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Revisiting Cyberpunk 2077 – One Year Later

Revisiting Cyberpunk 2077 - One Year Later

I paid for Cyberpunk 2077 in 2019. The game was launching around half term. This meant I would have a full week to devote without stressing about how I would manage a class of kids’ futures. So, I waited with bated breath to experience what would surely be my new favourite game.

What more joy could 2020 bring?

Oh.

934 days later - 80,697,600 seconds if you like to be precise - I finally played it.

It was still, like Laura Palmer, wrapped in plastic up to that point. Nestled in amongst a diminishing backlog. Waiting for its moment to shine.

We are all likely far too familiar with the fallout. The endless bugs, the poor optimisation, the crunch, and the memes. I am far too underqualified to discuss production woes, corporate mismanagement, or even coherently express my general disdain for capitalist systems, so my take will be solely rooted in what it is like playing the game now. 22,416 hours after you (yes, this is a very specific article) paid for it.

So here it is:

Cyberpunk 2077: What If You Only Started It Now?

First things first, the PS5 native version meant that I did not have to use an install and play disc. So far so good. The only things that should be dual disked are masterworks: Once Upon A Time in America, The Snyder Cut, Avatar on DVD, that weird copy of DBZ I got from the market 12 years ago... my artistic well runs deep.

Anyway, upon loading the game you cannot help but notice the music. Before Cyberpunk 2077, only Uncharted 2 and the FF7 remake actively made me pause to listen before starting the game properly. Composed by Marcin Przybyłowicz, it immediately sets a tone (or a mood if you will) that plays into the creeping dread so prevalent in the game's world. The whole score in general captures the façade that paints over the true nature of not only the characters but also the setting. And it does it without ever feeling, as my initial fears were, edgy for style's sake. Rather, everything just feels intentionally off. The music reflects this by, almost without warning, shifting between tonality and drive. It only sparingly finds a quiet moment of reflection amongst its heavy synths and punchy bass. All because Night City does not allow for that quiet time. Special mention also for the lovely transformation in that main menu theme. Its evolution plays into the wider narratives themes without being too overt to cause frustration. But enough of that. After a few minutes of listening I was ready to press play - 133 weeks and 3 days after I’d pressed “pay now”.

The opening is simple enough. Backstory selection, character creation, genital size decisions... nothing super game-changing - but it is undeniably detailed. Particularly in regards to the small, imperceptible points, where there is a tact and precision in the creator that allows for only slightly hideous monsters. However, the game is first-person. So the only thing that really mattered was genital size and the amount of tattoos I could have (both were excessive).

Briefly summarising the introduction, the nomad path starts you outside of Night City and tasks you with delivering a rare item (a living lizard) across the border. Within this, you learn the basics of dialogue, and the delightful ability to skip forward like a VHS. You get a feel for driving, which on the DualSense feels weighty and distinct per vehicle, and you see just how good Cyberpunk can look. Flaws and all, even with three-plus years of waiting, you cannot deny that this is a beautiful game, especially with raytracing enabled. Colours are at once excessively vibrant - a product of the culture's excess - and miserably muted, to show the true character underneath. This is most apparent in the amber hues of the desert and the grey monoliths within its walls. Though, most importantly, and this may just be me, within the introduction you get what Cyberpunk 2077 is all about. World, character and tone.

“Living” in Night City

I often find myself desperately looking for a reason to stick with a game. To not just experience the critical path and get on with it, but to pause and drink in the work of such talented artists. However, save from a few moments of glorious catharsis in the likes of The Last of Us or The Evil Within 2, it rarely ever happens. But in Cyberpunk 2077, I pause. I pause a lot.

For instance, there is a moment in the nomad path where you lean on a railing after taking a call about your current “gig”. This follows the shiver-inducing prospect of climbing a radio tower (thankfully the only one I have done - so far). Immediately, you get the prompt to leave the railing. However, my eyes weren’t drawn to the “press square” button because, in the distance, I could see the Night City skyline - shrouded in fog and clever coding. This is nothing new. Nothing I had never seen in GTA, for example. But below it sat a small strip of buildings, so perfectly run down (and so acutely rendered) that I could not help but consider the weight ahead for V. The juxtaposition of where he is to where he will end up. The threat of the metropolitan looming large over the rural, over him. Yes, that is as saccharine as it sounds. Those moments are what stood out to me in Cyberpunk 2077 so far. Those introspections where the game isn’t desperately trying to rush you on to the next cool thing. Times where it just lets you drink in the atmosphere and accept that your character, despite being the protagonist, is only existing in this world and not running it.

