Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Wake the fuck up Samurai, it's finally happened. After eight years in development, the highly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 has been released to the public. The dreaded yellow background tore our hearts out not one, not two, but three times this year. We tolerated a parade of "it's actually coming out in the year 2077 hurr hurr" jokes that even Harambe would think are a little much. However, the release of the game itself does not mark the end of the controversy surrounding the development, as the reception has been mixed, to say the least.
To be sure, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a revelatory accomplishment that earned developer CD Projekt Red immeasurable repute, but that may have inadvertently resulted in them biting off more than they could chew. The legend of Cyberpunk 2077 grew beyond its creator's control months, if not years before it could be judged on its merits. The advertising campaign may have been irresponsibly ambitious, but it was not without reason. This game is massive, and under very specific conditions, it is downright stunning.
The most charitable evaluation I can give is that I am satisfied with my purchase. I was enthralled with the setting, narrative, and graphics from the very start. Cyberpunk 2077 provides a deeply compelling and surprisingly emotional journey. Night City looks and feels like a gauche, retro-futuristic semi-dystopia that nonetheless projects no small amount of charm. Night City is loud, active, and colorful, and at first glance appears to be a vibrant, living organism of a world that rivals the likes of GTA V and Read Dead Redemption 2. But much like the unsavory advertisements plastered all over the cityscape, it is largely devoid of substance and mostly serves as a vehicle for delivering the cyberpunk aesthetic as an afterthought to a rich story. The thin environment is buoyed by the personalities that occupy the plurality of your attention. The game's protagonist, V, resides in the awkward middle ground between a blank slate that serves as a stand-in for the player to project themselves onto (as seen in the likes of Fallout: New Vegas), and a fully fleshed independent character that allows the player a degree of agency (like the beloved Geralt of Rivia). Nevertheless, I found myself sufficiently invested in V's predicament and allowed CDPR's consistently great writing to carry me through an unforgettable odyssey. Like The Witcher 3, there are multiple possible endings, and the ones I have been able to experience have all tugged at the few heartstrings I have left.
The vast majority of the game is experienced in first person, which makes for some uncomfortable moments as V, uh, "connects" with some of the more "accessible" characters of Night City. There are several sexual encounters available to the player and each one had me awkwardly scanning the room for anyone that might be watching, even though I live alone and I don't think my dog understands what I am doing. This is not to say the romantic aspect of the game is inadequate, as V's potential partners are so well written that I found myself forming a real attachment to them, and they are also well animated to the point where looking them in the eyes almost felt real (VR technology would make this disturbingly more so). Setting aside the game's many technical issues, there is something special underneath it all.
Perhaps the most publicized element of this game was the involvement of Keanu Reeves, who plays militant anti-corporate rockerboy Johnny Silverhand. Keanu delivers a surprisingly charismatic performance as a debonaire, devil-on-your-shoulder apparition, often waxing nostalgic about the good old days of rock-and-roll gigs and daring heists. As your relationship with Johnny progresses, you begin to understand each other, and your opinion of each other can improve or worsen depending on your choices and sensibilities. Johnny is an unapologetically passionate man, and even his honest, poignant lamentation of the corporate landscape may not be enough to endear him to you, but I'll be damned if it's not convincing.
It is through Johnny that the game's politics trickle through, somewhat ironically, given that Keanu himself appears to be rather apolitical. The supercorporations that dominate the world of Cyberpunk are parallels of the likes of Amazon and defense contractors like Raytheon almost to the point of parody. Company executives are considered almost royalty, and employees and subjects alike are subject to invasive policies and horrific conditions. Cyberpunk 2020, the board game on which 2077 is based, is centered around the natural progression of unchecked capitalism, our embrace of technology, and its role in our relationship to power.
In making the digital version of Mike Pondsmith's tabletop creation, CDPR obviously set out to soften the political commentary, focusing more on recreating the feel of the world rather than the spirit of it. Cyberpunk 2077 touches upon many of the themes included, but it makes no statements of its own. This is to be expected, since developers tend to be gun-shy when it comes to political undertones in video games. In the Cyberpunk universe, however, it is unavoidable and, despite its best efforts, CDPR has invited its share of attention. It has received criticism for its inclusion of transgender themes, and also missing the mark with the same. There is certainly an argument in favor of the notion that a true Cyberpunk universe would be a gauche parade of debauchery and the commodification and fetishization of identity, but CDPR does not strike me as a self-aware enough developer to do it well, or on purpose. Ultimately, 2077 has as tepid a delivery as every other game with innately political source material.
Cyberpunk 2077 is impressive and disappointing in equal measure, but there is room for improvement. The game is in dire need of numerous added features and performance fixes, and the game is reportedly nearly unplayable on base consoles. The game's performance on older hardware is reportedly so poor that it has prompted refunds and even a class-action lawsuit. I'm inclined to believe these complaints are overblown, but the quality of the product is subpar nonetheless. As enjoyable as it is, it should not have been released in this state. Despite CDPR's commitment to making corrections, I cannot in good conscience recommend this game to anyone who does not own at least a mid-tier gaming PC or a late-stage console (PS4 Pro/Xbox One S or later). CDPR has earned enough goodwill to afford them the opportunity to rectify their shortcomings, but until they do, their latest output does not meet expectations.
Joey's grade: B-