Cyberpunk 2077 is the long-awaited first-person, action role-playing video game developed by the makers of The Witcher series, CD Projekt Red. It takes place in the fictional Night City, and you play as a customizable mercenary known as V as he tries to go up the ladder in order to survive the harsh reality of living in the shadow of Night City with its corporates, gangs, and criminal elements.
This game came with high expectations, partly because CD Projekt Red had amassed tremendous goodwill from gamers after having developed one of the greatest games of all time in “The Witcher 3”. They have also cast themselves as being a “consumer friendly” company in the face of ever growing corporate greed in the video game industry. Every Game of the Year conversation I’ve had in the past year always included Cyberpunk 2077, and a lot of fans seriously expected this game to be really good right off the bat.
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That’s why I was surprised at how Cyberpunk 2077 crashed and burned after its launch on the PlayStation 4 and XBox One consoles. How the CD Projekt Red had to appease many fans by making a public apology and offered help to those who wanted refunds. How that offer wasn’t actually coordinated or even communicated with Sony and Microsoft, leading both companies to deal with angry players asking for refunds. How Sony eventually pulled the game from the PlayStation Store indefinitely. Surely it couldn’t be that bad? Games have been released buggy or missing features at lunch but turned around to be pretty good, I was so sure that while it was buggy, it shouldn’t be that buggy. And while I did not worship CDPR, their previous track record had shown that they were more than competent to handle any technical problems. That’s what I thought, until I bought and played the game.
Something to hide?
I was wondering why review codes weren’t sent for this game. For something as hyped as Cyberpunk 2077, review codes were hard to get. I knew the codes for the PC version were already sent out, but the game will be released on multiple platforms and usually in those cases, review codes are sent out like crazy. But I wasn’t fazed because I don’t mind buying the game anyway so I went that route and bought a digital version on the PlayStation Store. I had a really good first two hours even, even though there were graphical hiccups. Expected, I thought, because the PlayStation 4 is an old console and might have been having a hard time running the hardware. Eventually, the bugs got worse and worse to the point that the game was crashing on me every hour. One quick look at the Cyberpunk 2077 sub-reddit, I realized that I wasn’t alone, and that many PS4 and XBox One players were running into the same problems.
I tried playing the game some more, because some users were saying that they haven’t been experiencing those problems or if they did, it wasn’t bad enough to stop your progression. But the more I played, the worse the issues got, to the point that it was seriously affecting gameplay. The following are some of the bugs or issues that I experienced:
- Clothes and even body parts not loading during gameplay and scenes.
- NPC models take some time to load, and even de-spawn right in front of you.
- In one scene with Dex, the vehicle we were in suddenly de-spawned. Dex and I were “sitting” on nothing until the game mercifully crashed.
- When riding a vehicle, I suddenly hit an invisible wall/barrier in the middle of a bridge (I was on my way to Meredith Stout).
- In the middle of combat, an invisible enemy was shooting at me. The enemy NPC shows in the mini-map, so I was able to kill it. The character fully loaded while laying dead.
- This next one is apparently not a bug, but NCPD officers spawn next to me during alerts. The alert status also suddenly disappears after some time.
- I once run over an NPC that haven’t loaded yet.
Those are just the things I remember. I was actualy worried that my PS4 unit was already giving away. At this point, the games are expected to simply be a lot more complex and taxing to old hardware, but I tried playing other games like Spider Man Miles Morales, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Ghost of Tsushima just to see if they are showing the same signs. Of those titles, only Assassin’s Creed Valhalla crashed after more than 3 hours of playing. Both Ghost Recon and Assassin’s Creed also had pop-ups and bugs, but not as bad as Cyberpunk 2077.
