When art and potential are dragged down by greed and terrible leadership, this is the result. Spoilers ahead.
In my own circle and widely throughout the gaming world, Cyberpunk 2077 was hotly anticipated. Experience has taught me to know better than to believe all promotional hype. However, based on what was shown of the product in development, CD Projekt Red’s (now former) track record, and the promises made in a “for gamers, by gamers” way, it is not unreasonable to have had high expectations of this game. Though not in true, all-in development until after The Witcher 3 was in gamers’ hands, there were still years poured into this product and there was legitimate reason to expect great things from Cyberpunk 2077.
Then the unthinkable happened. What had up until been an extremely consumer-conscious and friendly gaming developer, ended up having their reputation and good will destroyed by their senior leadership (and possibly by certain investors, difficult to say without more insider data) in one fell swoop. To what was the shock of the CDPR development team (given their surprise when the game went gold last Autumn), what I can best describe as an alpha-level build of Cyberpunk 2077 dropped into the market on December 10, 2020. For the first time since Mass Effect 3, I took some extra time away from other interests in order to get fully immersed in Night City as V.
One of my versions of V, inspired by After Terra’s Lilith
I did encounter some weird bugs and a couple of crashes in my initial playthrough, but even on a base model Xbox One did not have the insane issues that many others experienced, some to the point where the game was unplayable. My kneejerk reaction was to sing the game’s praises and declare it a flawed but brilliant game, because I was having such a good time with it. But when I stepped back and processed my feelings from my perspective and that of others, I realized how unfair and sleazy the release was, how consumers had a right to feel pissed off and cheated by this game. Now, sorry Fallout Reddit, I still don’t think Fallout 76 has lost its crown for worst game launch ever, given that it was an unplayable and completely broken trainwreck on all platforms and in some ways still is, however that Cyberpunk 2077 released in the state it did is still inexcusable. As a creator, I sympathize with the artists and developers at CDPR who had to see their hard work tarnished by being presented in a build that shouldn’t even have passed as a public beta.
That the game needed more time in the oven goes beyond the obvious technical faults, as once past the prologue, Cyberpunk 2077 utterly fails at being a choice-driven, open world and open narrative RPG, instead settling on being a linear psychological action thriller/detective story that gives a veneer of choice on the surface but largely plays out the same way. That’s why my second playthrough failed to enthrall me the way the first one did, as I saw how little agency you have over V and their story. The way the endgame plays out almost entirely boils down to a choice made in one crucial conversation at the story’s point of no return. It feels like Mass Effect 3 all over again (though not quite that bad, as nothing can be), in that what you do in the majority of the narrative means nothing by the end, and it comes down to one narrow list of selections that dictates which flavor of ending you get. Now, I consider the endings to Cyberpunk better than Mass Effect 3 because at least they do diverge, they do fit the story’s themes, and they leave the player with much to ponder. As a trans person, I was particularly affected on an intellectual and emotional level by the interplay between V (especially female V, as they have the superior voice actor by far) and Johnny Silverhand, touching on what it’s like to have a disconnect between mind, body, and soul, having your body hijacked by something that is definitively not you, and the ultimate forms of self-sacrifice. It’s heavy stuff that deserves more attention and spotlight, but sadly the overwhelming majority of Cyberpunk coverage is obsessed with the games technical problems, cut features, or the continuing downward spiral CDPR is on legally and financially.
Since I mentioned transness, I want to reiterate that the claims of transphobia by diehard SJWs is total bullshit. I played the everloving hell out of Cyberpunk 2077, earned all of the achievements, saw all of the endings, explored Night City from top to bottom and all ways across. I did not see this transphobia or trans exploitation the SJWs were crying so hard over. The CDPR tweet that came out before the game’s launch that utilized the hashtag “won’t be erased” was also not transphobic, because that phrase is not the copyrighted property of the LGBT community. Full stop. Not transphobic. I also had to chuckle in response to the cries foul over sexism and harmful depiction of female bodies in Night City. Okay, get it through your head: the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is a futuristic corporate dystopia, an imagined future where we didn’t fix today’s problems and instead only allowed them to get magnified, to the point where corporations run the world. Sex sells now and it only does more so in a corporate dystopian America. But everyone is fair game. There are gay/lesbian couples shown in ads, there are men and women used in equal measure, and in fact I saw a hell of a lot more depictions of female over male dominance rather than vice versa.
A clear example of misogyny, right? *rolls eyes*
Cyberpunk 2077 is a game I am glad that I played, and the experience will stick with me for the rest of my life. The music, artwork, the characters, the setting, Keanu Reeves’ performance as Silverhand (if you don’t like him as an actor this game won’t change your mind much, but this is one of his best and most nuanced roles ever), the experiences I had that touched my heart, these are all wonderful things. I am saddened that they are overshadowed by a disastrous, rushed launch that clearly wanted to take advantage of holiday sales during a new console release season. The upper management and anyone else who greenlit the game’s release should be fired, in addition to their terrible direction of the project and any misery they inflicted on their team due to poor leadership. The project lost its way from what it originally set out to be, and we may never know what amazing product we would have received if the creative director had allowed the project to remain an open narrative, full-fledged RPG that was true to its tabletop roots, instead of a game that wanted to be like Grand Theft Auto and Borderlands with an investigative story in the vein of Blade Runner.
I can sadly only recommend Cyberpunk 2077 to patient gamers who prioritize story, art, and music over having the best and brightest of raw gameplay experiences. Playing Cyberpunk 2077 is serviceable, but experiencing the characters, narrative, and city is where it is best, though the replay value is shallow when you realize how little your choices matter and how shockingly little there is to do in Night City.