Editor’s Note: Most of this review was written prior to Sony pulling Cyberpunk 2077 from the PlayStation Store. We opted to finish up the review and publish it because players can still pick up the game physically.
There’s no doubt that Cyberpunk 2077 was an ambitious project. Following the success and acclaim of The Witcher 3, CD Projekt RED was elevated and put on a pedestal, a position they very much relished and basked in. Hype for Cyberpunk grew over the last few years, and so did the promises from CDPR about what this game would be. But even after setting aside the poor performance and buggy mess that is the console version of the game, Cyberpunk 2077 is still just an overly ambitious bag of unfulfilled promises and shallow facsimiles of expectations.
Before I get into the mountain of problems I have with Cyberpunk 2077—both issues related to a buggy console port and inherent issues with many of its systems—I want to acknowledge that there’s a great game lurking under all the bug memes and criticisms of CDPR. It has an enthralling story filled with interesting characters and moments that I was eager to see through to the end. Even the side missions were often delightful little encounters that expanded the world, with dialog and character interactions that ran the gamut from hilarious to downright dark. As a narrative-driven experience, CD Projekt RED sells the world and the characters exceptionally well.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a story you can easily fall into. V’s situation (ie. having a cantankerous Keanu Reeves in her head and her life at stake) is riveting, and the way it all ties into the shady world and divided class culture of Night City is a web of intrigue that kept me pushing through. Some of the world building is clumsy, leaning heavily on racial stereotypes and oversexualization of the world (while also still having sex and drugs be at the core of crime?), but it draws enough relatable parallels to be entertaining. I wish it had more interesting things to say about its own setting more broadly, but the individual character arcs and interactions are at least engaging.
Cyberpunk uses the shell of its genre and themes—its very namesake—to shallow ends within the story. It touches on the ideas of a lost humanity and of corporate oppression and the massive gaps of inequality, but rarely does it bravely step forward into the very reasons the cyberpunk genre was birthed in the first place, or meaningfully evolve it in 2020. It feels like it simply uses cyberpunk more as “cyborg humans are cool and this world is dark and gritty,” when there’s so much more potential within the genre.
There’s imagery of suicide, and the fetishization of trans people, and more disturbing and sexualized imagery used as advertisements absolutely everywhere. It’s meant to set the atmosphere of this dystopian hellscape that will monetize anything and everything—and I suppose to that end, it works—but it never makes a point to actually say much about it. It’s shocking imagery for the shocking imagery’s sake. Because it’s “cool.” Because it’s “dark.” Because it’s “cyberpunk.” For a lot of people, this is enough, but just be aware that the commentary Cyberpunk makes on its own themes is often as shallow as the open-world itself.
Cyberpunk 2077 Review – Good Morning, Night City
Cyberpunk 2077’s open world is dense but shallow. There’s a lot to see, almost to the point of overload, but very little of it actually serves any real purpose. I know it’s a game, so this next statement is going to sound a little weird, but it all feels incredibly fake. Game designers are consistently trying to do things to mask that inherent fakeness and immerse you in their worlds, but Night City is like someone took a left at the uncanny valley and just kept driving. It’s a world that wants so much for you to believe in it, but constantly stumbles over itself in pursuit of that goal.
There are no emergent things happening within the world. Every event, for the most part, is scripted. It happens in specific ways in specific places. What’s most baffling is that CDPR did the same thing for The Witcher 3, and yet managed to make these scripted events feel very much a natural part of the world, the story, and Geralt’s character. In Cyberpunk, they all just feel painfully scripted against the backdrop of this really densely packed, but shallow world. Constant annoying calls from random “fixers” I didn’t even know were the equivalent of “Hey Cousin!” from Grand Theft Auto IV. It distracted from the story and didn’t fit comfortably with V’s motivations following early events in the game.
Night City wasn’t the type of open world I was actually interested in exploring, because there simply wasn’t much to do in it. A vast majority of the storefronts remain inaccessible. The stiff and robotic citizens go about their lives on loop, at least when they aren’t glitching out or despawning in front of your eyes. And even when the world does appear to yield hidden treasures rewarded by exploration, it’s often not worth the effort put into scouring the darkest corners. Night City is great set dressing for the story, but not a good sandbox for you to play in.
