Expectations and hype sure are something, aren't they. One could start to positively promote something, anything, and because of the hype and expectations our minds will start to magnify it and progressively elevate it to the status of the greatest achievement in the history of mankind before we even see/experience it ourselves. Eventually, however, this something may turn out to be "just extraordinary" instead of "the greatest in the history of the universe", in which case we will feel that it did not fully satisfy us in the end, or perhaps even... anger us, because it "cheated us" by not 100% fulfilling the expectations that had been created around it. CD Projekt RED's Cyberpunk 2077 is an excellent candidate for the eventual verification of the above "story". It was announced in 2012, temporarily passed into oblivion (we had some Witchers to keep us busy in the meantime, after all), resurfaced emphatically with a wild Keanu Reeves accompanying it, was delayed not one, not two, but THREE TIMES, with the hype that accompanied it not only not subsiding but intensifying even more...
...until we finally reach the release date. So, did Cyberpunk 2077 fall victim to the excessive hype and disproportionately high expectations that accompanied it? The answer is...
...NO. The game is SPECTACULAR, INCREDIBLE, EXCEPTIONAL. THEY WERE RIGHT, THEY WERE ALL RIGHT.
Or were they?
Enlightening, as always. But let's take a look at the issue, shall we?
The truth is that, due to the special nature of Cyberpunk 2077 as the most hyped game of the last 10 years, the vast majority of the gaming public has experienced some exposure to its eight years of development, more or less, but in any case to a large enough degree so as to have already formed an initial opinion as to what the game is about and what the main pillars of its design are. This also makes it slightly unnecessary for any review of the game to spend a lot of time detailing its main features, including the areas of the scenario and the wider background of the world (along with the desire to avoid spoilers for the plot development, of course). But for tradition's sake, let's provide a bit of information before we get to the more meaty issues.
Everyone probably knows that the game is based on the Cyberpunk pen-and-paper system created by Mike Pondsmith, and that the protagonist is V, a mercenary/netrunner in Night City, in the dystopic USA of the future. Everyone also knows that V's life ends up becoming crucially and irreparably entangled with Johnny Silverhand, a legendary Rockerboy Rebel/Terrorist (everything in life is a matter of perspective, after all), played by Keanu Reeves.
V's delinquent life in the futuristically glamorous yet highly corrupt and dangerous Night City, and the nature of the relationship he ends up cultivating with Johnny Silverhand along the way, roughly form the cohesive link between the individual elements of the game's plot. And the truth is that Johnny's turbulent temperament, his personal demons, and his attempt to come to terms with his past and finally find some peace (or not) are undoubtedly among the highlights of the story.
Cyberpunk 2077 is undoubtedly overambitious and colossal as a project. The familiar Witcherian features we've come to expect from a CDPR title are further enriched and enhanced due to the more modern (compared to the fantasy world of Witcher 3) cyberpunk setting and the many extra things you can do in it. It would be very convenient and cute to call it "Witcher 3 with guns", but the truth is that many of the "components" of CP2077 are direct throwbacks to other well-known games taking place either in a modern setting in general or in a cyberpunk setting in particular.
Thus, open-world exploration now takes on an essence (or more) of GTA V due to the presence and use of cars in the vast expanses in and around Night City. The cinematic storytelling, the grandiose, Hollywood-like setpieces taking place during the main quest events, and the possible endings themselves (more on these as we go along) can't help but occasionally remind us of Red Dead Redemption 2 (as a principle, obviously, and not as a direct reference to a third-person cowboy game). The FPS beating and shooting, the hacking, the stealth, the use of augmentations, and the entire aesthetic of the dystopian environment can't help but be reminiscent of Deus Ex.
Deus Ex might even emerge as the best comparison that could be made in the end. Completely simplistically, CP2077 does indeed look like a Deus Ex wrapper around a GTA and RDR package. With the package itself of course containing a Witcher 3 core inside.
It becomes clear that, because of its overambitious and "amalgamated" nature, CP2077 attempts to accomplish a great many things. It is also true that, observing the general consensus on the internet and depending on one's expectations of it, I realize that some aspects of the game may even cause disproportionate frustration for a portion of the audience. In attempting to approach the essence of the game as objectively as possible, I conclude that in some, perhaps most, of what it attempts to accomplish, CP2077 succeeds hands down. In some, yes, but with... an asterisk. In others, perhaps not.
But first let me get the obvious out of the way:
Yes, in its initial state of release, the game has glitches and bugs.
