Shits & Viggles #4: Cyberpunk 2077
December 16th, 2020
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It is with mixed feelings that I start writing this piece… I’ve put 27 hours into the game, and I think I’m just now starting to appreciate it for what it is: an ambitious, fun, yet flawed experience that people focus on the wrong faults of. So, a CDPR game.
You’ll notice that there aren’t any mentions of the game being “offensive”, or links to any websites that have tackled that “issue” before. This is because we (still) have (some) integrity, are able to recognise artistic nuance or license, and feel that our readers are above such diarrheic, faux-journalistic nonsense and are just looking to bloody play some vidya.
Out of the people I interact with on a constant basis, I was the least excited about, looking forward to, or following Cyberpunk’s development outside the odd social media reshare. I didn’t mind the repeated delays, I wasn’t fanboying over it, and I definitely didn’t take days off work to play it, because I’m an adult. Allegedly.
I just wanted them to come out with a finished game, and the launch gave us anything but, with major issues on last gen consoles and noticeable issues on PC and current gen ones. Considering the fact that CDPR didn’t allow reviewers to share any gameplay footage prior to launch, I think they were well aware of it all.
If we’re to read into the statements in regards to the game being rebooted multiple times and take the current state of it into account, I’d say there are signs of those reboots being major overhauls of core gameplay elements that are, even now, still a bit underdeveloped.
And yet, people got their hopes up (myself included) over this allegedly amazing experience that was about to hit, then felt smacked upside the noggin when half the NPCs just stood there, T-posed. But issues like these weren’t what bugged me the most, personally.
Going in, I was annoyed by the loooooong ass tutorial-like opening sequence that (for me) stretched on for about six hours before getting into the game proper. This was a story that had been railroaded as all hell and smacked of rushed development, at least in terms of how transparent and sometimes plain bad the writing and attention to detail for the entire thing was. This continues into the main game, but it’s not as obvious or bothersome (e.g. the stilted ass phonecalls you get from Fixers whenever you enter their turf).
I’m also happy to say that many things also got much better once I was “unleashed” upon the world, BUT there are caveats for most of what I’m about to write here.
All of the stuff you’re seeing comes from a Nomad perspective, on hard difficulty.
My rig is a 3.7GHz i7-8700, coupled with a 6GB GTX1060, and 16GB of RAM, so pretty much the recommended specs sans installing the game on a SSD, which seems to clog up my loading times somewhat. I have most things running on high, in 1080p, and have a solid, 30-40ish FPS for the most part, with some noticeable drops when driving (fast) around crowded areas.
Texture pop in has been a minor nuisance, especially when it comes to driving (again, fast) around town, at mid/long draw distance for high rise buildings and sometimes (very) short draw distance when it comes to a handful of cars, character models, and other minor assets here and there.
Without further ado, meet V, my nipple-free, off-latino-looking manly man, with lip paint, chrome fingernails, and a heart-shaped bush:
In a world of crazy hairdos, I obviously made the baldest choice ever.
I was fairly quick to go through the character creation screen for the superficial bits since, well… it’s a first person game, you’re barely going to see the dude outside of the odd photo mod3 snap. I liked the template-like options they offered and came up with my fairly quaint cunt, abilities included, within some 20-30 minutes.
V looks great regardless of your bodily choices, but his lackluster voice, courtesy of Gavin Drea (who’s been a part of literally nothing you’ve ever heard of before) ruins it for me. I’m not the biggest fan of the voice acting but this dude alone is responsible for a big chunk of my dislike.
Going in, I thought that they were either going for a cheesy-80s style, or were painfully unaware of how bad everyone was. Coming up on thirty hours, I’m pretty sure it’s the former, and they were painfully unaware of how bad Gavin Drea is. There are only two people in the world able to do bad line readings and make them sound good. One of them is William Shatner. The other is playing Johnny Silverhand.
This is indicative of my greater experience of Cyberpunk: there’s a lot of good shit in it, but there’s usually some single, major aspect that fucks up the rest of it altogether.
Allow me to expand while going through some of the major pros and cons of the game.
First of all, let’s talk about the inhabitants of Night City.
There are crowds upon crowds of colourful, multicultural, multi… shape-al people littering the map. Gangs, cops, regular folks, fixers, bums, vendors, whores (male, female, and probably all 72 other genders if you bother to check), and sundry, models are varied enough to not feel like obvious, repeated instances of one another.
The animations and mannerisms they exhibit are just plain horrid.
Most of them just stand or move around doing basically nothing, have little to no lines when interacted with, and swivel and weave around the map like they’re in some bad Wolfenstein 3d knock off, lack of a strafe button in tow… The same goes for cutscenes, with mostly stiff, expressionless models with gestures so sketchy they look like they were made for last-last gen.
Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay handled a more immersive medium than this, in terms of NPCs. Back in 2004.
Drawing you out of the experience is also the NPCs’ random idiocy when it comes to fighting. Whenever engaging these polygon jumbles in a contest to the death, there’s always the off chance they’re going to ignore dead bodies, glitch at you through textures, or just have some erratic behaviour, either towards the player or one another that makes absolutely no sense in the circumstances.
The same immersion-breaking qualifier is true for the various vendors and shops around town that are fully modeled but don’t allow you to interact with them. Just aside of all those LOCKED doors or missing floors when traveling by elevator to really get my cybergoat…
The map seems somewhat small, but the cars they modeled for the game are bloody awesome, both outside and in. The way the dashboards and steering wheels are modeled are to die for and I’ve never felt the want to drive in FPS view outside of actual sim racers, but I find myself doing it more often here. They really do look as good as they did in the early screenshots we got. And also, there’s this beauty.
Tying into the previous animation aspect, there’s a painful disconnect between the way cars function when they’re just being driven in traffic and the paths/behaviours they have when you’re hitching a ride with a NPC.
The latter trip will be marred by random jolts made up of weird acceleration/braking, and a fuckheaded hand-to-wheel model and turn radius. All of that is a far cry from how fluid most cars seem when you observe them in traffic. This hurts when you’re having a (heavily scripted) dialogue with the driver, and even more so when you join them in HOPES of a convo but end up staring out the window in silence for a good few minutes instead. Lazy shit.
The driving model is a bit iffy, cars are heavy and lumbering, lack grip, and their center of mass lies buried somewhere about ten feet under whatever tarmac they’re on, in the form of a magnet that keeps them effectively stuck to the ground…
I’ve come to realise that different car classes are actually intended to drive differently, so the loose grip and weird inertia might be intentional. Thankfully, they all feel much better on a controller than a regular keyboard, and on-the-fly switch means I can drive around with my XBone joy and then pick up mouse-and-keys when in a fight so that I don’t look completely retarded.
I’m only a moderately simple Jack.
These concepts boil down to a disconnect between the way the city appears and actually is, which represents the main avenue to failure. At first glance this is an eclectic, noisy, beautiful, varied experience, but when faced with more and more of it, the sterility shows. It often feels stilted, limited, and awkward.
The same can be said for many of the things that the “cyber” part of the game introduces. Braindances, a feature of the tabletop game, are a great concept in theory: you’ve got a recording of someone’s experiences that you can “edit”, scrub, and examine for clues on video/audio/thermal layers. This is a good way to prep heists or track people’s whereabouts, or ascertain how various events unfolded.
The actual experience of going into a braindance is… banal.
You’re just moving sliders around and centering your screen on whatever it is that seems to be a clue (BECAUSE IT’S CLEARLY FUCKING MARKED AS SUCH), then waiting for the scripted dialogue to unfold.
I’ve no notion of there being different results to these sequences because you or your Netrunner aide automatically link any evidence to whatever conclusion the game needs in order to move forward. It makes this awesome idea feel flat and formulaic. It’s something you need to go through the motions of rather than actively pay attention to.
Sure, it acts as exposition, but it seems like a cheap choice for those purposes, too.
Out of all the types of missions you have to go on, this feels like it was banking on the concept hitting it big and people ignoring the fact that they’re effectively just winding and rewinding a tape enough times to knock all the checkmarks before moving on.
You can’t even quit before the damn thing is completely over, so going forward into a mission with a limited amount of info is not a choice you can make, unless the BD is clearly marked as “(optional)”.
I personally think that much could’ve been done towards making BDs a more poignant experience. I’m not talking about LA Noire levels of sleuthing and putting 2 and 2 together, asking the right questions, or what have you, but there’s definitely room for different results based on – at the very least – player skill, if not player character skill.
This sort of simplistic script with minimal interaction is a greater symptom of many other missions in the game. Take Delamain’s cab recovery or Claire’s races for example: both sound cool when looked at as a whole narrative, but their component parts always play out the same on account of you’re unable to influence the scripts in any meaningful way.
Del’s rogue cabs need to be shut down and rebooted so he regains control over them… There are various ways that these missions play out, but there’s not much choice that you have in the matter for most. You generally find the cars, exchange a couple lines of dialogue, then Bob’s yer Netrunner.
In the same vein, the second of Claire’s qualifying races runs through a sandstorm at one point, but there aren’t any other sand storms to see no matter how long you traipse around the Badlands for. I spun around that dustbowl for an hour each time over three different gaming sessions and there was not one ounce of flying dust to speak of. This made the race feel special, but not because it organically happened to occur during a freak weather event, but because it was scripted to do so.
It’s like the devs want to tell you THIS story, rather than let you make it YOUR STORY, which is pretty weird for an open-ended RPG (so, not The Witcher, for instance).
