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Video game firms’ obsession with building ever more expansive, content-rich worlds has led to many recent blockbusters feeling like they were rolled off a factory production line.
The pressure to deliver 50+ hour games, while keeping production costs under control, has increasingly seen open-world titles, in particular, dilute their best content with hours of filler, with systems designed specifically to maximise time played, rather than deliver the most unique experience.
As a narrative experience, 2077 is undoubtedly one of the most immersive and engrossing video games to date, besting titles with far less complexity and certainly fewer script pages.
Throughout Cyberpunk’s 50+ hour package, it’s impressive how little filler there is. Even 2077’s “side” content is arguably as strong as its main story, with each mission offering a memorable detour through the futuristic cityscape.
The game’s spectacular campaign missions – played entirely in first-person view – offer an engrossing thrill ride through a sci-fi story with compelling themes and likeable characters, which even by themselves could contend for game of the year.
But on the backdrop of Night City’s stylish and captivating sandbox, they make up a hugely impressive package that feels like a genuine achievement for the open-world RPG genre and new bar for cinematic blockbusters.
However, this level of complexity naturally comes at a cost – especially at a time when the game has had to be shipped via remote working.
At release, Cyberpunk 2077 has a significant number of bugs and you will almost certainly encounter several if you choose to play it this side of 2021. During our playthrough we regularly encountered floating scenery, stuck UI elements, teleporting characters and audio glitches – and it was even worse before the day one patch arrived.
[Clarification: VGC was sent a pre-release version of the “Day 0” patch for our review. There are additional fixes in the final retail version of this update, which we’ve seen a list of, but they don’t cover any of the bugs we encountered in our playthrough.]
Whether this is enough to spoil the release experience will likely differ for each player. The issues aren’t game-breaking and certainly didn’t spoil our overall experience, but there’s little doubt that Cyberpunk would’ve been a more polished game if CD Projekt had delayed it yet again for further testing. If you’ve already amassed a pile of games to play over Christmas, it might be worth considering saving your trip to Night City until further patches arrive.
That said, if you can ignore the numerous graphical glitches, 2077 is still a tremendous experience at its core. And with further patches, it will be unmissable.
When players first start the game, they’re tasked with creating a character – always named ‘V’ – and then setting initial character stats, before choosing between one of three life paths; Nomad, Street Kid or Corporate.
The backstory you chose will determine your prologue mission and the dialogue options you’ll have thereafter. But whether you decide to start in the city centre or the desert Badlands, your journey will eventually lead you to fellow merc-for-hire Jackie, who becomes a key ally and introduces the player to the criminal underworld of Night City and its many fixers.
“At release, Cyberpunk 2077 has a significant number of bugs… The issues didn’t spoil our experience, but it’s worth considering that 2077 will almost certainly become a more polished game as future updates are deployed.”
From here a deeper narrative unravels, involving corporate conspiracies and moral turmoil, delivered across spectacular set-pieces, stunning environments and some genuinely impressive performances from 2077’s cast of augmented characters.
From the very start of the game, players are free to explore Night City, the futuristic megalopolis obsessed with body modification and dominated by mega-corporations, with frequent phone calls and text messages – sometimes too many – providing the player with a constant supply of missions to embark on.
The city is totally convincing as a futuristic metropolis, with bustling streets (on PC at least – we’ve not yet tested consoles), television broadcasts and disparate districts creating the illusion of a real, functioning place.
While not quite as humongous as other open-world games, 2077’s map is still significant in size. But it’s the density of Night City’s buildings and alleyways that’s most impressive, with apartment blocks, marketplaces and corporate offices sprawling on top of each other. You can’t quite open every door, but at times you’ll be convinced you could.
The game’s prologue lasts several hours before the world properly opens up, and the digital ghost of Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Silverhand firmly plants itself inside the player’s head. Before and after, 2077’s quests feel surprisingly warm hearted – almost like an interactive buddy film – with the performances of its characters genuinely elevating the enjoyment of each mission.
Usually, RPGs of this complexity are forgiven for their flat character performances and lacklustre animation, but Cyberpunk’s cast are as convincing as we’ve seen – when release day bugs aren’t making their cigarettes float through the air, at least.
“Players can go hours without lifting a weapon and its best sequences don’t involve them. Sneaking into corporate HQs using nothing but your wit, or taking one of Silverhand’s ex-girlfriends on a date are real highlights.”