It was at this point that I realized that the game for the last generation consoles were most likely not optimized for the base version, which was a basic requirement by Sony at least. I don’t believe anyone in their right mind playing the PS4 and XBox One versions had any illusions that the game will run like the PC version where the game was very playable despite also having bugs. But it’s only fair to assume that the game would at least be playable, or that it did not have the amount of bugs that it had. And I find that very unfortunate because in my opinion, Cyberpunk 2077 minus the bugs is a good and fun game. I did have fun with the game……when it worked. And for me, that caveat shouldn’t exist in a full-priced game by a major developer.
A sight to behold
I really appreciated the effort that Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City tried to bring to the table. The place does feel like a lot of work was put into it, and if you can look past some placeholder assets loading, and NPCs suddenly spawning in front of you, you will love it as I did. The colorful streets, the hover-cars that evoke images of the planet Coruscant from the Star Wars movies, the futuristic setting, and even the bionic enhancements on almost everyone looks so sweet. I love walking around during mornings, seeng the sun rise as sunlight hits the shiny top of a new vehicle on the highway. I love how deserted the streets feel at night except for red light districts. I love listening to the chatter of NPCs that hint at lives and personalities of their own, at least until weird stuff starts happening to them or the game.
I am not a fan of first-person games, but I was able to appreciate the beauty of Cyberpunk 2077 from this perspective. I love the feeling that while the NPCs are talking, they seem to be talking to me, and not to an avatar I have been controlling. It helped me buy into the idea that I am V, and my decisions reflect my personality, from dialogue choices to my agumentations. I find that very important in a game whose plot includes having somebody else’s digital soul or personality (called engram in the game) slowly overwriting your own.
CD Projekt Red has a good reputation as master lore-builders thanks to The Witcher games, and that looks to be the same in Cyberpunk 2077. Tons of material and information can be found around Night City that explains the back stories of many characters and corporations, and even technologies and other stuff. You get the sense of what several characters are going through by understanding some societal issues hinted by a data you just picked up, or a radio show you just listened to while driving around. This is actually what made Night City feel alive for me since those snippets of data added a lot of context to the events happening in the game. More than introducing you to adversaries, factions, plot-twists, and corporate greed, it gives the story missions much needed gravitas. This is what really got me hooked as I tried to play with all of those bugs, because learning how and why things are what they are gives you a certain perspective about character and faction motivations.
Groundbreaking or more of the same?
Like I said earlier, I wasn’t a fan of first-person games or the first-person perspective itself outside of racing and flying simulations so it took me a while to get used to it. But once I did, I had a really good time, especially at the beginning when the only bugs that were happening were that the character models took their sweet time loading. But let’s ignore the bugs for a second: is Cyberpunk 2077 a masterpiece? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. I found the gameplay to be somewhat generic open-world. If you strip away the trappings like Night City, the characters, and some Cyberpunk 2077-specific gameplay elements, it’s just another conventional open-world game. Now, I don’t really want to mean that as a bad thing since I enjoyed a lot of open world games that have similar mechanics, and I enjoyed Cyberpunk 2077 for mostly the same reasons. It’s just that I expected a lot more out of a game hyped as the next big thing.
To be perfectly clear: just because the gameplay doesn’t meet my expectations does not mean it is automatically bad. I mean the technical issues in this game is already on a different level, but I had a really fun time with this game. It’s just that I expected a lot more out of this game based on its own marketing. I wasn’t as hyped as most people, but I still had expectations. While some promised features did appear, they always felt a bit barebones. As if the concept and the foundations are present, but it’s either the mechanics themselves needed a lot more development time to be fine-tuned, or they weren’t really that deep to begin with. I’m not even going into the discussion of how much content was cut and how they affected the finished product (because content do get cut in the normal development cycle of any game), but there is a sense that something important was missing or lacking.
I was not expecting a “Night City life simulator” of sorts, but outside of missions, I was not particularly impressed with the gameplay. It is fun, but not impressive. There aren’t that much really big decisions to make, and choosing your back story only affects how your prologue goes. You can’t really choose what kind of life you want to live apart from what the story missions will give you, and the stores and other locations you can visit feel pretty shallow. This sort of thing happens a lot in open-world games and the reason why I mentioned it here is to show that Cyberpunk 2077’s open-world does not really differ that much from other games of the genre. If this was a review, I would have deducted points for this one because as good as this game is, it just doesn’t live to the hype.
