Game Review: Cyberpunk 2077

I recently completed the game Cyberpunk 2077 and thought it may be a good idea to write a review of it. The game does some things right, but unfortunately does not live up to its full potential.

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

When the game was first released it was notoriously buggy and incomplete. For this reason I did not even consider purchasing it at that time. In my opinion it makes sense to wait a little with new games so that the developer has fixed at least the worst bugs. Fortunately the developer in this case did not abandon their product and indeed seemed to spend a lot of effort in patching the game. But I definitely don't like it when games are released in so unpolished state. Another benefit in waiting a little is that Steam usually offers big discounts for older titles.

Like the name says the game takes place in a cyberpunk setting in year 2077. I really like the cyberpunk setting because Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies of all time. Though I did not like the sequel, Blade Runner 2049. The atmosphere between Cyberpunk 2077 and Blade Runner is quite different however. The game is much more colourful while the movie is darker and more monotone.

What I found disappointing is how linear the main storyline is. The game does have a couple of different endings which allow you to make meaningful choices that affect the storyline but that happens at the very end. Up to that point everything progresses very linearly and you cannot make any meaningful choices. As far as I can remember, other open-world RPGs such as the Grand Theft Auto and the Fallout series seemed to give the player a greater sense of freedom in this regard.

The game does give you three different "background" choices for your character but the problem is that they have very little practical difference. The main effect of the background seems to be different dialogue choices, but the problem is that they don't lead anywhere. So you can choose a dialogue option based on your background, but it just leads to the same result as the generic dialogue option. This is really underwhelming!

For example, I chose "corporat" as my background, assuming I would be working for some megacorp which the cyberpunk setting is famous for. The game starts that way but almost immediately I am thrown out and forced to become a simple street thug with my "friend" Jackie. And this "transformation" into street life is shown as cutscenes of violent acts that my character performs without any choices along the way. After that the game really starts so the background is really just a prologue.

Everything in the story and ideology of the game seems to state that corporations are unequivocally evil and being an anarchist street thug type of person is "cool". This very one-sided view is enforced at every turn. I think it would have been more interesting to have a more balanced world where there are more entities working in the "grey area" between good and evil, and leave it up the player to choose which path to pursue and which entities to align with.

The goal of Jackie is to "make a name for himself" in the street life so that also becomes the goal of V, the player character. Progress in this is measured by "street cred" which the player gains when completing missions. The rewards for this street life are petty materialistic things like apartments and cars. If the character really wants to "be someone", wouldn't he want real power and wealth, that a corporate life could offer? Or shouldn't that at least be an option for the player to follow?

Another shortcoming in the game is that it's very focused on combat and there isn't really other ways to solve the missions. For comparison, the Fallout games have a Speech skill which can be used to persuade other people into taking various actions, often bypassing the need for physical combat altogether. Something like that would have been nice. The game tries to portray hacking in an important role but even that just ends up being a supportive function for combat. For example, you can hack enemies to inflict direct damage on them or soften them up before shooting. Or you can turn off security cameras and turrets before sneaking into some area. Generic computer terminals are scattered throughout missions that you can "hack" but they all work the same and just give a little money if the hack is successful. Is this really the pinnacle of hacking in 2077: turning off security cameras or stealing tiny amounts of money by physically accessing a computer terminal?

Combat works fairly well, but what bothers me is how underpowered the weapons are. The game recognizes headshots as special shots that do extra damage, but it is common to need around 3 headshots to kill an enemy. And shooting at the torso requires almost the full clip of an assault rifle. Luckily there is the option of sneaking behind enemies and grabbing them which saves bullets (by the way, running out of ammo is a constant problem). In this situation the player is given two options: kill the target or perform a non-lethal takedown. It is great to offer the non-lethal option, but the problem again is that this seems to make no difference or have no consequences one way or the other.

What the game gets right is beautiful graphics and a strong feeling of immersion and "being there". There are lots of graphical details like posters and advertisements that the player could spend hours looking at. There are lots of people walking around going about their lives. Though you cannot really do anything or interact with them. You can "talk" with them, to which they give a generic one-line response. But still, the city truly feels alive.

In conclusion, I have mixed feelings about the game. I really want to like it. I am just left thinking what a masterpiece it could have been. Even with these shortcomings, I think the game is worth buying during a discount and playing through once. It is pretty cool to experience a cyberpunk world like this if you are a fan of the genre. I am optimistic that more cyberpunk games will be created in the future that allow us to experience more of what Blade Runner started.