|Developer||CD Projekt Red|
|Publisher||CD Projekt Red|
|Platforms||Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC|
|Release Date||December 10th, 2020|
Cyberpunk 2077 sure has gotten a lot of attention over the years, hasn’t it? That should come as no surprise, of course, seeing as how developer CD Projekt Red’s previous game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, became one of the most lauded titles of the generation. Since Cyberpunk’s release in December 2020, though, most of the attention it has received has been negative, as the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game look and run quite poorly, and many people have reported bugs of various types, including one on PC that would corrupt your save file if it file got too big because of item crafting (that bug has since been squashed).
With that in mind, I should mention from the outset of my Cyberpunk 2077 review that I played this game on Xbox Series X, which essentially runs the Xbox One X version of the game but with the option to target 60fps, which I took advantage of. So, while my version currently lacks some of the visual bells and whistles found on the PC version, I nonetheless enjoyed a relatively smooth framerate and experienced the game in the way that the developers intended.
Violence: Cyberpunk contains blood and gore aplenty, as you and your adversaries assault one another with guns, knives, swords, and subdermal Mantis Blades that spring from underneath your forearms. Heads can be removed from bodies by blades and bullets alike. The topic of suicide comes up several times in the game’s story. Early in the game, a man falls from a tall building and splats onto the pavement not far away from you. Perhaps more disturbing than the death itself is the fact that, despite many people walking around in the area, no one pays any mind to the horror that just unfolded before their eyes, which speaks to the ever-present reality of gruesome death and the callousness of the populace towards it.
Sexual Content: Night City practically drips with sexuality. Billboards advertise a variety of sex-related products, particularly male enhancement cybernetics and porn flicks, brazenly showcasing bare butts and topless women. Paintings depicting genitalia casually adorn the walls of hotel rooms. Brothels and sex shops dot the dystopian landscape, and prostitutes discuss the specifics of their trade. One significant side character is trans, and one of the common advertisements uses the transgenderism of a character it’s depicting as a way to sell product. LGBT romance options are available alongside straight ones, all of which culminate in sex scenes (a common occurrence among games of this genre). The character creator even allows you to customize V’s junk, if you want it to be visible.
The game does contain a nudity censor that can be toggled from the main menu, and if turned on, it will remove nudity from the game by swapping out some of the billboards and artwork, and by adding underwear or some other kind of covering to characters that otherwise would appear naked. This doesn’t remove other sexual references or content, however; characters still make sexually explicit comments, and sex scenes—while shorter in length and with slightly less exposed flesh—still occur, including one mandatory scene as part of the main story. And not every racy or suggestive advertisement gets cut. In other words, while the censor hides a fair bit of nudity, it cannot cover up Night City’s sex-addicted culture. Overall, the sexual content is so pervasive that I found it distracting at times, detracting from the experience as a whole.
Language: Expect to hear the full range of crude vulgarity that you might encounter in an R-rated movie, including f**k, s**t, d**n, b***h, and taking the Lord’s name in vain, along with some sexually explicit insults.
Drugs/Alcohol: Characters in the game smoke tobacco and drink alcohol on a regular basis, and your character can do so as well.
Spirituality: One of V’s closest friends, Misty, reads tarot cards to predict your future, and one side mission tasks you with finding tarot card artwork around the city. Several other side missions feature characters of various religious faiths, including a few Buddhist monks who contemplate on matters such as the worship of the elements and the spiritual implications of brain digitization.
Perhaps the most striking instance of spirituality and spiritual themes comes with one particular quest chain in which you interact with a man, on death row, who professes to have converted to Christianity. He now wants to be executed by crucifixion and have it filmed for the world to see. If you so choose, you can play a part in this crucifixion.
Other Negative Themes: Corruption runs rampant in Night City. Megacorporations bend the law at will and stab their own people in the back to cover up messes; most of the police act in much the same way. As a mercenary, many of your jobs require you to break the law, and while these jobs often wind up helping people in need, the primary motivation is profit, and the circumstances that brought the situation about only highlight the moral decay of the city’s leadership. Integrity and noble intentions can be found among Night City’s deeply flawed denizens, but these qualities are in short supply overall.
In Cyberpunk 2077, you play as V, a mercenary out to make a name for his/herself in the dystopian California metropolis Night City. Having worked your way up the ranks over time, you’ve finally landed a major gig: a heist stealing from Arasaka, one of the city’s most powerful megacorporations. Unfortunately, the op doesn’t go as planned, and you wind up with a biochip latched to your brain, a biochip containing the digital engram of the long-dead rockerboy/rebel Johnny Silverhand. The presence of your new brain buddy comes with some seriously deleterious effects to your health, forcing you to find a solution.
Just like The Witcher 3, Cyberpunk boasts some of the best writing in gaming, delivering engaging narratives in both the main quest and myriad side quests. From political intrigue to religious pontification to a few surprisingly comedic interludes, most of the quests add a little something to spice up your task. The only unfortunate exceptions to this are found among the Gig quests, which are the mercenary jobs that provide you with most of your income. While some of the Gigs contain interesting stories, plenty of them prove forgettable as far as narrative is concerned.
