission. The supporting cast includes Hollywood star Keanu Reeves, who plays Johnny Silverhand, a rockstar-turned-microchip by the game’s main villainous megacorporation, Arasaka. When a heist goes wrong and the chip is accidentally inserted into V’s brain, the player’s quest becomes to get it and Johnny out of V’s head before the technology kills V.
The game stays afloat thanks to this engaging main story, along with well-written sidequests and strong performances from Reeves and others. The player’s choices throughout the story determine one of five major endings. I achieved the Nomad ending while romancing the hardheaded nomad Panam Palmer, a cathartic and hopeful conclusion to V’s struggles in Night City.
On the gameplay side, the game succeeds in its RPG mechanics, with abundant skill checks and branching dialogue paths allowing impressive flexibility in missions. Despite an unimaginative perk system built around a disappointing cyberware system, the combat is addicting and weighty, allowing a dizzying amount of play styles. A player’s V can be a pistol-wielding dueler, a stealthy hacker or even a katana-wielding melee warrior.
Unfortunately, even after the developer’s multiple attempts to remove bugs, the issue persists. I was lucky enough to play on Microsoft’s next-generation console, the Xbox Series X, so I faced zero performance issues and only two hard crashes over 50 hours of play, but glitches were unavoidable. Bugs like characters exploding cars didn’t completely ruin the experience but broke immersion far too often.
“Cyberpunk 2077” also features a shallower world than expected, with the beauty of Night City often feeling skin deep. The non-player-character artificial intelligence is laughably basic, and there is little to interact with in the bustling city outside of quests. For instance, I was shocked that you couldn’t use a single one of the hundreds of gambling machines or arcades in the world. Despite promises from CD Projekt Red that the game would present the next evolution of open-world gameplay, the end result is far less impressive.
Ultimately, if you’re playing on the right system, “Cyberpunk 2077” can absolutely be a fun gaming experience. But most gamers do not own an expensive high-end PC or next-gen console, and the game’s performance on last-gen consoles is unacceptable.
It’s possible that with patches and fixes, “Cyberpunk 2077” can become the game its developers promised. But for now, it represents a cautionary tale of the dangers of overambition and corporate greed. In a twist of irony, maybe that’s the most fitting message for a game about capitalist exploitation.