Gameplay Breakdown, Bugs and More About CD Projekt Red’s Highly Anticipated Cyberpunk 2077
No matter how you put it, 2020 was the year of capital Cs. Rewind just a bit, and everyone in the video game community was looking forward to the long-overdue release of Cyberpunk 2077. Hell, “looking forward” is an understatement.
The game received countless awards years before going on sale. The hype was relatively substantiated as developer CD Projekt Red earned positive recognition for The Witcher 3 and its pro-consumer reputation.
In retrospect, Cyberpunk 2077 became an unfortunate example for the proverb “don’t say hop before you jump”. Alas, that’s exactly what CD Projekt Red did. If we were to compare them to an Olympic jumper, they were too brash on the run-up, stepped over the foul line and somehow got sand all over the judges. Cyberpunk 2077’s initial release was riddled with bugs, broken promises, refunds, unprecedented storefront removals and even pending lawsuits.
Disappointment is one word to sum it up, as the developer clearly misled on the game’s readiness for prime-time. Once you rub some of the proverbial sand out of your eyes though, Cyberpunk 2077 does reveal certain strengths. For one, it encapsulates every integral aspect of the dystopian genre: economic downfall, corporate domination, government surveillance, societal disparity, reliance on body augmentations and the health concerns that come with them.
Body Enhancements in Cyberpunk 2077
As expected, body enhancements have solved disability concerns and improved the quality of life for many. For those with enough monetary resources, they have prolonged human life well into 150+ years. On the flip side, if you think healthcare is expensive now, wait till 2077.
Citizens must subscribe for an expensive Trauma Team plan to receive medical attention. And even owners of the platinum tier, the highest one, don’t always get full coverage of their treatment.
People with cybernetic implants risk developing a condition known as cyberpsychosis which, if left untreated, poses a threat to their mental well-being. They don’t merely exist in one of the data shards you’ll find. If you heard or read about someone with such a condition, you’ll likely encounter them in person. Likewise, if you see an ad for Real Water, you’ll find it in one of the numerous vending machines across the city. And if there’s an ad for a new submachine gun by Kang Tao, guess what? You’ll get to use it. Any information is often applied in practical ways.
Cyberpunk 2077 conveys its core themes in multiple ways, whether through the surrounding architecture, power-hungry corporations (such as the Japanese conglomerate Arasaka or the arms manufacturer Militech) and the prominent gangs of Night City. Even a leisurely stroll through the streets reveals current events through one of the installed news monitors, leaving you with very little downtime from listening to recent news and political propaganda.
These easter eggs reveal historical events, such as the wars fought across many decades, the foundation of Night City, distribution of political power, corruption and much more. Everything serves a purpose in establishing Night City as an authentic vision of the future of human society. Cyberpunk 2077 makes the potential existence of such a world in five decades entirely plausible.
Night City is its own Character in Cyberpunk 2077
Night City further contributes to this dystopian future in Cyberpunk 2077. No matter where you go, whether during a sunny day or the darkest of nights, lifeless highrise buildings stretch far above making you feel small and insignificant. Night City divides into six distinct boroughs, each with its own unique flair, fixers and warring gangs running the show.
Occupying a large portion of Westbrook, Japantown will greet you with bright neon billboards and remnants of traditional oriental architecture, such as pagodas and torii gates. Vibrant sakura trees sparsely decorate street corners where actual flora is seldom found. An exciting nightlife scene reels you further in with pleasures of the flesh, strip clubs and sex shops. If you hear a Japanese announcer talking over the loudspeaker, rest assured, you’re in Japantown.
There’s a stark contrast between each district. Deserted scenery, heaps of scrap, trailer parks and the view of the dam in the distance — you’ve wandered into Santo Domingo. Kipple, burning car wrecks, shabby tents scattered along the side of the road and unregulated anarchy; abandoned entertainment parks and hotels — that’s Pacifica.
These environments change and evolve based on various circumstances. Gang shootouts happen seemingly at random. If a murder occurs, law enforcement will cordon off the area. It might take a while to familiarize yourself with the distinguishing features of each borough. At first, imposing Megabuildings and corporate headquarters take your attention away from anything else. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll know where you are just by looking around.
Looking? I meant scanning. Scans reveal interactive objects and items in your vicinity. It works on human targets as well including enemies, revealing their name, weaknesses, gang affiliation and whether there’s a bounty on their head. Scanning an enemy grants you access to hacks which allow you to jam the target’s weapon or temporarily disable their optical implants.
Most electronic devices act as part of a wider network, so breaching the protocol of one device will often reveal the rest. A quick hack might reveal a nearby access point which often contains crafting components and currency. Hacking a floodlight could distract nearby enemies and deactivating security cameras from a distance will help you remain hidden.
Cyberpunk 2077 Gameplay
There’s an array of options when it comes to approaching conflict in Cyberpunk 2077. Like in Deus Ex, for example, it’s possible to complete most, if not all combat instances without killing anyone. Just stick to the shadows, sneak around your targets and wait for an opportune time to strike. Taking a non-lethal approach and hiding enemies in dumpsters and freezers grants more experience points for developing your character. Unfortunately, several nuances play in favour of a guns-blazing approach, one of them being the excellent shooting mechanics.
