Editor’s Note: This review is a collaborative review between Fingal Belmont with the Xbox One version on Xbox Series S, and additional comments by Frank Streva on Windows PC. The review score at the end of this review reflects both versions.
CD Projekt Red have made a name for themselves making ambitious role playing games based on the Witcher novels. Their pro-consumer strategies had made the Polish developer a darling in the eyes of gamers, thanks to frequent free content updates and further game fixes.
They had always maintained a level of transparency with their customers, and actively made an effort to guarantee gamers would get their money’s worth. Witcher 3: Wild Hunt improved over the years as the team further refined the game after launch, making it many people’s favorite release of the eighth generation.
Now with Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red utterly botches all that good will they had built up. Not only is Cyberpunk 2077 one of the most ambitious single-player game ever made, it also became one of the most over-hyped and troubled developments of all time.
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Platforms: Windows PC (reviewed with additional comments), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One (reviewed on Xbox Series S), Google Stadia, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: December 10, 2020 (Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Google Stadia), 2021 (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S)
CD Projekt Red has only released three games in the span of 13 years. Of those three games, the one that most people know them for is Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It is the only game they are known for, and all of their credibility as a game developer was carried by that single game.
Cyberpunk 2077 was announced in 2012, two years before Witcher 3 released. During the eight plus years of development hell, Cyberpunk 2077 would make headlines about features getting cut or new delays happening. Despite the bad news, everyone was always hyped for this game that was destined to be a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game.
Based on the pen and paper game by Mike Pondsmith, Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person, open-world action game with role-playing elements. Creating a character is limited, with only a few presets per facial feature, making either male or female V look iterative. Not that it matters; since the only time you can see V is in the main menu screen, looking in a mirror, or during photo-mode.
The substance of character creation is allocating V’s stats and choosing one of the three backgrounds. Each background comes with a unique prologue sequence that establishes the world in a creative way, and will also come with specialist dialogue choices that can alter the course of some missions.
Stats play a crucial role in Cyberpunk 2077, since it does make an effort to abide by its pen and paper roots. There are many instances through out the game that will check if V has enough of a specific stat, which can lead to some unique situations should you specialize in said attribute.
Having a high technical stat means being able to unlock doors. Anyone with high “cool” stat can manipulate conversations their way, or being so smooth you can sneak by anyone. High intelligence will allow almost endless options when hacking the planet, or turning all systems against your enemies. This is all guaranteed so long as Cyberpunk 2077 works… Which is not all the time.
Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was no stranger to updates and fixes. When the game launched on consoles in 2015, it was a bit rough around the edges, but it was still playable. Cyberpunk 2077 gives Ubisoft a run for their money for one of the most embarrassingly buggy launches of all time. Even with day-zero, day-one, and the hot-fix patches- Cyberpunk 2077 is borderline unplayable.
The bugs and glitches have a wide range of coverage to almost every single aspect of the game. Cyberpunk 2077 can look pretty good if you have a ninth gen console or a beefy PC, but God help the poor devils who try to play it on the original target consoles. Not only will players have to contend with the intensely choppy frame rate, but also the graphics failing to load properly.
Blurry effigies will trot around a smudgy city, often painfully snapping into different animation cycles, or driving vehicles that resemble fecal mush. The game has no official Xbox Series or PlayStation 5 versions, and the only way to play this on consoles where you don’t experience these visual and graphical snafus is on any of the ninth gen machines via backwards compatibility.
If you are fortunate to own any of the next generation consoles, you are in luck because Cyberpunk 2077 fares much better on new hardware. The low level detail models never show up on an Xbox Series S, and the frame rate is mostly locked to 30 fps. PlayStation 5 and Series X do have enough muscle to power through and maintain a mostly stable 60 fps.
There are no ray tracing features or advanced effects in play for this build of Cyberpunk 2077, since it is still technically a last gen game. When playing in backwards compatibility mode, users will be experiencing the features that last gen console owners should be getting.
