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Speeding through the broken world of Cyberpunk 2077

An open world is a design concept often used to deepen immersion, put game objectives in a larger context, and provide a sandbox for gameplay. At their best, open-world games are an emergent exploration of digital playgrounds, and at their worst, are a virtual checklist of chores to rinse and repeat. While I would normally write off Cyberpunk 2077 and its never-ending list of go-here-to-shoot-man side missions that pad its lackluster core quests of empty dialog decisions before doing more of the shoot-the-man missions, I can’t help but find something special and revealing about how broken Cyberpunk 2077 and its open-world are on last-gen consoles.    

Courtesy of CD Projekt Red

There’s a breaking point you can consistently reach throughout Cyberpunk where you either drive too fast, pick up too many items, or shoot too many cyber-dudes before the game cracks. Overlapping quest-giver dialogues mangling together into a rats-nest of bad writing, polygonal objects sputtering into psychedelic explosions of jagged edges, and the eerie quiet before NPCs and their jibber-jabber load into the world all amount to a unique experience of seeing something incredibly hyped and unlikeable crumble before your eyes.

As you all know by now, Cyberpunk was such a steaming hot mess on last-gen that CD Projekt Red had to apologize and offer refunds. Despite the state of the game, Cyberpunk 2077 has garnered fans nonetheless, which is fine. I’m not here to yuck someone else’s questionable yum. Honestly, good for you if you find something to like in Cyberpunk 2077’s amalgamation of Watchdog’s point-and-click hacking, Grand Theft Auto V’s hacky irreverence, and jank more shockingly bad than anything Bethesda has put out in the last twelve years.

But I can’t look past all of that like I used to, nor can I look past the series of issues and miss-steps that CD Projekt Red has made and that you can read about in other, better articles than this one. Playing Cyberpunk brings me back to wanting to experience the latest Elder Scrolls or Fallout game and only being able to play them on my PS3 where they were too broken to know if I liked them in the first place.            

And all of this makes me ask why, why do I still put up with playing shitty games like this?

Courtesy of CD Projekt Red

Don’t get me wrong; I was excited too. I remember fawning over what the game could have been after that first announcement trailer in 2012. But it’s eight years later, and I’m not the same as I was then and neither are my expectations for what video games are. I lost the wonder that the video game newscycle and prerelease hype manufactures for games as big as Cyberpunk.

Booting up the game on December 10 brought back that wonder for a second. It brought back the ability to look past the game’s hollow and manicured edginess. It allowed me to suspend my boredom with the rinse-and-repeat nature of sneaking, shooting, or hacking through the game world. Playing Cyberpunk 2077 for the first time brought me back to just being happy to have a chance to enjoy a game I wouldn’t have otherwise.

But then I start driving through the open world, going so fast that my PS4 and the game aren’t able to keep up with loading the aggressively demeaning in-game billboards. When I’m able to speed past the game’s empty posturing at having something to say about its mean world, when all that’s left is the hundred miles-per-hour purr of my player characters car and the sight of polygonal buildings with their textures struggling to load in, that’s when I’m enjoying Cyberpunk 2077 the most.

Cyberpunk
Courtesy of CD Projekt Red

And then the rest of the game catches up and crashes into me. The player character simultaneously gets a call from three different quest-giving NPCs, control of the car and my character are suspended, and then all my bitterness towards Cyberpunk floods back in as I crash into a sea of pedestrians that has just loaded in front of me.

I don’t know if I’m going to take up CD Projekt Red and Sony on their offer to return Cyberpunk 2077, nor if I’m going to encourage or discourage others to return the game either. I also don’t think anyone should feel bad for finding what enjoyment they can have in Cyberpunk because there’s no ethical consumption under yada-yada, you know the deal. But what I hope is that Cyberpunk 2077 and CD Projekt Red leadership’s failures to act responsibly change what we expect and want from triple-A video games and the companies that sell them to us.

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