Each weapon type handles differently, making the search for your favourite an experience in and of itself. A lighter round could blow off a piece of skin on your target, exposing the cybernetic implants underneath. Whereas a shotgun shell could blow off a limb entirely. Moving parts add a dynamic to their aesthetic and no firearm ever feels the same. Even weapons of the same type differ in terms of fire rate, recoil and attachment slots.
Attachments like scopes, silencers and additional modifications adapt the firearm for specific encounters. A silencer will significantly reduce the damage of the weapon but make it virtually inaudible, perfect for sniping from the shadows. Each successfully landed shot brings with it a guilty sense of satisfaction by depleting a health bar above a target’s head, kind of like in Borderlands. It’s clear that collaborating with professional Counter-Strike players paid off.
Regardless of your approach, Cyberpunk 2077 combat instances often suffer from inconsistent AI which, in particular, detrimentally affects stealthy players. Sometimes, enemies move from cover to cover and attempt to flank you. They spread out and look for you. Dealing with higher-level enemies becomes especially difficult. In other instances, they will pay you no mind when you’re right next to them or make a sudden 180-turn for no predictable reason.
Cyberpunk 2077 Handling, Physics and Perspective
But if shooting feels nearly impeccable, then driving is the complete opposite. Cyberpunk 2077 offers a selection of vehicles: extravagant six-wheeled sedans, flashy sports cars and futuristic motorcycles. You won’t hurt for choice when it comes to wheels, but many of them hardly differ in terms of feel and practical performance. Long, hefty cars handle like trucks, but so do some of the nimble sports vehicles. And most of them suffer from either understeer or oversteer.
Camera perspectives further diminish the driving experience. Salon perspective feels limited and often obstructs your view of surroundings. Driving a police enforcer with a protective steel mesh on the windshield will prevent you from seeing anything at all. Switching to one of the third-person camera perspectives not only breaks the immersion when entering or exiting, but forces you to witness the poor physics, handling and weight distribution of each vehicle. And because of all this, you will often bump into other vehicles and objects on the side of the road.
It gets worse as crashing into anything lacks a sensation of impact and will barely leave a dent on your vehicle. Jumping out of a speeding car will make the vehicle stop almost instantly, without proceeding with movement based on inertia. Or maybe those are some futuristic Tesla brakes? Given the treatment of other physics, probably not. Struggling with poor handling and physics takes away from the joy of exploring an otherwise well-realized city environment.
Bikes handle better at first glance. They’re much faster and easier to navigate tight corners. Thanks to the more open view, you can take in all the sights of the city. But they suffer from oversteer as well. And once again, slamming into anything even at full velocity, won’t make you fall off most of the time. It often feels like playing a racing game from the late 90s.
Exploring the World of Cyberpunk 2077
While it’s not practical to move from one quest mark to another on foot, walking is far more enjoyable. Walking could lead you into a dark alleyway, a gang hideout, an abandoned building or a hidden stash. It allows you to experience the often raw and poverty-stricken environments of Night City: illicit deals, gunshots and fervent sounds emanating from a nearby motel.
Cyberpunk 2077 encourages exploration and feels much more rewarding this way. Simple curiosity led me into a Scavenger hideout and a spectacular showdown against their leader, Yelena Sidorova. After dealing with a dozen or so men and a Terminator-like robot, I went mano-a-mano against a lightning-quick cybernetically-enhanced Russian gangoon. Her implants allowed her to run from cover to cover in a flash, successfully dodging most of my bullets.
Choose Your Own Cyberpunk 2077 Adventure
If you want badass augmentations like that, one of the ripperdocs found throughout the city will fix you up. Implants like synthetic lungs will increase your stamina regeneration, useful for getting the upper hand during fistfights. Or maybe you want to cosplay as a human tank? No problem, subdermal armor does exactly what you think.
Some will come naturally as quest rewards, but others will cost you a premium at one of the clinics. And similarly to clothing, some of them will change your appearance in addition to improving abilities.
Ironically, fancy implants didn’t help Yelena for long. Not all journeys lead into a heated firefight, but even taking an elevator to a seemingly insignificant rooftop may yield a powerful sniper rifle. This may prove useful against someone like Yelena, assuming you can equip it.
Most weapons have criteria for use, such as your level and street cred. Completing missions and performing actions accumulates experience points which raise your character’s level. Each level rewards you with attribute and perk points to spend on developing stats and abilities.
Stats affect nearly everything, from perks available to you, to interactions with different objects and even people. Body determines your overall strength and resilience. It allows you to wield heavier weapons or pry open doors with your bare hands. Higher body makes it harder for an enemy to break out of your chokehold. It also determines your ability to hijack a car.
Furthermore, each attribute governs several sets of unique perks which compliment your chosen play-style. Those who prefer to Rambo through each scenario will benefit from developing body and its underlying perks. Body perks improve everything that does with raw physical strength and weapon mastery. They range from increasing your health and stamina regeneration to decreasing the damage your character takes and increasing damage output.
