More than a year after its disastrous launch, Cyberpunk 2077 is finally in playable shape on home consoles. For the most part, it’s well worth the wait. Though it fails to break any new ground in terms of gameplay or storytelling, Cyberpunk succeeds in providing a well-developed world with plenty of subplots and distractions, as well as an addictive hacking and combat loop.
Set in a shady West Coast, Blade Runner-esque metropolis called Night City, players take control of V, a fully customizable mercenary with dreams of becoming a living legend. After a heist gone wrong, V winds up with a brain-erasing microchip in his skull, not to mention the digital manifestation of rock star terrorist, Johnny Silverhand, masterfully played by another living legend, the one and only Keanu Reeves. Though Johnny is an alcoholic, abusive stowaway in your character’s brain, there’s something about Reeves’s painstaking, John Wayne-style delivery that makes the verifiable asshole a lovable and welcome companion on your quest to find a way to save your broken mind.
The main story, like the game as a whole, isn’t so much an iconoclastic vision of the future as it is a hodgepodge of well-worn but comforting sci-fi tropes. Holograms and neon lights abound, and the body modification and hacking elements are straight-up Deus Ex. But there’s something psychologically palatable about digging into the nitty-gritty of life in this universe, strolling the streets and markets, cruising around in a stolen car, and just looking for trouble. The city feels alive and vibrant, even if the main thing lurking around every corner is a street gang just itching for a fight. Violence isn’t a break from the norm in Night City; it is the norm. The cops barely lift a finger to stop you and seem thrilled that you’re willing to do their job for them most of the time. Hell, they even pay you for each goon you take down during your rambling. That’s just one of many not-so-healthy diversions you can enjoy while you’re hunting for side quests.
The subplots are where the game really comes alive. Characters like the fiery-tempered road warrior, Panam Palmer, and the soft-spoken cop with family drama, River Ward, all get their time to shine in surprisingly lengthy mission chains. Quests in Cyberpunk seem to end unceremoniously, but then a key character will call you a few hours later with a hot tip about something they could use a little help doing. Though it’s certainly repetitious, it never gets old. This isn’t Cousin Roman calling you to go bowling. These feel like check-ins from friends. Even better, rather than helping someone move or paint their apartment, you might wind up breaking into a pornographer’s den or stealing a hovertank. That’s Cyberpunk in a nutshell.
Combat can be fun, though after a certain point you might find yourself to be such an overpowered god that it feels less like a battle and more like deciding who you want to explode first. Your quickhack abilities allows you to create distractions and complications for enemies in a way similar to Watch Dogs, but they also allow you to hack into enemies’ brains and make them go loco, turning on their comrades or freezing up completely. If you level up your abilities high enough, you can blast people’s brains without ever pulling a trigger. There’s also the stealthy approach, but even the game seems to assume you won’t be using that. You can punch bad guys to death or install an electric whip in your arms and slice ‘em into deli meat. Yeah, there’s romance in Cyberpunk, but there’s also jet pistons you can install in your legs. Maybe the reason this game came in behind schedule is because nobody told the devs it was okay to pare things back a little bit. Excess seems to be their M.O.
It’s not all neon and holobabes, of course. The main story can be a little lackluster and unsatisfying, depending on which route you take. Though the game does a good job writing compelling female characters, it often feels like the black characters are neglected, fat-shamed, or written off as one-note villains. I’m not sure if this was intentional or accidental, but with so much content at hand, it seems odd they didn’t balance things out a bit, especially considering that this game’s vision of family seems to be a bunch of predominantly white rednecks drinking beers together under the stars. Then again, maybe it’s too much to ask that a game with so much sex and violence and such a bleak vision of the future have woke politics. At this point I’m not sure if envisioning a 2077 where society still exists is optimistic or far-fetched. But the best bits of storytelling and character development in Cyberpunk happen in episodic fashion during non-mandatory missions, which is a shame, considering someone might speed through the lackluster bits and miss something truly special.
I enjoyed my time with Cyberpunk immensely and will likely revisit Night City whenever I want to cruise around and take out no-good street punks. I recommend it for sci-fi fans and those who enjoyed Deus Ex and Watch Dogs especially, but it might not scratch the itch for fans of Mass Effect or even The Witcher 3 in terms of storytelling. But if you’re on the fence about the game because of all the news stories about it being glitchy and broken, rest assured: aside from a few hiccups, this game is playable now. Still, I admit that it’ll be hard for many people to separate Cyberpunk 2077 from the controversy of its launch, but those who give it a second chance might be surprised by how engaging and intoxicating Night City can be.