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The Two Sides of Cyberpunk 2077

No one would disagree that 2020 was a year of disappointments. I personally was supposed to be graduating with my BA and getting onto the apply-to-grad-school grind. We were supposed to be starting a bright new decade, and Cyberpunk 2077 would be the hottest thing hitting consoles and PCs in spring, then fall, and then winter 2020. Too bad things didn’t quite go as planned.

My aunt who passed at the beginning of 2020 used to sing the old adage that if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Regardless of where you fall in your saltiness over Cyberpunk 2077 and its continued troubled launch, I think it’s fair to say that what CD Projekt promised for their first major release since the Witcher 3 was definitely too good to be true.

And while 2020 felt like its own chapter of dystopian fiction with a seemingly-endless global pandemic, the teetering ruin of our highest democratic institutions, and the continued march towards climate catastrophe caused by the perils of global late-stage capitalism, a few good things did manage to shake out for me personally. I came out as trans, managed to graduate from college, and was lucky enough to be hired by an up-and-coming video game website.

Erik and I were hired at Stropse around the same time to cover the Cyberpunk 2077 launch. When I first approached Erik about getting our thoughts on Cyberpunk down in writing and up on the website, I thought we would come away from the game with much more divergent opinions, that this article would be a much more contentious, hot-take filled screed on the pros and cons of a game so hyped it was bound to fail.

Instead, I think Erik and I more-or-less landed on two sides of the same coin when it came to just how good Cyberpunk 2077 is, but I’ll let Erik speak for himself from here and come back with my takes in a few paragraphs.

Cyberpunk

Erik Ruof on why he liked Cyberpunk

I had been anticipating the release of Cyberpunk 2077 since the announcement teaser aired in 2013. As a self-proclaimed “slut for sci fi,” I was building up an incredible level of hype for the game mostly based on the futuristic aesthetic alone. Then when the game was released into the hands of the public, I was afraid the hype I had built was crumbling like sand before my very eyes.

All kinds of technical issues were trending online which, for most people, turned Cyberpunk into Cyber-puke. People’s genitals were poking through their pants, cars were exploding, enemies were spazzing out, and blue error screens were showing up like nobody’s business. It is inexcusable that the bugs people experienced were so rampant and CD Projekt Red deserves to be held accountable for what happened.

I remember completing the first mission of the game and thinking, “where are all of these glitches everybody’s talking about?” Then, when I made it to the city, I saw Jackie walk right through my car, which made me think, “Uh oh, it begins.” But, luckily for me, I was able to play through the game with a minimal amount of glitches. I don’t know if it’s because the Playstation I use is a PS4 Pro or the tech gods just decided to cut me some slack. As a result, my playthrough experience of the game was overall a very positive one.

Courtesy of CD Projekt Red

The mechanics of the game to me were reminiscent of other RPGs that I adore such as Skyrim and Fallout 4. The environment of Night City is incredibly rich in detail and fits the look and feel of worlds described by legendary sci-fi writers William Gibson and Philip K. Dick. I loved exploring the open-world landscape and journeying through the many side missions available in the game.

The story starts out like a generic crime drama with a futuristic background but then accelerates right after the prologue is finished into a race to survive. Although the main story is relatively concise, the amount of extra time you’re able to spend with side characters leads to some of my favorite parts. I cherished the relationships I developed within the game and was excited to do different side quests with Panam, Judy, Rogue, and sometimes River. I found Johnny Silverhand to be a bit excessive at times but overall very hilarious. Keanu normally talks down on your character like an alcoholic father (who’s also an anarchist) but I can’t get enough of it for some reason.

I honestly had a great time playing this game. Even though I had some crappy driving animations and one error message appeared right as I was about to beat Atom Smasher, I think back on my playthrough as time well-spent. Hopefully as monthly bug fixes roll out, people will be able to play the game and see how great it actually is, which would probably happen by the year 2077.

Joel Vaughn on why they didn’t like Cyberpunk 2077

Like my co-writer, I was also riding high on the Cyberpunk 2077 hype train. Back when the game was first announced in 2012, I was just starting to read classics of cyberpunk fiction such as “Neuromancer,” “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” and “Transmetropolitan.”

My body was ready to be jacked into the matrix, augmented with cybernetics, and beamed straight into damp, decrepit, and dingy streets of Night City all the way back in 2012. But then, eight years passed, and I grew up a little, traded my die-hard love for sci-fi literature for the more capital-L literary works of Kurt Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace, and slowly let the news of continued delays and behind-the-scenes issues for Cyberpunk 2077 fade into the background of my Twitter feed ‘till the editors at Stropse asked if I’d be interest in writing about the game.

I don’t want to pretend like I knew that Cyberpunk 2077 would launch in the dumbfoundingly buggy state that it did on consoles, but when I walked into a Gamestop a few days before the game’s launch, I knew that it would probably be worth it to drop the extra coin on a PS4 Pro to make sure I could have the best experience I could short of playing it on next-gen or PC.

At first, things were pretty smooth. Sure, the character creator was less than was promised before launch and it quickly became apparent how trivial choices like lifepaths were within the first few hours of the game, but I wasn’t ready to write off the experience just yet. I immediately began to feel like it was me and Jackie versus Night City, and I was ready to take my pistol-toting netrunner V though a seedy crime adventure that would mark her fall from grace as a corpo suit to a Night City legend. What I got instead was a decent smattering of story-driven missions that never quite stuck an emotionally impactful landing and a litany of “drive here, shoot the cyber-dudes, and pick up a quest item” assignments all hampered by clipping, broken character animations, and abysmal pop-in.

Courtesy of CD Projekt Red

Much of the discourse around Cyberpunk 2077 paints the game as a Bethesda/Fallout/ Elder Scrolls type of experience, and while I have engaged in that as well and can definitely see the comparison, I feel like it’s not the most accurate.

Call it splitting hairs if you want, but Cyberpunk 2077 feels more like a Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed game due to its overly-crowded map, rinse and repeat gig missions, and serviceable but lackluster combat.

If you want to get into the more interesting bits of what the game has to offer gameplay-wise, whether it be quick-hacks or the more inventive weapons, then you’ll need to play through at least some of the experience grinding go-here-and-do-murder missions. This is a shame, because stopping to respond to three different Night City PD missions or random fixer jobs on the way to every mission with a meaty bit of narrative goodness really puts a damper on what Cyberpunk has to offer.

And while I can sing the praises of the absolutely stellar performance behind the likes of Jackie, Judy, and Viktor (not so much Johnny Silverhand,) so many of the game’s quest lines left me feeling kind of empty. Seeing Judy’s childhood home, meeting River’s family, and paying my respects to Jackie all started to stir something in me. But when the mission completed text comes up and all that’s left for me to do for the next couple hours is shoot and loot, I start to feel disappointed.

Glitches and all, I still played through Cyberpunk 2077 ‘till the end, even with my PS4 blue screening on me more times than I could count. So, I must have at least kind of enjoyed it, right? No one sinks a solid thirty-plus hours into a game that they hate, and I don’t hate Cyberpunk 2077, it’s just one of the biggest disappointments in gaming that I can think of occurring in the last couple years.

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