Compared to Fallout or Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Cyberpunk’s conversations feel far more engrossing and alive, with characters navigating and interacting with the scenery as if the player had walked straight into a movie set. There’s genuine tension, emotion and well… life in 2077’s dialogue scenes, which makes interacting with NPCs genuinely enjoyable and rarely a chore.
There’s little doubt that 2077 is a better story-driven RPG than it is an action game. In fact, it may be the first triple-A blockbuster that genuinely doesn’t need gunfights to pad out its story sequences.
Players can go hours without lifting a weapon and its best sequences don’t involve them at all. Sneaking into corporate HQs using nothing but your wit, or taking one of Silverhand’s ex-girlfriends on a date to Night City’s derelict drive-through cinema are real highlights and thankfully, the game is full of these sorts of sequences.
The story even eventually introduces its own detective feature, called the Braindance editing suite, which has players reviewing key events captured by the implants of those present, pausing, rewinding and switching visual modes to uncover clues which can help advance your progress.
And when the guns and katanas do come out, combat encounters are slow and methodical, often requiring stealth and computer hacking to progress successfully. Here combat falls squarely in ‘shoot numbers out of a man until he drops a loot box’ territory and while enjoyable, doesn’t feel quite as integral to the experience as in games like Deus Ex or Fallout.
CD Projekt has implemented a fluid class system, which essentially lets players assign class points to any of the five core stats (Body, Reflexes, Intelligence, Technical Ability and Cool) as they progress. This results in totally custom builds tailored to your play style, which don’t necessarily cling rigidly to one archetype, such as a stealthy melee character, or a bruiser with hacking skills.
Layered on top of this are a myriad of crafting and upgrade systems with enough depth to please those keen enough to dig into their armour stats, as well as a roster of body augmentations players can purchase and have surgically attached to their limbs, such as a double jump or arm blades.
“2077 goes out of its way to cater to players with little time… The main campaign itself is also shorter than its peers, at less than 20 hours, but there’s at least the same amount of content available via optional side quests.”
However, these elements can ultimately be ignored by those who wish to focus on progressing the story, and combat scenarios shouldn’t provide too much of a blocker outside of a handful of tricky boss encounters.
The narrative experience is very much the star of 2077 and it’s pleasing how it can be digested even by players who might not typically have had the time or patience for huge open-world games in the past.
2077 goes out of its way to cater to those with little time, most prominently with the introduction of a skip button, which allows players to fast-forward through dialogue or passenger journeys, if they want to get straight to the meat. The main campaign itself is also shorter than its peers, at less than 20 hours, but that’s because at least the same amount of rich story content has been rationed through optional and easy-to-digest side quests.
As was the case with The Witcher 3, Cyberpunk’s optional missions are a real highlight, offering a pleasing amount of variety and some standout narrative experiences that could easily have slotted into the main story. Players can choose to explore Johnny Silverhand’s past, continue the stories laid out by other supporting characters, or dig deeper into brain dancing and other lore from the original table top game.
It’s here where Cyberpunk 2077 again feels like a genuine class above its genre rivals, with some of most memorable and unique stories we’ve seen in this type of game.
One mission has V employed by a widower who wants his wife’s murderer killed. However, should you take the time to converse with your target before pulling the trigger, you’ll discover he’s since discovered god and spends his time serving the families of his victims. You can even choose to join him on his house visits and some scenes, when faced with a grieving mother, can be genuinely uncomfortable.
You get a sense that CD Projekt Red’s writing and design team were given real autonomy to create this content, and it shows in the quality of the final product.
Buy Cyberpunk 2077
When it works properly, Cyberpunk 2077 is an unmissable experience for fans of story-focused games both big and small. But again, it’s tough for us to urge you to jump in at launch without that big caveat of its numerous release bugs.
It’s also worth noting that we reviewed the game on a high-end PC. Console code was not available to us to compare, and owners of older Xbox One and PS4 models might want to wait for player footage to be published before purchasing. [Update: Some users have criticised Cyberpunk 2077’s performance on base PS4 and Xbox One consoles]
However, if you can swallow a few glitches in the system, Cyberpunk 2077 is undoubtedly one of the most memorable games you’ll play this year. We can’t wait to reroll our character and play through it all over again.
- Game director
- Adam Badowski
An immersive and stunningly crafted RPG, which has raised the bar for cinematic quality in open-world games. Just be aware of the bug issues at release.
- A captivating sci-fi campaign with strong characters and a compelling narrative
- Side quests are just as good as the main story
- Night City is stylish and convincing as a futuristic city
- Easy to digest for players with little time
- A significant amount of bugs at launch