Now, I’m not silly. Even writing this I’m only 8 or so hours in, so I’m no expert (though I do own the hardback strategy guide). I can't guarantee that my typical habit won’t spark up. Soon enough, all I might be doing is watching those little bits of binary skip through the dialogue someone spent time writing - just to satiate my need to finish a game regardless of my feelings towards it. But, from that opening, and the first hour in Night City, I felt like I got what the main goal of this endeavour was. More than anything it was to just be. To exist. To drink in the neon-drenched streets and colourful costuming of residents. I meander a lot in the game. Marvelling at the scale of design, relishing in the clear nods to the likes of Orwell and Dick. Reading the shards. Discovering the rich lore of a cooperation-lead world, built on conglomerations at war with global values. Taking in the verbal and non-verbal indications of NPCs, existing in their sad but unavoidable reality that helps paint the world.

Playing Cyberpunk 2077 now, 133.429 Weeks after paying, I feel, at least somewhat, justified in waiting. In avoiding the promises of better-optimised patches a year or two in.

Though, I can sum most of my satisfaction up in one name: Jackie.

Jacked Up on Jackie

As I said, I vehemently avoided pre-release info. I had no idea who Keanu was playing and I didn’t get the breathtaking meme for far too long to admit here. So meeting Jackie in the game was my first time meeting Jackie, period. I will avoid any and all spoilers here because I genuinely do think that, if you haven’t yet, you should give the game a go. But just know Jackie has climbed straight into my cold, withered heart. He started it up again with his soft dulcet tones and engaging character arc.

Admittedly, like most, I did find the montage of friendship pretty egregious. The game started to falter for me a little there. They take control away at what could have been more than just vignettes of building a relationship between V and Jackie. Nevertheless, seeing Jackie sat at that stool after you descend into the street for the first time brought it right back. It was such a simple prospect. A character eating alone. But it was one that worked to humanise him for me - more than any cut scene heroics ever could.

The friendship between V and Jackie, at least how I play it, is sincere and caring. A genuine example of positive male friendship existing in, but by no means built upon, violence and hyper-masculinity. One moment in particular where, thanks to my build (because yes this is an RPG), I gave Jackie tips for his bike, seemed utterly inconsequential. When it came up again a few hours later the game made me pause once more. It was meaningless in the grand scheme of the narrative, but it was purposeful to me.

The Unavoidable Weight of Expectation

Despite my clear advocating for the game, I am not above beating a dead horse at least once. So here is a list of issues I have that may or may not sway your view:

  • Combat, though fun, is still just combat. Outside of the Katana (which is glorious) guns feel serviceable. They can be made better by flashy animations and haptics, but this is not a “shooter."
  • Mission variety in regards to the main story is nice, but “gigs” are a lot of: go here - kill them - save them. Thankfully, there is excellent writing to bolster these from repetition. A particular standout involves a Hippocratic Oath-bound kidnapee.
  • Technically impressive, gorgeously rendered… still struggling in optimisation. A few crashes so far and one stuck closing screen on PS5 to be exact.
  • Police are still more esoteric ghosts in the machine than physical presences. The occasional crime scene in the world is nice but they never feel alive like others do.
  • A 3rd person toggle would not be amiss here. My V looks goofy as anything because I’m just a gear whore and I never see him in the third person so it doesn’t matter. Surely the characters around me will question the use of three-quarter lengths over a bodysuit accented with the world's ugliest facemask?

Ultimately, I think there is only one question to answer. Do I feel satisfied having waited so long? Part of me, as seen above, thinks yes. The game, though by no means groundbreaking, has a lot going for it.

Still, it took 30.662 months to get to that point. In that time, so, so much has happened that I cannot help feeling Cyberpunk 2077 has missed its moment. Like The Evil Within 2, for example; a game severely underhyped, but endlessly impactful to this day.

I worry that, soon enough, as many have before, I will drop off the game. Whether that be through frustration, or worse, apathy. Despite those moments of awe, the narrative doesn’t exactly have me gripped. The characters no doubt do, but there’s a reason I only saw the ending of Mass Effect 3 on YouTube.

Nevertheless, I am an idealist at heart. I will push forward into Cyberpunk 2077, with more-than-cautious optimism that this wait was worth so much more than a few hours of gratification.

Therefore, if what I’ve said at all intrigues you, I recommend you try it out too.