Even though Cyberpunk 2077 manages to look and run fine on a modest Xbox Series S or on a powerful PC, raw strength is not enough to overcome the fact that it is a criminal technical disaster. High specs will not prevent graphical issues, frequent crashes, and the endless list of flaws that plague every fiber of the game.
Some visual hiccups like repeating the same NPCs in a small area are easily forgiven. What is not so easily ignored is that some of these NPCs may have a huge hole in their chest where you can see through them. Amusingly, this hole can’t be looked through on the other side.
Smoking characters will spawn new cigarettes, leaving old butts stationary in mid-air. Props will be caught in suspension, and NPCs will clip through each other or into the environment, walking off into the geometry and becoming one with the buildings. There is no telling to what sort of surreal visual glitch you’ll see, the possibilities are truly endless.
The odd graphical bug can be amusing or add a bit of charm to some games. Other times it can be forgivable if the issue is rare enough. Cyberpunk 2077 compounds these visual flaws upon each other, and is such a common occurrence that it becomes immersion breaking. You become less attached to the world and setting because of how shaky and unauthentic it feels; it crumbles away constantly.
Even if you believe you can stomach graphical bugs, the ramshackle gameplay fares no better. Cyberpunk 2077 is very unstable, and is prone to crashing. It can happen anytime; while driving at high speeds through a vast, packed highway, or riding an empty elevator. Hours of progress can and will be lost unless you make it a habit to manually save often.
Other times, Cyberpunk 2077 will lock up in ways that don’t involve crashing. In the best of times, a character will get stuck in a door frame and won’t let you pass; an issue easily remedied by a reboot. In the worst case scenario, some missions can become bugged and will become impossible to complete.
Cyberpunk 2077 can feel like playing Russian roulette with your time. The longer you go, the more likely you are going to experience a snarling bug that will cost you time that you can never get back. Some crashes might happen within an hour of each other, while others seemingly occur at specific points with certain conditions. It took over eight years to make, there shouldn’t be any crashes.
The most disappointing feature in Cyberpunk 2077, is what it laughingly calls A.I. When the artificial “intelligence” is not bugged with characters driving their vehicles into each other, they break the rules of the game.
It is established that wanted criminals can be dispatched without worry of the police. The game is inconsistent with this, and will sometimes hit V with a wanted level when chasing bounties.
Making a game is difficult, and making something as ambitious and detailed as Cyberpunk 2077 cannot be understated. There are innumerable actions and routines each character has to be programmed with, and each one has to be able to react to what the player does in a believable way, in a city that is far denser than anything we have had before.
Stealth builds are wasted, since being stealthy is completely unreliable. While being undetected in hostile territory, there is no guarantee that the thugs in the area won’t suddenly be aware of your presence. Even during fire fights, enemies will sometimes point their gun at V and stare awkwardly, doing nothing.
If you enjoy shooting dumb A.I.’s, Cyberpunk 2077 has you covered with some admittedly decent shooting mechanics. The range of weaponry and styles of guns is varied and creative, since there not many games that allow players to trick shot ricochet bullets.
The crunch of the shotgun blasts and reloading has a satisfying weight behind every blow. Combined with some cheeky gore effects and dismemberment, Cyberpunk 2077 allows gamers to commit some truly heinous acts of bodily harm to who ever crosses them.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for melee combat, which never feels right. Actions feel delayed, and the window for parrying is much smaller than necessary, leading to drawn out brawls of blocking too much.
First person does not mix well with melee, and the collision is inconsistent. Swordplay should have been more like the Shadow Warrior remake, with fighting game style inputs for advanced moves.
Playing like a hacker is the most unique play-style that Cyberpunk 2077 has to offer. Since Night City is set in a dystopian nightmare where the human body is no longer sacred, everyone has cybernetic implants. This makes everyone vulnerable to a talented hacker with a high enough intellect to turn their augmentations against them.
