Cyberpunk is here, it’s out and… well… it’s not gone well for CD Project Red. Jump to the cut to see what Jon think’s about the PC version of the game.
According to Steam I’ve racked-up over 35 hours in Cyberpunk so far and I feel like I’m beginning to hit my stride. This includes an initial run as a male-Corpo (approximately 5 hrs worth), before I re-rolled as a female Nomad (30+ hrs).
Once I got past Act 1 (and the first 2 missions of Act 2), I’ve been spending a reasonable amount of my time exploring the map, answering police calls and hitting the side missions that litter the map. I feel I’ve got a good understanding of how Night City and Cyberpunk in general works, and so am ready to give my initial-review. Obviously with a game this massive there can always be something that happens at the end (cough cough MASS EFFECT 3) that sours the whole experience, but for now this is where we are.
Before I launch into the specifics though we have to touch on the issues surrounding the game and it’s stability (or lack thereof) on all platforms. The game has been plagued with bugs, glitches, incompatibilities and well, name a technical issue and it’s appeared in Cyberpunk. At time of writing the game has actually been pulled from the PlayStation store due to the frankly unplayable state of the game. This has NOT been a good launch for CD Project Red. Prior to launch their share price was over 400 PLN, it is now at just over 200 PLN – nearly a 50% drop wiping billions off the company’s worth. Additional to that reports state a number of Polish lawyers are considering class-action law-suites against the company. It’s hard to overstate how bad this launch has been for CD Project Red. I won’t get into the in’s and out’s of this here, but you should be aware that this review is for the PC version only. This is by far the most stable version so if you’re planning on getting it for any other platform then this review probably won’t apply to you or the experience you’re currently likely to get.
Also, In the interest of transparency I have to say I’ve encountered comparatively few bugs in my time. None of them have been particularly game breaking, more annoying; so by all accounts I’ve had a relatively smooth run. My rig has an old intel i7, a GeForce GTX 1070 (12gb ram) and 8gb installed ram. I’m running at 1080p.
Of the bugs I’ve seen are these are the most prevalent/annoying:
1- A subtitle being caught on the screen permanently for varying lengths of time (drives me mad this one).
2- Stuttering and slow-down when driving during the rain.
3- Cigarettes and mobile phones appearing/disappearing at random.
4- Excessively-loud ambient noises (particularly aircraft) in certain districts.
5- Occasional mission bugs requiring a restart.
So against what’s been widely reported I think I got off quite lightly.
Let’s get to the actual game now though. Forget the hype. In part because it is impossible for anything to live up to the hype prior to launch, but also because the marketing will have given you the wrong impression of what this game is about. Cyberpunk is an RPG in the strictest sense of the word, albeit with a very defined scope. Think in the Mass Effect vein and you won’t be far off. You can customise your V, but you’re still playing V, not ‘yourself’. The lifepaths are interesting, but their individual prologues are barely 20 mins of content and your choice doesn’t really affect the game or the world to any huge degree, besides some conversation choices or potential decisions in missions. It’s a veneer of choice over a largely linear experience. This isn’t bad, but again, it’s not the impression many got pre-launch.
Take another example; the split of gameplay. You will spend more time here talking and exploring your surroundings than you will in combat or any other sort of ‘action’, with perhaps the notable exception of travelling. This has actually been a really pleasant surprise for me as I’m loving this aspect of the game, but if you’re coming into Cyberpunk for a shooter then you’re going to be disappointed. I’d actually estimate that I’ve spent less than 20% of my time in combat; which is actually a blessing as the combat is universally awful- at least at the start of the game.
Combat you see is more akin to an MMO than a true FPS. You can see the numbers fly up as you attack and headshots aren’t headshots. I stopped aiming for them entirely after shooting an unarmed raider in the face 4 times to no noticeable effect. In fact, I was having such a miserable time with combat that I barely paid it any attention after a while. It was only when I ran out of ammo one fight and had to resort to melee weapons that I started having fun. No matter the game- seeing limbs fly off is always entertaining. I’m now a melee focussed player as a result.
Now the combat does get better once you level up a bit and start to get access to more deadly weapons, but it took me a good 7 hours of play to get to that point so be warned. I grudgingly have to say that it is worth it though as additions like smart weapons help to take the pain out of a lot of the combat, and once you start adding modifiers and effects to your weapons things get a lot more interesting.
Adding to this tactical aspect are the quickhacks. You can purchase and install a number of them (depending on how many ‘slots’ your cyberdeck has) and then deploy them in battle. Their effects range from ‘pinging’ all linked enemies in an area (very useful), the shutting down/control of cameras/weapons turrets or direct attacks that blind, deafen, electrify or burn your enemies. Combined with the more interesting weapons available to you it adds just enough to combat to make it interesting in the late-game. Especially against higher-level enemies.
Enemies are not the only thing you can hack though. You can hack systems, certain net-access ports around the world and also a few specific mission-critical items. Hacking is actually more limited than I would have thought, but you can usually open doors, download money and tech items or otherwise find out interesting information/snippets from the game-world. The little hacking mini-game you have to do at times is actually pretty well done, once you wrap your head around it- I just wish hacking was more impactful/useful in the game (outside of the mission-specific requirements). But it’s serviceable, and it works.
V herself (as the male V’s voice is just whiny and annoying; female V is my strong recommendation here folks) can be upgraded through a number of modifications, ranging from ocular, damage modifiers, dermal armour and the titular Mantis Arms. Mantis arms tear people to pieces in quick order and are now my default approach to any confrontation. Ambushed by perps? Mantis Arms resulting in enemy sushi. Attacking a heavily fortified base? Mantis Arms, a lot of running and then enemy sushi. Assassination jobs? Sushi. You get the idea.