For contrast, one item where player input was greatly felt was V’s neighbour Barry’s side quest, where I just happened to compare results with a friend (Mada, I really do like the game, I promise!) and it was obvious that different dialogue options had lead us to very different end results.
You’ll notice that I don’t really mention the story much because… I don’t really care about it at this point. Honestly, there are few memorable moments in terms of story events that I can point out, and most of the fun stuff that happens relates to a certain chain of events brought about by gameplay rather than narrative elements.
As a counter to some of the more uninvolved aspects, the Protocol Breach minigame 100% involves the actual, human player’s brain in order to solve a logical problem. All the more reason to say CDPR didn’t care about people who buy consoles in the first place...
With this minigame, they actually managed a simple yet gripping experience that is both time and attention-span-sensitive and makes you feel like you’re actively hacking.
Every damn protocol breach is effectively the same.
Whether you’re breaching a camera, a screen, a laptop, or another cybernetically enhanced twat, the minigame carries out in the same fashion, albeit with varying difficulty.
You’re telling me this couldn’t have been done via at least three or four different minigames to keep things interesting and the player guessing? Does everything that runs on code in this city run on THE SAME damn code, breakable via the same damn protocols?
On a related note, the quickhacking that you perform while in combat is also simple in execution (press F to haxxxorzzz), but varied enough in style to keep you on your toes and always adapting. There are various mods you can install on your OS and have handy in various situations, and a bevy of perks that make you more efficient at hacking increasingly more difficult targets, which is great fun.
Gunplay is another great aspect of the game. It’s visceral, fast paced, gets tricky if you’re not paying attention, and is very effective at blending the quickhack part into the experience seamlessly. The weapons look, feel, and sound GRRREAT and the almost-never-erring auto-snap to cover is something that literally every shooter should be able to do these days, for crying out loud!
Stealth has a pretty high shot at being a big miss.
I recognise that there are instances where stealth is encouraged, and instances where you should just go in guns blazing. But while I’ve built an assault/hack specialist and am only dabbling in stealth on the side, sometimes the game seems to force you to blaze.
Whether the AI just fails at life or your actions just fail to work (I still can’t pull a Hidden Dragon), it feels like gunning is a safer avenue than sneaking. I’ve had multiple instances of trying to approach the same NPC via the same way several times and ended up with wildly varying results in terms of them being able to hear or react to me. Maybe this is RNGsus at work or walking in a straight line does varied amounts of noise depending on the bloody time of day, but it’s mildly off-pissing. Also, getting shot through multiple, solid walls (by anything that is not a power shotgun) is definitely not a feature.
Thankfully, I can always just blast away my anger so that’s somewhat therapeutic.
I guess this is a big plus for the game, in the end: the moderate variety of approaches means that whenever one of them fails (to work as intended), you can always defer to the tried-and-true Nukem approach and get a kick out of seeing splattered limbs and torsos.
Provided the blood doesn’t just barcode-splatter on the damned ground.
It’s taken me these considerable hours to reach my conclusion and embrace the game’s positive aspects over its faults, and I’m still not 100% with it, obviously. I still get turned off by random issues, but It’s also fun as hell to tease my mate (who loves the game) with all the dumb shit that’s yet to be patched.
And there’s some of it that probably never will, so we’ll see how that feels down the line. I’d be willing to just accept many more of the drawbacks if more of the game seemed more polished.
BUT (a positive one, for a change)!
I realise that the devs might’ve wanted to keep this game under development for much longer but were forced to push it out for various reasons. This is evident by the fact that four days after launch we were on hotfix 1.04, and are now awaiting 1.05 before December 21st and a couple larger patches/updates in January and February. They’re also offering refunds to anyone who feels like they wasted their money, so their heart is definitely in the right place. Go, CDPR!
Also, being a CDPR game, support and development will carry on for a loooong time through the game’s shelf life and maybe even after it if that giant, one-man-patch overhaul for Witcher 2 is anything to go by.
As such, after the initial shock/unpleasant surprise/disappointment has worn off, I feel safe in saying that Cyberpunk does what it says on the box well enough to keep me interested for an extended amount of time. I’d go as far as saying that I’m willing to start up another character, maybe one of female conviction, but only after more major patches and updates are added.
There’s much more that could be said about Cyberpunk 2077, but I’m having trouble distilling a lot of my impressions on it right now, so I’ll have to revisit it a few dozen hours down the line.
That said, I still don’t think the game is 100% worth its full price, so maybe wait for a slight discount at this stage, or even put it off until a more collected/enhanced/GOTY edition comes out. If you’re as nitpicky as I am about the things you like and expect to do good, your psyche will probably thank you.
Thanks for reading, and have as nice a day as you deserve!
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Tags: Costin Becheanu, Videogames