Cyberpunk 2077 is a controversial game for a lot of different reasons ranging from the technical to the textual. I have found it to be a game I want to talk about a lot - and I have! You can have a listen here - so I plan to produce at least one History Respawned episode on it. That episode will almost certainly talk about the game’s representation of a dystopian corporate-dominated futurism that features Japanese corporations along with East Asian people and culture in a way that reflects the late twentieth century roots of the cyberpunk genre. More of that to come.
The game showed up to market in a pretty awful state and that colors a lot of things. I have been particularly lucky with the PC version, though there have been some odd moments: being placed inside the body of the NPC driving the car I was previously a passenger in, being interrupted in the middle of a meaningful conversation by a phone call inviting me to go to a shooting range. The latter example was frustrating, as the conversation was quite good. The odd thing was that the NPC I was talking to kept trying to have a conversation with me and became frustrated I was on my phone; this would have been a very cool thing if it was not by accident and obviously a bug.
I am not overly fond of the open world mechanics. People seem to be shooting each other a lot and cops get angry at me very quickly but also I am supposed to be helping cops sometimes, I think? I am constantly getting texts from people I do not know, often trying to sell me cars. The driving is not fun and somehow feels too floaty and too finicky all at once. The side quests are hit and miss.
But when they hit, they do hit. Some of the side quests are genuinely great. I am finding the main campaign story compelling too. And I love Night City. I love this world they built. I do not really want to do any of the things they have set up for me to do in it, but I love driving around, listening to the radio. I have not fast travelled yet. I might never do it. Sometimes I pick an area of the city and just drive there. Often I go to the outskirts in one direction and look back at the city. It is very well done.
The characters can be excellent too. The overall tone of the game can be very odd. I have found it inconsistent. Sometimes it is rather edge lordy, often it comes across as a piece of work that is far, far too proud of itself for featuring profanities in the dialogue. Not always, though. My favourite moments so far have all come from scripted interactions with the game’s characters.
A lot of the game’s reviews mention Jackie Welles, as he features early in the game. He is a genuinely great character. A big lunky merc who takes you in, who offers one of the game’s very best illustrations of the class commentary that lies at its heart, Jackie is genuinely great. As I played through the game and began to discover it was not quite what I expected, I thought to myself: well, they put together a good character. That means something.
As I have played the game further I have encountered more and more of the game’s technical flaws, but I have met more characters like Jackie. Compelling, internally consistent, strong marriages of artwork and writing with great vocal performances. Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that seems to want to be a mixture of Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto but I am having the most fun when it decides to tell me exactly what to do for a few minutes.
Recently I joined a character companion on a mission. I met him at the assigned place, I followed him to the top of a partially constructed building, and we sat and talked. I was able to pick dialogue choices, which I assume will factor in later on, but otherwise this was a fully scaffolded sequence. I went somewhere, followed an NPC, sat down and talked to the NPC, and talked some more. As we hashed out some issues and he did a nice job of taking care of the mundane work of dropping some plot points on me, it occurred to me that this was my favourite part of the game. By some distance. We were planning an action packed bullet-ridden raid of an evil corporate stronghold, sure. But for now we were just chilling on the roof. It was nice, and nicely done.
So there you go. The game has been much maligned as a technical disaster and as a muddled open world experience and perhaps that is well deserved in both cases. I am enjoying the conversations and moving around the city, and that is how I am playing it: a fairly linear first person adventure game with a fantastically constructed game world to walk around in between missions. It is pretty clearly an unintended consequence. The marketing for this game alone, the decision to cast Keanu Reeves: this game was meant to be a behemoth that slayed all before it. Yet I find myself enjoying its quieter moments.