I think I need to clarify some things before we start this review.
At time of writing, Cyberpunk’s release has been, to put it mildly, a bit controversial. Stories of bugs, crashed saves and unplayable sections have plagued the internet. The versions of the game played on Xbox One and PS4 have been especially damaged, resulting in Microsoft and Playstation happily offering gamers full refunds, even taking it off their digital stores. Whilst the issues aren’t great, I can only speak for my time with the game, having reviewed on Xbox Series X, and – spoiler alert – I haven’t received any major problems, with the worst elements only really being what you might expect regarding glitches in any other, normal, open-world game. So now that’s cleared up, let’s deep dive into Cyberpunk 2077.
This is a game that I, my friends, the world and those beyond have been looking forward to for years, with anticipation ramping up across the last couple of years. It’s a game that promised so much, that even before the digital download had completed, there was a sense that disappointment would take hold. But you know what, I’m totally sold on Cyberpunk 2077.
The story puts you in charge of a character called V, someone who is fully customisable from the beginning of the game. You can choose your gender, and you can delve into the finest human aspects, amending the colour of the eyes to the shape of the genitals. I’ll be honest, I didn’t spend much time in the latter section because it feels wrong when your partner walks in and asks what the hell are you doing. No matter your initial decisions though, things ramp up as you begin Cyberpunk 2077, giving a choice of three paths to commence the game in. You can go the Nomad route, become a Streetpunk, or work the Corpo angle. Each route will give you a different prologue before seeing you end up in the fantastic Night City for the first act. I took the Nomad route, which involved a madcap smuggling caper that took me into the city.
Cyberpunk 2077 takes a while to get going, but once it does, it’s hugely enjoyable. In fact, it took me about five hours of gameplay to take hold before the opening credits decided to appear on the screen. Without spoiling anything you end up with the personality of Johnny Silverhand implanted inside your head. Johnny, played by Keanu Reeves, is a rockstar/badass terrorist and both of you head off on a kind of Bladerunner-type adventure to try to find a way out of this symbiosis, discovering the reasons behind why and what has happened.
You can mainline the story mode in under 20 hours, but the beauty of Cyberpunk 2077 is that you can choose to enjoy the story of Night City and then all its side missions, extra incidents, and general atmosphere, taking in a whole host of added time. However you decide to play though, I felt the writing and characterisation of all the leads are excellent throughout. The dialogue is engaging and at no point did I ever find myself wanting to skip forward or look away. The story is consistently exciting and dynamic and, ultimately, should be seen as a great addition to the cyberpunk lore. Added to this are super interesting and brilliantly designed side missions – pretty much on a par to the main story in quality – and these have made me feel that every mission and assignment were different. Admittedly there are a fair few of those open-world staple fetch quests thrown in, but I don’t mind those at all because Night City is such a great place to spend time.
I’ll go as far to say that Night City is my most favorite open-world city to spend some time in. I live in London and when I first arrived 25 years ago I thought that I would never be able to find my way around, and the same feeling hit me with the initial hours spent in Night City. Sprawling, vertical, packed, and full of colour – it’s a city that you can feel; a city that you can pretty much smell as you play. It’s a city filled with a thousand stories going down every street, with extras slapped on top thanks to the multiple news reports going on around you and documents found on hard drives and discs. A couple of examples that I loved was when I passed a couple crying in a corner; one counseling the other as I was moving through their world, whilst another person was preaching against the evils of the cyber world as I walked past. It’s a world I never grew bored of and was constantly left thinking about when I wasn’t playing it.
In terms of gameplay, Cyberpunk 2077 is played in the first person, which works well for the all important immersion stakes. But then in the UI are menus that let you alter all manner of upgradable stats, as you spend points and you level up. You can concentrate on the Body for example where you increase in strength and athleticism. This might help you if you have doors to force open or in melee attacks when there is an opponent to be scared of. Failing that, you might choose to use your points on Intelligence where you can focus on your hacking ability and controlling the environment electronically. Here you have perks within that trait where you can, for example, have the ability to turn off security cameras or hack into turrets.