Other upgrades offer things like the incredibly useful double jump. Yes. Double Jump. And you can expand your powers even further by purchasing heavily expanded synaptic processors which allow you to carry more of the incredibly useful quick hacks. They’re definitely worth your eddies (the main in-game currency).
The real star of the game though is the world, and of course the characters in it. You have probably read ad nauseum how CD Project Red have built a truly remarkable world that looks, feels and acts alive. Now of course like any RPG/Open world game, if you peer too closely, or drill down too hard into the environment then you’ll start to see the cracks; the little reused animations/NPC’s/assets. I’ve seen a number of reviews hold this as an example of how the world doesn’t work or function as it should, which seems a pretty shallow and unfair criticism to me. Short of modelling an entire city, which you of course know is (currently) impossible, I’m not sure what they were expecting. For me though the city is bustling, aesthetically, audibly and functionally hole. It’s distinct, it’s full of character and it’s very memorable. It feels like an actual city- which just adds to the illusion.
The NPC’s themselves do a decent job too (on PC at least). The crowd density is quite high and even though you’ll occasionally ‘ghost’ through NPC’s rather than stumble into them, they do a good job of making the city feel lived-in.
It’s the game’s main (and side) characters that are the real star of the show here. Jackie, the first main actor you meet, is a hugely likeable, charming, believable person. Clever little snippets of overheard conversations just round him out further. I loved that guy. T-Bug is a slightly aloof NetRunner. Dexter Dechaun a gruff fixer out for himself. Panam, a nomad outcast who’s just trying to do right. River Ward, a cop who’s motives are initially unclear. The list is huge. Each with a believable persona, style, life. I’ve abandoned side missions mid-way through because I got a call from someone I considered a friend in this game who was asking for help.
And then there’s Johnny Silverhand played by the breathtaking Keanu Reeves. Initially an antagonist of V, Johnny grows into a, well, certainly not an ally or friend, but something different. There’s too many plot-points here for me to explain further, but it’s a very complicated relationship that just seems to be built upon multiple layers of intrigue. The writing here (and in the game in general) is very good. Like Bloodline’s good.
V herself walks the line between being a knowledgeable Merc in a pre-existing world and a naïve newcomer (to act as the players eyes, ears) very well. Even when V asks questions that she should know, by all rights given she’s lived in this world for years, it’s never obvious that it’s for the players benefit. The Questioning and dialogue are smart, focussed and always seem to add something to the experience. You’re not going to be skipping lines of exposition here; you just won’t want to.
The main story is refreshingly engaging, with a number of side missions feeding directly into, if not that thread exactly, but into the wider tapestry; building even more context into a compelling, rich world. There are also, of course, random completely un-related side missions and meetings which add further to the world and can break up the flow nicely. One of which was so engaging and involved (what was to be a quick investigation turned into a multi-mission mega-conspiracy worthy of it’s own game) that I forgot the main mission entirely just to finish it.
On top of all this you’ve got the usual open-world fodder. Collectables in the shape of graffiti/murals that you’ve got to find and scan, constant police assistance requests, muggings, mystery encounters- you’re not going to be bored in this game. While a number of these are just filler, they do swell your eddies (allowing you to buy sushi-enabling gear), some end up connecting to the story in surprising ways though. Even these throw away encounters; so they’re always worth your time. It’s a nice touch.
Visually, even on my ageing 1070, the game is stunning. While the character models aren’t as good as I’d hoped, I’m reasonable enough to realise that were I playing on a GTX3080 things would look MUCH better. The models aren’t bad by any stretch and we’ve avoided the Bethesda eerie-valley effect here, but it’s clear that a lot of the finishing touches are applied by filters/lighting effects and other trickery that just isn’t possible on lower-end rigs. Top-end gamers are in for a treat though if the screenshots/video’s I’ve seen are anything to go by. I think special mention needs to be made for the lighting and occlusion effects though. Given the pillaring that CD Project Red are getting for the technical aspects, I think it’s only fair to highlight where they’ve got it right. No other game has worked this well for me for these aspects, such as the light bouncing off the rain/puddles and the refraction and diffusion of light through smoke , mist and dust. It’s beautiful. I’ve genuinely stopped to watch the rain and traffic at one point.
I feel very lucky to have had the experience I’ve had. This is definitely a title that benefits from a little bit of patience and understanding from the player. Now of course this is going to be a completely different story in 6 months time when the game is actually finished, but for now this is the state of play.
So taking all the above, and the technical aspects into account this is the reason we decided on sticking to a PC-only review for Cyberpunk. Given the wildly varying performance on different systems it is just not possible for us to assume that you’ll be getting the same (or similar) experience to the PC version on the other platforms. Why they didn’t just release the PC version and then do the consoles later I just don’t know. Well I do; money, but still.
In the end, and for me, Cyberpunk has been an utterly incredible experience. When you lose yourself into the world the only other title I think comes close to it is Vampire: the Masquerade- Bloodlines, or maybe Deus Ex. When everything is fixed this is going to be a landmark in gaming. As it stands now, it’s a beautiful, engaging borderline masterpiece that I just cannot stop playing even despite the annoyances and bugs I’ve encountered. I have no doubt that once all the hubbub has settled down, assuming CD Project Red survive it, that Cyberpunk will be remembered as one of the greatest RPG’s of all time. I absolutely love this game.
It’s just an utter, almost unforgiveable shame that not everyone is able to experience it in a decent state at present.
The PC Verdict – Red Mist (despite the technical issues)
Platforms Available – PC,
PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series S|X
Platform Reviewed – PC (purchased by reviewer)
For more on our scoring policy, please see this post. Review based on retail purchased copy.