Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Google Stadia

Whenever a major AAA release comes out and half the gaming community calls it one of the best games ever made and the other half calls it a sloppy barely functioning piece of garbage, the truth usually lies somewhere in between. Not so for Cyberpunk 2077. It just plays both sides. It is genuinely one of the most ambitious projects I have experienced in modern gaming, and CD Projekt Red deserves to be praised for that. However, it is also full of bugs and errors, sloppily handles its source material, and barely runs on some platforms, and CD Projekt Red deserves to be criticized for that.

The most open of open worlds

Welcome to Night City, a land of culture and depravity. Here, the corps rule everything and the few lucky get rich enough to suckle at their teat. Meanwhile, the common folk scrape and scrounge, trying to get together enough eddies (that’s future lingo for money) for a quick meal and rent. You do what you have to survive, maybe take some seedy jobs, or run afoul of the law, or even sell your soul to the corps for a chance to live the short high life.

You play V… and that’s all I can tell you about the main character because their backstory is yours to choose. At the very beginning, you decide whether you grew up on the streets, grew up on the outskirts, or grew up with a silver spoon in your mouth. From there, you hit up the character creator and start the game, and paths diverge wildly.

Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the most open of open-world games yet. V’s personality changes depending on your stats and the way you play. Pick a few dialogue choices and your jobs, connections, even main plot quests will change dramatically. No two players will experience the same game. I played alongside a colleague and found that we didn’t meet the same character or get the same options in major dialogue scenes. Only a few main story beats are consistent and even then they change up a bit from playthrough to playthrough.

There is a bit of smoke and mirrors making this all work. I was surprised that a fixer I did a lot of side jobs for suddenly became relevant in the main story. For a while, I was in awe at how the devs could have allowed for so many different possibilities with so many different NPCs to somehow have a noticeable effect on the main plot. Then I realized that the game probably just keeps track of which side quests you’ve done and slots in one of the NPCs you’ve been working with whenever you need someone to forward the narrative. It’s a small trick, but it works. It made me feel like every side-quest I did was relevant because everyone had a role to play in a greater story.

Cyberpunk 2077 goes to extreme lengths not to railroad you. Heck, when I finally got to the main storyline, I was given four different ways to proceed that I could tackle in any way I wanted. You know how most games are one main quest path and then a bunch of stuff you can do on the side? Well, there really isn’t one main path to travel in this game. Cyberpunk wants YOU to make the decision of who to talk to and how to solve problems. It’s not going to ferry you from point A to point B until the end credits roll. You have to work your connections, trust your judgment, and rely on your skills in order to craft a story all your own.

Play the game you want

This brings us to the mechanics which, once again, are completely open. You have five stats to put points into, each opening up new options. You also have perks within each stat that further upgrade your abilities and skills that level up as you use them. Then you have several different weapons of choice, from swords to guns to your bare fists, a ton of different cyberware that you can implant into yourself to change and break the rules of the game hacks that you can use against enemies, and electronic devices, and more.

Every tiny obstacle in Cyberpunk 2077 can be tackled in multiple ways. Let’s say your progress is blocked by a door. You can use a high Body stat to just force it open, or a high Technical Ability stat to pick the lock. You can use high Intelligence to hack the security system to open the door for you, or you can use a high Cool to schmooze a guard and have him unlock it for you. You can also decide to screw all your stats and go about it a different way.

Leg augments may have given you a double jump, allowing you to circle around the outside, jump up, and climb through the window. Maybe you have enough money to bribe someone to get you in. Maybe you have enough street cred for people to be intimidated by you and let you through. Heck, even the very first decision you make in the game, your character origin sometimes plays into this. Grew up on the streets? Maybe you know just the name to drop to get you in.

That being said, there are definitely some methods of play that are more fun than others. Linking up smart homing guns to your cyber optics feels great. Driving a car… any car… feels horrible. Sneaking around hacking cameras and making enemy brains explode with your cyber magic feels amazing. Melee combat feels like a screaming flail fest.

But perhaps the thing I want to praise Cyberpunk for the most is that it managed to make me change the way I was played through narrative. It actually made me roleplay in a roleplaying game.

I built my character as a super-intelligent hacking prodigy. I snuck around, infiltrated networks, took control of cameras, and used automated weapons and non-lethal takedowns. But then I did a job where an NPC that I took a liking to ended up dying. The game took away my gear and left me on the street with nothing but a knife.

Now, I could have continued to hack my way through the game, but my first few blade kills leveled up my bladed weapons skill, which made me want to use them more. Soon, I had turned from a hacking prodigy to a spirit of vengeance with a katana, storming corp holdouts and slaughtering everyone without a second of remorse. The mechanics created this interesting piece of narrative just by making me fool around with other combat options for a bit.

