After a near eight-year cycle of extraordinary hype and astronomical expectations, CD Projekt RED’s most ambitious title to date is finally here. For all the glitz of Night City, Cyberpunk 2077 portrays a surprisingly human experience through an underwhelming RPG that often fails to find its footing.
Cyberpunk has laid the foundations for one of the most captivating open-worlds in quite some time. Night City is an artistic marvel that applies the very best from its genre in a sizable yet diverse megalopolis. Around every corner is a new opportunity to soak in richly detailed environments amidst a dystopic backdrop.
Though, underneath this flashy surface, there comes a point where the paint starts to crack and the hollow nature of the game begins to pierce through. What appears at first to be a truly intricate RPG with interwoven narratives and unrivaled player agency, all too quickly devolves into an anachronistic open-world that often fumbles under the weight of its own goals.
Attention to detail is the game’s biggest strength while also being its biggest fault. With such a painstakingly detailed amalgamation of the Cyberpunk genre to run wild in, it feels all the more striking when the moment to moment gameplay can’t quite keep up.
Dexerto reviewed Cyberpunk playing the PS4 version of the game via backwards compatibility on the PS5.
Cyberpunk 2077 – Key Details
- Copy: Cyberpunk 2077 (PlayStation 5)
- Price: £49.99 / $59.99
- Developer: CD Projekt RED
- Release date: November 10
- Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Players assume the role of V, a fully customizable protagonist that quickly embroils themselves in a gig gone wrong. With high stakes from the jump, Cyberpunk delves into everything from existentialism, corporatocracy, and technological revolution to name a few of the many themes handled with surprising tact.
The few dozen characters you meet during the core storyline propel you through explosive set pieces but also allow for some genuine downtime. It’s the latter where the storytelling shines brightest. Forming deeper bonds with both larger groups and individual companions is extremely rewarding. There’s never a sense of urgency to rush towards the next gunfight. Quiet moments are given time to breathe, allowing you to properly converse and connect with those around you.
Whether it’s enjoying a drink by a campfire on the outskirts of town or calming down a sentient taxi on the brink of destruction, there’s a great deal of diversity on offer. Having input on just how these relationships unfold is a welcomed touch, though most situations lead to simple positive or negative conclusions without much nuance.
This applies to the one and done characters you meet in a hurry, all the way up to Johnny Silverhand, the punk rocker implant voiced by Keanu Reeves that drives the central storyline. Whether he becomes an amusing sidekick or a pesky antagonist is entirely up to your discretion.
Both the writing and the acting is top-notch throughout the lengthy missions and side content. V in particular, with a seemingly endless amount of dialogue for all manner of decisions and outcomes, never falters through a range of situations that can go from melancholic to frivolous in a heartbeat.
Perhaps the biggest downside to the core narrative is the insignificance of the game’s three Life Paths. The very first choice you make in Cyberpunk is to set the background of your character. You can be a Street Kid, knowing the ins and outs of every block, or you can be a Nomad, a complete outsider.
Last is the Corpo path if you prefer to role play as a character that’s been at the top of some of the biggest corporations in Night City. This was the option I went with for my first playthrough. After a roughly 30 minute introductory mission for your path of choice, all three merge together to progress the main storyline. Beyond this brief prologue, the decision rarely comes into play.
Your background never really makes a difference from this point forward. Sure, you’ll get a few dialogue options exclusive to each, but they’re all completely devoid of any impact.
There never came a situation where my career working at the top of the food chain played a role in the outcome of a conversation or a broader mission. It merely offered some filler dialogue options and additional context – that’s it. As a result, there’s no real urge to play the game again through one of the other lenses.
Beyond the storytelling of the main and side missions, there’s plenty to see and do. Fixers in each district will spam you with a laundry list of gigs to take up at any time, while the local authorities litter the map with tons of additional requests. These can range from heart-pounding escapades to menial scraps with local thugs that you wipe out in a matter of seconds.
All the while, every action is progressing your version of V in a number of ways. There’s the main character level which provides a new perk point with every increase. Along with your ‘Street Rep’ level to unlock further quests throughout Night City.
On top of these, every skill also comes with its own experience bar to level up. The more you utilize a particular class of weapon, or the more you play in a certain style, the more abilities you’ll unlock and the more you’ll be able to do. Say you’re all about speed – you want to get up close and slash away with a katana? This is more than feasible for almost every situation and the longer you stick to that style, the more powerful your melee skills will become.
The same can be said for a variety of tactics and they all offer a rich set of options that could take a hundred or more hours to fully flesh out. Shooting feels responsive and exciting, despite the lackluster AI that more or less form a line for you. On the other hand, stealth is not only viable but complemented by the in-game hacking system. There’s a good amount of variety in how you can approach every situation, but this also comes with its downsides.
With dozens of upgradeable perks across numerous branching skill trees, there’s a lot to digest. Unfortunately, there’s not much freedom to actually experiment in a single playthrough. As it currently stands, there’s no way to respec your character, meaning that you’ll be stuck to certain pathways once you get deep enough into a particular save. Given how long it can actually take to earn experience in the game, this feels extraordinarily restrictive.
