“I thought I knew where I wanted to be in life – as high up in the skyscrapers as I could get. That was until I got too close to the sun. The thing is, in the corporate world, there’s always a bigger fish in the pond. I got screwed over by the bigger fish and now it’s my ambition to make them pay. Sinking to the bottom of the food chain has made me realize the corporate overlords are killing Night City with their greed. It’s about time the people took it back.”
This was the year that we saw the divided release of The Last of Us Part 2, Ubisoft’s sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace exposed, and a global pandemic preventing millions from getting their latest generation of console. Yet, miraculously none of these were a bigger train wreck than the release of Cyberpunk 2077.
As I was playing this game on the PlayStation 4, I got the blunt end of the stick when it came to enjoying Cyberpunk 2077, a game that was initially going to release on the last generation of console in April. This is the same hardware that this very year ran The Last of Us Part 2, one of the most technically marvelous games to date, with minimal bugs and crashes (I actually encountered none during my playthrough). Cyberpunk 2077 has been so poorly optimized for the last generation of consoles that I ended up reaching the point of giving up my playthrough roughly midway through the main story line and instead opting to restart once it’s been fixed. This is a game I've been waiting five years for, made by the creators of my favorite video game of all time and set in my favorite genre. I'm also the type of person who detests giving up on a game I've spent money on, even if I hate it.
It’s common for a newly released game to need some work to patch some bugs; The Witcher 3 suffered a similar launch and was consequently fixed a few months later. On top of this, I can’t remember the last time Bethesda released something that was actually pretty polished. In fact, a significant proportion of their engine bugs and glitches are actually still occurring today, some of which appeared in Skyrim and have then been inherited by Fallout 4 and Fallout 76 and so on. But the state Cyberpunk 2077 is in cannot be considered a completed game. There was not a single aspect of my playthrough that wasn’t tormented by bugs and glitches, even minor functions such as bringing up my mobile phone would lag and cause the game to crash. At one point I couldn’t even choose dialogue and had to reload my save to fix the game if I wanted to continue making decisions. I’m even going to say this has ruined my experience of the game which is why I have been forced to quit.
Visually, Cyberpunk 2077 looks awful on PlayStation 4. This seems to be a problem with only the base versions of the last generation of consoles as it appears visually improved in the PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. On the PS4 and Xbox One, the graphics are similar to what The Witcher 3 looked like in the Nintendo Switch port. The best way to describe how the game looks would be to imagine you’re playing a character who needs glasses but thinks they’re too cool to wear them, anything further than a few feet in front of you appears blurred and pixelated. Textures take forever to load and often don’t load at all for certain objects such as bin bags and interior details such as stickers and food items. I would even go as far to say that playing this game would often give me a headache or make me feel sick, much like when you don’t wear glasses when you need them.
But one of the biggest criticisms I had of Cyberpunk 2077’s visuals was not due to poor optimization but was actually a decision made by the developers in the later stages of the game’s development. I’m referring to the decision to remove the third person cut-scenes which we saw in earlier gameplay demos. I spent roughly 2 hours designing my character, assuming that surely if they’ve put so much effort into a character customizer then we’ll be able to see the characters we spent so much time on. Instead, all the cut-scenes have been made into first person and the only time you will see your character is when you look in the mirror (which is, again, blurred on PS4 and Xbox One), when riding a bike in first person, and when you use the photo mode. This was supposed to help with immersion, but I feel using third person cut-scenes in an RPG helps put your character further into the story and what we saw in the earlier demos would have been ideal.
Story-wise, Cyberpunk 2077 is saved tremendously. As I started my character off in the Corpo Lifepath, we begin as an employee for Arasaka. You initially work for Arthur Jenkins as a counterintelligence officer. But when he orders you to dig up dirt on one of the highest players in the business, it backfires on you and you’re left with nothing. Being a Corpo, your V has an advantage in conversations about business, especially when dealing with corporate individuals. I found that worked well with the game’s main storyline, especially as it refers heavily to Arasaka, which feels as though your character is now running against them after they screwed you over.
However, I do have a bone to pick with CD Projekt RED in terms of the romance options offered in the game which heavily favors straight men. When playing male V, you have four female romance options and one male. When playing female V, you have three female options and one male - meaning there's a heavy disproportion in romance options depending on whether you want to romance a male or not. Unfortunately, this is common in a lot of video games, but felt incredibly disappointing in Cyberpunk 2077 due to the significance your romance option can have on the ending of the game. There were plenty of male characters you encounter during the main storyline who would have made fine romance options had CD Projekt RED been a little more open minded to who they were creating this game for. Half of gamers today are women.
Cyberpunk 2077 is filled to the brim with quest content, though the constant array of text messages and phone calls with quest options feels much like Grand Theft Auto Online’s harassment of content messages. As annoying as these are, it shows that there is plenty to do in Cyberpunk’s humongous world. The side quests I completed were fun and well-written, similar to the level of quality in The Witcher 3’s quests. On top of this, there are plenty of random events to take part in - especially the high amount of police missions in which you can aid officers in tackling criminals for an opportunity to earn some extra cash.
The soundtrack is absolutely breathtaking. Marcin Przybyłowicz has once again hit the nail and shown that he can not only be a genius in fantasy scores but can tackle sci-fi was well. His mixture of styles works so well with the world CD Projekt RED has created in Cyberpunk 2077 and I would even go as far to say he’s outdone himself this time and this score is as good if not better than The Witcher 3’s.
Cyberpunk 2077’s gameplay is fun when it works, the combat is smooth and enjoyable and the weapon options are great. Despite this, the game’s economy is brutal and it’s severely difficult to upgrade your character with cybernetic components when so many missions require you to pay money in order to progress if you don’t have the right dialogue options. The best and most efficient way to raise money is to hoard loot and then sell it off at the abundance of drop off points, though this is quite immersion breaking. During my playthrough I spent the majority of my time trying to save up 20,000 eddies to repay a debt and came to the realization that, because of this, I hadn’t been able to actually upgrade my character which is the whole point of the cyberpunk genre.
A major point of my character build was hacking. Because of this, I put leveling points into the Cool, Intelligence and Technical Ability branches. I found that the problem with the hacking build is that your hacking ability is pretty useless early on and the majority of the time you will be attempting to sneak around, getting caught because sneaking is difficult at the start of the game, and then just ending up going gun-ho anyway. On top of this, putting all your points for a hacking build is completely useless with regards to boss fights, as they are impossible to complete with stealth. Therefore it is always a good idea to put something into Reflexes and Body so you stand a chance.
Overall, Cyberpunk 2077 is currently a shell of what could have been a great game had it been given the chance to be completed. The storyline is pretty solid, the side quests are fun, and the characters are well developed and fun to hang around with. The details that actually load in each setting are extraordinary and the city really feels lived in when the NPCs actually materialize. Unfortunately the game’s graphical potential is severely hindered by bugs, glitches and very poor optimization. As it stands, this is currently the worst looking game I have played in years and the age of the hardware is no excuse after we’ve seen what it is fully capable of with The Last of Us Part 2 and Red Dead Redemption 2. Right now, I would cautiously recommend this game but only to those who own a PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X or a high spec PC. Otherwise the game is just too broken to play which ruins the overall experience.
This review was based off a PS4 copy of the game purchased by the reviewer, due to CD Projekt RED's decision not to release review codes for consoles.