Cyberpunk 2077 falls victim to overhype

Photo of the video game, "Cyberpunk 2077"
Neil Haeems/Staff

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

Until recently, CD Projekt Red was a darling of the video game industry. The Polish studio got its start in the ’90s creating translated, localized versions of major overseas games before becoming a household name with The Witcher and its sequels — each a vast role-playing game, or RPG, with a gripping narrative and masterful world-building.

Naturally, when CD Projekt Red announced its next IP in 2012, gamers everywhere rejoiced. Titled Cyberpunk 2077 and inspired by the “Cyberpunk” tabletop game created by Mike Pondsmith, it promised to provide an immersive RPG experience like no other, teeming with immense detail and transporting players to the futuristic Night City, a dystopian megalopolis reminiscent of the settings of much-lauded sci-fi media, such as “Blade Runner,” “Neuromancer” and “Snow Crash.” Now, after eight years in development and three release delays, Cyberpunk 2077 has somehow left the oven half-baked.

Players control V, a low-level mercenary who clashes with Night City’s top brass when a computer construct of the anti-establishment rockstar-come-terrorist Johnny Silverhand (Keanu Reeves) is embedded in their mind. When the stars align and Cyberpunk 2077 fires on all cylinders, the experience nearly reaches the heights of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Its engaging story is brought to life by a massive cast of interesting, complex characters, and its consistently surprising narrative twists always work in favor of larger, unexpectedly heartfelt themes.

Further, Night City is a sight to behold — a spectacle of neon and concrete bustling with bizarre encounters and side quests that serve to bolster the city’s outlandish aura and strong sense of personality. In the magnificent design of its setting, Cyberpunk 2077 joins the likes of open-world masterpieces Fallout 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2.

Despite all this, however, nearly every major, dramatic plot point, combat encounter or extended bout of world exploration is sapped of its impact due to widespread technical issues. While driving, frame rates drop so low that Night City turns into a slideshow of pretty colors as players become unguided missiles cruising down the boulevard. In various scenarios, characters pop in and out of existence or assume a T-pose position. Vehicles spawn inside one another before exploding, and objects frequently clip through walls or fall through the floor.

Some characters hold guns that don’t exist or play invisible guitars. Characters’ voices are sometimes muted, or the soundtrack doesn’t hit its cue, in turn ruining several dramatic punches. Enemy artificial intelligence is also inconsistent — sometimes, combat is appropriately challenging due to strategic enemy behavior, but other times, enemies act mindlessly, stepping out of cover and freezing for no reason. More indicators that Cyberpunk 2077’s final release was rushed are found in the occasional spelling or grammar error in the user interface, subtitles and in-game journal entries.

CD Projekt Red’s decision to release Cyberpunk 2077 in such a clearly unfinished state just prior to the holiday shopping season has greatly tarnished its reputation. In the weeks since its Dec. 10 release, CD Projekt Red apologized for failing to accurately communicate the state of the game and vowed to spend the next few months fixing the release, pushing off the planned downloadable expansions and multiplayer mode until the base game is in proper shape. Sony pulled Cyberpunk 2077 from its digital marketplace, and both Sony and Microsoft began offering refunds for gamers unhappy with a game that was, especially on last-generation consoles, largely unplayable.

Early marketing for the game set expectations incredibly high, and when the technical reality of such promises proved elusive, CD Projekt Red was forced to roll back Cyberpunk 2077’s scope, using “crunch” (an industry term for overworking employees to meet unrealistic deadlines) in order to patch together the game’s best elements. Several groundbreaking features teased in a 48-minute gameplay clip showcased two years prior to release are missing from the final game, and what remains has been diminished through bugs and poor performance.

Even if CD Projekt Red is able to fix all the glaring technical issues in Cyberpunk 2077, it will always be a shining beacon of everything wrong with the video game industry — unrealistic promises, poor management and a disregard for gamers and the developers at the mercy of corporate executives’ profit-minded whims.

This review is based on the PC version of Cyberpunk 2077.

Neil Haeems is a deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected].