FBT plays this generation’s Daikatana.
Here at PW.com we love a bit of crap gaming; so much that we have an entire section, Guilty Pleasures, dedicated to games that suck but we have a soft spot for; random bugs, weird NPC actions, bad missions, incomprehensible plots, hilarious mechanics? We’re in. CP2077’s botched release was legendary; time to find some guilty pleasures in Night City.
I always wanted to be a games tester, and now CP2077 has fulfilled that dream. Although I’m a few patches in, it’s not all there. NPCs appear half-rendered, walk through walls, launch themselves towards your car instead of out the way or faint when you get too close. Items go flying when you walk in, get stuck or disappear, the cars drive at right-angles, the bikes handle like a toddler’s trike and the vehicle delivery system causes pileups. Roads, and occasionally the entire city, often appear empty and the police have a laissez-faire attitude to crime; they don’t care unless you’re doing it. Late on, I get rewarded with a jacket from a gang I aligned with – and for some reason, wearing it rendered my character naked except for the jacket. I even lost my hair. I finished the game naked and bald. If I was on a desert island and this washed up, I’d honestly think it was from 2005. This is my kinda game.
After an hours-long preamble, our character, “V” finds themselves in one of the most over-used plots in gaming / TV / Film / Colouring-in books. A ‘sure thing’ heist goes wrong, V witnesses a murder that could cause the city to implode, gets fingered for the crime, and dumped on the streets a wanted person with no choice but to clean up this town.
I’ve cleaned up this town before. Night City is a rich above, poor below place – it looks great and you really get a sense of how corrupt it is, high-rise apartments look down on tents under freeways yet everyone is a hustler; there’s no good guys in Night City including V, but it lazily models itself on Mega-City One as designed by 80s Ridley Scott. A neon retrofuture run by megacorps isn’t new but it’s not adding anything to the genre, just regurgitating it.
And the regurgitation extends to the gameplay. You’re looking at every RPG you’ve ever played, and it’s shameless in its borrowing. Yet the RPG aspects feel unnecessary – crafting, inventory management, mods, the skill tree, hacking, even the augmentations you can apply to V feel chucked in so it can call itself RPG. The relationships are clumsy, the sex-scenes straight out of Red Shoe Diaries and all the mini games infuriate, especially ‘Mind Dance’ - it’s little more than an over-complicated detective mode. But what infuriates is there’s nothing to RPG here, Night City is just a façade, like a Madame Tussaud’s of sci-fi.
During the character creation you can chose what background V has (must play Mass Effect again), but that has no impact other than allows a unique dialogue choice – which the other backgrounds also have, making yours redundant. A game world like this needs to let us deep-dive, find our niche in Night City, fully explore the world and how people live in it.
One area that did need exploration is the reaction by the Trans community to an image released during the marketing campaign. CD Projekt claimed their intent was to parody objectification in advertising – and in-game, it makes sense; you can alter anything about yourself, be Robocop, a Ghost in the Shell; so in a world where you can 3D-print your ideal body, how do companies advertise? By doing what they do now – sexualise, fetishize, play on fears, make you insecure. And other genders and identities are also reduced to their sex organs in the ads around the city - a clever commentary on both corporate advertising and human nature to go to whatever extreme we can reach, right?
The first problem was CD Projekt using that image in their own advertising, becoming the very thing they claimed to be satirizing. Then it gets worse; there’s an ad for a TV Show, ‘Watson Whore’ which shows a Transwoman vomiting over a tagline implying oral sex. You find anal beads called the Trans Anal Exxxpress. Considering that CD Projekt have form for off-hand Transphobia on their socials, it starts to feel like it’s not advertising they’re mocking.
The more that poster leered down at me, the more I started to feel uncomfortable playing, that I was complicit. I do believe it was a bone-headed, tone-deaf, insensitive image tweeted out of context that has deeper commentary in-game where everyone is fair game, but… I’m not Trans; it’s not my place to decide if it’s appropriate or acceptable. But it did piss me off.
Now just wanting this to end, I concentrated on the main story; the heist was to recover a memory chip, and it contains an entire consciousness – essentially a form of life after death – which V plugged into their head and is now taking over. It’s Arkham Knight’s Joker, in both concept and character. Ten hours in and I’ve experienced nothing original.
And yet… once I concentrate on the story, the game comes into focus and almost – almost – redeems itself. When we’re focused purely on V’s desperate, dangerous attempts to unpick the conspiracy and save themselves, it gets good; really good. And when Keanu’s Johnny Silverhand gets involved it’s great. Night City should never have been open-world – outside the story it’s shallow and empty, but it sets the scene brilliantly for the ideas CP2077 explores, and proves a good, well-written story doesn’t need an original setting. If this had dropped the RPG it would have been a GOTY not a Guilty Pleasure of the year.
Johnny and V have an awesome, prickly relationship and they -and you- influence each other’s outlook as they navigate the mean neon streets. While its often immature, if not downright juvenile in its writing and politics, there’s some great moments and commentary on what it means to be alive in a world where you can rebuild yourself forever and humanity is all but replaced. Plus there are a ton of Keanu in-jokes, references and game Easter-eggs.
Much to my shock, CP2077 won me over once it got out of its own way. If you resist the urge to roam and play it linear it’s good... I expected this to end up as a Game Rage review, but I kinda liked it. I don't fancy roaming Night City again -I didn’t even bother reloading it to play the other endings- but I will miss hanging out with Keanu...
But, a linear character-study isn’t what we were promised. Cyberpunk 2077 is a perfect example of hype and why developers and publishers need to wind their necks in, get it done, and let us decide how good it is. It’s better than its reputation but it promised so much more, like it was going to be the next evolutionary step but then delivered nothing and didn’t work – faced with this shallow, disappointing, buggy mess, all that hype came across as arrogance, as if Cyberpunk2077 was going to make us it’s bitch. It’s this generation’s Daikatana. But then again, that’s on my guilty pleasures list too…