Cyberpunk’s cast of characters is also mostly well-written and performed. These characters are the glue that hold Cyberpunk together, as their flawed but earnest personalities stand as beacons of humanity amidst a sea of faceless corporatism. Standouts include some of V’s closest friends, such as the tarot-reading Misty, the spunky nomad Panam, the jovial partner-in-crime Jackie, and the amusingly straightforward AI cabbie Delamain. Even the minor characters you meet during side missions add flavor to the world.
But no character stands out more—for better or worse—than Johnny Silverhand, the legendary rockerboy of Night City who disappeared in 2020 after leading an attack on Arasaka, and who has been given a new lease on life as an unwitting digital parasite in your mind. Keanu Reeves gives a one-note performance as Johnny, and that one note is “cynical, charismatic rebel.” For most of the game, this approach works perfectly; Johnny’s quick wit and sharp tongue provide a dose of harsh yet entertaining realism that highlights the rot festering underneath the city’s shallow surface. But for the moments when the dialogue calls for a gentler or more introspective tone, Keanu’s voice acting rarely fits, leaving the performance in those segments feeling flat.
While the characters and story occasionally miss the mark, the gameplay almost always hits. Cyberpunk’s deep customization lets you tailor your playstyle to your preferences, as every weapon type proves viable when properly utilized, and the cybernetic hacking abilities allow you to control the battlefield in numerous ways. Weapon and clothing mods further enhance your stats; at first this improvement is subtle, but by the end of the game, the high-level mods you acquire significantly enhance your lethality and survivability. The same goes for the game’s cybernetic implants, which dramatically expand the ways you can attack enemies and even navigate terrain. Some of these implants can only be used by leveling up specific skills—labelled as Body, Intelligence, Reflexes, Technical Ability, and Cool—and you won’t get enough skill points to level everything up to the max, so you have to pick and choose the best implants and skill upgrades to match your playstyle. Your skill levels also determine whether or not you can interact with certain objects, such as doors that can only be breached with brute strength or terminals that can only be hacked with high Intelligence. But regardless of whether you spread your skill points evenly among the different categories—which is what I did—or specialize in one or two things, you’ll gain access to plenty of goodies.
The gunplay is slick and impactful, which is especially impressive considering that CD Projekt Red has never made a shooter before. The game contains an array of pistols, rifles, shotguns, and submachine guns, including tech weapons that let you fire charged shots, and smart guns that automatically target enemies, reminiscent of the Titanfall series. By about halfway through my playthrough, I had upgraded my pistol-related abilities and stealth bonuses to the point where sneaky headshots would instakill almost any enemy in the game. Seeing damage numbers in the tens or hundreds of thousands is remarkably satisfying.
My only gripe with the gameplay is that some of the vehicles act slippery on the roads, but with so much of the map quickly accessible via fast travel points, the game’s mediocre driving rarely becomes an issue. Cyberpunk offers a ton of vehicles for purchase, but I only bought a few. Your money is better used for cybernetics, which add way more to the gameplay than the cars do.
All of this gameplay depth and customization wouldn’t mean much without a suitable environment in which to unleash it, and Night City provides just that. It’s an incredibly well-realized world, chock-full of detail and bursting with activity. You are usually no more than a minute or so away from something to do, be it a side quest, gig, or a simple skirmish or gang hideout in which you can make your presence felt. Furthermore, the city itself contributes mightily to the storytelling. Everywhere you look—from the trash littering the streets, to the towering skyscrapers downtown, to the advertisements placed at seemingly every corner—the environment sells the feel of a city consumed by consumerism, offering incredible material goods and none of what would truly satisfy the soul. All this combines to create a sort of futuristic urban wild west, one whose rampant lawlessness makes your money-driven acts of justice look benevolent by comparison.
The game bears a few rough edges, however. For all the generally successful work put into making this world feel believable, I was always distracted whenever I saw children walking around the city. For one thing, they don’t look much like children, but like shrunken adults. For another, they always walk alone just like the actual adults; I never saw them playing in groups, attending school, or otherwise acting like kids. I also spotted a few bugs here and there, but they proved humorous rather than harmful. For example, while I was one the phone with the eyepatch-wearing Regina after completing one of her jobs, I suddenly saw an eyepatch show up in my field of view, and upon turning around, Regina was standing right behind me and talking as if nothing was out of the ordinary; once our conversation was over, she left just as quickly as she had arrived, evaporating into thin air.
Taken as a whole, then, Cyberpunk 2077 is another feather in CD Projekt Red’s cap—provided you have the right hardware on which to play it, and you can put up with the constant barrage of objectionable content. Between the deep customization, the well-realized dystopian city, and the grounded characters, the game provides dozens of hours open-world fun. It’s just a shame that so many players have been unable to appreciate the game like I have, due to rampant technical issues with other versions. CD Projekt Red had a great vision while designing this game, but they clearly bit off more than they could chew.
The Bottom Line
Cyberpunk 2077's compelling characters and well-realized dystopian world delivers dozens of hours of open-world fun—provided you have the right hardware on which to play it, and a high tolerance for objectionable content.