Goondu review: Cyberpunk 2077

January 10th, 2021 | by Yap Hui Bin
Goondu review: Cyberpunk 2077
Gaming
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Probably the most controversial title to be launched this year, Cyberpunk 2077 was teased in E3 2017 with a high-profile appearance by Keanu Reeves.

Fast forward to today when the game is finally launched amid the pandemic and possibly the worst controversy for a major game launch ever.

It didn’t help that there was so much hype about the game over the years leading up to the launch, the constant delays and sky-high expectations of the developer, CD Projekt Red, who created the acclaimed Witcher series of games. 

Most issues are reported on those playing on the last-generation PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, so much so that the title was pulled off the PlayStation Store, with Sony offering refunds for the game. The PC and Xbox versions of the game are still available at the time of writing.

Unfortunately, the negative publicity surrounding the game is getting a lot more attention than the actual gameplay, which is such a shame. There is so much vitriol online heaped on the game and developers for clickbait articles which were just fueling the negative publicity.

I was quite fortunate to get a review copy for the Xbox Series X and I did manage to complete the game successfully. Barring some completely broken side quests, show stopping bugs and frequent crashes, I really enjoyed exploring Night City, upgrading weapons and gear and encountering interesting characters in the game.

But as we all know now, it wasn’t quite ready to be shipped and played at launch. To the developer’s credit, the hotfixes came hard and fast in the days following the launch, which managed to fix some issues but not all.

The side quest that I was stuck at unfortunately was still not fixed even after I completed the main mission and a few critical side quests after over 70 hours of gameplay.

For all the troubles and controversies in the real world, Cyberpunk 2077 is an enjoyable and complex game. The open world was truly ambitious, with tonnes of events to discover, side quests to accomplish and rare loot to acquire.

It feels good to play a game that depicts in such great detail the dystopian future that we are helplessly heading towards.

“Everything sucks.” The divide between the haves and the have- nots in Night City is heartbreaking. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Punk’d

Cyberpunk 2077 is an ambitious and vast first-person open world, role-playing action game set in a future where cybernetic modification is an everyday affair for humans.

You play V, a character that you customise from the start, with the ambition to be the best mercenary in Night City. V can be either a man or a woman, and can even take on anatomical characteristics of either.

For instance, V can be a man with a woman’s voice and even a woman’s body, so it is really open for whatever preference you like. Do note that once you created V at the point of character creation, you can’t change much of his/her physical appearance except for the wearables and clothes.

Also, romance options are dependent on whether V identifies as man or a woman, never mind physical appearances, as the characters in the game who can be romanced have their own preferences.

Fashion aficionados will need to close their eyes as the clothes in Cyberpunk 2077 are garish, loud and clashing – in my case, those that offer the best protection seem insanely outlandish.

I tend to dress V with wearables that offer the highest armour points, and at one point, V was running around in a puffy vest, skimpy shorts, an ugly helmet and combat boots.

Thankfully, the only time we gamers get to see V in full body mode is when V is riding a motorcycle or through the amusing photo mode!

Can’t bear to look at you! Cyberpunk 2077’s garish fashion had my protagonist dressed out in the most ridiculous outfits just to get the the most armour. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

The game lets you choose three different character life paths to play, which will affect the prologue section of the game which you will have to play through. These are the Nomad, Street Kid and Corpo life paths.

Although the key missions will stay the same after the prologue, certain dialogue options are available throughout the game depending on which life path you choose.

Likewise, how you play the game will affect the end game as well as the epilogue – no spoilers here but there are critical decisions and missions that you need to play through to achieve different endings.

The city that never sleeps

Cyberpunk 2077 is set in the fictitious futuristic city known as Night City somewhere in Northern California, and is reminiscent of the urban scenes from Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell.

A huge, densely-built megalopolis, Night City is derelict, dirty and depressing in most parts, but gleaming and glamourous in buildings owned by the powerful and wealthy corporations.

The streets are full of litter, with garbage piled up in corners, and graffiti is prevalent. There is also rampant crime and lawlessness by desperate citizens, and gunfights are a common occurrence.

While exploring the city, you can clearly see the difference between the haves and the have-nots. We see homeless people sleeping in alleys and under bridges, beggars asking for money near dumps and children rooting through garbage, while the super rich live in luxurious homes, drink expensive liquor and are transported around by flying vehicles.

Our protagonist, V, is actually well off enough to stay in a nice apartment in a Megabuilding although the environment right outside the door is unpleasantly slummy. 

Night City from the fringes – it’s a reflection of our future cities, with garbage and glamour, and the super rich and desperately poor, all in close proximity. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

On the Xbox Series X, the game is rendered in great detail with the grittiness and garishness of Night City. The city teems with life and feels so immersive – you can talk to random people walking around or eavesdrop on them to learn more about their mostly unhappy lives.