Cyberpunk 2077 – The Illusion of Choice
The illusion of freedom and choice is quickly broken by Cyberpunk’s half-implemented systems, a series of great ideas that never feel fully realized. The Lifepath system does little more than affect the opening hour or so of gamplay and offer some alternate dialog along the way. Clothing choice is tied to stats, which means some ratty t-shirt might have higher defense stats than a cool motorcycle jacket you pick up. My V consistently looked like I’d found my clothes in the same trash heap I woke up in as I prioritized defense over looks.
Players also can’t recustomize their looks after creating their character. Hope you like the hair color you chose, because in this game about rampant body modification, you’re stuck looking exactly like you do. The character creator is a rather shallow experience too, once again an illusion of choice, limited by needing to select specific options rather than utilize elements of more full character creators that games have been employing for years. You can be anyone you want, as long as it fits within CDPR’s limited options for customization.
Within the gameplay, there’s also the idea that you can play as you want, but many of the game’s systems just don’t support that thanks to being underbaked, obtuse, and difficult to effectively utilize. Hacking and stealth are both frustrating experiences, and while I tried to go into Cyberpunk 2077 with the intention of being this stealthy diplomatic hacker who rarely kills, I ended up just approaching almost every situation guns blazing because of how shoddy those mechanics ultimately were—even after pouring perk points into them. Even in one particular mission where I was tasked with going in stealthy, taking the loud approach didn’t ultimately change anything about how the mission played out, except that it was littered with hilariously positioned ragdolled bodies.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a certain amount of mindless fun playing Cyberpunk 2077. Storming through buildings filled with enemies and mowing them down was a cathartic release on the way to the next story point. Even taking out huddled groups of gang members on the streets of Night City became a regular occurrence once I realized the completely broken police and wanted system was easy to exploit and I’d never really find myself in a bad spot for having my weapons drawn around the citizens of the city. Grand Theft Auto this is not.
Cyberpunk 2077 Review – Call an Exterminator
Of course, then there are the bugs. Players’ experiences on any given platform have been wildly different and all over the place. Some people report a relatively bug free experience, while others, myself included have run into festival of glitches ranging from funny and annoying visual hiccups, to immersion breaking and game-destroying mishaps.
I’ve seen objects and characters clip through each other constantly. I’ve heard voices where there are no NPCs around me. I’ve had an entire district get locked into “huddle, run, and scream” mode even though there was no danger around. I’ve had enemies literally appear right in front of me. I’ve seen vehicles, NPCs, and objects literally pop-out and disappear as I approached them. Character scripting issues with other NPCs during missions creates some funny and some mission-breaking bugs. I even had one NPC’s naked chest spawn in before her head, arms, or clothes did. Just a nude pair of boobs floating briefly above a disconnected pair of clothed legs.
But that’s even when I could play at all. Playing on the PS5 (remember, still just the PS4 version of the game), I encountered software crashes about every hour of playtime I put into it. And that doesn’t include the numerous times I had to completely reload the game due to game-breaking bugs that made it impossible to finish certain missions when scripted moments and mission triggers wouldn’t activate. While the performance was mostly okay for me thanks to the next-gen hardware, we had multiple people on the PSLS staff playing the game, including one on a base slim PS4, who reported much of the same sentiment seen by players since launch: that the PS4 game is virtually unplayable due to frame drops, bugs, and crashes.
Bugs and performance issues aside, Cyberpunk 2077 would have been better as a more linear narrative adventure, rather than being billed as a sprawling open-world game. It’s the shallow open world that bogs down and distracts from the genuinely interesting narrative experience. Packed full of half-baked systems that were hyped as revolutionizing the open-world first-person RPG, it buckles under its own cumbersome weight, the good parts getting drowned out by the fact that it stumbles along trying to do literally everything.
Cyberpunk 2077, when it works, is a shallow popcorn flick of a video game, not a industry shaping experience that redefines the open-world RPG genre. Perhaps the bigger problem, particularly for console owners, is that Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t work. It’s a mess of half-baked ideas and rough gameplay that should have never been released in the first place. While the PC version faces criticism for various issues and praise for others, the PS4 version of Cyberpunk 2077 feels and looks like a whole different game that simply needed a lot more time.
Cyberpunk 2077 review code provided by publisher. PS4 version reviewed on a PS5 and PS4 Slim. For more information, please read out Review Policy.