At later levels, you’ll have some devastating hacking abilities where V can wipe out entire strongholds without carrying a gun. Going straight for a head explosion isn’t even the best part; being able to completely infiltrate enemy networks and know who is connected to who is a meta game in itself, adding a layer to defeating enemies.
Making boys go psycho and turning against their own is a special kind of satisfying that is not offered in other cyber stealth games like Deus Ex. Hacking can also be done in layers. For example, you can take control over a camera, which can lead to hacking targets from the camera’s POV. The Net Runner play-style offers a unique experience that is a breath of fresh air compared to mindless shooting and brawling.
Cyberpunk 2077‘s gameplay can be accurately described as a mixture of Deus Ex style sci-fi immersive sim, and open world Grand Theft Auto crime satire. V is able to explore the vast Night City and its many districts on foot or by vehicle. Sometimes V will get into altercations or stumble upon a side mission while getting immersed in the impressively atmospheric world (when it works).
Technical issues aside, CD Projekt Red managed to perfectly nail an utterly bleak tomorrow that the globalists would kill for. The value of life feels very low in the techno squalor and littered streets that make up Night City’s main areas. Aggressive and obnoxious advertisements constantly fighting for your attention is something that is very real, and makes perfect sense for a dumbed down society.
Everywhere you look, it seems like the degenerate filth took over and won. Everyone has been ID tagged, and there is no escape from being commoditized. Everyone looks sickly, and there is almost nobody without some repulsive body modifications. It is a hostile melting pot of clashing cultures and ideologies where nobody gets along; an accurate vision of where we may be going.
The biting satire is very witty, and cleverly woven into the world of Cyberpunk 2077. There are times where the setting evokes memories of the film The Idiocracy, and other times where missions feel like the kind of scenarios Rockstar used to come up with in their PlayStation 2 days.
Keanu Reeves is famously involved with Cyberpunk 2077. He plays the role of Johnny Silverhand, who is functionally like the Joker in Batman: Arkham Knight. After one of the three possible prologues, V’s story is being a mercenary, going from job to job.
From there, the plot centers around a chip that may or may not grant immortality. Different factions seek this plot mcguffin, and everyone will do anything to get it, culminating in a fight for the soul of Night City. What makes this story work is the effort put by all the voice actors and artists realizing the vision established by Mike Pondsmith. It is easy to get absorbed when the world feels so fleshed out.
The only actors who let down the experience are Keanu Reeves, who sounds completely bored and uninterested in his line readings, and female V, who is always monotone and has no range. Reeve’s strength as an actor is his physicality and how intense he can look. Taking this away and restricting him to just voicing an ANTIFA-style terrorist rock star is bad casting.
The diegetic soundtrack is an appropriate mix of obnoxious hip-hop, rap, and Asian techno. This is a terrible dystopian cyberpunk setting, so having music that reflects the degeneracy of art is a bold and smart choice. It would have been too obvious to go with lots of synthwave and 80s style metal, but that also would not be accurate to what Night City citizens would listen to.
CD Projekt Red made the right call with all music selection. In their universe it is almost all soulless corporate and commoditized sleaze to package for mass consumption. In ours, it is a varied and blistering soundtrack that sounds how Cyberpunk 2077 looks; vulgar and gaudy.
It is understandable why Cyberpunk 2077 took more than eight years to make. Night City is an impressive achievement in design and scope. The size of it is comparable to the cities of past Grand Theft Auto games, but with the kind of micro detailing you would see in something like a Deus Ex game.
Everywhere you look there appears to be small details that make the world feel more real. Repeating assets are kept to a bare minimum, and even the few that do get recycled are reused in a clever and creative ways. These include a billboard ad graphic also being used for a vending machine faceplate. No matter where you look, it seems like there was some thought put into what goes where.
The only disappointment is the lack of mini-games. Night City is rife with arcade cabinets with Atari-esque looking games, and none of them are playable. It is a miscalculation to not have any of these coin-ops playable. The developers prioritized genital customization in a first-person game over what could have been an enriching world-building detail.