There are surprises to discover at every turn, such as a stray cat that can be adopted, people in awkward situations who need help, as well as gang members, criminals and Cyberpsychos (those who have a mental affliction due to an overload of cybernetics) that the Night City Police Department (NCPD) needs help to suppress. 

Another aspect of the detail and realism of Night CIty is the constant barrage of noisy, irritating and sensationalistic soda and junk food commercials everywhere – on buildings, in elevators, in vehicles and even in V’s apartment.

And when you peek into most email inboxes on the terminals that you find, they are also subjected to scams and spam. Yet it all feels so familiar – like the life that we know today cranked up a few notches in volume, sensationalism and intensity. 

Music is prominently featured in the game, and there are various radio stations that can be heard while driving as well as clearing out enemy hideouts – bad guys all seem to like listening to the radio too!

The soundtrack is dominated by industrial, hiphop and techno music, which I thought were fabulous in setting the mood.

The voice acting of the characters is convincing and top notch, except for the audio glitches that silenced the Non-Player Characters (see later section on how it can be fixed).

In addition to the sprawling map, there is also plenty to explore vertically – catwalks, elevators and stairs open up an entire space to rooftop markets, different floors on megabuildings and even basements that house service providers.

These include merchants trading in various items, Ripperdocs for installing cybernetics, hawkers selling processed food and other services.

The towering mega skyscrapers that are densely packed together block out much of the natural daylight so it feels like night time on the ground perpetually, but that is not why Night City is so named – rather, the city was named after its founder, Richard Night.

it feels like night time on the ground perpetually, but that is not why Night City is so named. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Apart from the densely populated cultural melting pot of Night City, there are also other areas to explore, such as the lawless Pacifica in the south with a seemingly more tropical vibe and a majority of Creole speakers, as well as the rugged wilderness of the Badlands in the east dominated by nomadic gangs.

Surrounding the city are expansive landfills and mountains of trash – again, a reality that is fast catching up with us. 

I really enjoyed exploring Night City and its surroundings by driving a car or riding a bike, and there are quite a good variety of vehicles to try out. With so many fancy and fast cars in NIght City, it is tempting to steal a ride.

Although cars can be hijacked, they cannot be stored in a garage and they will vanish when left alone. If you want to keep the car and summon it to you, you actually need to buy the car or have some right of ownership.

Thankfully, there are a generous number of fast travel points, known as Dataterms, which you can activate and select another point on the map to fast travel to in a pinch.

Cyberpunk 2077’s cars are fast and fancy, and are a pleasure to drive – definitely more fun than fast travelling! SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Gigs in a dark city

Cyberpunk’s gameplay is wide ranging, including activities like driving, sneaking, hacking and assaulting enemies with a satisfying variety of weapons and hacks.

Apart from the main story missions, V gets plenty of side quests from fixers who act like job agencies that match up jobs to mercenaries, members of the NCPD who need discretion in dealing with certain situations, as well as an assortment of individuals who need help. 

V has a mobile phone to call contacts and receive new tasks, but the incessant phone calls can get very irritating, especially when some tasks override the original one I planned to do.

I had actually followed the wrong waypoint to the new task on several occasions as I didn’t realise that the waypoints have been switched after answering the call or receiving the text.

Another bane of V’s phone are the constant calls on offers for V to buy vehicles – kind of like our love-hate relationship with our mobile phones in real life.

One of the main themes of the game is that of powerful megacorporations ruling the world at the expense of the masses and abusing technology for their own ends.

Such misdeeds include blatant invasion of privacy, subversive brainwashing, hijacking the minds of people and even swapping artificial intelligence into human consciousness.

Depicted through the multitude of side quests, the short stories explore the dark side of technology and humanity where humans use technology to abuse other humans.

With themes like these, expect plenty of graphic violence, disturbing imagery of dismemberment and torture, as well as body parts, whether cybernetical or organic, callously dumped in places that resemble a back alley surgical clinic. This is pretty nightmarish stuff and not for the faint-hearted. 

Another interesting feature in Cyberpunk 2077 is the production of digital films in the form of “braindances”. These are a virtual reality medium from a real person’s point of view of an event that can be watched by others like a movie for entertainment.

Braindances are also important for crime scene investigation by V, which I thought was brilliant and quite a lot of fun. You need to search for clues in the video, thermal and audio layers through multiple perspectives, and the whole exercise is pretty suspenseful as V pieces together the horrifying events.

There is also mention of the darker uses of braindances for sadistic snuff films, which is quite disturbing.