No, these are not game-breaking, on PC at least. The vast majority of them involve an NPC spawning in an odd position, an ashtray floating in the air, or something that 99% of the time just causes a mediocre outburst of laughter or is solved with a reload.
No, the "Blooper Reels" with bugs and glitches uploaded on youtube and imgur for meme value are not indicative of the game, and no such extreme scene has happened to me personally. In this early state of the release mockery always sells, but eventually we'll move on from that.
No, this should not be the case, nor are we excusing the devs for this situation.
Yes, The Witcher 3 was in more or less the same state at launch, and some of its bugs still exist to this day.
Yes, the game is practically unplayable on the basic 2013 PS4, and should never have been launched as "last-gen compatible".
No, I'm not the least bit concerned about that *laughs in PC Master Race*
Yes, the game has much more significant issues than its glitches, and that's the main thing I want to point out. Bugs can be fixed, but ugly design stays forever.
But first let's start with the positives. Cyberpunk's first success comes more or less in the same areas for which The Witcher 3 was once praised (and largely continues to be praised). And that's one of the unfair, in my opinion, criticisms the game receives, that "it's not enough of an RPG". But the reality is that... it is EXACTLY as much of an RPG as The Witcher 3 is, maybe even more (of course, if someone thinks the Witcher 3 is lacking as an RPG in the first place, I'll pass, that's a whole other discussion). But it is nonetheless criticized for elements that can be seen in The Witcher 3 as well, and even praised for their implementation there.
Surely anyone who had expectations that The Witcher 3 creators would make an open-ended sandbox RPG like Mount and Blade, or that they would implement Bethesda-like faction questlines in which there are 3 different guilds/factions and the player can join each of them, do quests and climb up the hierarchy until they reach the top, will be disappointed by Cyberpunk. But Cyberpunk is, by definition, certainly not your typical RPG where the player is free to experience yet another power fantasy. And I'M GLAD that this is the case.
We must always take into account the background lore of the game. In the Cyberpunk setting, anyone who doesn't devote literally their entire life to working and stepping on corpses to reach the highest echelons of society or become a CEO etc is practically a peon who, at best, is hired by and does jobs for the bigger fishes in the sea. The same goes for the gangs of the world, which are extremely closed castes and therefore not everyone can just go and say "hello, I'm here, I want to join" and work their way up to becoming their leader in 9-10 days.
The player, then, is essentially a common mercenary who, over the course of the game, runs errands in order to gain money and fame (alongside the more personal problems that arise and that he has to deal with as the scenario progresses, obviously). In this context, it is literally impossible for such a character to become a member of one of the world's most powerful factions or even gangs (there is, of course, the Corpo Life Path, which is a reverse story, as those who play it will see), let alone end up overnight a famous faction leader or president of a corporation.
The same was more or less the case with Geralt, who had been through a lot as a character (both in the games and the books that preceded them) and ended up consorting with kings, emperors and witches, but in the end he remained a simple Witcher hunting Nekkers for a living. Exactly the same is the case with the (much younger, obviously) V, who in Cyberpunk essentially starts building his reputation on the streets, doing simple merc work for the "big players".
But let's get back to the Witcherian elements of the game. Cyberpunk works great as an "Immersive Sim" in a futuristic setting, its side-quests are quite original in writing (more about questing in general, below) and support the setting 100%, the questlines of the main NPCs end, as in W3, in choices that determine the world state and the very state of the NPCs' lives in the end.
Also, while we don't have an alpha male totem like Geralt for the lead, this role is deservedly taken by Johnny Silverhand himself, with Keanu Reeves' performance carrying perhaps the entire voice acting department. Of course, Reeves as an actor isn't the most "versatile/diverse" of actors, and he interprets the roles in all of his films in more or less the same way, but I think his delivery of the dialogue in Cyberpunk thankfully works 100%. You could say that, if you break the title into 2, V works as the "Cyber" and Johnny works as the "Punk" (I just thought of that, really).