Again, that doesn’t nullify the fun times that other players had with this game. If the game ran well on your platform and you had a great time playing it, then I am happy for you. You see, if you’ve been reading my reviews, I’m not a really hard reviewer to please. I am ridiculously forgiving of mechanics that have been recycled again and again especially if a game is part of a series. That said, I have found that compared to CDPR’s other games, Cyberpunk 2077 does not deliver the goods in terms of innovative gameplay. Not when you consider the marketing and the hype, and how open-world games have evolved going into a new console generation.
The unPolished game
But it is the bugs that really hurt this game. I think the question everybody is still asking is why CDPR would release the game in this state. I can live with missing advertised features and cut content, but the bugs are just atrocious despite a huge Day One patch, and needed more patches to make it stable. This is a game that was delayed several times already, what harm would it be to delay it once more? And if bugs in the base version of the last gen consoles are proving difficult to fix, then maybe it shouldn’t have been released there. Fans may riot for a week or so, but as long as the reason is solid, people will eventually understand. But CDPR had been assuring fans early this year that the game is at or nearing completion which isn’t the case.
There’s also been a lot of stuff being thrown around like PC players throwing shade at base PS4 and XBox One players for playing a “next gen game” on old hardware. That is just plain unfair, not to mention it reeks of elitism. If a game was released on old hardware despite not running well there, then that’s just irresponsible on the part of CDPR. Add to that their intentional withholding of review copies for those platforms presumably because they knew of the problems in those versions of the game is just plain deceit. Players of whatever platform shouldn’t be paying for a publisher’s greed, just as people playing on technologically superior platforms shouldn’t be a dick.
Why do I say it’s because of greed? Because the old consoles still have a significant user base that any publisher would like to tap into. There’s really no good reason to release the game in the state it was in besides that. People bought the base console versions of the game because they trusted CDPR to do good on them. If CDPR really wanted to put forward a quality product, it could have done one of two things. they could bite the bullet and admit that making a last-gen console version of the game is more problem than it is worth, or make sure that if they do release a game for the old consoles, that it is in a working condition at launch. It would have been so easy from a PR perspective to put a spin on the situation by saying that Cyberpunk 2077 is so ambitious the technology it was originally developed for simply cannot handle it. But they really had to release it and take advantage of the huge user base of the old consoles and are now forced into a PR nightmare of having to face refund demands and face potential lawsuits.
That said, I do not buy into the idea that the old consoles simply cannot handle the game. Games are optimized specifically for specific platforms. If a said platform cannot load assets properly, programmers would try to work out solutions like reduced load distance or lower resolutions. Removing some features is also possible, and it has been done before with Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor which was released for PS4/XBox One and PS3/XBox 360. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was also released on two console generations, and the game runs extremely well with no content loss. Grand Theft Auto V was initially released on the PS3/XBox 360 and it still ran extremely well even with its obviously superior PS4 version. Cyberpunk 2077 actually works on old gen. It’s just not working well.
The most recent patch, 1.06, seems to have solved the problem for many users. But I still couldn’t find it in my heart to reinstall Cyberpunk 2077 because the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. Sure, the game is playable, but the reason “at least the game is playable” feels like a get out of jail free card. If we can criticize EA for the intense monetization in their games, then certainly we should also criticize CDPR for releasing a game that needed more development time. Most games do require Day One patches these days with additional patches for features, and I’ve grown to accept that. But six huge patches to make the game run properly isn’t my idea of a game that is ready to launch.
Maybe some day, I will play Cyberpunk 2077 again, and hopefully finish the story this time, and not worry about teleporting police, or driving through a wall, or hitting an unseen wall. I’m not going to tell people to steer clear of this game since that’s their money. But for now, thank you Sony, for giving me my money back.