What’s nice about all this though is that you can approach each mission or situation in several different ways. While being not truly original because I feel Deux Ex is the game that first delivered a lot of these traits and approaches to gameplay, you can decide to just shoot the place to kingdom come while punching your enemies in the face with your other hand. Or you can take the stealthy approach, picking off enemies silently, hiding them, and disabling cameras. Hell, if you want you can involve yourself in a bit of both, yet as your skills develop you’ll find new ways to deliver your methods to perfection.
In terms of the all-out approach, both shooting and combat works very well indeed. There seems to be a million guns available and each one has a different feel to it, especially as you add mods as well for your tastes. It reminds me a little of Borderlands in that respect. It’s nice to duck and cover too, but it’s not as useful or easy to implement as in other games, with Gears 5 still the cover shooting leader there. You’ve got everything you could want though, including grenades to chuck and health packs to inject into yourself when things get tough. The stealthy way to play works fine too, letting you sneak up, grab your enemy and choose whether to kill them or just knock them out. Hiding bodies is essential though, so as not to build the curiosity of the rest of the enemies.
Getting around the large city and its badlands outside is essential. Driving comes across as okay, however cornering is a nightmare and I ended up getting into more scrapes with the police and the criminals through bad driving than actual mission incidents. You get offered a range of cars to buy throughout too, or you can force your way in by hijacking any vehicle (as long as your strength is high enough) along the way. It’s nice to see that bikes have been included too – my favorite mode of transport in the end – and I just loved journeying across this amazing world with the wind in my hair. Get tired of all that though and it’s easy enough to fast travel to areas in a sort of point to point system, with little travel hubs dotted around.
Cyberpunk 2077 delivers more though. There’s a new system that I loved called Braindance, something which takes you into a VR reconstruction of an event from another person’s point of view. A scene will play for about a minute or so, and you are then left to edit that scene and look for clues through the footage, hunting down whatever you need to find for the mission. It’s great to be able to search from all angles, looking at objects or people to find information. It’s a brilliant detective-like system that makes you feel like an actual Bladerunner hunting for answers.
So, all good in the Cyberpunk 2077 world, eh? Well, unfortunately gameplay-wise there are problems. I found the UI itself and menu screens utterly confusing and not as easy to navigate as they should be, and that is still the case some twenty odd hours into the game. Further, the AI – especially in combat situations – is all a bit strange, seeing your foes making odd decisions. And then, as Cyberpunk 2077 is a game of all genres, as an RPG I don’t think there are enough dialogue tree options or anywhere near as much detail as you would expect from other games in this genre. Sometimes things can stutter and falter in the dialogue options too, leaving you to have to wait for the game to catch up.
Visually I found Cyberpunk 2077’s design brilliantly detailed and unique; it’s the design I loved, more than the details or textures. Night City is a fantastic place to spend some time and the interiors are outstanding. The facial animations for the lead characters are superb too, and they are able to give us some nuanced performances through the visuals. Like I said at the beginning there are some glitches and bugs, but I haven’t experienced anything game-breaking and throughout my time of playing many, many huge open-world titles, Cyberpunk 2077 does nothing out of the ordinary and certainly nothing I wouldn’t expect from an open-world game of this size.
The soundtrack is also very good; epic, and audibly diverse in its approach. This rings true especially when you’re driving around the city with a range of radio stations to choose from; stuff from heavy rock to a sort of noir jazz detective vibe. There is some brilliantly performed vocal work and motion capture throughout as well – from the vendor on the street up to Keanu Reeves himself.
So, Cyberpunk 2077 on Xbox. This is a game I had been looking forward to for what seems like a lifetime, and it was never going to live up to the high expectations that CD Projekt Red, I or the world as a whole has been putting on it. It’s a great RPG, but at the same time it doesn’t do anything grounding breaking in terms of style and gameplay. Yes it has bugs, there is an annoying UI and I can’t ignore the mission stutters, but similarly it’s a game that I constantly think back to when I’m not gaming, looking forward to my next deep session with it. Night City and the world of Cyberpunk 2077 has got me hooked from its story to the city itself, and it’s a place I hope continues to have a solid future because I can’t wait to play more.