I played Cyberpunk 2077 for six hours, and I do not plan to pick it up again, ever.
It turns out that the fear of a political agenda was misplaced, and the real fear should have been that the game would just be absolute garbage from top to bottom, which is what it is.
My first shock was just how unskilled I am at FPS games. I haven’t played one since Fallout: New Vegas, but I have played a realtime shooter in the form of Red Dead Redemption 2, and am relatively competent. It turns out I am not competent at the FPS mechanics of Cyberpunk, and playing it, I felt like an Asian attempting to drive a car. So everything I write about the game should be understood in that light. That is to say: the gameplay is probably good for people who enjoy FPS games, and that might be a big factor for people who are into this kind of game.
The Story is a Bloated Fiasco
I am an RPG player, and was interested in this game because it was advertised as an RPG. It is not an RPG. It is an exposition heavy open-world shooter game with vague “RPG elements.”
I would have felt comfortable bungling my way through the shooting scenes if I felt the story was worthwhile, but it simply is not worthwhile. The dialogue is almost like a satire of cliched 1990s action film dialogue, and the plot is overly ambitious, convoluted garbage, laced with hazy Antifa political messaging. The awkward, stilted dialogue actually works well with the barrage of bankrupt tropes that are strewn together to form this boring, confusing story. (Two tropes do not make a unique plot element, they make a double trope.) I would have loved to be surprised by a rogue AI conspiracy, frankly, and instead I got… evil corporations.
If you’d been sitting and watching this story as a film in the theater, you would get up and walk out, because it is simply not engaging on any level at all (other than visually, I guess, and there are issues with that I will touch on later).
“It’s the fucking corporations, man! Fucking shit! The corporations have the fucking technology man, and they’re doing the fucking money deal! He fucked us, man, he’s working for the fucking corporations again! They’ve got the fucking technology, man, the fucking corporations! We’re gonna have to fucking jack in, man! Fuck! Jack in to the fucking corporations, man! The fucking tech! They got the fucking tech and we’ve gotta fucking jack in!”
I didn’t get deep into the game, but the prologue was enough to give me a very clear view of where they’re going with it. This is intended to be a hugely complex political drama. Based on what I’ve already seen, I can only imagine how bad it gets. It was obvious from the get go that the writers of this game don’t expect the average player to actually even follow the plot, and that is shameful. If you don’t care enough about your story to care if your audience understands it, then you shouldn’t be telling that story.
I always like to think of how I would fix something that I hate. If I’d been given this game and told to fix it, I would have massively scaled down the scope of the plot, making it a crime drama with western elements, allowing the setting to be the setting rather than having the setting moonlight as the core plot. I would have made Keanu the player character, on a mission to settle some personal score, rather than to fight the corporations. Storytelling on this massive scope is virtually always going to end up devolving into convoluted tropes, because very few writers have the ability to make these large story elements personal in a way that makes them meaningful to the reader/viewer/player. A large scale political drama ends up with narrative bloat that has to be bandaged together with deus ex machina papered over with melodrama (see: Game of Thrones final season).
A scaled down main plot would then have been beefed out with side quests and choice-based character development. As it stands now, it’s obvious to me that the RPG character development is going to be drastically limited by a commitment to a large cinematic plot.
Tedious, Mediocre and Ugly
The prologue was probably supposed to take 2 and a half hours. It took me about twice as long as it should have because of the difficulty I have with shooters and the fact that I couldn’t resist the urge to randomly open fire on all of the lesbians and black people in the game, which resulted in me continually having to restart from checkpoints. It felt like pulling teeth.
That is the other thing: this game is nothing but black people and lesbians. You don’t even see a white male, hardly ever. There are Japanese thrown in, inexplicably. Virtually everyone is ugly.
I should note that the satisfaction of shooting some lesbian is minimal, because for whatever reason, bullets rarely result in bullet holes, and instead, headshots more often than not result in “short circuit” electricity animations. You will not find in this game the satisfaction you get in RDR2 when you hold your revolver under some bitch’s chin and blow her brains out. I would say that “unsatisfying” describes virtually every aspect of Cyberpunk 2077.
The graphics themselves are pretty enough. This is the first AAA game I have played since RDR2, and I think that the graphics are improved from that game, though only slightly. The open world of Cyberpunk is surely impressive, and you really do feel like you’re living in this future world, as you run around on the dolled up and burned out streets, looking at the ugly cybernetically enhanced multicultural population and massive, ugly skyscrapers.
The question becomes: why would you want to be in this world? What you see in this game is the nightmare future that we in the right-wing are warning about. Why would someone want to spend their personal relaxation time going into this world? When I play fantasy or traditional science fiction games, I am entering a world that I am intrigued by, a world that I would want to visit. When I play Cyberpunk 2077, I’m entering a world that I fear that I’m going to be forced into before my life ends, a world that I never want to see and which I am fighting to prevent from becoming a reality. Even if the story was good and I enjoyed the gameplay, I would not want to play this game, because I don’t want to enter this world.