Cyberpunk 2077 on PC ultra settings looks remarkably close to playing it on Xbox Series S. The only giveaways are the higher density in crowds, and much wider field of view in PC options. Lighting and smoke are critical aspects of Cyberpunk 2077‘s atmosphere, and the effects are faithfully maintained on the budget Microsoft console.
Night City is a dank place, and is drenched with murky smoke and shimmering wet streets glistening from the neon lights. No matter where you go, the urban nightmare is oozing filth and grime from its seams. When Cyberpunk 2077 works, it is a marvel of sight and sound that is held together by some stimulating hacker gameplay.
It is too bad that Cyberpunk 2077 functions only some of the time. Maybe one day it will achieve greatness from continued support by CD Projekt Red, but first impressions matter. If and when Cyberpunk 2077 is at a place that is acceptable, the damage has already been done. The memories of the embarrassing launch can never go away.
Here are some of our extra impressions from the PC version of the game. Using some fairly dated hardware at this point, we have been playing on a 1080, with an i7-8700 and 16GB of RAM. On the High presets with a few of the more advanced featured turned down, the game is maintained between 45 and 50 FPS.
Unfortunately, the game’s performance doesn’t seem to scale very well at all. Even when playing the game at the bare bones lowest settings, we could only gain about five or six more frames.
The PC version might be better than the console versions (especially the last gen versions), but it still seems to be a fairly unoptimized mess of a game, with even people running on far better hardware than us reporting poor performance.
As we previously reported, a Reddit post seemed to indicate that the base game is bottlenecked and running with console hardware parameters. Your mileage may vary with how much this fix increases your performance, but be aware that using it can make the game and your system more unstable.
After around 20 hours into Cyberpunk 2077 on PC, it’s a total mess here as well. While this reviewer hasn’t experienced any crashes; bugs and other issues are a constant ordeal. We’ve all seen the memes about the graphical bugs, and the awful crowd AI that will regularly cause traffic jams because someone decided to just stop in the middle of an intersection; but game breaking bugs are almost as common.
I haven’t personally ran into any bugs that prevent a quest from being completed, but I know they exist. There are about a dozen quests in particular where these issues are prevalent enough that you should always maintain backup save files at extremely regular intervals.
You should also look around online before figuring out your build, because there are many complaints that the Cold Blood and Street Brawler trees in particular have some bugged perks that don’t always proc when they should.
As aforementioned, stealth is a very hit or miss playstyle in the game’s current state, to the point you give up. One mission in particular was extremely frustrating to complete because enemies could spot you on the other side of walls. Likewise, enemies will regularly find hidden corpses. One enemy noticed a corpse from inside a dumpster.
The weird visual and physics bugs sometimes collide with the stealth bugs. You can see a placed corpse catapulted 200 feet through the air and land near some enemies. Another time a thug knocked unconscious for a mission that requested nonlethal takedowns will see his body explode into chunks with an NPC death cry when put behind a dumpster.
You can be spotted because a patrolling enemy walked straight through a wall. When creeping along a wall you can suddenly discover an area with no collision detection, so you clip through and expose yourself to enemies in the other room. Enemies detecting you when they have their backs turned will also happen several times.
The police and wanted mechanics are also ridiculously bugged. On PC you will also get wanted stars for attacking thugs as part of police bounty missions. We experienced this on PC at least four times now. You can also suffer teleporting, all-knowing police pursuers; including into rooms with only one entrance.
When Cyberpunk 2077 works right, you can manage to have a fair bit of fun with it. Unfortunately, even on PC, the game is in a truly embarrassing state right now. The bait and switch CDPR has pulled on us is comparable to No Man’s Sky in many ways, and they absolutely should be held accountable for releasing a game in such a buggy and broken state.
This reviewer will likely be putting the game down soon, and waiting another six months or a year to see what its like when its actually done and polished.
Cyberpunk 2077 was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a code purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.