This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Cyberpunk 2077.
Prologue: Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash
My latest novel, Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash, has been out on audiobook for ages, yes, but now, the print and ebook versions are available from all good retailers, courtesy of Dark Horse Books! All the same words, but now you get to know how all the names are spelled!
Hey, kids! What starts with "suh", ends in "punk", and has been splashed onto the computer screens of lonely single gamers the world over? That's right, Cyberpunk, the hot new immersive sim conveniently, if unimaginatively, named after its genre; the genre of choice for people who hate capitalism, but love looking like a member of Dead or Alive after they stepped on a landmine. I say "immersive sim"; I feel that description hinges on the game being, in some way, immersive. I was playing the Steam version, which might more accurately be termed a "buggier than a party sub that got left on the floor of a motel bathroom" sim.
The bugs were ceaseless; mostly non-game-breaking animation fuckups and voice lines not playing, but every now and again, I'd have to reload a save because I accidentally crossed a cutscene trigger while grabbing an enemy, and I'd come back from the loading screen with my head jammed up their arse, like the result of some Cronenberg-esque teleportation accident. It's a shame, because when I looked up at the dizzying neon towers of Night City, and the crowds of NPCs where no two were the same, and they're all uniquely dressed in some way like a cross between a character from LazyTown and a Cenobite, I thought to myself, "Man, this game would probably be really immersive if my trousers hadn't just turned invisible again!" But as you know, I hate to harp on a game having bugs these days, when the developers might eventually patch them all out; in this case given, I'd estimate about ten years and an industrial quantity of crab shampoo. Let's focus on the stuff the game meant to do, like the lovely titties, and the working its developers half to death.
Cyberpunk is set in the high-tech dystopian sprawl of Night City - and it's still called that during the day, which strikes me as a bit of an oversight - and the main character is V, of Vendetta fame, a jobbing mercenary on a quest for the big time. After a heist on a corpo-stronghold goes cyber-tits up, V finds themselves with six months to live and a piece of classified tech jammed in their bonce, which makes them hallucinate the ghost of Keanu Reeves, who, in this world, was a legendary freedom fighter who died in a blaze of glory, sticking it to The Man, and was also a hard-drinking rock guitarist that everyone wanted to fuck, and probably had a really big knob. Bit laughable, really; it's like what used to happen whenever Gene Simmons got cast in a film and was given any amount of creative control.
Honestly, Keanu Reeves seems a bit miscast as a dangerous super-cool bad boy rocker; I tend to think of him as the human equivalent of an affectionate Labrador with slight facial paralysis. Anyway, V's task is to continue being a gigging mercenary while seeking a way to purge their brain of Keanu thoughts, before their consciousness gets overwritten, and they start seriously considering signing on to the The Day the Earth Stood Still remake.
So, Cyberpunk is an immersive RPG with an emphasis on the "RP" part of the G, where you must balance your stats and perks across ranged combat, melee combat, stealth, and hacking gameplay; in my experience, this wasn't so much about picking a specialization as it was picking one thing to really suck at. By the end of my game, I had high stats in everything except tech, so my V was a super-strong gun-toting tank, who was also a stealthy ninja, and a master hacker who could insta-kill a good amount of the enemies just by looking at them funny and thinking about it, but who was absolutely useless at mending DVD players. Even the non-facetious tech skills didn't seem terribly useful, like crafting; I didn't craft Jack Fucking Thompson in this game, and still ended up with fifty spare health kits and more bullets than John Lennon's corpse!
As I say, though, this was by the end; earlier on, it was easier to be intimidated by the sheer depth of upgrades and unfriendly interface. Incidentally, if one more AAA game has me navigate its menus by moving a mouse pointer with the gamepad, I'm going to lock it in a basement and only feed it when it's caught a fly with a pair of lead salad tongs.
The first time I opened the map and the visual space was crowded with icons like teenage boys around a hole in a shower room wall, I felt a little overwhelmed, but it turned out that, much like the working class in the eyes of American politics, there's a lot of Cyberpunk 2077 that's really not worth worrying about. I was baffled as to why the map has a special icon for food vendors; there's no hunger meter, and as I said, I was cleaning health kits out of my armpits. Why the fuck would I want to buy food? Is it just for the people who want to role-play as Michelin Travel Guide writers? And I was initially impressed by the vast range of perks and cyber-enhancement slots available for building your character, but after a certain point, a lot of those didn't offer enough benefit to be worth a bother, either. "Would you like a robot foot with +5% defense against verrucas?" Well, I do hate wearing a rubber sock at the swimming pool, so hacking off a limb does sound like a perfectly level-headed alternative.
Better move on; looks like I've hit the "backhanded compliment" layer of this review trifle. Cyberspooge 1969 is well-written enough; the way it structures its story around V's personal struggles gives us a strong focus, while the background details subtly trickle in the necessary exposition and worldbuilding, like a nice quiet room heater. But it's the little touches of atmosphere that make it for me; my favorite moments were when I'd finish a gig and find myself waiting for my summoned car on the side of the road in the bad part of town at night. The cars hurrying by, sirens in the distance; to my left, a pack of neon punks daring each other to snort a line of aquarium gravel. And I'd think, "Man, this is really bringing back fond memories of trying to cab home from Fortitude Valley at one in the morning," until I'd notice one of the punks T-posing or Cronenberging with a vending machine, and get pulled out again. "Oh, right, I'm just playing a video game that's about as stable as a relationship counselor's waiting room in an earthquake test center."
I did wonder why CD Projekt Red only unlocked my review copy, like, the day before general release. I mean, this thing had more hype than Michael Stipe; what were you afraid of, lads? Some people getting turned off by the bug reports and the game only making nine billion squillion dollars? Cyberpunk is barely holding itself together, with all its content and disembodied organs of developers that were ritualistically sacrificed to it, and the end result is a game that could seriously benefit from some editing; for every well-designed open-ended mission with multiple approaches, there's one that just forces you into combat, or ends anticlimactically because the target clipped through a bus shelter.
So I'd say this is the AAA horse plop-plops syndrome again: the result of too many people working on the game who were trying to look busy. Sure, there's a theoretically nice plate of steak fries here, but it's partially buried in potato peelings, and I don't understand why you peeled so many more potatoes than you actually needed, nor why you literally enslaved a few people to get them all peeled in time. Also, not to make a fuss, but I ordered a salad!
- Cyber twat: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Maybe they should just lean into it and claim the graphical glitches are caused by your ocular implants fucking up
- Wonder how much overtime the Keanu Reeves likeness rights could've paid for