Cyberpunk 2077 Side Characters
In Cyberpunk 2077, you need more than equipment to succeed. You need friends. Jackie and V try to make it to the major league. Following a lead from Dexter DeShawn, an influential fixer within Night City, they must pull off the impossible. Dexter wants them to steal The Relic, a rumoured immortality-granting chip from the heir of the Araska corporation, Yorinobu Arasaka.
Initially, it sends you into Maelstrom turf, a gang so deeply rooted in cybernetic customization that you’d be excused for mistaking them as cyborgs. Remember Royce, the leader of Maelstrom from the 2018 gameplay demo? During the demo, V gave Royce an infected credchip from Militech which, consequently, compromised their systems. This path results in a shootout with the Maelstrom and a conclusive showdown against Royce. The latter dies.
But what if you neutralize the virus beforehand and warn Royce of the looming danger? It will anger Militech, but might gain you Royce’s trust. As another resort, what if you shoot him and his men right then and there? Well then, congratulations, boss battle successfully avoided.
Open Gameplay and Multiple Storylines
Choices you make determine who you befriend, who lives and who dies. Some will remain your enemies forever. On the lesser side, your origins determine the prologue of the game. More importantly though, they impact how other characters perceive you, as well as the dialogue options available to you during any interaction. Dealing with someone who shares your past, your connections (your doctrine, in essence) is often easier and more lucrative. Hence, I had an easier time negotiating with Militech’s Meredith Stout thanks to my Corpo background.
Of course, Cyberpunk 2077 scripts many events and certain outcomes are unavoidable. To get the Relic, Jackie and V must pose as influential arms dealers and infiltrate the exquisite Konpeki Plaza hotel where Arasaka resides. The heist quickly goes awry and the pair finds themselves on the Arasaka blacklist, barely making it out of the gargantuan complex.
Granted, they got what they came for, albeit at a high price. V ends up with the Relic, the prototype chip containing Johnny Silverhand (Keanu Reeves). A free-spirited rocker boy and a reckless terrorist, decades ago Johnny fought against the oppression of Arasaka and lost. As punishment, Arasaka took his life and turned him into a virtual construct confined into the chip.
Each Character has a Deep Background and History
This heist and its associated missions serve as an introduction, both into Cyberpunk 2077 and the deep relationship between Jackie and V. From the very first interaction, it becomes clear that both share a long and eventful past, one based on trust and camaraderie. They frequently jest, reminisce on past events and liven up an otherwise fairly bleak story.
Each character in the main cast brings a unique vibe to the plot. Being a member of the Valentinos (a gang controlling Latino neighbourhoods) Jackie constantly rambles in Spanish, prompting V’s translation implants to activate. Johnny appears at random times to comment on a particular occurrence or character. He adds cynical remarks to quest descriptions. Johnny’s arch-nemesis Adam Smasher has all but given up the remaining remnants of humanity acting as a persistent threat throughout the game, almost like a beefed-up T-1000.
Certain side quests go into details of their past, their relationships and struggles. Some of them may lead to unexpected rewards, like a brand new bike. One moment, you’re participating in an action-packed shootout on the highway. Moments later, you’re saying farewell to a dear friend, sharing the grief of his closest allies and family. Sadly, not all missions feel this enthralling and emotionally impactful moments are almost always followed by an uneventful fetch-quest.
Was Cyberpunk 2077 Worth the Hype?
It comes as no revelation that Cyberpunk 2077 launched in a rough shape. It hard-crashed on me twice during the first few hours. NPCs often assumed weird positions, clipped into objects and skipped lines of dialogue. It got even worse whenever I loaded up a quicksave. Assets often took a while to load and sometimes rendered incorrectly. Scripted events and conversations didn’t play out as planned. During the Relic heist, one of the security guards wouldn’t turn away according to the script, pretty much locking me out of a stealthy resolution.
Admittedly, Cyberpunk 2077 plays noticeably better after several hotfixes. But even bugs and other mishaps aside, it feels like an above-average experience kept from being potentially great by several underdeveloped features and ideas. It excels at world-building, crafting a compelling narrative and establishing an authentic rapport between characters.
When it comes to finer details, Cyberpunk 2077 feels immensely inferior. It lacks the pleasurable driving experience of its contemporaries, like Grand Theft Auto. Vehicles don’t behave as you expect them to and the camera perspectives feel needlessly limited. V doesn’t fly out through the windshield during a crash and traffic accidents lack any notion of impact.
Poorly programmed AI takes away from an otherwise well-developed combat system. If you break the law, cops and security drones appear out of nowhere. No patrol cars or special forces arriving at the scene, they just conveniently teleport to your location. Many activities that don’t take centre stage feel entirely uninspiring. Hand-to-hand combat feels cumbersome and unfulfilling in comparison to firefights as if it was included for the sake of being included.
As it stands, Cyberpunk 2077 would have benefitted from a few more months of development. It falls significantly short even of the developer’s previous big project: The Witcher 3. Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t fail per se, but it jumps between “wow” and “meh” way too frequently. If you overlook some of its shortcomings, you’ll find an enthralling cyberpunk universe that will astound you with the amount of content. But it won’t go down in history as one of the genre’s best.