Cyberpunk 2077 PC Review

Now that three major patches have been released, Is Cyberpunk 2077 worth your time on PC?

By LG18, Posted 10 Jan 2021

The Cyberpunk genre has been a cultural mainstay ever since pieces like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, William Gibson's Neuromancer, and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Cyberpunk presented a bleak reality of what technologically advanced societies could be like - and it wasn't rosy. Corporate-controlled cities, government corruption, poverty, and dangerous artificial intelligence; cyberpunk embodied the idea of an authoritarian capitalist dystopia. Our world featured as one whereby exponentially bettering technology and all-encompassing corporate greed could spell a miserable human existence, all of which was set beneath a stunningly depicted, neon-drenched skyline.

From Ghost in the Shell to The Matrix, to the Netflix hit Altered Carbon and 2018’s Blade Runner 2049, now arrives Cyberpunk 2077 - possibly the most highly anticipated piece of cyberpunk fiction ever. There have been many cyberpunk inspired games before it, such as the highly acclaimed Deus Ex series, Mirror’s Edge, and Final Fantasy 7, but few projects have attempted such an ambitiously exemplar homage to the genre as this game. The question is, does it execute its goal?


Johnny in the shell

Cyberpunk 2077 follows the story of a 22-year-old mercenary named V, a character the player can choose to be male or female, with the ability to fully customize them from head to toe before the game sets out. There are a dizzying array of options enabling the player to choose from multiple hairstyles, facial features, tattoos, and physical build, allowing for a thoroughly diverse degree of individuality. Before designing V, the player is given the choice of three distinct ‘life paths’ existing as Nomad, Street Kid, or Corpro. These lifepaths dictate the narrative route of the 4-6 hour prologue, after which the main story kicks into gear and side jobs and gigs start pinging at V’s cybernetically enhanced brain left, right, and center.

The main story surrounds V’s struggle with the less than cooperative Johnny Siliverhand - a deceased rocker/freedom fighter/terrorist that’s trapped inside the protagonist's head as a personality construct following the events of the prologue. V is desperate for a way to safely remove the construct before Silverhand uncontrollably merges with her mind (I played as a woman), essentially overwriting her in the process. The journey takes many twists and turns and is genuinely engaging. It’s a novel idea for sure. Thanks to the performance of Keanu Reeves and the rest of the mostly excellent voice casting, along with a well thought out, complex narrative; Cyberpunk’s main story hooks the player from the start and builds steadily to the finale.

Of course, the main narrative isn’t the only engaging story that unfolds in Night City. RPGs are known for featuring diverse, in-depth side story’s, with this aspect of the game being perhaps where Cyberpunk excels the most. The characters you meet along the way and the setup of their own unique stories, are highly interpersonal and have multifactorial depth. Whether it’s helping an AI collect and reassemble his rebelling personality constructs, or solving a particularly chilling case of child abduction,  Cyberpunk’s stories enrich the world and enliven it. You can form long-term friendships and relationships with the characters you meet, and the choices you make during these side quests and your personal standing with a character, can have very large implications on the game’s multiple main story endings. Few games have so brilliantly woven their side story's into the main one as this title.


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Aside from the side jobs, there are also side ‘gigs’ - smaller missions that usually involve stealing something or assassinating someone. These are plentiful, addictive and enjoyable, and sometimes offer their own interesting narrative threads which expose Night City’s effect on the lives of its inhabitants particularly well.
Augmenting the richness of the side jobs and gigs is Johnny’s sudden materialization into the scene, offering a sarcastic, funny, and usually insightful albeit crass quip regarding the task at hand. 

As with most modern RPG’s, there’s a great deal of player choice, but Cyberpunk doesn’t offer much diversity in this regard. Picking a more antagonistic dialogue option won’t usually result in a change of direction, and instead just funnels you back into making the choice the game wants you to make. It makes the game feel a more linear, on-rails experience than it should do. Having said this, there are some particular decisions that do have a domino effect of impact that can result in entirely new quests arising. This offers a compelling reason for replayability, as some choices will inevitably lead to new scenarios opening up that you hadn’t seen before. The hierarchy of main story, side stories, and extra stories is nothing new for RPG’s, but the developers have done a great job structuring it to be robust and diverse.  

As engaging as it all is, there does feel to be something a little off with the main story. With cyberpunk as a genre usually having a relatively deep and philosophical message laced through it, V’s story, overall ambition, and personality as a whole came off as somewhat abstract. What it means to be human is touched on a little, as is the superficiality of Night City and of course, the shenanigans of evil megacorporations, but V as a character comes off a bit shallow. Her dialogue is powerful and emotion-filled, but she didn’t seem to progress a great deal as a character, seeming more a vehicle to drive the other character’s stories.  