In short, Cyberpunk 2077’s massive open world and open-ended gameplay are the reason to play it. If this is your sort of game then Cyberpunk 2077 is an easy Game of the Year pick for you. It’s easily one of the most ambitious open-world games I have ever seen, but ambition has a price, and that price…

Well, the game is basically a broken, sloppy, unfinished mess.

A mess of tech

Editor’s note: CDPR has released a statement regarding the technical difficulties many players have been experiencing since the game’s launch.

You’ve probably already heard all the stories about glitches, crashes, and graphical bugs, and I can confirm they are all true. Several patches have hit since release and it’s still one of the buggiest games I have ever played. Animations don’t trigger right, maps don’t load in, scenes play over each other, the menu freezes, the mouse cursor disappears; it’s horrible. 

I’ve had quest lines break, forcing me to reload. I’ve had sound effects and music completely cut out.  One cutscene teleported me into the air causing me to fall and die. Even the character creator glitched, causing my mouse to snap to options and removing my ability to scroll, causing me to restart the game before I even got to the intro screen.

And this is all on a decently powerful rig running a GTX 2080 with all my drivers up to date. For me, the game ran smooth and crisp at 60FPS, despite its bugginess. Everyone else hasn’t been faring so well. There is a reason people call this the “new Crysis.” If you don’t have a better than average rig, you are out of luck.

And don’t even think about playing it on a console. Just look at the PS4 version of the game. It barely runs, is stuck at 720p at 30FPS, textures take 20-40 seconds to load in, it really is an unplayable mess. The Xbox One version isn’t much better and next-gen versions won’t release until next year.

I would normally call this one of the best looking games of the year, except only a few people will ever be able to actually experience it the way it should be, with graphics turned high and ray tracing turned on. It’s only really accessible to the PC crowd and even then only to people with high powered GPUs. Can a game really be considered a success if only a very small crowd can play it, especially since most PC releases these days are built to make them as accessible to as many people as possible?

It’s not just technically sloppy. There are aspects of the plot and graphics that feel sloppy as well.

You may have heard about the braindance sequence that seemed to be modeled off a device that is meant to induce epileptic seizures. That’s certainly real. I don’t suffer from epilepsy but I am sensitive to movement and that sequence was enough to make me put the game down. It has since been patched out, but how ragged was the dev team being run that this didn’t get caught in QA testing?

You might have heard that CD Projekt Red got Keanu Reeves to play Johnny Silverhand, a classic Cyberpunk character. They did but, to be honest, Keanu kind of phones it in. There are plenty of other throwbacks to the original Cyberpunk material, but they never feel profound. Rather, they feel like they are cherry-picked, small nods to show that CD Projekt Red knows that it exists rather than characters that were naturally integrated into the story.

Every complaint you have heard has some truth behind it. From poor handling of trans and queer characters to some versions simply not having graphics options. The lack of major accessibility options? Sloppy. The inability to access fast travel from your menu? Sloppy. The fact that almost every major function in the game is double and sometimes even triple mapped (for example, crouch and skip dialogue is the same button?) Incredibly sloppy.  CD Projekt Red tried to make something big but in the process ignored all the little details that make a game feel polished.

Who is this for?

Let me ask you something, Samurai? How much do you like roleplaying? Enough to wrestle with bugs and crashes? Enough to overlook flaws that you probably wouldn’t overlook in any other game?

Despite all the bugs I’ve listed, I’ve had relatively smooth sailing, with the focus on relatively. I had a few really frustrating patch bugs that made me redownload and reinstall and only had a few crashes here or there. However, for the most part, I have been able to actually play the game without any issues I couldn’t fix in a few minutes. I can’t guarantee you will experience the same.

That is really going to be what ultimately factors into your enjoyment. How much are you willing to overlook to get to the core experience, because the core experience is great, but the hoops you have to jump through to get there are discouraging?

This brings me to the ultimate question, can I recommend purchasing this game? Well, despite it being honestly one of the best RPGs that came out this year, not right now. Purchasing Cyberpunk 2077 is a gamble, a gamble that could pay off greatly, but a gamble that could also leave you with a $60 hole in your pocket and a game that won’t even boot.

That being said, Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that will eventually be amazing. CD Projekt Red has been putting out a ton of patches and in a couple of months, most of the problems will probably be patched out. It’s a great game that you probably just can’t experience yet. It’s easy to like if it runs, but easier to hate if it doesn’t. It’s going to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but if you are one of the lucky ones you’ll have a great time.