Game Review: Cyberpunk 2077

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. 

Game Review: The Legend of Zelda: The Oracle of Seasons


It took me many Winters, Springs, Summers and Falls to finally complete The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. I first owned the game as a child, but Oracle of Seasons‘s often mind-bending puzzles proved too taxing for adolescent me. I put it aside, convinced that I’d eventually come back to Seasons and defeat it. Lo and behold, twenty-some odd years later, my quest is finally complete. Oracle of Seasons was just as tricky as I remembered it to be, but that made beating it all the more satisfying.

Zelda games are known for their puzzle-filled dungeons, often with occasionally mean-spirited tricks and traps. Though the series is a Nintendo staple, Seasons was developed by Capcom, and as a result that mean-spirited trollishness has been amplified to a Mega Man degree. Zelda games could always be difficult, but the developers of Seasons seem to have been hellbent on ensuring that every successive screen had a new and more taxing challenge. Few of the dungeons inspire awe or wonder or kindle the player’s imagination in the way that the dungeons in Ocarina or LTTP did. These are old-school beat-you-up and spit-you-out brawler dungeons with puzzles so occasionally head-scratching that they make the pillars in Eagle’s Tower look like child’s play. At first glance each puzzle is appealing enough, but the path to the solution is generally fraught with back-tracking, health conservation and cursing at your hand-held device.

At times, Seasons feels more like a Master Quest for those who played Link’s Awakening than a standalone story. In terms of narrative, the game is paper thin. Zelda is nowhere to be found. In her stead, Din the Goddess of Seasons plays Damsel-in-Distress, sending our hero on a quest to rescue her from the bulky bruiser General Onox. Onox, like most non-Ganon baddies, is mainly a filler villain with few distinct details. The true focus is on exploration, puzzle solving, and wrapping your head around just what the developers expect you to do next. There’s a great moment late in the game when even the NPC’s don’t feel like telling you where to go, and that sort of “you’re on your own” attitude hums throughout.

Graphically the game is wonderful to look at, even for a dated GBC title. There’s plenty of personality in Seasons, even though the writing is confined to two-line scrolling text boxes. The characters are brimming with funny dialogue and wacky animations. There are even references to Ocarina‘s cast, including Biggoron and The Windmill Musician. Many of the larger characters look better than anything on the NES, specifically Link’s kangaroo friend and the game’s final boss. In spite of all that, the game lacks a sort of coherent focus that gives it any real thematic unity. It’s a melting pot of interesting ideas, but the result is a Dagwood sandwich rather than a meal with the perfect blending of ingredients.

What it lacks in cohesion and originality, Seasons makes up for in gameplay. More could have been done to round out the game’s inventory- no hookshot or bow?- but for the most part, this entry in the Zelda series is a winner. Even when limited by hardware constraints, like the fact that you only have two buttons with which to assign inventory slots, the developers of Oracle of Seasons made a game that carries on the Zelda legacy and manages to play well even today.