Cyberpunk rebuttal!

My friend Niteowl, who I still think of as a frightening TF2 Spy, has written a response to my Cyberpunk 2077 review.

I wanted to highlight one of his points:

When we are taking open world sandbox games […] I play for the action and small stories. The side missions, the little nuances that attempt to paint a world by inference. And there are so many here. Mostly about the horror of combining the worst of capitalism and technology together. 

There is a story about a lovely dad and son side business, or would be, if they had been selling pretty much anything else. Or a various side missions about migrants, invariably gone horribly wrong. Or a side mission involving scuba gear which is the most affecting bit of gameplay I’ve ever played.

What are the results if greed and technology continue unfettered? What are the unintended consequences? What are the mortifying, obvious consequences? As a Canadian it’s like America Taken To 11. For profit health care is monstrous. For profit security/health care when your body parts can be harvested? Unspeakable.

Now, I took all this differently in my post on C77’s worldbuilding. I think this point of view (cyberpunk = laissez-mourir capitalism + high tech) comes with the territory, and CDPR gets it from William Gibson and Mike Pondsmith (creator of the Cyberpunk TTRPG). I wished they’d taken it farther (in terms of weird abilities and situations) or looked at it critically (by at least referring to non-cyberpunk parts of the world). I’d also note that this is sort of the default mode of sf and sf/horror video games– cf. The Outer Worlds Mirror’s Edge, Bioshock, or even Viscera Cleanup Detail. We expect that an evil corp is going to drill for oil in Hell, or unleash a mutant plague, or institute debt slavery in the stars, or whatever. (Heck, even Half-Life and Portal fit into this pattern.)

But yeah, taking a step back, Cyberpunk 2077 provides a concentrated blast of this acerbic worldview, and it’s all the better done because you’re in it. You see the dysfunctional city and its discontents. And at its best C77 conveys things going wrong by focusing on individuals like Judy. (There’s also Keanu to lay it all out for you… mmm, let’s not focus on that.)

So, although it’s not a new insight that we’re living in a cyberpunk dystopia, they did a really good job of showing what one is like. (Personally, I’d have liked a reminder that things don’t have to be this way. We could go for Star Trek space communism instead! But it’s not CDPR’s job to figure a way out.)

While I’m here, I’ll also comment on PCGamer’s terrible advice to CDPR, to fix C77 and then abandon it. The writer opines that “I don’t think there’s much room for CP2077 to grow—at least not without a complete and fundamental rewire.” Which makes no sense at all. First, a disappointing first game doesn’t mean much, or else we’d never have had Witcher 3 at all. Mass Effect is another game with kinda terrible gameplay, and they fixed that in Mass Effect 2. Second, the writer’s preference for Witcher 4 is the worst sort of fanboy stick-in-the-muddism. It’s OK to want something almost exactly like what you got before; it’s not OK to demand it of the creator.

My dumb outsider advice to CDPR would be:

  • Stick to what you’re good at: complex, depressive, even overwrought stories. Don’t waste your time creating more automobiles to collect, or random thugs to beat down.
  • Better stealth please. It still bugs me that the best way to get through fights is with a knife.
  • Probably a new main character. Nothing against V, but this is a case where Nick Hornby’s rule applies: tell us about the worst thing that ever happened to your character. V’s experience here qualifies. I don’t want a sequel where, I dunno, V’s head gets invaded again, this time by Awkwafina.
  • Maybe pick up a book on project management? Less overpromising, less crunch mode.