Cyberpunk 2077: What Could Have Been, What Could Still Be...
I’m not ashamed to admit that I boarded the Cyberpunk 2077 (CP) hype train. I bought the ticket, climbed on the roof, and screamed about it to anyone who’d listen. Hell, I devoted my entire vacation last year to the release. When it was over, I had almost one hundred-thirty hours logged across two separate playthroughs.
I fought through the bugs and the crashes and the bugs and the bugs and the bugs… and the bugs. I told myself that CP was a genre-defining masterpiece from quite possibly the last-remaining developer in the world that actually cared about players.
I wouldn’t call myself an idiot, per se, but the writing was definitely on the wall; and I chose not to read it.
Despite the above, we aren’t here today so I can tear into CD Projekt Red. We aren’t here to discuss the myriad issues CP has. All that has been done to death by people that get paid to do it for a living. We’re here so I can slap on some rose-colored glasses and tell you what I saw in Cyberpunk. What lurked beneath the surface, the brilliance that shone through once you looked past, well… everything.
The world of Night City is every bit as monolithic and imposing as anything Blade Runner could dish out. Slabs of featureless concrete shoot hundreds of meters into the sky, holographic advertisements splashed across their surfaces. The streets run like veins and arteries through the bloated body of the city. Everyone and everything is yelling at you, trying to sell you something, or calling you an asshole for cutting them off.
You don’t matter in Night City. Nobody cares if you live or die. And it’s against this backdrop that you have to find your way.
CD Projekt Red (CDPR) did a masterful job in designing the city of the future. Personally, I can fully believe that Night City is going to be what Los Angeles looks like in fifty-plus years.
I lost count of how many times I found myself standing on a corner, looking around, watching life pass me by. I could smell the fresh coat of graffiti, laid over the top of grime-streaked walls. I could feel the rain as I walked down the street in the middle of the night. I could see the gun-smoke hanging in the air after a shootout between gangers and the NCPD.
In the good moments, between the frame stutters, and the random clipping, and the texture pop-in, it felt real.
CDPR should be commended for their achievement. No other game I’ve ever played has put me inside its world like that.
It should be stated that from my perspective, CDPR are, first and foremost, storytellers. The Witcher 3 stands as one of the best single player experiences of all time. Even removing the central plot from the equation, the stories they crafted, and the depth and complexity of their characters, all stand second to none.
Cyberpunk is no different.
The evolution of the gaming industry has pushed the concept of “player choice” to the forefront where single-player games are concerned. Everybody wants to feel that their experience is unique, that they left their mark on the world of the game.
CP was marketed with this concept in mind. We (the consumers) were told that every action you undertook, every conversation you had, every bullet you fired would have far-reaching consequences on your overall experience.
We were lied to.
While I don’t, in any way, excuse that, allow me to interject a big, fat, hairy BUT.
True, my dialogue choices had about as much impact on a questline as (pick your metaphor). BUT, with few exceptions, the questlines themselves were as top tier as anything The Witcher 3 had to offer. True, my presence as a player in any given engagement could’ve been replaced with anyone else, and they would’ve achieved the same results. BUT, isn’t that the point?
CPDR marketed this game as a tour de force in player choice. I submit to you this question: What’s wrong with a curated experience?
It was clear to me from minute one that CDPR wanted players to experience their game in a very specific way. A way that would leverage their talents as storytellers to maximum effect; and they did that. I was enthralled by every story beat, captivated by every character.
Unfortunately, CDPR were victims of their own success. The Witcher 3 featured some of the most dynamic storytelling in gaming history. Wildly different outcomes to quests took place based on the decisions the player made, and somehow they managed to mold all those decisions into a series of endings that varied incredibly.
“So,” the public thought, “if they captured lightning in a bottle once before, why can’t they just do it again? But on a bigger scale.”
The expectations set on CDPR’s shoulders were monumental. A weight I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
However, they played into it. They drank their own Kool-Aid, and sold us vaporware for the better part of a decade. They released endless promotional videos featuring Mike Pondsmith (the creator of the Cyberpunk tabletop RPG), they trotted out Keanu Reeves at E3, expecting his face to sell a few million more copies.
Ugh, I’m digressing. I said I wouldn’t tear down CDPR, and I’m trying like hell not to.
The point is this: We may not have gotten what they promised, but what they did deliver was still amazing.
Excusing the technical issues (it’s hard -- believe me, I know) Cyberpunk 2077 is an incredible experience. The brilliance they’re known for is there, buried deep. The potential this game has is limitless.
CDPR is currently in the process of slapping as many Band-Aids (software patches) as they can onto Cyberpunk to get it running right. I’m of the mind that they’ll be able to fix it in the long run (let’s face facts -- their stock price can’t afford for them not to).
And when all is said and done, hopefully people will be able to see what I saw as I sat on my couch for a week straight (don’t worry, I showered), plowing through Night City like my life depended on it.
I realize that no one at CDPR will probably ever read this, but if they do, I have a message for them:
Get up, Samurai.