This review covers the PC version of Cyberpunk 2077
That little note above is not there to merely add context to this review, but to highlight how an experience can change based on the platform on which it is experienced. In the case of CD Projekt Red
’s Cyberpunk 2077
, you could say that our review setup is something of a best-case scenario - the latest NVIDIA GeForce RTX
hardware, a vibrant 4K LG OLED display, immersive sound in the form of studio-grade speakers, and a brand-new controller.
This is not to say you need the above to get the most out of Cyberpunk 2077 on PC -- it scales well across a wide range of hardware configuration -- it’s simply, again, context. As per our review in progress
we noted that stepping onto the streets of Night City for the first time can be overwhelming due to the sheer level of detail on display. On a high-end rig it is… breathtaking.
It's a feeling akin to visiting a new sprawling city for the first time. Where your eyes and brain activate their own organic form of CyberWare™ in order to process the sights, sounds, signage, vehicles, people and fashion. The bustle. Night City is quite unlike anything we’ve ever seen, with detail and a sense of scale that is truly awe-inspiring.
A sensory feast of towering buildings, people, animated billboards, vehicles, shops, back alleys, and more. The auditory mind isn’t entirely equipped, honestly, in our modern mindset to understand it. But, damn it’s rad. Night City and its districts present a futuristic megalopolis that stands as one of the greatest achievements in videogame history -- where art, interactivity and technology come together in such a way as to make the impossible, well, possible.
After 60-hours of walking the streets, driving through the Badlands, and diving through the wreckage of a now underwater part of Pacifica, that sense of awe, scale, and detail never really went away. That said there were more than a few momentary stutters, Relic Malfunctions, whenever a character did something glitchy or the AI behaved in such a way as to remove all pretense of that title. Artificial? Yes. Intelligent? Nope.
Stepping onto the streets of Night City for the first time can be overwhelming due to the sheer level of detail on display. On a high-end rig it is… breathtaking.
Technical issues aside, Night City is more than a series of impressively ray-traced future-buildings and highly detailed character models -- it’s a city that has its own identity, it sets the tone for a futuristic world where humanity’s worst impulses has seen technology catch up and take each and every one of those to a new level.
Built using developer CD Projekt RED’s own Red Engine, the Night City we get to see and explore is one of those rare experiences where it feels like you’re witnessing some of the most evocative concept art come to life. Based on the pen-and-paper roleplaying game from the 1980s, created by Mike Pondsmith, the art direction is what you might call “retro-cool”; hardware and structures that feel lived-in; neon and chunky, like. Cyberpunk’s version of what we know of as the internet captures this spirit by presenting pages on a lo-fi browser but on the sort of transparent display you might envision existing decades from now.
Night City is such that it can change the way you play and move about. For instance, heading to a meeting across town might mean walking that kilometre or so, while stopping at each intersection only to cross when it’s safe, casually taking note of all those passing by, and momentarily basking in the lights and sounds emanating from street vendors, hotels, and storefronts. In a sense, Cyberpunk 2077 can quite easily turn you into a digital tourist, even though protagonist V is anything but.
The above, written after roughly 15-hours or so of playtime highlights the strongest impression you get from Cyberpunk 2077 -- the setting of Night City. Even after credits roll, strolling through its densely packed streets and suburban outskirts is wonderful, even if it’s mostly surface level. That is, from a ‘game’ perspective. If Cyberpunk -- as it stands right now -- was issue-free (CDPR are rapidly addressing bugs and glitches), the biggest oversight would be interactivity that can rise to the level of its visual immersion. The disconnect between what you see versus what you do, Night City is mostly made-up of volumetric fog (smoke) and reflective surfaces (mirrors).
Even after credits roll, strolling through its densely packed streets and suburban outskirts is wonderful, even if it’s mostly surface level.
There’s no place to change your hairstyle or physical appearance, clothing stores don’t let you preview outfits, eateries and bars don’t sell regional dishes or drinks (even though they talk about them), and most activities are static icons on a map you can clear. That in particular is a strange one. An open-world where bouts of criminal or gang activity within each region is ‘x of a specific number of violent outbursts’ to quell, versus emergent or even player-created. Adding it all up you wouldn’t be at fault for calling Cyberpunk 2077 unfinished. Or at the very least, overly ambitious.
