Cyberpunk 2077 (2020)

The first real time I paid attention to CD Projekt Red was back in 2014 at E3, with a behind closed doors demo of The Witcher 3. I tried getting into it a year earlier, but all the appointments were booked, but luckily I was able to still get in and I was blown away with what this smaller studio was able to deliver. Once The Witcher 3 did release, I was sold on them as being the next big developer, even if some people had a bone to pick with them about the state of the release of the game. From what I remember, back in 2015 at the launch of it, The Witcher 3 was noted as a “bad” release. Issues with the game running correctly, or lots of random bugs (None of any that I actually ran into). And when Cyberpunk 2077 was released in 2020, it seemed that CDPR was experiencing a lot of the same issues with their newest game release.

Cyberpunk 2077 was announced so long ago, I feel it was around the same time as The Witcher 3 was, which I thought was odd, as one would think you’d want to focus on the newly released game, not the next one that won’t be out for years. A couple years later, at E3 it was revealed that Keanu Reeves was going to be in the game as a character named Johnny Silverhand, and it was world wide news. Everything seemed to be on track that Cyberpunk would be out soon… and that didn’t happen. So after many delays and a worldwide pandemic, the game finally saw release on December 10th 2020, and the general consensus was that the game was in really really rough shape.

I’m not a cyberpunk guy, even though I love computers, hacking, having a career in IT and all that jazz, I was never into the idea and aethstetic of future Sci-Fi computers and technology. So when the game was originally announced, I really didn’t care about it at all. The only real interested I had in it at all was only for the sole fact that it was the developers behind The Witcher games. When they started showing off the game with trailers, and development blogs, I was intrigued a bit more, but only slightly. Even Keanu Reeves showing up at E3, it felt like a marketing ploy than anything else to me. I didn’t have much faith in the game besides that CDPR notoriety and fame going for it.

When the game came out, I bought it because of a couple factors, one, it was a new game in 2020, a infamous year for several massive factors, but for gaming it really kicked off a several year long drought of big AAA games, and I wanted to play something, anything really. And also because I was in the middle of moving across the country and only was able to play several games and when I did play games in that time, it wasn’t a comfortable or enjoyable time. I loaded up the game on release date without much care, after hearing a lot of pretty rotten things about it from all the gaming websites and podcasts but I decided to give it a shot anyways. Loading it up and playing for a solid 6 hours on launch day, I had a decently fun time with the game while not being sure what to make of it.

I didn’t pay attention to any of the pre-release marketing material or development videos, so I didn’t know how the game was played, and I was kinda blindsided by the introduction and tutorial sections of the game, along with the first few hours. The inventory system alone gave me a headache, and while I didn’t come across a ton of game breaking bugs like what were popping up online, I did have a couple T-posing character animations show up and a crash to desktop experience on my still more than capable gaming PC. It wasn’t a great showing for the game, but not the end all be all of bad ports like people would have led you to believe at the time. That night, after finishing the main first real big storyline beat, I closed the game down and prepared to travel across the country the next morning thinking I’d get to the game around a week later once I got back. But that didn’t happen, I ended up taking a few weeks to get back, and when I did, it was time to actually pack things up from our few months of living at someone else’s house and toss everything we owned in a uhaul and move 2,000 miles away.

On the year anniversary of the game’s release, it got a massive game update, showcasing that the game was in a much better state than it was released in, and closer to a version that everyone was led to believe the game was supposed to be in when it launched. I then started thinking about playing it and picking it up where I left off, but other things got in the way and I quickly forgot about Cyberpunk for another couple months. It wasn’t until it was chosen as Couch Money’s Game Of The Month for April that I ended up finally getting into it again. I went back and forth between pickup up where I left off with my game save all those 16 months ago, or just start a new game since I didn’t remember pretty much anything about the game other than a quest where a deal goes bad between you and a guy whose face is missing and replaced with cybernetic implants.

I decided to at least pick up the game save and get reacquainted with the game and how it feels, and if I wanted to, after an hour or so, restart it. I ended up playing a couple hours and kicking off the main storyline of stealing a chip for a client, and witnessing a murder and along the way having to insert the stolen chip in my head to keep it safe and have a famous rockstar be inside my head at the same time while witnessing my best friends death. It was a doozy of a re-introduction to the game to say the least. It kept me so gripped with the interactions of the characters, that restarting the game seemed like a waste of time, and would lessen the impact of those couple of hours. So I decided to keep going with my original and only game save.

Cyberpunk follows the story of my character V, a dude who has white hair and dresses like a character from Back To The Future Part II, with a puffy glittery jacket and puffy Nike looking shoes and some cool retro 80’s style venetian blind looking sunglasses. V had a best friend named Jackie Wells, who was killed in a smash and grab robbery gone wrong and now lives with a construct AI of a 50+ year old dead Rockstar/Activist named Johnny Silverhand, whose full arm is chrome and mechanics, not just his hand. Johnny is only able to be seen and heard by V and is all in his head. At first Johnny seems like a complete jerk and I was ready to just disregard everything he said, but as I got deeper into the story of how and why Johnny is who he is, and why he ended up as an AI, I got more invested into his story and caring about him as a equal and other part of V’s personality.

