Cyberpunk 2077 review: The roughest diamond out there

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Oh boy, how do you review this? Having gotten my copy of Cyberpunk 2077 on public release day I’ve been playing it along with everyone else dreading to write this review.

The dread comes from the fact that this game is utterly broken in many ways on every platform it’s available on. Outside of PC, where it is the most stable and feature complete, it’s been removed from the PlayStation Store and Xbox has been issuing full refunds due to the unfinished state of the game on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

There have also been countless discussions and content produced about missing content, non-existent AI, poor performance and more. There is likely not a single aspect of this game that isn’t problematic in some way.

Despite all of this, however I really enjoyed my time with the game. After around 50 hours I’m sad that I’ve depleted all the content and, as we go into the review, how can this be balanced against these problems?

I’ve come to realise that, as always, The Simpsons did it first. The famous flying pig segment sums it up nicely.

If it’s not apparent I’m Homer Simpson in this case. That delicious slow roast pig is Cyberpunk 2077, and I’m running around the city shouting “It’s still good! It’s still good!” as the game reveals itself to be a complete, unforgivable mess.

Lisa Simpson could be the investors and share holders / management at CD Projekt Red who forced the game to be released so soon to make more money, but let’s put The Simpsons aside and actually talk about the game.

Cyberpunk 2077 is a near future FPS based on the famous table top game and universe created by Mike Pondsmith. It’s an open world title set in the futuristic Night City which is a breeding ground for dystopian chaos as mega-corporations, gangs and other parties fight in the streets against a backdrop of stunning technological advancement and the social and economic right this creates, much like in the real world.

Minute to minute this is a shooter but, much like most of those released in the past 10 years, there are options outside of shooting. You can invest your experience into various upgrades such as crafting, tech, hacking, stealth and more either to avoid combat entirely or to act as a boon for it.

As an open world you can get around Night City by foot so you can experience everything as slow as you like, or by a multiple of cars and bikes you can steal as temporary rides or buy outright as permanent unlocks.

Sounds good so far.

The mechanics of Cyberpunk 2077 are, to be as kind as possible, course. The movement, gunplay, inventory management, just about all of it, is rough around the edges and unpolished. All of these systems have been staples in other games for more than a decade now but in Cyberpunk 2077 they feel unrefined and cumbersome.

But here’s that “it’s still good!” sentiment, as things are still fun. Sure the combat and navigation is prickly but it really opens up and become more fun as the game progresses. For example you can unlock a quickhack called ping which allows you to see through walls. You can then unlock a high power sniper rifle that lets you shoot through entire buildings, allowing you to pick off a healthy amount of enemies before you get into combat proper.

In terms of navigation the starting vehicles are a bore but the mid and late game rides are a lot of fun, even if they feel like multi-tonne rocks navigating on ice. Cyberpunk 2077 has  the worst driving mechanics in any game I’ve played in the last 15 years or so. It’s that bad, but when you unlock vehicles which are supposed to ape the Bugatti Chiron and the bike from Akira, things become more tolerable.

While the systems in Cyberpunk are sloppy and usually uninspired, once you invest enough time and get enough unlocks things open up and become enjoyable. “Enjoyable”, however, should have been the base line and certain basic things should have been there from the beginning. The slow burn to actually having fun is a downer.

Even for those who never grow to like combat and exploration may still fall in love with the story. The unique dialect of Night City’s residents really starts to grow on your brain as you start automatically thinking of companies as “corpos” and friends as “chooms”.

The main story is really fun, even if it treads all of the same ground we’ve seen in other sci-fi. We won’t spoil but it’s a tale of what humanity and consciousness looks like in the near future when you can digitise a brain. It’s also a scathing indictment towards corpos, which is ironic given that the mess this game is in is due to an early release to make money over the holidays.

The main story is the star here but there are so many side missions that are nearly as interesting and fun. Even small missions which can be completed in 15 minutes have their own little elements of fun writing and interesting commentary. Yes, there’s a lot of “drive here, kill that, deliver this”, but the memorable side work from previous game The Witcher 3 is apparent here too.

Now for all the broken stuff. I was originally keeping a list of all the glitches and problems I had in this game – much like I did for Marvel’s Avengers – but I simply gave up because there were too many. Anything that can go wrong in this game will.

UI breaking, instant deaths for no reason, mission softlocks, softlocking in general, button presses not registering, roads disappearing from right under you, the car you’re driving disappearing from right under you. The only way you can play Cyberpunk 2077 without being constantly disgruntled by these problems is if you’re an alcoholic and you make a drinking game of taking a shot every time a glitch occurs.

As stated earlier performance is best on PC but it’s still not great. Unless you’re playing on a relatively new and expensive rig things here will be rough and require major tuning down in the settings to get anything close to playable framerates. My very modest desktop of a Ryzen 5 3600, RX 580 8GB and 16GB of RAM struggled here.

If you look at the recommended specs for this game that’s understandable, but it really doesn’t help that Cyberpunk 2077 is so GPU bound and left my CPU doing little of the heavy lifting. Even with the recent hotfix which helps performance in certain six and eight core CPUs, the FPS I’ve been seeing is bad. For those curious I managed to get a very unstable 50 – 60 FPS gameplay at 1080p only with the low preset enabled. Anything else and it’s a 30 – 45 FPS console experience.

Despite all of this I still found myself wanting to play Cyberpunk 2077 every hour of every day because of how fun it was to explore, talk and shoot my way through Night City. There’s so much love that went into this game and its design that has been betrayed by releasing it before it’s properly finished.

As I add the final score below I still find it too high but it would be disingenuous to give it less based on the sheer amount of enjoyment I got here.

With all of that in mind don’t buy this game. Hell if you’re on PlayStation you literally can’t right now. Wait a minimum of six months for it to be patched and updated, even on PC and especially on console. In a year or so maybe Cyberpunk 2077 will be fixed enough to actually be recommended.

Clinton Matos

Clinton Matos

Clinton has been a programmer, engineering student, project manager, asset controller and even a farrier. Now he handles the maker side of htxt.africa.

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