The main story is a fantastic ride nonetheless, but V’s overarching goal - other than removing the imminent threat of Johnny - seemed tied to this elusive ideology of making a name for herself  - a goal seemingly asinine considering everything the character experienced during the main story and side missions. With the incredible amount of loss she’d experienced, and with continual exposure to the deepest depravity of Night City; it would be reasonable to expect a degree of disillusionment with the world and the life of a mercenary. Yet, V’s ultimate revelation at the end of the story feels unelucidated. 

Some of the most interesting narrative aspects of the game come from the collectible shards that are littered everywhere about the world. These are readable text documents that give scope and background lore on the world, people, politics, and technology, and it’s clear upon delving into these that the source material of the game is incredibly rich. Information contained within these shards can be shocking - moments that are illuminative of the horrors that lurk in the shadows of Night City, but stuff you don’t really get to see in the actual game aside from in a few instances. Furthermore, besides Arasaka (of which even its illustrious history and relevance to the plot is hidden from the player for the most part), the other megacorporations barely feature at all. A little strange considering these companies essentially run the city and facilitated three major wars within it.


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The game ultimately would have benefited massively from an introduction to the world - something we know CD Projekt Red can do well as this is exactly what they provided in the opening sequence of The Witcher 3. Instead, the player is launched into what is a mostly confusing prologue, with the specific life path chosen altering nothing more than the prologue itself and adding a few arbitrary dialogue choices throughout the game. There’s no doubt players will enjoy Cyberpunk’s main story and its diverse cast of characters, but given the depth of the lore, a fair bit seems missing.  


Night City: a jaw-dropping visual spectacle 

A huge part of cyberpunk’s narrative appeal as a genre is the visual feast that frames the story. Night City has character and personality which is expressed through every pore of Cyberpunk 2077’s story. It’s a stunningly rendered open-world; winding, vibrantly hued bridges envelop the towering monolithic spires of the mega-corporations that impose above, which seamlessly merge with the narrow, neon-lit, resplendent metropolises that make up the network of diverse districts. Despite its almost entirely synthetic structure, the design makes the place feel thoroughly organic.

Violently invasive advertisements are crammed onto, and into, every surface of available space, sirens whine constantly and the ceaseless roar of clubs, bars, and food markets leave not a moment of auditory or visual relief at ground level. The game has incredible sensory scope, and whether viewing the city from above, below or at distance, the final rendition is astonishing. Cyberpunk features several districts - more so than most games of its type and of an impressively distinct variety. The sprawling, Shibuya-esq City Center district or the bustling network of small stores and eateries in Japan Town, are completely different from the lawless, dilapidated coastal area of Pacifica or the ominously barren industrial flat-land of Heywood. The variety in the city and the way it’s been put together is fantastic, augmented of course, by the game’s stunning graphics. 

Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the best looking video games ever made. With a powerful PC and a GPU that supports ray tracing, many of the visuals are truly photorealistic. Shadows cast dynamically, ambient light defuses beautifully and reflections are crystal clear. Wet roads appear scarily real, while every scratch and blemish on a marble floor or metal door give a clarity and sense of authenticity to the world that is, frankly, unprecedented. The sublime visual presentation carries over to the game’s key characters, too. Facial animations and hair are excellent, and the way a character continually and dynamically tracks you with their head and eyes as you move while talking to them is truly immersive.


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Performance-wise, a 2070 Super maintains a mostly solid 60 FPS at 1440p resolutions and maximum settings, with DLSS set to quality. With the same settings and ray tracing on, a solid 30 FPS was maintained, and roughly 50 FPS with ray tracing and max settings at 1080p. Considering all the frame rate and performance issues that have reportedly plagued the game, this card provides great performance and the choice of a good frame-rate trade-off between ray tracing being on or off. If you have a powerful PC, Cyberpunk’s visuals are some of the best you will have seen.

However, considering all the graphical finesse, architectural beauty, and fluid character animations, it's disappointing to see how robotic and uninspired the City’s actual inhabitants are. NPC’s possess no true daily routines as they were proclaimed to have, and shuffle about the city like brain-dead husks - occasionally hurling a misplaced insult V’s way if she tries to talk to them.

Night City doesn’t feel particularly alive, even if it looks amazing. You can’t physically sit at a noodle bar and eat, try on clothes before you buy, model weapons, or really, do anything aside from the missions. For what is meant to be the most advanced RPG ever made, this is a letdown, especially thinking back to games like 2018’s Red Dead Redemption 2  - a game which allowed you to individually examine and rotate items in a shop, have dynamic conversations with NPC’s and even had your beard and hair grow overtime. In this game, you can’t even change V’s hairstyle after the initial character creation screen.


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Alongside the trackable jobs and gigs, there are random police encounters, gang shootouts, and thieving missions dotted about the world. These, though, appear to have just been plopped there rather than dynamically featuring as part of a living environment, and as a result, feel uninspired. The vast majority of shops and indoor areas are closed, and virtually all of the towering skyscrapers you see are inaccessible. As dazzling as the city is, it feels more like a backdrop rather than the incredibly complex societal and political arena the core narrative would have you believe. 
 

Gameplay: A missed opportunity

The actual moment to moment gameplay is a mostly standard affair. Missions offer a decent enough variety, though there’s nothing really groundbreaking in their execution; most objectives consist of clearing a room, escorting someone, or hacking a computer. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but it’s a shame they were not more frequent.

V is in possession of some partially useful cybernetic enhancements from the get-go, enabling the scanning of areas for key items or the ability to ‘jack-in’ to computer systems. Unfortunately, most of the time the player will need to engage in this sort of thing it’s as simple as pressing a button. Most things you need to interact with are essentially accomplished by pressing X or looking in the right direction to trigger the next segment. V’s optical enhancements do shine in the hacking department, though. Player’s have the ability to acquire and purchase quick hack modules for their ‘cyberdeck’ - a feature allowing V to mess with cameras, turrets, doors, and most enjoyably, other people. These hacks range from the more practical like switching off an enemy camera, to frying an assailant’s cybernetic circuitry. It’s cathartic fun, and there’s a fair amount of variation in how you approach a scenario because of this feature alone.

Gunplay is mostly enjoyable and guns pack a great punch, but this is a joy more evident in the later parts of the game. Early game enemies are total bullet sponges playing on hard, and it’s only once you level up and invest heavily in several perks that gunfights become more fluid and less long-winded. Melee, unfortunately, is less than average. Weapons have absolutely no weight to them at all and are, rather unbelievably, only really as good as Skyrim’s swordplay was - a nine-year-old game that never had good melee, even for 2011. V has a basic block, a fast and a heavy attack, but that’s about it.

 

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One of the biggest problems with combat, however, is the AI. Firefights feel good at first; they’re fast and ferocious with enemies throwing grenades, commanding their other allies, and attempting to hack V, and it's all scored by a thumping electronic soundtrack. Then an enemy will just stand completely still, staring at a wall, or still firing on where V was two minutes ago, oblivious to the player very obviously walking around them. They only seem to be able to focus on one thing at a time. 

Stealth is a similarly weak affair, again due to simplified mechanics and poor AI. Enemies have a meter of awareness that fills when the player is in direct line of sight, but it’s basic at best, laughable at worst. V can stand directly in front of an enemy and quickly dip out at the last minute - before the enemy’s apparently lagging cybernetic eyes catch on - and they’ll be none the wiser. This makes for many tedious stealth sections you can sprint through, rather than the tense, open-ended experiences they should have been. Quick hacks do shine regarding stealth, and there’s an increased level of variability in approach because of them - even if the immersion breaks because of robotically designed enemies. Stealth encounters also give you the option of silently killing or taking down an enemy in a non-lethal manner, but there are no consequences for doing either which makes the choice pointless. This issue is exemplified with stealth, but it permeates the game as a whole. There’s no morality system to speak of at all which is a huge missed opportunity, especially in a game that deals with moral and ethical consequences a whole lot.

There’s no fallout or change attributed to ending most jobs a certain way, so it doesn’t matter whether you talk it out with an assailant and blow their head off - the outcome will remain the same. Most will have heard by now about the terrible police AI. Fantasies of wreaking havoc at breakneck speed around Night City are shot, as police in vehicles are non-existent. Rather, commit any crime and an NCPD officer will spawn immediately behind you out of nowhere. It’s by far the worst police AI to be conceived in a recent open-world game of its type, or any of the Grand Theft Auto style games dating back to the early 2000s. The problem of overall lacking combat and dumb enemies is unfortunately perpetuated by a relatively hollow RPG setup.

Leveling up grants the player attribute and perk points. There are five attributes covering a variety of core abilities, and the player can increase one of these by one point each time V levels up, to a maximum of 20. Leveling up these attributes unlocks the perks contained within, to which there are two to three unique perk trees for each. It’s certainly serviceable and perks are plentiful, but the problem is that the perks themselves are incredibly shallow in what they offer. They mainly consist of percentile buffs or quickened response at achieving a task, with actual new abilities being few and far between. There are even some perks, such as Human Shield, which offer abilities that are not even possible in the game. Some offer a satisfying, visible change to the gameplay such as aerial stealth takedowns, but then the aforementioned simplistic combat mechanics don’t allow for their use in any meaningful way.

