Cyberpunk 2077: first disgruntled thoughts

I started Cyberpunk 2077 and I’m not far into it, just 9 hours. I’ve looked forward to this game for a long time– maybe too much, because it doesn’t seem to be what I was expecting. So far I’m not enjoying it much, but I hope it gets better. (Feel free to tell me if it does!) I haven’t played enough to call this a review; mostly I want to get my initial reactions down.

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First, the infamous bugs. I just got a new computer, because the old one was having disk problems. This definitely improved performance, though last night I noticed weird graphics glitching (trees from the distance weren’t getting culled). But nothing has really got in the way. I got stuck in cyber mode a few times, but learned that this isn’t a bug, just undocumented– you hit Caps Lock to get out.

The good things: it looks great. It’s very… cyberpunky. It’s certainly everything I wanted visually. The basic setup. Some neat characters, like Judy.

The bad things: everything else. I’m just going to go through my notes and complain. Note that there are spoilers for The Heist here.

1. The goddamn cutscenes. The Heist– the big mission that sets up the basic game predicament– is a bunch of short on-rails action sequences and one damn cutscene after another. It’s the sort of thing that makes me think CDPR forgot they were writing a game; they wanted to make a movie instead. 

An example: at one point you are guiding a little robot through rooms in a skyscraper. This could have been enormously exciting: navigate foot-high vents, wait for guards, solve minor puzzles, whatever. Instead, it’s literally divided up into rooms, where the big puzzle is “Use detective vision to find the next vent.” There is only one vent (or other objective) to find, and you don’t even get to pilot the robot.

Later on they give up on even this level of interaction. You just get one cutscene after another. At best you get a few dull dialog choices to make.

2. Combat is boring yet difficult. Enemies are bullet sponges– one website claims that a headshot at close range with a pistol removes 1/4 of the health bar. Whuh? I guess Borderlands 3 is like that, but in BL3, shooting pretty much is the gameplay and they’ve made it fun. In C77 it’s more like “you must eliminate these mooks before we’ll dole out more story.” And I dunno, is the heart of cyberpunk “shooting mooks with a pistol”?

3. Yet when you briefly play Johnny Silverhands, you can mostly one-shot enemies. I get that they wanted to tell the story at that point and not impede it with really
difficult mooks… but as I say, the entire mission is on rails, so in the rest of it they did want to impede the story with mooks.

4. Where is the damn ammo? I am probably missing obvious sources, but I ran out of ammo during the Heist missions, and yes, I did look for ammo boxes. Why doesn’t
picking up enemy guns give you ammo, as in every other game? Note that you’re absolutely screwed without ammo; luckily I was almost at the end and could just run to the elevator.

5. Yet again, this is a game with stealth where stealth doesn’t seem to be a viable option. Did CDPR play the Arkham games (they must have, see below) or Dishonored? Your options are wimpy, things like give an enemy a little shock, or blind them for a few seconds. You can disable someone from behind, but the levels are tiny, so the Arkham/Dishonored strategy of carefully observing enemies and taking them out one by one is rarely possible. And your “quickhacks” are severely limited: in effect, you can maybe use them for the first two of the dozen enemies you face in a level.

6. You get level-ups, but they seem to be hardly worth it: things like “increase crit chance by 1%.”

7. The Keanu thing, ugh. So you get a hallucination of Keanu in your head, who apparently is able to physically punch you, and also wants to take over your brain. This is… the plot of Arkham Knight. At least Joker was amusing.

8. An earlier mission makes a big deal of “braindances”, interactive memories. And there hasn’t been another one since. If it’s a device that’s used only rarely, they expended way too much effort on giving them a complicated UI. And it’s still basically “use detective vision to find the colored interactable objects.”

9. Like many others, I want to see my V. Supposedly they did first person view for “immersion”, but I find it less immersive. I want third person as an option, at least.

10. The grimdark. I guess it comes with the territory, but cyberpunk shouldn’t just be noir, it should have some sort of added futuristic grotesquerie. The game doesn’t feel like a Gibson novel, it feels like Grand Theft Auto. Everybody talks like a gangster, the story relies a little too heavily on killing your pals, and not even the villains seem to be having fun.

11. The intro sequences are another huge missed opportunity. You pick a background and get maybe half an hour of distinct gameplay, then you’re given a freaking
montage of Moving Up in Night City with Jackie.

I understand that choices have to be made when making a huge game. But this is a strange and bad choice. Being a near-helpless noob is an awesome narrative opportunity. The Fallout and Elder Scrolls games get this: the first ten levels, when you don’t know what you’re doing and every enemy is weird and ammo and health are scarce, are the best parts of the games. It would have been great to explore the city, take on side quests, learn what the bewildering build options are for, scrounge for beds till you get the reward of Your Own Hovel. Instead, you’re apparently an established minor mook with your own place. It feels like this whole part of the game was rushed, in order that they could do… what? I don’t even see the tradeoff gains, though surely they’re out there.

12. Speaking of your own place… V’s is boring. Contrast e.g. Adam Jensen’s apartment in Deus Ex, which is a master class in environmental storytelling. There is almost nothing to do in V’s place, nothing that distinguishes her from the NPCs, apparently no customization options. The only things it offers are a place for checking your mail, a vending machine, and a mirror, all of which could easily have been provided elsewhere.

13. While the main mission is on rails, the open world is provided essentially without any guide. I’m not as enamored of open worlds as I once was. Apparently you can do things like find all of Keanu’s old gear, which sounds about as fun as collecting CD-ROMs in Saints Row 2. Which are the fun side missions? I shouldn’t have to consult websites for this.

14. I’m really uncomfortable with the treatment of Japan. There was some of this in Gibson and Stephenson, but I didn’t get this sense of othering from them. There’s a CEO? yakuza leader? who talks like a samurai, wears samurai robes, has a rebellious son, and talks about Americans as “barbarians”… I mean, jeez, maybe you could get away with this in 1975, but does CDPR think this is how Japanese corporations work today? (It’s the American CEO, not the Japanese, who is likely to be an unquestionable despot.)

15. A minor point, but characters sometimes harrass you if you’re not addressing the main task. This is extremely annoying if, e.g., you’re searching for the one goddamn interactable object in the vicinity.  

Related: I ran into some cops hassling someone.  All three had interaction symbols over them… but I couldn’t seem to get into position to see how to use them, and when I got near the cops got aggressive. Did they do playtesting at all?  (When Valve used to make games, this used to be something they were excellent at. You were never confused in a Valve game except at points you were supposed to be confused.)

16. The city is often on multiple levels– cool!– but the wayfinding does not take account of this– annoying! 

What would I have liked instead? I’m not sure, but my major changes would be:

  • More expansive levels– comparable to a Dishonored level– where staying in or regaining stealth would be a viable strat.
  • A slower start that really builds up your experience in Night City.
  • Way less emphasis on guns. I haven’t played Watch Dogs, but maybe CDPR should have? I think “corridors filled with gun-toting mooks” should have
    been stricken from the level designers’ toolkit.
  • Tell the story with gameplay. If you can’t do that, maybe your story needs work.

If that would be hard to do… make the game smaller. I would rather have a smaller number of well-crafted levels than a huge number of half-assed ones.

Edit: Thoughts later on; final thoughts on finishing.