[This review is based on the v1.04 patch]
It was around the 20th crash in my playthrough of Cyberpunk 2077 that I thought something might be up. I’d heard the rumours pre-launch, that the console version of the game hadn’t been shown because it wasn’t up to spec, and I’d had fellow professionals tell me directly that it was a bit of a bug-fest, but I am nothing if not magnanimous about these things.
A game always has more than a few chances to prove itself, and I gave Cyberpunk 2077 all the help it could get by playing the PS4 version installed to the internal SSD of a PS5. Announced eight years ago, based on a much-loved pen-and-paper role-playing licence, accompanied by a tidal wave of hype, produced by CD Projekt Red – the studio behind legendary RPG The Witcher 3 – it felt like a dead cert. Too big to fail. A bold future of gaming.
Cyberpunk 2077 reminds me in many ways of a little-remembered PC release from 2005, titled Boiling Point: Road to Hell. An open-world adventure combining first-person shooter mechanics, free-roaming driving, and RPG elements, it held a lot of promise. It was utterly broken at launch, and resulted in one of the most unintentionally brilliant games of the era as you ran for your life, pursued by a jaguar stuck in a pounce animation that hovered after you. It was awful on the surface, studded with potential underneath, and something you could enjoy for a laugh before most of the hitches were fixed and it became a more sedate affair.
But Boiling Point was funny in how broken it was; it wasn’t backed by an eight-year wait and the sort of hype that makes you question the position critics and journalists inhabit in the world of gaming. Cyberpunk 2077 was. And this is where the comparison falls apart, because when in Cyberpunk 2077 my car clips a corpse and flies into a building, getting half-wedged in there and re-quiring a save to be reloaded, I don’t laugh.
With millions of dollars, years – and many pages – of hype, and a culture of crunch behind the creation of the game that is entirely shown up by this end product, it just isn’t funny. It’s sad. A let-down. A crushing disappointment for anyone who hoped back in 2012 their then-next-gen RPG would be something special, instead of a flat, empty, and broken missed opportunity.
Thing is, it’s not just technical hitches. There are areas in which Cyberpunk 2077 would fall flat even when running on a superpowered rig from the year 2078. The game’s setting of Night City is beautiful and atmospheric, the sort of place you want to wash over you and bathe you in its filth… but there’s nothing to do there.
Outside of your main and side missions, the odd shop, a few sex workers, and a couple of gun-ranges, you’re left lacking in muck-about activities. A city so incredibly vibrant, that initially engulfs you and leaves you gasping for air, ultimately reveals itself as flat and empty.
Digging into combat is initially fun, but it’s rendered dull thanks to a lack of adaptability – the quickhack powers you wield generally boil down to hurt, hinder, or distract, despite their different names and descriptions. Stealth regularly results in NPCs seeing you through walls, or at extreme distances, so becomes a chore.
Exploration is uninteresting because of that lack of interaction I just mentioned, and also because it’s worrying to drive long distances in a game so unstable, when it appears the open world is what prompts the PS4 version to crash. The muck-about factor – incredibly important in open-world games – hardly registers. Minigames and side attractions? Well, from the studio that made Gwent, you’d have high hopes – and they wouldn’t be met.
So it is that even ignoring myriad technical hitches, overlooking a managerial culture that values overwork rather than careful planning, and sidestepping a plethora of questionable creative decisions/accusations of cultural appropriation/alleged transphobia, we’re still left with a game that isn’t as good as the hype said it would be. One with an open world that pales next to GTAV’s. With emergent encounters that offer a paltry amount of choice next to Metal Gear Solid V. With RPG mechanics that aren’t even as good as CD Projekt Red’s own The Witcher 3.
It’s fair to say this is a review that lands on the negative side of things, so it ending with a score that’s not, say, 12% might be a surprise. But Cyberpunk 2077 has seen so much hype behind it – even in the pages of this very magazine – that a wall of positivity has overshadowed any real critique of the game (well, that was the case when this review was written, at least). It’s good to balance things, and so here that involves focusing on the bad.
There are positives, though. Cyberpunk 2077 is, puerile nonsense aside, well-written. It features interesting setups in main missions and some side quests. There’s heart in the narrative at times, and Keanu Reeves clearly had a ball playing Johnny Silverhand. Night City is impressive to look at. But that’s surface-level stuff.
Scratch past the neon sheen, and what you find is dull, grimy, and very unlike what it claimed to be.
A bright neon future comes crashing down, myriad technical issues the albatross around its neck.
Cyberpunk 2077 is far more stable and reliable on both PC and Stadia, so if you’re playing it over there add 15% to the score here. Fact is, even with the technical hitches fixed, this is still a game lacking that real oomph to push it over the edge into classic territory, though it is a lot more fun to be able to drive around without fearing yet another crash.
Genre: Future shock
Format: PS4 [1.04 patch] (tested) / XBO / PC / Stadia
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Release: Out now