For such a lengthy RPG, lacking this key feature limits customization in a big way. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Cyberpunk feeling rather outdated in its approach to the fundamentals.
From the opening moments of the game, you’ll need to be happy with your character as there’s absolutely no way to change your appearance. For all the inhabitants of Night City hell-bent on replacing their limbs, upgrading their bodies, and even outright replacing their skin with chrome, V is completely locked from the start. There’s not even a barber of any kind to change your hairstyle throughout the game.
Moreover, clothing also feels rather restrictive. Armor is just as important as your health in Cyberpunk and for whatever reason, this stat is tied to your outfit. This might not have been a considerable issue if a transmog system was in the game.
However, you’re essentially forced to mix and match if you’re focused on having the best build possible. There’s no way to actually look the part while maximizing your stats. When you’re spending dozens of hours building up your perfect character, this feels like a major oversight.
Crime is also a bit of a head-scratcher. Whether you’re stealing vehicles or something much worse, the local authorities react in the most laughable ways. Firstly, you can quite literally see police spawning in close proximity mere moments after the fact. They don’t arrive on the scene in their vehicles ready to track you down. More often than not, they will just appear right beside you with guns already drawn.
Making the matter worse is the fact that they can’t chase you. Simply running a few blocks or getting in a car and dashing away will have them stumped. For whatever reason, cops are unable to interact with Night City inside of their vehicles. Outside of scripted chase sequences in missions, AI hasn’t been programmed to drive freely. Even with a maxed out crime rating, you can evade any punishment by just driving in a straight line.
Go on a murderous rampage for 30 minutes? No stress, just drive for five seconds to the next intersection and you’ll be off the hook. Come back to that area mere seconds later and the AI will have no memory of what just occurred. It makes you wonder why there’s such a system in the game at all if it’s this barebones.
In terms of reactions, drivers also have no idea how to move around you. If you park your car in the middle of a busy highway, dozens of cars will line up with no urgency to veer around. Aim a gun at a nearby driver and they’ll barely acknowledge your existence, let alone attempt to drive away. For a game striving to be an immersive sim, it sure does a lot to squander that immersion.
The game’s difficulty also feels rather inconsistent. I started out playing on Medium but quickly felt overpowered. If you’re playing as an RPG purist, looting absolutely everything with an outline, you’ll soon get to a point where you feel unstoppable.
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Hundreds of healing items will flood your inventory so you’re never afraid of taking damage. Ammunition can pile up into the thousands, and crafting resources ensure your favorite items can always be upgraded.
Even when switching to the hard option, these elements simply don’t scale. The game feels exactly the same just with enemies being a little more spongy. Dying is rarely an occurrence in combat itself. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I died to legitimate challenge. Otherwise, deaths came from buggy terrain or clunky abilities that insta-killed me out of nowhere.
It’s these factors that stack up over time to pull you out of the experience. Where Cyberpunk makes strides with its gorgeous visuals and memorable storylines, the moment to moment gameplay can often feel stuck in the previous generation.
While certain omissions and bizarre choices hinder the immersion, nothing comes close to matching the negative impact of bugs across Night City. Everything from comical modeling issues to outright hard crashes during heavy narrative beats, rest assured Cyberpunk has it all.
I lost track of the number of intimate moments somewhat ruined by unfortunate problems. Characters could lock into a T-pose at any moment, main companions might decide to just stop lip-syncing with their dialogue, or even talk through two different sentences at once.
At least on console, it became tough to ever truly settle in and feel comfortable knowing that the next game-breaking bug might force me out of the experience at any second. Across the first 50 hours alone, my PS5 froze 28 times in total… yes I counted. Countless quest lines also forced me to restart the game for a certain objective to appear or for a character to get in place.
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Compounding these frustrations, each and every time the game had to reboot, settings would be reverted back to the default options. Having to fix controller input and change both visual and audio settings became tedious after the second or third time, let alone the 20th.
For a AAA experience, a game with this many critical issues simply shouldn’t have reached the market just yet. Despite its many delays, it’s clear it would have benefited from a little more time in the oven.
True to the genre, Cyberpunk feels like an amalgamation of everything before it. Blade Runner’s monolithic architecture dominates the city while William Gibson’s visions of artificial intelligence underscore countless story beats. The city and its evolving story is a spectacle that takes inspiration from its predecessors in a uniquely engaging way. When everything is working as intended, the game truly shines.
The core storyline is worth the price of admission alone, though, even if you play it as a mostly linear experience. Exceptional writing, fun action sequences, and genuinely rich characters breathe life into the vibrant cityscape. It’s when you veer from this path that the experience can fall apart and frustration can seep in.
Dexerto’s final score – 6.5/10
Despite its futuristic setting, much of Cyberpunk’s fundamental design feels stuck in the past. Jarring flaws and often questionable gameplay systems hold the open-world back from being something truly spectacular.
Reviewed on PS4 (played on PS5)