Cyberpunk 2077 Impressions: The Future of Gaming Meets a Familiar Story
Every E3 plays host to a bundle of exciting game announcements and demos, but, every once in a while, you get to lay eyes on something truly groundbreaking. This doesn’t happen every year, but it certainly did at E3 2018, as CD Project Red finally unveiled the stunning Cyberpunk 2077. While the general public only got to see a minute-and-a-half trailer, select lucky folks attending E3 got to check out a full 50-minute live gameplay demo. Scroll on down for a description of that demo and impressions from Wccftech’s Nathan Birch and Kai Powell.
In Cyberpunk 2077 you play as V, a male or female (CD Projekt Red went with the later for the demo) mercenary who operates on a razor’s edge of respectability, doing jobs for both corporate clients and crooks. Unlike The Witcher games, Cyberpunk lets you fully customize your character’s visual appearance, background and other details. Interestingly, street cred matters as much as RPG stats in the game, so outfitting yourself in the coolest futuristic finery is a must.
The demo kicked off with V and her partner Jackie storming a gang hideout to save a cyborg, Sandra, who’s about to be scavenged for spare parts. The segment provided a brief taste of Cyberpunk’s hard-hitting action (more of that to come later), while confirming CD Projekt Red hasn’t mellowed with the move from fantasy to sci-fi. Quite the opposite. The profanity, including liberal use of the c-word, was non-stop, and the cyborg V’s been paid to rescue is eventually found fully nude in an ice-filled bathtub. As you carry her to safety, the player is treated to an exceptionally high-definition first-person “nipple cam.” The first 10 minutes of the Cyberpunk demo is a loud, aggressive declaration by CDPR – they’re turning the edginess dial to 11 this time around. Or maybe 12, considering The Witcher already pushed the boundaries of what you can get away with in an M rated game.
Following the opening action scene, were got a series of vignettes from V’s futuristic life – we saw her chilling in her Blade Runner-esque apartment, hitting the streets of Night City, chatting with gangsters, visiting an underground ripperdoc clinic for some new enhancements, and cruising the streets in her bitchin’ supercar. This was the most promising stretch of the Cyberpunk 2077 demo, but, at times, also the most concerning.
Make no mistake, Cyberpunk 2077 is a technical marvel. Night City didn’t look movie quality – it looked better than movie quality. In their attempt to create a gritty sci-fi dystopia, CD Projekt Red ended up, ironically, making something that looks more like the real world than anything I’ve seen in a game before. Most open worlds have a certain artificial sheen, but the real world is dirty, cluttered, and maybe already a little dystopian. Night City bore more than a passing resemblance to the current-day cityscape right outside the LA Convention Center walls.
Character models were slightly less convincing, but there’s no denying Cyberpunk 2077 is next-level eye candy. Apparently, the demo was running on consumer-level PC hardware, but I find it hard to believe those wanting to play on consoles won’t have to wait for the next generation of hardware. The game has been announced for Xbox One and PS4, but the demo I saw would reduce those consoles, particularly the standard versions, to molten puddles of plastic.
Unfortunately, while Cyberpunk 2077’s tech and craftsmanship are astonishing, the game’s writing wasn’t as impressive. None of the characters seemed terribly likable, particularly when they’re dropping groanworthy lines about how they’re “clean as a c*nt in a convent” or have “news as big as my balls.” Some moments, like when V meets with stereotypical gangster Dexter Deshawn or lounges around her apartment in an uncomfortable-looking sci-fi thong, are just kinda goofy. If you’ve ever read, watched, or played any form of cyberpunk media before, everything in the demo will be familiar. Of course, The Witcher games also come off as typical salacious babes ‘n’ broadswords fantasy fare at first but eventually draw you in with their deft character work and the myriad of fun moments. Perhaps I just need more time to warm to Cyberpunk’s world.
Thankfully, I had no time for misgivings during the last 15 minutes of the demo, which was one long, blistering action scene. The Maelstrom, a heavily-modified “psycho gang,” have stolen some expensive hardware (an advanced spider bot) from V’s benefactors at Militech. Dexter Deshawn wants V to get the hardware for him, but, instead of going in guns blazing, she convinces Militech to give her the money to buy back the tech. Of course, negotiations with the Maelstrom thugs and their leader Royce go pear-shaped and she ends up having to fight her way out anyway.
Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t just breaking new ground technically and visually, it looks like it may take the first-person shooter to the next level, as well. V can enter a form of bullet time, seemingly at will, during which she can unleash some truly gruesome slow-motion headshots and other dismembering injuries. The game also has a full wall penetration and bullet recoil systems, allowing the player to blast enemies through and around cover in creative ways. But don’t worry, if you’re not a skilled FPS player, Cyberpunk offers a variety of “smart weapons” that automatically home in on the bad guys.
We also got to see V use her cyber tech in creative ways. In addition to slow-mo, V can scan enemies for weak spots and getting level intel is a simple matter of sneaking up on a bad guy and hacking into their neural network. And yes, we got to see the mantis blades first seen in the 2013 Cyberpunk 2077 trailer in action. Needless to say, the arm blades are a dangerous and effective bit of gear, allowing the player to cling to walls and effortlessly slice enemies into juicy chunks.
