Cyberpunk 2077, review: So immersive your head will spin

CD Projekt Red’s blockbuster sci-fi game is a deep, content-filled triumph of design

Louis Chilton
Thursday 10 December 2020 21:46
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Cyberpunk 2077 trailer

There aren’t quite eight million stories in Cyberpunk 2077’s sprawling Night City, but it sure feels that way. It’s a good job, too: when CD Projekt Red’s dense, top-of-the-line sci-fi RPG was first unveiled eight years ago, it seemed to promise players the world. Eight years, three delays and some gruelling crunch later, it arrives, holding that world aloft before our very eyes.

Adapted and sequelised from a tabletop RPG, Cyberpunk 2077 puts you in the role of an up-and-coming mercenary named V, living in a future urban dystopia. At the start of the game, you are given the option to customise V’s appearance – everything from nose shape and tattoos to the size of their genitals – as well as choosing from three pre-set backstories (“Nomad”, “Street Kid” and “Corpo”). Given Cyberpunk is played almost entirely in first-person, it’s questionable exactly how worthwhile such a deep customisation menu is, but this is not a game that does anything by halves.

Read more: Cyberpunk 2077: Is there an early access release?

Cyberpunk hurls characters and quests at you like a berserk dodgeball player; for the first 15 hours or so of its long, multi-act story, this is overwhelming. Dovetailing with V along the game’s narrative spine is Johnny Silverhand, a rock star and anti-corporate terrorist who supposedly died some half-century before the story begins. Silverhand is played with something approaching genuine rock-star charisma by Keanu Reeves, though even Reeves’s credible sincerity trips on some of the game’s dialogue, which often lapses into futuristic jargon and poseurish repartee.  

The gameplay in Cyberpunk is largely that of a first-person shooter, with stealth and driving elements added for good measure. The gunplay is robust, though enemies nearer the game’s beginning are frustratingly impervious to bullets; as you accrue a greater arsenal of weapons and abilities through the game’s substantial upgrade system, headshots become more gratifyingly lethal. Taking a leaf (if not a whole branch) from the Ghost in the Shell franchise, the game also allows players to augment V’s body with idiosyncratically useful tech implants.  

Read more: Cyberpunk 2077 shows blockbuster video games are getting too big to be sustainable

Like many of the sci-fi classics that inspired it, Cyberpunk revels in grit and seediness, painting the future as a world beset by chaotic, ubiquitous violence. It is a game which opts for edginess over sensitivity or subtlety; its depiction of sex work, and of racialised gang warfare, are likely to face particular scrutiny once the game hits shelves.

Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077

Though the convoluted melodrama of Cyberpunk’s central story is likely to grab some less than others, it’s hard to say anything bad about the game’s flagship feature: its huge, vivid open world. Graphically phenomenal, and immaculately well-designed, Night City, wherein much of the game is set, is one of the all-time great video game settings, a coruscating wonder of design and immersion. You might end up flattened by Cyberpunk’s towering underbelly, but you’ll be staring up in awe until the very last second.

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