Not Quite the Future I Envisioned
Two Fridays ago, I played Cyberpunk 2077 and did something I’d never done before. I thought, “Honestly, I’d rather go and do dishes.” (That endless pile of pandemic dishes…) Then, I turned off my Xbox One and did the dishes.
I’m an RPG super-fan. I pre-ordered Cyberpunk 2077 months in advance. For the past few years I Googled it off and on when I was bored: I read the articles that sprang up around the internet ad nauseum. I watched every “ooh and ahh” video that came out. I texted with an old friend about the character creator for 20 minutes a few days before release.
The first Cyberpunk review I read was by Kotaku’s Riley MacLeod. I’ve long trusted the Kotaku staff (and particularly miss the insights of Gita Jackson, who is now at VICE). The review wasn’t negative but it definitely wasn’t positive; it was well written and touched on the myriad of tension points surrounding the game. I read it because I wanted to manage my expectations going in (something I didn’t do with Mass Effect: Andromeda, an RPG that hurt me to my core).
So, I waited until I had a morning off to play Cyberpunk, made a coffee, and went in with as open and patient an attitude as possible. Whenever I start a new game, I tend to sit on my couch without moving for an unhealthy amount of time. This year alone, I did that with Paradise Killer, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (I skipped part of Mardi Gras so I could do the mission where I rescue the little robot—MARDI GRAS), Night Call, Ooblets, and Aviary Attorney.
Yet Cyberpunk, a game that was lauded as an industry-changing game, a game that I’d been waiting to see for years… I played it for about an hour and a half before I stopped because I preferred to do chores.
Cyberpunk 2077 Bugs and Release Woes
The game is laughably bad on consoles, so much so that just days after release, CD Projekt Red apologized to console owners, owned up to avoiding letting anyone see it or review it, offered refunds, botched said refunds, got pulled from PSN, and promised a series of patches from December through February 2021.
Because, yeah, there are glitches. Here are a few bugs in Cyberpunk 2077 I saw during my first three hours of play (no spoilers):
- An NPC walks into a counter and sits down. Other NPCs come and join the character—inside the counter.
- A man pulls out an important object and shows it to your character, V. He holds it up in his hands and the game camera pauses, as if to say, “Look at this shit—so special.” Except the object doesn’t appear.
- V pulls out a pistol in a back alley to shoot someone but the gun doesn’t appear in her hands, making it difficult to aim. I die.
- V pulls out a machine gun in a car chase, but again, the gun doesn’t appear. I die.
- V jumps ten stories down from a wall and doesn’t lose HP, but walks down a set of stairs wrong and the game crashes.
- The game uses motion blur, a common game technique, with such ferocity that it freezes the game. Eventually I went into the settings and turned it and other effects off entirely.
- V tries to change clothes frequently but just appears naked in the inventory for a minute with the most lacklusterly rendered vagina I’ve ever seen.
Here’s what my character looked like in the game’s character builder, which to be fair, was a really cool experience:
Below’s what my V actually looked like in gameplay whenever she looked in the mirror. (This is the only time you really see your protagonist, and you can never alter your appearance—hair, tattoos, etc.—later. Both factors are missed opportunities, given the robust character creator.) When I try to do any of those mirror functions you can see listed, the character shifts their head without expression, freezes, and then I button mash until I can exit the mirror.
(Fun side note: When I had to load up the game to take this picture and dart around the map to get back to V’s apartment mirror, I literally muttered out loud to myself, “I hate this game.” Oh, and her arms didn’t appear right away. Yep, just a floating coat, then this head, then arms.)
Other noticeable issues:
- Textures pop in like mad.
- Not just textures. Cars, NPCs, buildings. I literally went into one building and saw nothing. And then the game added elements in over the next 30 seconds while V talked to no one.
Issues That Run Deeper Than Bugs
A friend playing Cyberpunk on PC said it was a good game. But in my opinion, even if the game ran beautifully on console, it still would be ridiculously flawed. With very very minor spoilers, here are things I experienced from a game design standpoint that made me say, “WTF?”:
Within five minutes of getting past the “tutorial/introduction” quest, I got seven new quests in my journal tracker. By an hour later, I had double that and my map was covered in icons. It was overwhelming. And when I’d actually try to go and explore some of these activities, they were either not that interesting or so difficult for my underpowered character that it was disheartening.
