Monday, May 3, 2021

Cyberpunk 2077 - PS4 Review

I've been ambivalent towards Cyberpunk 2077 since the first couple of hours of playing it. My expectations were just about as high as anyone else's, maybe especially since I had just played through the absolutely amazing The Witcher 3. And the more I played Cyberpunk the more I felt there was a lot of good things to be said about it, but also many things that just felt off. Around the 25 hour mark I still wasn't entirely sure if I was having fun or not, which of course isn't the best of grades.

Having finished it though I think I can put the finger on one of the main issues of Cyberpunk 2077 - and no I am actually not talking about the now infamous bugs and glitches, but I'll get to them too. The game suffers from a serious case of fluff-itis, or something I also call the Skyrim-syndrome. I spent over 60 hours in Skyrim before I realized it wasn't going to offer me much more than the same stupid enemies in the same boring locations. Fortunately it only took me about 25 hours to realize I was making the same mistake in Cyberpunk 2077. There is a big difference though, Cyberpunk actually also has a lot of really interesting bits buried within all that fluff. The important thing is to dig those bits out and not be lured off the road by enticing map markers that are just going to end up wasting your time doing the same repetitive stuff.

You can customize your character a lot, but rarely do you get to look at it.

In Cyberpunk 2077 you play as V, a character I had little love for. V isn't a silent protagonist, but also not a fleshed out character like Geralt, but rather something in-between that'll end up mostly annoying you with their own dialogue. While you have some control of what V will say in some situations, I too often ended up not agreeing with their style of saying it. Maybe the dialogue was just badly written, because V is definitely not the only character I felt was way more corny than cool. It's fortunate then that the other main character, Johnny Silverhand famously played by Keanu Reeves, ended up really working for me.

Maybe it was the concept of body-snatching more than Keanu Reeves himself. I don't actually think Reeves is a particularly good actor and I don't think he is in this game either. But he has a certain je ne sais quoi, a unique charm that worked perfectly for this character. The main plot starts a bit meandering, probably mostly because the only people around you are V and Jackie, a guy who although endearing doesn't get fleshed out enough to become interesting. But as Jackie leaves the scene, Johnny enters. Your brain. Literally.

It manages to be atmospheric and lifeless at the same time.

This is where I find Cyberpunk 2077 has one of its strengths. The main story, and many of the bigger side-quests, do some very interesting explorations of cyberpunk and sci-fi themes. It's so frustrating then when they're often only skin-deep and leave you wanting for more. One quest has you looking for the run-away subconscious of a taxi company run by a massive AI. After having rounded up all the different taxi cabs and having to listen to their different reasons for having left, I expected a lot more than the plain "thank you" I got. One side quest with a super popstar who has completely covered herself in chrome and going a bit bonkers also didn't really go anywhere. Or maybe they do, maybe I didn't do many enough of the side quests and these elements pop up again elsewhere?

Either way you're going to play Cyberpunk 2077, side quests or focusing on the main story, there is going to be a lot of combat. And it has potential. You are theoretically given the possibility to stealth, hack, punch or shoot your way through most combat situations. In reality though, the enemies are so boring I didn't want to spend more brainpower thinking about what to do than necessary. In the first half of the game I sprayed and prayed, in the second half of the game I quickhacked everything to death. Even though I could technically hack turrets, cameras and drones to do my bidding or stealth my way around, silently picking enemies off one by one and hiding them - none of these elements were well enough designed for me to want to use any of those paths. 

Finding the stealthy path, or staying out of enemy sight in any meaningful way, was way more hassle than it was fun. I also rarely found it neither necessary nor practical to use any other way than just rushing to get through an area. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, combat was almost never any challenge and thus felt more like a necessary evil to get to the more interesting story points. There were some fights that had me breathing heavy though and that I might remember for a while - a samurai boss somewhere in the middle of story mode and the final boss did prove a bit of a challenge and variety to an otherwise rather stale ordeal.

The game also has an obsession with cars. Anywhere you'll go, some random person will ring you up and offer some car or motorbike for what I considered a ridiculous price. I had no interest in this part of the game, and I have also never had any fondness for games like GTA - cruising around is just not my kind of thing. And maybe that is for the best since it seemed a lot of bugs happened while using vehicles. I almost always chose running from A to B, but some times it would turn out to be too far away. Getting in to a vehicle the first time I notice that the radio station play some absolutely banging tunes. How unfortunate that these are not available outside of vehicles! I would occasionally get into a car just so I could listen to some nice music, but quickly realized internet could serve me better. I do really recommend you check out the radio station music from Cyberpunk if you have an opportunity, because I almost didn't hear a single song I didn't enjoy.

Speaking of getting around - while Night City often feels completely lifeless, in other ways it was absolutely amazing. Often when I had to wait for something to trigger in the game, I chose to just walk around and slowly take in the surroundings. The city itself is meticulously built up, and it many ways it felt real. The people in it not so much. I still loved to just look around, peek in to nooks and walk up and down stairs to see where it would take me. Night City is like a postcard of a real city, it looks real when you look at it but you know you're not really there.

Filling these nooks and alleys are people that some times didn't load in with their faces on or cars that would get stuck in walls if I stood in their way. I won't be too mean about the bugginess though, in fact after 45 hours of game time I didn't encounter any game breaking ones and only a few weird ones. There were a few corpses that died in places where I couldn't loot them properly, and towards the end I had to backtrack a few corridors to shoot off a lost enemy because an item wouldn't trigger otherwise. There were items floating in the air here and there or people interacting with things that weren't there. Quite often audio tracks would play on top of each other, when I was having a conversation with someone and my phone rang for instance. But this was in no way a part of the game that bothered me or ruined my fun at any point.

The game wants to do so much and I wish they would've just focused on half of the stuff and made them really good instead. It's like they started out with a solid idea but just kept adding on top of it until all the good bits where all but buried. As it is now, most of it comes off as either half-baked or just not thought through. There are cars to collect, gangs to murder, psychos to find, fixers to help and a billion other things that scream for your attention. The main story is actually quite good, and worth playing through if you ask me. I probably would've had more fun with combat if it had been more focused and less of it. Now I definitely burned myself out on it in the first 20 hours of the game, and had little interest left for it when it bloomed out a bit towards the end. When you try to cater to everyone, you often end up catering to no one and the developers should've had the guts to stick to one vision or two instead of trying to include so many. Cyberpunk 2077 is proof yet again that most often, less is more.

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