Also, as in TW3 , the main missions are mostly well-written and "unique" in the world. The distinction between various side-quest categories should be noted here, because there is a tendency to bag everything under the criticism that "quests are boring and offer no options". So, there's Main Quests, Side Jobs, Gigs, and random other open-world activities. Starting from the end, the open-world activities are mostly about "gang hunting" where you enter an area, take out the criminals and earn loot, money and street cred/reputation, simple stuff. Gigs are pretty straightforward merc contracts that V takes on, roughly the same philosophy as Witcher Contracts. Gigs' objectives usually require us to steal an item, kidnap someone, rescue someone from a dangerous situation, etc. While simple in their nature and execution, these can be completed in more than one way in regards to how we approach them combat-wise, meaning we can usually play it stealth-like (some of them have bonus rewards if stealth is achieved throughout the mission), go in guns-blazing, or hack our way to the objective. Increasing our Street Cred leads to unlocking new gigs.
Then we have Side-Jobs, which I think are the juiciest part of the game, in more than one sense. For one, they're probably the best and most original examples of writing in Cyberpunk, they support the setting 100%, help explore the world and its characters, and offer some unique settings that will surely be remembered in the future. They also usually offer choices that have a varying amount of influence on their outcome, as well as on the broader shaping of the world state. On the other hand, they tie directly into the game's available finales. One has to complete a certain number of "important" side-quests in order to access the 3 different end-game segments of the title (and 5-6 different epilogues in total), and if one simply rushes to the finale (as several early reviewers did) then one has access to just 1 ending, which itself is by far the worst and most depressing of all.
Main Quests are pretty self-explanatory. They define the main plot and the path to the ending (note what was said above regarding side-jobs above, of course), and contain the most impressive and cinematic setpieces in the game.
In the category of features where the game "probably succeeds" I would place the first-person battles. While the gunplay is quite satisfying as a feature, I find that, especially on the higher difficulties, the enemies are more "bullet-spongy" than they should be. Other than that, my objections are almost exclusively about the mechanics related to character development and itemization: skill/perk system, crafting, the broader inventory management, etc. And this is mainly because, while the above ultimately work, I can nevertheless say that in all of them there is always at least something, however small, that bothers me and needs improvement.
For example, the Inventory definitely needs extra filters to organize it (to show only Iconic items or Quest Items for example). Sorting the available Mods and applying them to equipment could be slightly more manageable. Armor, clothing and weapons do not have any Preview function to see how they look on our character before we buy or wear them (VERY IMPORTANT #Style #GNTM #Fashion). There are 50 different consumables in the game that do essentially the same thing, which is somewhat unnecessary in the final analysis. Crafting after a certain point costs too many expensive materials, making it a viable option only for those who spec their character towards Perks directly related to it (for someone this might be seen as a positive of course). There is a Perk in the game that allows you to instantly deconstruct all Junk Items you collect (and they are EVERYWHERE), but this also automatically destroys items that are super valuable and could be sold for a large profit. And other such "little" things.
Theoretically the above will be fixed/optimized with future patches, but it's true that at this stage they cause at least a little discomfort.
The greatest amount of discomfort, however, is caused by rather more important aspects directly related to the open-world character of the game, where, to put it simply, it fails. Chief among these is the AI of cars and pedestrians, or rather the... complete absence of such AI. Both the drivers of the vehicles and the pedestrians on the streets are as if they're just walking along to make the world seem more crowded, wandering aimlessly like dummies here and there with zero logic or some RPG-like NPC routine mechanic, and, as a result, there is practically zero player interaction with them. For example, if we attempt to steal a car from its driver, instead of him gassing up to drive away or attacking us to retrieve it as has been the case in GTA for years, he just curls up and lays there helplessly.
Cars do not even have the necessary AI capabilities to make a simple overtake. If we park our car in one lane of the road, no one attempts to overtake us to continue on their way - they just sit there and gawk because we blocked the only function of the game's AI, which is none other than "move forward until you can't move any further". This ends up rendering our AI opponents helpless in racing missions as well, so the developers came up with this ingenious tactic: if we're in the lead and start gaining a wide distance from the others, then our opponents automatically despawn and respawn again just 100 meters behind us. If we gain a large lead again, the same happens. This is a highly crippling mechanism, which you certainly don't expect to see in a "next-gen AAA open-world game". Even Ubisoft's recent Watch Dogs Legion looks light years ahead of Cyberpunk in this area.
This obviously also affects the police of the world. Instead of having policemen and vehicles looking for us and chasing us in the streets and alleys if we do something illegal, like in GTA or Watch Dogs, instead they literally spawn out of nowhere right on top of us!
As a result of this, much of the immersion that an open-world game should provide is lost. When the player navigates Rockstar's GTA and RDR, they feel like they are in a living and breathing world, populated by people/NPCs who have their daily routines, personalities and functions, and who will react to the player's actions. In Cyberpunk, when we're not doing missions and just wander around, the beautiful and well-designed world just seems like a fancy storefront with absolutely nothing behind it.