One side of Cyberpunk 2077 that deserves praise though is the near instant loading on PC, and the fact that the transition from highly detailed indoor locations to outdoor settings is seamless. Now, that may not sound all that special but starting in V’s apartment looking out of his or her window to see Night City and then walking outside to find a huge apartment building bustling with activity to then walking into an elevator to see glimpses of the outside world as it finally lowers so you can then walk out onto a busy intersection of vehicles, people, neon lights, strange sights, sounds, and funky fashion. Yeah, that moment alone was the most next-gen thing we’ve experienced this year.
And it’s a feeling that persists as you move through Night City and work through the main story.
Emergent sandbox-style gameplay though, is as non-existent as traffic AI. A Far Cry from what we’ve seen from the likes of Rockstar and others. Even something like being wanted for criminal behaviour ala GTA can be circumvented when the Night City PD stops any and all pursuit after a single-block in pursuit. This leaves a large chunk of exploration as a bridge between Street Stories. This is important to highlight because Cyberpunk 2077 presents a choice-driven narrative with deep RPG systems serving as the foundation for both character development, the narrative, and combat.
Cyberpunk 2077’s combat is fast, but it still falls firmly into the realm of the RPG -- especially when played on the higher difficulty settings. There’s that traditional ‘holy moly these skill trees and CyberWare options are insane’ sense of overwhelming, but it's befitting of the world in which it’s set. Here the base stat of ‘Cool’ opens up stealth upgrades and the chance to land a critical hit. ‘Tech’ informs crafting and being able to bypass security doors without a fuss.
It’s understanding the world that informs the brisk and engaging combat, pure FPS skills don’t make sense here on the account of there being an augment that will boost speed and reaction times to turn V into a self-guided™ esports MVP. The fact that you can wield a rare pistol that features smart auto-tracking bullets that set people on fire feels almost superhero-like in nature. Or, more specifically, supervillain-like. Then there’s tech that lets you breach and cause someone’s augmentations to overheat and catch fire. You can also hack someone’s optics to switch them off, allowing V to pass unseen. No fire, but there’s probably a Ripperdoc in Night City that sells some sort of eye combustion tech.
This side of the experience needs work too, mostly from a balancing perspective. With gunplay and straight up action feeling a lot more powerful than going melee, hack-happy Netrunner, or stealth neon-assassin -- CDPR has simply made the cover-based shooting and the weapons themselves (revolvers and other Tech and Power weapons are just plain awesome to use) too good to pass up. So much so that as cool as hacking or stealth can be, it never feels necessary or rewarding. We’d love to be able to not only disable cameras but infect and cause enough mayhem that an entire room could be cleared without having to even walk through the door.
And then have that choice affect the world.
With gunplay and straight up action feeling a lot more powerful than going melee, hack-happy Netrunner, or stealth neon-assassin -- CDPR has simply made the cover-based shooting and the weapons themselves (revolvers and other Tech and Power weapons are just plain awesome to use) too good to pass up.
In the end the best way to sum up Cyberpunk 2077 is to say that it has as much in common with the Mafia series as it does Grand Theft Auto, Bethesda’s Fallout, or CDPR’s own The Witcher III. As the excellent Mafia remake proved, set dressing and high-quality production values can lead to some impressively cinematic immersion. And in terms of cinematic immersion, Cyberpunk 2077 is remarkable. It feels next-gen. But, there’s a downside -- those looking to live
in Night City, well, there’s not much in the way of life outside of the characters you meet during V’s journey.
As per CDPR’s masterpiece that is The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, Cyberpunk 2077 shines brightest when the focus is squarely on its excellent storytelling. The various people you meet, and the Street Stories you discover, serve as that interaction point lacking elsewhere - adding context, history, and presence to the wider Night City. From investigating political corruption that then leads into a surprising and deeply confronting exploration into the life and memory of a serial killer, to putting on one last show for a bunch of aging rockers as the setting for a tale about letting go.
A lot of this side of Cyberpunk 2077 carries the feeling of playing something that will stick with you for years -- it has that quality. Each major story adds to the world, the setting, the mystery. Throw in PC visuals that are easily some of the most impressive you’re likely to see this year or next, it’s the one part of the experience that lives up to the futuristic setting and promise seen in the many pre-release gameplay slices and trailers.
But again, there’s a disconnect that creeps up every now and then. Immersion that breaks whenever you come across a bug or you can see the seams due to missing AI or missing features. No doubt Cyberpunk 2077 will be a better game on all platforms in three months time, and then three months after that. For now, it’s breathtaking on PC - for all the right, and wrong, reasons.