It’s been a tough week for CD Projekt RED. The situation is still evolving, but by now most people will be aware of just how uniquely disastrous the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 has been, with the game’s terrible performance on the consoles resulting in Sony removing the game from the PlayStation Store. Even now, hotfixes and patches are being released to remedy some of the issues, but the evidence is pretty clear – Cyberpunk 2077, already delayed several times, needed at least another year in the oven. The game, as it stands, is unfinished. That said, after we got review code at launch, I was able to complete the game, despite several crashes and mission-breaking bugs. And, there’s a lot the game does right. For the record, this review is based on the base version, and then 1.04 hotfix of the PS4 game, primarily playing on PS5 hardware with backwards compatibility.
The main driving force in Cyberpunk 2077 is its narrative, based on the popular and groundbreaking pen-and-paper RPGs set in 2013 and 2020, which this acts as a sequel to. It follows your character, V, customisable with a decent array of visual options that are almost completely unnecessary given the game is in first-person outside of driving sections and some cutscenes. What’s not quite as perfunctory is the ability to change V’s backstory, which while offering only token dialogue options during the main game, gives you wildly different prologues and actually helps inform how you approach role-playing as the character. Whatever you choose, V eventually ends up with a malicious chip in their head, with the persona of Johnny Silverhand, a deceased rocker and Night City legend, which threatens to overwrite their brain entirely. Neither V or Johnny are happy with the situation, but must find a way to work together if they’re to have any hope of separating once again.
The main story is relatively straightforward, and often feels like it’s just a way to introduce characters for you to follow in side quest chains, even feeling uninterested in some of its own bland corporate intrigue which falls away completely depending on what ending you pick. While we all dearly love Keanu Reeves, he also feels out-of-place as the rebellious rocker Johnny, coming off more monotone than mad. The real engaging content comes in the form of the many and varied side jobs throughout Cyberpunk. There’s a heap to do, and a lot of it deepens your understanding and relationship with both the world and some really well-written characters. From fighting with Nomads in the Badlands outside the city, to deciding the fate of an emergent taxi-cab AI, there’s a lot of really cool stuff to do here that helps you engage a lot more with Night City.
The centrepiece of Cyberpunk is Night City, a sprawling metropolis of monolithic skyscrapers and holographic advertising, with different eras built on top of each other in one huge jumble of cultures and technologies. It’s very much one of the main characters of the game, sucking people into its streets with promises of riches, and stripping them of everything as they hit ugly reality, while corporate monarchs sit on high, oblivious and uninterested in the chaos beneath. It’s dirty, depraved and sick, but there’s also beauty in its streets and in its people. Yet, it can feel empty, and uneven. As a friend pointed out to me, much like how The Witcher III‘s world was a series of small towns connected by vast stretches of forest and nature, with small events strewn between, it seems the same design philosophy seems to have carried across to Cyberpunk 2077 as well. There are pockets of extremely detailed locations, like markets, seedy streets or apartment mega-blocks, where you’ll be able to interact with tonnes of people and return for plenty of missions. But between them are long stretches with very little to see outside of small discoveries, empty areas awaiting you to activate them with the right side quest, or minor random events like thugs shaking down innocents, waiting for you to intervene. It makes for an uneven experience, and unless you’re shooting for 100% completion, you’ll find there are many areas you may just never need or want to visit.
This is where we have to start talking about the game’s performance. On the base PS4, the framerate chugs consistently, textures and models pop-in far too late, and that’s before we even get to the bugs present on all versions. The PS4 Pro performs a little better, but the only PlayStation version I’d say approaches acceptability is the PS5, running through backwards compatibility, which gives a solid 60fps, along with a pretty great level of detail that really makes the game look very pretty – and it can only get better once the PS5 update comes next year. However, it still retains all of the bugs, and crashes. My game crashed 16 times during my entire PS5 playthrough. Not good. And then, when it the game was working, there were the bugs.