The clash with the Maelstrom gang culminated in a boss battle against Royce, who is girded in a bulky exosuit. Coming out on top requires the player to move fast and target his weak spots, some of which are rather difficult to get to. Fortunately, victory is satisfyingly bloody. From beginning to end, Cyberpunk’s showcase action scene is unrelentingly brutal and exhilarating – I desperately wanted to get a controller in my hands and take a crack at annihilating some cyber goons myself.
Is Cyberpunk 2077 worthy of the hype? Absolutely. Writing quibbles aside, the game is set to break new ground in terms of tech, artistry, and action. Everybody is, rightfully, going to lap the game up when the next generation of gaming rolls around in a couple years. That said, will Cyberpunk 2077 stand up a classic years after release or will it be one of those innovative titles that fades from the collective memory when even more impressive games hit the scene? That remains to be seen.
CD Projekt Red has managed to create a world that encompasses all that I remember from reading cyberpunk short stories as a youngster and even futuristic movies along the likes of Demolition Man. When I think of a cyberpunk city, I want one that’s been thoroughly covered in neon lights, advertisements assaulting your every sense as you walk through crowded alleys, and cigarette smoke as thick as fog when you pass by the seedier locales. I want a cultural dichotomy where your status in the social hierarchy is evident by the manufacturer of your runner gear. I want second-hand tech that’s been passed down from person to person, either as a family heirloom or as a way of repaying a personal debt after the last owner passed on to the great beyond. I want sexual gratification to no longer be taboo and instead be celebrated in a person’s style if they so choose. Cyberpunk 2077, even in but a brief one-hour demonstration, already shows promise of being the William Gibson-envisioned future that we’ve been promised, but have had so many other art forms fail to capture that gritty essence.
From the moment our demo’s version of V stepped out of the character creation tool and into the streets of Night City, the dystopian city future never looked better even during daytime. Within seconds of stepping out from V’s apartment in search of her first objective, advertisements of the various shops and vendors throughout Night City litter the city streets and focusing your attention on one activates a minimap marker to the closest shop to perhaps make a purchase.
As Nathan mentioned up above, our closed doors demo centered around taking back a piece of Militech hardware that’s fallen into the hands of a rather unsavory psycho gang known as The Maelstrom. The dialogue choices leading up to the mission itself show that there’s far more than a couple ways to approach the mission depending both on player choice but also the skills they’ve earned through leveling up. For our particular mission, a bit of smooth talking on V’s part was enough to convince our contact at Militech to provide a credstick with enough money to cover any sort of bartering arrangement with The Maelstrom.
Unbeknownst to the player, that bit of cybercash was loaded with enough backdoors and malware to corrupt their systems once it was checked for authenticity, resulting in both disabling much of The Maelstrom’s defenses, but also taking out some of their enforcers that would keep V and Jackie from recovering their objective, a miniature spider drone that can be used as an overwatch support complete with its own arsenal. Was the extra gun necessary? Not at all. V and her partner Jackie each could hold their own in a gunfight no matter how many jacked up psychos came after them, but the additional firepower worked great to keep the heat off of the player.
Nearly a quarter of the Cyberpunk 2077 was focused on the gunplay as V make their way out from The Maelstrom’s headquarter and face off against the leader of this little faction. The gunplay was incredibly fluid and the transition between firing a gun and swapping into V’s various abilities was a delicate dance that showed no hesitation or deliberation from the player. This means more than just cyber-linked firearms but also physical enhancements, like the mantis blades that add a splash of melee carnage to the close quarter's encounters. Rather than stopping to duck behind cover and wait for natural healing to kick or apply a compress when shot, V merely had to rely on inhalers of various sorts, some restoring health and other imbuing her with additional abilities such as the not-Bullet Time that came along with heightened reflexes and senses.
All too often, I would forget that Cyberpunk 2077 is supposed to be an RPG and not a shooter first with how wonderful the shooting looked and felt. The occasional damage blips would reveal additional info in the firefight, such as targeting an armored location or that colorful number of additional damage when aiming for a humanoid’s head, but beyond that, the combat does away with stats and behind the scenes dice rolls when it comes to firing a weapon. CD Projekt Red isn’t one to shy away from the realistic depictions of violence, so be forewarned that aiming for an enemy’s head or exposed limb will often lead to a gory mess that will certainly cement Cyberpunk 2077 as a definite Mature rating when it launches in the States.
Much like the first reveals of Watch Dogs showcased what could be possible with the next generation of consoles (and ultimately failed to quite match that initial render, as was evident by scalebacks and a less ambitious release that had to release on both generations of Microsoft consoles), Cyberpunk 2077 very well could be a quick peek at what the next generation of console gaming will look like. Even with such a carefully curated slice of Night City to explore, CD Projekt Red already feels confident in what they’re showing and the studio has a track record of making good on those promises they’ve made to their endearing fans. Fear not, Cyberpunk 2077 won’t be sold piecemeal and stripped apart by DLC fragments off the cutting room floor; what players will be able to get their hands on will be the complete package as the team has envisioned. Now the only question is whether we’ll be able to explore Night City in time before Michael Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk 2020 series is supposed to take place.
Cyberpunk 2077 has been announced for PC, Xbox One, and PS4. The game has yet to receive a release date.