I am confused by what the actual thinking here was. I do not know if there are people who want to live in this world, or if it is being presented as a kind of horrorshow, on par with trudging through the nightmare visions of Dark Souls. The thing is, with Dark Souls, or Doom, or some other game where you trudge through a hellscape, it is a fantasy world, and you are a hero conquering it. In Cyberpunk, this hellscape feels all too close to reality, and instead of fighting to conquer it, your player character is an active participant in it. There is a thick nihilism that underscores the entire experience of the game.
There is a kind of core problem here, in that Cyberpunk is a uniquely challenging, politically-charged genre of fiction that is more about warning of a future hell, commenting on contemporary social and technological trends and speculating about their final form, than it is about having fun. Setting an adventure story in a cyberpunk world isn’t the straightforward proposition of an adventure in a fantasy realm, the wild west, outer space or a post-apocalyptic wasteland, as there is no clear path to redemption within the framework of the universe.
Cyberpunk is a uniquely challenging genre. For a game of this scale, that relies this much on cinematic narrative, there has to be some kind of underlying motivation to the action beyond plot. That is to say, you would need clear, meaningful themes that the player is able to relate to. Instead, they garbled up a bunch of genre tropes, mixed with some Antifa gibberish, and backed it with sex and violence and blinking lights. It creates an experience that simply feels wrong.
I think you’re going to have a lot of people disliking this game without being able to explain why they dislike it, simply saying that they find the experience of playing it unpleasant.
Maybe Someone Will Like It?
The art of the game is good, of course, but what computer generated art isn’t good these days? If you simply go click around on Deviantart, you’re going to find an endless well of cool concept art. There is nothing especially original about the aesthetics of Cyberpunk, and in fact, the retro aesthetics feel somewhat dated. That is hardly their fault, as the game was announced in 2012, but we’ve had a solid decade of being inundated with 80s nostalgia, and it just doesn’t feel compelling.
Regarding aesthetics, synthwave does not play heavily in the soundtrack, and they instead opted for a lot of rap music, which I found baffling.
Also with regards to aesthetics, certain mechanics of the game make you feel like you’re in an MK Ultra mind control experiment, which I found unpleasant. When your HP gets low, your vision starts glitching out, creating a seizure like experience. The psychedelic elements of the visuals are done poorly, and come across as repulsive.
There were not a lot of bugs, for day one of a game of this scope. There were regular instances of people talking and their lips not moving, and a few other graphical glitches and some quirky AI, but overall, they did release a more or less polished game, which is a rarity in current year.
If you enjoy shooting games with tedious and psychically draining bullet sponge mechanics (to the point where downed enemies regularly actually get back up), I feel you might enjoy the gameplay. Beyond the construction of the world, the gameplay is clearly what they put the most energy into (and again, I’m not the one to comment on that fairly, because I used to get headaches playing Goldeneye and haven’t taken up FPS since). I also should note that the melee combat, which I am a little bit more comfortable with in first person, feels weightless and button-mashy (but that could be tied to the fact that every character has 1000 HP, and it’s impossible to properly animate a humanoid character getting sliced with a katana 12 times before they go down).
After you make it through the laborious prologue, you will get to explore an open world that a whole lot of care went into building. The open world is bigger than that of Grand Theft Auto V, and it is much more detailed.
I’m sure I would find other things to like if I wasn’t so uninterested in the genre. Obviously, a game of this scope must have something worthwhile in it, somewhere. What I doubt, however, is that the game becomes more interesting. It is story-writing 101 to put your best foot forward in long-form writing, and the best foot of this writing team is a twisted gimp foot on an emaciated bum leg.
I do not recommend buying the game at full price, even if you are a fan of shooter games, and even if you can tolerate entering a hellscape of black people and lesbians, a portrayal of the hell that we are all fighting to prevent from becoming our reality.
We probably should have known better than to hope that a AAA game in 2020 would end up offering a fun experience.
In My View, You Should Play Something Else
The good news is, there are a whole lot of good games being released that are not AAA games. This was actually a fantastic year for games, in my opinion.
I would argue that Wasteland 3 is probably the best game ever made, and I love the Baldur’s Gate III early access. Those are both real RPGs, if any of you youngins want to get the classic experience in a modernized package. These two games are well written, and they both present worlds that I would want to live in. Yakuza 7 is a beautiful and unique RPG with endless exposition dumps that are actually engaging.
In terms of high action, Hades is a fantastic game, and a perfect example of properly implementing RPG elements into a combat-focused gameplay experience. Trials of Mana is a very fun time, despite slightly tedious combat.
There are all kinds of options for how you spend your video game time. I personally cannot imagine spending my video game time playing Cyberpunk 2077. My video game time is sacred, and I want it to relieve stress, not create more.