Braindances are an innovative concept that lets V analyse a recorded event from someone’s perspective to find clues or solve a crime. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Clearly, these dark and horrifying scenes are not suitable for young gamers to play nor spectate. That’s not to mention shocking violence, nudity and sexual scenes, as well as incessant swearing and frequent references to drug use.

The side quests in Cyberpunk 2077 are pretty good and thought provoking, dealing with themes of living in a futuristic dystopia, including exorbitant healthcare, disproportionately powerful corporations and the income divide.

Healthcare is beyond the reach of most people due to the high cost and only those who are wealthy or are employed by corporations can afford to be taken care of.

You can also get a feel of how desperate the people on the ground feel through eavesdropping on their conversations, either trying to placate a gang member, being extorted for money or seeking drugs to escape. 

Apart from conversations, there are also lots of reading to do in the notes and literature found in shards scattered in the game, if you are interested to delve more into the cyberpunk themes.

Keanu’s breathtaking? Sorry, not quite…

Fans of Keanu Reeves will be delighted to know that the character he plays in the game, Johnny Silverhand, is heavily featured in the game and manifests as a personality in V’s head, so you can see him popping up all over the place.

He shows up in his lackadaisical fashion in the main story missions as well as during some major side quests, typically leaning on something, smoking a cigarette, and spouting some “uncle” remarks (“back in those days…”), or  sanctimonious quips like “I told you so”, or whining endlessly about the evil corporations liberally peppered with swear words (“Arasaka Corp *bleep* *bleeping* *bleep*”). 

Despite him being the most likeable guy in Hollywood, Keanu Reeves playing a narcissistic has-been rockstar and whiny anti-establishment rebel doesn’t make him very likeable as a character in the game.

But how V interacts with him will have a bearing on how the story plays out, so I tried to humour Uncle Johnny a little.

Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand appears frequently in V’s head, acting like an entitled uncle spouting sanctimonious remarks. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

 “Zhng” my body

Cyberpunk 2077 offers plenty of options to “zhng” (Hokkien for “upgrade”) V’s body which changes how you play the game.

V can upgrade his/her abilities through cyberware installation performed by specialists called Ripperdocs, who are cybernetic installers and repairers.

Cybernetics implants replace the organic parts of the body and grants V superhuman abilities, including Gorilla Arms for immense strength, eyes that can scan for data, and links to neurons in hands for syncing up with smart weapons for controlling the trajectory of the shots.

Cyberpunk 2077’s rather complex multilayer skill tree includes the use of points to upgrade five Attributes and the multitudes of Perks grouped under Attributes, and how you upgrade V’s skills depends on your playing style.

If you prefer to charge in with guns blazing or blades slashing, you can upgrade more on the Body and Reflexes attributes, but if you prefer to use hacking to damage your opponents, Intelligence and Technical Abilities are crucial.

There is also no way to reset the Attribute points once they have been committed, and since these aren’t easy to come by, it makes sense to look through all the perks in the Attributes and plan V’s skills upgrading in order not to waste the points.

Perks can be reset by buying an expensive Tabula Rasa from a Ripperdoc at a high price so it’s better to plan before you commit.

Cybernetic enhancements bestow V with superhuman powers but they don’t come cheap. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Apart from gaining levels, there is also another measure known as Street Cred which is earned by completing side quests. Street Cred determines what new missions are open to V as well as what gear he/she can wear. 

Currency in the game comes in the form of Eurodollars which can be acquired through selling items and components to merchants or collection machines, rewards for completing missions, collecting bounty, hacking into terminals and looting through others’ belongings.

As cybernetics upgrades and vehicles are very expensive, I found myself becoming a scavenger or “karung guni” (rag and bone person) of sorts early in the game, picking up ashtrays, old cans and an assortment of junk just to sell them off with impunity.

No one seems to get upset even if you are in their home and picking off their stuff right in front of them anyway. I also found out that soda cans are actually very lucrative for disassembling and selling off as components, so I am always happy to find a soda vending machine! 

Cyberpunk offers a wide arsenal for dealing damage, including melee weapons like katanas and clubs, and firearms, which are quite satisfying to wield and shoot with.

Apart from a wide range of pistols, revolvers, machine guns, shotguns, assault and sniper rifles, each firearm category also has different attributes like Power, Smart and Tech.

Shots from Power weapons can ricochet off surfaces, which is great for hitting enemies behind cover, while Tech weapons can be charged and shoot through walls if the requisite perks are upgraded, and shots fired from Smart weapons will be self guided to hit the targets.

This is great fun since you can use different weapons and strategies to deal with various enemies. 