Even so, the lack of a convincing open world theoretically doesn't affect the gameplay or the positives I listed above. However, it irreparably hurts the game's aim to surpass other games that have excelled in this field for years (once again, GTA, RDR, even Watch Dogs), let alone to be "the ultimate open-world game" of our times.
The saddest thing is that, as I said, "bugs get fixed, but bad design is forever". As long as I live I have hope, of course, and hopefully future patches (or maybe an Enhanced Edition) will fix the situation and make the game worthy of its original ambition. But I don't know if such a fundamental function as the AI can be fixed. And the prospect of being stuck with this AI forever is off-putting to me, truth be told.
Although it's a little bit "wounded" (one would call it... "Polish, but Unpolished" *ba-dum tss*), the game meets all the requirements to be a "once in a lifetime" experience. And, judging by the developers' desire to back it up with expansions like Witcher 3, the future looks even brighter. I'm imagining the equivalent of a possible Blood and Wine expansion for Cyberpunk, and I'm already drooling. It's just that, as I said once again, it's an overambitious project. It attempts to do everything, for everyone, to the superlative degree, and largely succeeds, except in some areas that are mostly secondary in the final analysis, but possibly crucial to the overall presentation.
Αν και είναι ελαφρώς λαβωμένο (θα το έλεγε και κάποιος… “Polish, αλλά Unpolished” *ba-dum tss*), το game πληροί όλες τις προϋποθέσεις ώστε να αποτελέσει μια “once in a lifetime” εμπειρία. Και, αν κρίνουμε από την επιδίωξη των δημιουργών να το στηρίξουν με expansions όπως το Witcher 3, το μέλλον διαγράφεται ακόμα πιο λαμπρό. Φαντάζομαι το αντίστοιχο πιθανό Blood and Wine expansion για το Cyberpunk, και μου τρέχουν ήδη τα σάλια. Απλώς, όπως προείπα για ακόμη μια φορά, είναι ένα υπερφιλόδοξο εγχείρημα. Επιχειρεί να κάνει τα πάντα, για όλους, στον υπερθετικό βαθμό, και εν πολλοίς τα καταφέρνει, εκτός όμως από κάποιους τομείς ως επί το πλείστον δευτερεύοντες μεν σε τελική ανάλυση, που ενδεχομένως και να επηρεάζουν καθοριστικά την όλη παρουσίαση δε.
"And there you have it!", as Freddie Mercury said at the end of "I'm Going Slightly Mad". Certainly the talk around the game isn't going to stop in the near future, and there's expectedly some juicy backstory behind the creative process. For example, it's almost certain that an early version of the game was already in the works before the release of Witcher 3, which version was much closer to the pen-and-paper game's philosophy, with classes like Rockerboy, Media, Techie, etc. available. However, after the ultimate success of Witcher 3, it was decided by the "big heads" that this version would be modified into something closer to the Witcher 3 philosophy, and that's how we got the current version. Who knows what else will come out regarding the game in the future? Stay tuned!
Since the review comes out a bit gargantuan in size (read it if you can, it might be OK, I don't know), let me privde a TL;DR version in QA format.
Is Cyberpunk 2077 a good game?
Yes, it is.
Is Cyberpunk 2077 a good RPG?
From the perspective of an adventure in the Cyberpunk PnP setting, made by the developers of Witcher 3, yes, it's excellent. If anyone had other expectations of it and expected it to be something else, say a sandbox open-world RPG like Skyrim or Fallout 4, they will be sorely disappointed.
Does Cyberpunk 2077 have any flaws?
Yes. Both technical issues (mostly negligible at this stage, as far as the PC version is concerned at least), but also several off-putting issues with its AI that end up affecting the game's open-world immersion.
Is Cyberpunk 2077 the greatest game in the history of the universe?
No, that's Fallout silly.
And we come to the last burning question that remains: how do you rate this game?
Someone who attempted to play the game on a basic PS4 would rate it 20%.
Someone annoyed by even the most minor glitch, 50%.
Someone who expected a "GTA Skyrim" in a cyberpunk setting would put it at around 65%.
Someone who would whine because "the game doesn't criticize enough social and political issues of our times, so it sucks", I don't even care what rating he would give it, because he's clearly someone with zero knowledge of cyberpunk as a genre.
As for me...