The background and lingo of the game is absurd and not delivered with any context. By comparison, Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t handhold, but does so with finesse. It’s uncluttered, serious, and patient: just you, a mean dude with a cool horse, and the open skies. You have time to figure out mechanics, what’s important and what isn’t, and what side quests and activities you enjoy. Cyberpunk 2077 does not handhold, but the stakes are immediately high. Music ramps up, colors flash; you’re told over and over again how everything is SO URGENT.
The shooting combat—which is necessary since any real stealth is difficult to achieve—plays like Borderlands. Even if you turn off the visual damage numbers, you’ll still find yourself doing Borderlands-y things, like jumping around to avoid being hit and reloading a shotgun manically in front of your target to shoot them as blood spurts off. For this “gritty future reality simulator” game, that is certainly not a compliment. The inventory management is about just as painful.
Related: Somehow you can spray back-alley thugs with dozens of machine gun bullets (I guess because everyone is augmented with super strength???) but a crime boss gets one bullet to the brain and he’s dead, indicating that scene is only playing for dramatic aesthetic. Feels like a cheap shot, literally.
I know this game is based on a pen-and-paper game from the 1980s. But just because it is, it doesn’t mean you have to stick to all the same tropes and stereotypes that came from that era. Or maybe games featuring the future of American racial and sexual diversity shouldn’t be written by white guys in Poland, IDK.
Seriously, it sucks. And you have to drive everywhere. It plays like GTA on Xbox 360 or PS2 but in this game if you hit civilians you’re actually in trouble, which unfortunately is almost impossible not to do. Also, I’m sorry; I don’t want to play GTA from the early 2000s. Thanks to Xbox’s backwards compatibility, I can. But I don’t. (Does anybody?)
I regularly went around the map looking to save specific NPCs from hold-ups with hyper racialized gang stereotypes just so I could steal those gang members’ mopeds which were less stressful than driving around in my crappy car. But god forbid V wants a key copy for the moped. For some reason I’m going to have to wait for some random quest before I can get my own moped. Why? This is like when Destiny 2 wouldn’t let players use their speeder on the first playthrough. What is the point? Why should that be a “fun challenge”?
The Loading Screens
Because I kept getting bored of this game and turning it off, I would have to listen to the same vitriolic over-the-top “OH MAN, IT’S POST-APOCALYPSE! LOL!!!” radio show every time the game loaded. There’s clearly hours of individually recorded content throughout the game—but the lack of variability in the inevitable loading screens seems a wasted opportunity.
Insomniac’s Spider-Man showed us the joy of varied loading screens as Peter Parker takes the subway. In a game that has so much it clearly wants to show off, why not include it in the spaces where I’m already trapped?
The Quest Structure
Yes, at some point early on in the main plotline, you meet the famous Keanu Reeves character, named Johnny Silverhand (lol, OK). Skip this section if you don’t want my mini spoiler salt on him.
He essentially appears as a ghost. In his first true interaction with your character, he tries to kill V. Don’t worry, crisis averted. Following that cutscene, I did one of the aforementioned dozens of quests that popped up in my log because it was right next to V’s apartment and like I said, I hate driving around this map. In that quest, V gets in a car accident and goes, “Wow, Johnny, that shit was crazy!” and Johnny appears in the passenger seat like “Yeah, fam, that’s nuts.”
WHAT? Clearly this is supposed to arrive plot-wise later on when Johnny and V are homies (I guess?) but because the quests just rain down on V, it creates a nonsensical plot jump in an open world map. This quest could have been doled out later, but because of the game’s eagerness to spew free flowing vibes, it has created a major disconnect in a primary storyline.
This is not the only plot jump that occurs with no context. Another character goes from thinking V is a murderer of his best friend to being his new confidante with no explanation.
The Bottom Line on Cyberpunk 2077
Hater vibes aside, I don’t think Cyberpunk is a complete garbage game. There are some elements that seem like they’ll be really fun and unique but I have no idea how long it’ll take me to get to a point where I can actually play them. (One example would be “braindances,” which are like sexy detective evidence review minigames. Another, leveling up to a point where you can use Watch Dogs-like hacking skills to go through combat rather than assault rifles.)
But Cyberpunk certainly isn’t the game of the future. To be honest, it may not even be the game of the present? There are so many other games I’d rather play than this. Hell, there are just so many other regular things I’d rather do than play this game. And so I will. I’ll go download Good Pizza, Great Pizza at the rec of a friend or tackle my backlog with another playthrough of Fire Emblem: Three Houses or bash my brain in over Hades and I’ll just put my Cyberpunk playthrough on hold. I’ll do all my dishes. I’ll wait until this magical February patch comes through, but even then, it might not be enough.
Let me end my comments with the most painful refrain I heard growing up:
I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.