There is plenty of combat in Cyberpunk 2077 but you can also quick hack your opponents to death by frying or electrocuting their cybernetics. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

And, for a loot lover like me, there are Epic, Iconic and Legendary weapons to collect, and these can be upgraded as long as you have the components for them.

The upside is that I get to use my favourite revolver by constantly upgrading it to match V’s levelling up, but the downside is it gets extremely expensive and difficult to acquire epic and legendary components. Where can I find more soda machines?

Apart from traditional bashing and shooting, there are also “quick hacks” that can be used to damage foes, but these require quite a large investment for upgrades/

You need Attributes, Perks and cybernetic hardware to reduce cooldown time, RAM cost and inflict more damage. Hacking is also useful for jacking into terminals and stealing money and components – this is done by solving a not-too-complicated sequencing type puzzle.

Bugs, glitches and complaints

This section can probably go on for much longer but here are just some things to keep in mind if you are keen to play the game on the Xbox Series X.

Some of the more critical issues include the game hanging, which forces the Xbox to reboot. Sometimes, my console completely shuts off, and crashes to the main menu.

During my playthrough, these issues caused me to lose some progress mid-mission, which were especially annoying if I had not saved just before or if V was in “combat mode” where no saves are allowed.

Another serious issue was one of the side quests which involved looking for several autonomous cabs that went rogue. I tried rebooting, reloading and shutting down but I was too far into the game to reload the sequence where the quest was given.

Although I managed to find one of the cabs after hours of blind searching, I could not answer the call from the quest giver nor activate any of the missions. I completed the game without ever completing this side quest. 

Other less serious but common issues are related to the in-game objects. These include the inability to pick up objects – you can see it but cannot hover V to the correct position to pick it up.

Also, mobile phones, cigarettes and other objects handled by NPCs are left floating in the air after the NPC has walked away. I also witnessed trees bowing and melting, which made for a rather trippy experience.

Uncle Johnny was done nagging and walked away, but his cigarettes are still hanging around. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

There also seemed to be an issue with the algorithms for cars or just really bad drivers in Night City. I witnessed frequent traffic accidents at certain spots where over five vehicles crash into the same spot consecutively.

There were times when poor V and other pedestrians got hit by cars while walking on the pavement, which can be fatal if V’s health isn’t very high.

More issues were encountered with NPCs – some are hilarious and harmless bugs that include NPCs being stuck in crates, standing in a “T” formation with their arms stretched out, and twitching and flopping around even though they were already dead. 

I also encountered an annoying glitch that silenced all NPCs’ voiceovers, so for a while I played the game with V talking to himself the whole time. I managed to find a fix on a Reddit thread that suggested a complete power down of the Xbox console with the power cable disconnected, which actually worked.

Dialogue boxes also have the tendency to remain on the screen, which can be removed by restarting the game.

If you are a persistent gamer who doesn’t mind constantly troubleshooting, reloading and rebooting the game, Cyberpunk 2077 can still be quite enjoyable.

But if you can wait, maybe give the developers a chance to fix more issues before you start playing. According to CD Projekt Red, the next big fix will come in February, which they believe should fix issues on the last gen consoles.

On top of that, CD Projekt Red has recently announced a DLC coming soon in 2021, but let’s hope the major bugs in the main game will be fixed by then.

Strangely, I still feel drawn to explore Night City, Pacifica and the Badlands even after I completed the game.

I don’t mind reliving all the bugs and glitches, and even listening to the naggy uncle Keanu Reeves character (will probably just skip his dialogue). Am I a glutton for punishment or have I just accepted this as the dystopian future? 

Graffiti, trash and neglect, as well as visibly distressed citizens, are prevalent in Night City. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

TL;DR

Despite the controversy and show stopping bugs, Cyberpunk 2077 is a deep and richly detailed open world game that is fun to play. A bonus for those who love Keanu Reeves, since he gets a lot of airtime, though I got irritated by his naggy “uncle” character.

The missions and themes are thought provoking, and the many ways to take down your opponents offer plenty of satisfying kills.

For those who love to explore a huge multilayered map, be surprised by unexpected characters, and work on crafting gear and collecting loot, Cyberpunk 2077 is a fabulous game for that.

Even after the main story is completed, you can replay with a different character and try to get a different ending.

You will just have to put up with the incessant bugs and glitches and hope none will completely break the game for you. Otherwise, hold off until more fixes are pushed out in the coming months before you start.

If you intend to play the game now, do get it for the PC or Xbox Series X where the game still works, albeit not optimally. If you intend to play on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, you might be better off waiting until the next big patch in February. 

Cyberpunk 2077 is available for PC  from online game retailers (S$69 on Steam) and at the Xbox Game Store for S$81.90.

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