Of course, some are relatively funny but harmless, like the car momentarily clipping through the road to fall into a glitched abyss below. Others started to affect the story, like characters’ dialogue suddenly disappearing, or becoming muffled or distant. Sometimes, characters and interactive elements needed to proceed would be 50 metres right of where they should be, making them either inaccessible, or meaning I had to try and get through an event without any characters or necessary elements present in the right place. Your playstyle gets affected too – I spec’d my V to be a sneaky boy, and for many missions the stealth and physics were so bugged I had to forgo it all together, as bodies would drop 10m away from where I placed them, or create physics explosions that alerted everyone around. It gets to the point where you’re unable to distinguish what is and isn’t a bug. I came across a nightclub run by the cybernetic Maelstrom, with a completely silent dance floor, and after 30 hours of audio issues and bugs, I still don’t know if it was actually meant to be that way. One of the characters mentioned the band using cochlear implants as their instruments – so maybe it’s intentional? Who knows? It’s just sad that your enjoyment and understanding of the game gets completely undermined just by the technical performance.
There are also aspects of the game that just feel unfinished, or not thought-out. The crafting system, which takes up its own branch of your character’s skill tree, feels largely unnecessary, given you’re constantly looting new and better weapons from enemies, and DPS is all that really seems to matter in combat. At times, the way side quests become available to you is a mess, as your phone gets assaulted by random people you’ve never heard of offering you gigs, rather than naturally being introduced in the story. You’ll get spammed constantly as well with offers to buy cars, cars which are often overpriced and way outside your budget if you’re looking to collect, even if you’re doing a healthy heaping of side jobs. I started out trying to specialise in hacking, until I realised it’s only really good as a basic distraction for enemies. Cyberware, one of the game’s signature features that allows you to upgrade your body with cybernetic enhancements, can be largely ignored as well, given many of its improvements are so pricey. I was able to take down the final boss with just a revolver and a few medkits, which feels fairly counter to the whole cyberpunk world of, well, Cyberpunk.
So, there are issues. A lot of them. To the point that, even on PS5, I wouldn’t recommend getting this for months until everything has been ironed out, or some definitive re-release exists. But that all said, when the game is working right – it really works. Following a quest chain to deepen your understanding of Johnny, or court a romance with a character you met in the main story, it feels genuinely rewarding. So too does building up your character, once you get a feeling for which attributes don’t really matter, like crafting or coolness, and which can really help you out, like being physically strong enough to break through certain doors, or having the technical skill to unlock certain options. Being a first person shooter, it also feels pretty great to play with the variety of weapons on offer, from katanas to powerful precision rifles, to ‘smart guns’ that do all the aiming for you. There’s a groove you can settle into with the game’s side content where the potential for Cyberpunk 2077 becomes clear, and it’s where those who do fall in love with this game will undoubtedly live.
It’s a shame, then, that the game simply wasn’t ready for prime-time. When fans have hyped up Cyberpunk 2077 for years as some be-all, end-all experience, the crash back down to reality could only have been equally as spectacular. I simply can’t recommend getting the game in its current state on PlayStation consoles, although apparently players with high-end PC’s are having better luck. Even ignoring performance issues and bugs, Cyberpunk 2077 is still a deeply flawed game, but there is a lot to like – from its rendition of Night City, to the breadth of its side content and the deep level of character customisation with perks and upgrades. On balance, I had a good time with Cyberpunk 2077, I just wish it could have been the definitive experience CD Projekt Red were shooting for, and that fans wished for. Maybe we’ll be back here in a year’s time with a re-release that really shines. After the launch we just saw, it’d be nice.
-Night City and the world of Cyberpunk is unique and well-realised, and fits well with the game's pseudo-noire narrative -Varied, interesting and engaging side missions which will fill the bulk of your experience -Satisfying combat and stealth, when it works properly
-On PS4 consoles, it performs so badly, it verges on unplayable -On PS5 it's better, but it's still subject to a litany of bugs and crashes -Some systems feel unfinished or half-baked, like crafting -Despite inviting comparisons to games like Grand Theft Auto, the world feels shallower and emptier -The main story just isn't as involving or gripping as CD Projekt Red's other work