The main motivation to continue on was both the main story, as learning keeping Johnny around was going to kill V in the process, but also because of the amazing side quests that were placed all around Night City, Cyberpunk’s main location. Just as in The Witcher 3, I became enraptured by the storytelling this development studio puts into these side quests that can be completely ignored. Coming across a politician who finds out he’s being spied upon in his own home and slowly being brainwashed by a mysterious corporation. Or a detective who you originally help out with and uncover a plot that his partner is on the take and has become dirty, and then enlists you to help on a personal matter as his nephew has gone missing. Doing some searching around and real Batman detective work uncovers a kidnapper and serial killer who drugs his victims at a small farm outside of the city limits. Using some of the game’s “Braindance” sequences, you are able to go inside memories and go through multiple layers of video, audio and thermal feeds. It’s a really interesting concept that gives much more immersion and brings the whole “Cyberpunk” lifestyle and hacking to life. It’s really interesting and I only wish it was a larger part of the game itself.

Another few memorable side stories were a job where V is hired by a widower. A convicted killer, who happened to kill the widower's wife is set free on a technicality and the widower wants justice, so he hires V to kill the convict. The job itself goes sideways almost immediately and V is left to make a choice to hear out the convict. I chose to hear the convict’s story, and it turns out he knows what he did is wrong, and has converted in prison. He wants to make atonement for his crimes and to do that, he is going to record a braindance of his death, reenacting the crucifixion with the help of a media company. While I am not down with the blasphemous depiction of a character reenacting a crucifixion, I did find the whole story interesting enough to see it through to the end, and found it much more deep and heart wrenching than the simple original setup to the side quest.

One last side quest I’d like to talk about is dealing with the city's taxi service called Delamine. Del, for short, is an AI. And he loses track of a few taxis in the city. V already has a rapport with the AI, since he is the one that walks V through the start of the Johnny Silverhand mission near the beginning of the game, and helps him escape and take care of V’s best friend, Jackie’s body after he dies. V tracks down each missing taxi which is suffering from a split personality; each personality has a distinct quirk. Like being too afraid to leave a roundabout, or one is basically Glados from Portal (even the voice actress, Ellen McLain voices the AI). It’s an incredibly deeper storyline than I thought it was going to be, and it all culminates at the Taxi Headquarters and sees V having to make a decision to leave it be or purge the system and reboot it and have Del lose his memory. I decided to purge the system which immediately saw Del not remember who I was, and that felt like a big bummer, but the better overall call as the rogue AIs still were able to keep their personality and weren’t just deleted. But with that decision, came a really interesting continuing conversation every time I called my own personal taxi, gifted to me by Del, who had a backup of our relationship. Every time I got into my own taxi Del gave me, I would have a conversation with Del about humans and AI, that grew and was expanded upon. I ended up calling up my taxi anytime I needed a car, so I could hear Del’s voice and couldn't wait to see what new insight into humans he had learned and would ask me about.

It’s these types of stories that are told in the game, off the beaten path and showcases CD Projekt Red’s attention to storytelling and emotional ties that make these games worth it. Yes, Cyberpunk 2077 was released in a really bad state, so bad it had to be taken off digital sale for the “previous gen” consoles. Which I honestly don’t think it should have been released on to begin with. When you are dealing with a very big AAA game that is straddling the current/new generation of consoles, the only thing the “older generation” does is hold back the game from being the best that it can be. And it was especially the case with Cyberpunk, as it kept the game from the quality that the game was promising. If it was only released on PC and the Xbox Series and Playstation 5, it probably wouldn’t have had the dismal launch that it did, and wouldn’t have been the laughing stock nor bad publicity it had either. While that’s all history that can’t be changed at this point, and the game has been worked on for the better part of over a year. It’s in decent shape, at least on PC. It also has a really interesting and cool VR mod for it, that really makes Cyberpunk come to life in a way that the flatscreen normal game could never have made possible. The game still runs pretty rough, even on a premium gaming PC build, but it’s good enough to get through the game. I ran into a few bugs, mostly weird graphical issues, or characters clipping through each other, and only two crashed to desktop instances across my 48 hours of playing, with and without VR.

Even though I was not initially interested in the game, one thing continually impressed me right from the start. The design of the cars. As I drove around I was really digging the entire aesthetic of each and every vehicle. Once I was leveled up enough to start jacking the game’s equivalent of a lamborghini, I couldn’t get enough of how cool each vehicle looked, and how each one drove differently. Sometimes I just wanted to hop in a big truck and go off roading in the desert, and others I wanted to fly down the highway at top speeds on a bike, and getting into a electric sports car with a screen for a windshield in VR made me feel like I was in a Titanfall mech. If I could actually own any of the cars in real life, I would have an absolute blast, and it’s one of the biggest lasting impressions on me throughout my entire playthrough.

Cyberpunk 2077 is an incredible game, beaten up by a really bad launch and a baffling decision to release on old and new hardware generations. I thoroughly enjoyed the game's main story of being infected with an AI of a person long dead, and having to deal with them before the person takes over and kills the host. Along with all the other side quests and exploring a dystopian near future city where the internet is more complex than anything we see in real life. Nothing could have prepared me for what the game eventually released as, and I can’t wait to see what CDPR cooks up next for the new Witcher game as their follow up.