V can also upgrade her physical anatomy with cybernetic augmentations by visiting a ‘ripper doc’. These cyber-surgeons can upgrade anything from the prefrontal cortex of your brain to your arms, legs, and central nervous system. Although incredibly expensive, they do offer more interesting, observable changes to V’s abilities, such as being able to double jump or weaponize your limbs. The player is presented with an awesome animation of the surgery actually being performed during the prologue, though these animated sequences are disappointingly absent for every other upgrade. During the rest of the game, using the ripper docs offers the same, bland, rather archaic sell and purchase screen RPG’s have been utilizing since the 90s - the same ones you use to buy clothes, weapons, and food.


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Aside from combat-orientated endeavors, there are a few instances where V is required to analyze a Braindance - a virtual reality of sorts that enables users to relive a memory or experience from a third or first-person perspective. This is a really cool concept, and in the game, they’re key pieces of evidence that must be explored and deciphered to progress the story. These could have been a great opportunity to introduce some interesting puzzles, but for the most part, they show you exactly where to look and spoon feed the player the required information with visual clues. 

You’ll also spend a great deal of time driving in the game. V can drive cars and ride bikes, but Night City feels crying out for flying vehicles. The City’s vast verticality is left mostly unexplored and you’re locked to whatever is on ground level. The only times V rides in (not operates) a flying vehicle are during scripted cutscenes, similar to the game's car chase sequences. There are only around three car chases in the game, and it took a few times dying during these chases on hard to realize that cars would explode and enemies die at exactly the same points, no matter how many times you shot at the vehicle. They were completely scripted - a far cry from what we saw in the trailers.

Driving itself feels ok - if a little floaty - but crashing a vehicle into another car feels weightless - the bonnet of a car usually scooping underneath the vehicle it crashes into. Car damage is also unrealistic compared to the likes of the Grand Theft Auto series, and the minimap is difficult to follow because it’s zoomed in too far. Hurtling down a road will invariably cause the player to completely miss a turning. There’s also no way to customise the vehicles you acquire. The gameplay is a rather unfortunate laundry list of uninspired, outdated, and outright lazy mechanics. It's a shame, because it's easy to see how it could've been something great. There are some really fun elements like quick hacks, but because these rest on shaky foundations to begin with they’re left underutilized. At the end of the day, it’s painfully obvious this is a game that needed much longer in development. Obvious fixes and resolutions to many of the above issues had already been showcased or promised in promotional material for the game before it released, which speaks volumes.

Linearly, the game thoroughly excels, and the main story and side missions are truly immersive, expertly crafted sections of the game. The design, attention to detail, and memorable characters carry the game through to what was ultimately still an enjoyable experience. It’s a shame, though, that the stellar presentation and delivery of the game’s best parts are juxtaposed by problems that had been bettered and rectified in other games years ago. What should’ve been fulfilling, deep RPG mechanics were in actuality uninspired and outdated ones. 
 

Glitch in the system

By now most will know of the game’s notoriously high level of bugs and glitches. With several weeks passing since the game launched, there have been numerous patches to fix things, and thankfully, most issues have indeed now been ironed out. There are still several yet to be dealt with, however, and issues are still prevalent across the whole game.

Even with three updates excluding the day one patch, there were still several, incredibly annoying quest related bugs and visual issues. These included interactions not triggering with characters despite the fact you’d reached the required destination, held weapons disappearing from view, the start menu and map being inaccessible, NPC’s appearing so low poly that they look belonging to the original Metal Gear Solid, and more. It seemed that most of these bugs happened all at once at certain periods of the game, and usually required a full restart. Problems occurred often enough to taint the overall enjoyment of the game, even weeks later. 
 

Jack of all trades, master of one

Cyberpunk is an impressive game in many ways, no doubt. The game is frequently a thoroughly enjoyable title set in a graphically stunning world, even in spite of its major shortcomings. The stories and the characters of Night City (with the exception of possibly V herself) will hook you from the start; they’re beautifully rendered experiences that are cleverly crafted to be interconnected and deeply engaging, but the game’s grandeur never reaches true heights due to the mediocre aspects that overwhelm it. What it gets right it does so splendidly, but there are so many uninspired design choices that cannot be ignored.

It’s unlikely we’ll know what truly happened at CD Projekt Red with the development of this game any time soon, but it’s probably a tale of such shadiness, that it wouldn’t seem out of place within the corporate world of Night City itself.
 

Also, check our Cyberpunk 2077 Xbox Series X Review


Linden Garcia
Editor, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): CD Projekt
Developer(s): CD Projekt, CD Projekt RED
Genres: Action, Adventure
Themes: Cyberpunk
Release Date: 2020-12-10

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