A game mired in controversy and sky-high expectations, Cyberpunk 2077 finally launches this week. Here's what the critics have to say about CD Projekt Red's new open-world action-RPG.
It’s been a long, rough road for Cyberpunk 2077. Officially announced eight years ago, the development cycle has been fraught with delays, crunch, and discussions about how the writing handles characters of color and marginalized groups. Most recently, Game Informer’s Liana Ruppert warned about epileptic triggers included in some story-critical sequences. Meanwhile, developer CD Projekt Red has touted ambition for the game to become its crowning achievement, an experience to surpass even The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
This week, Cyberpunk 2077 finally sees the light of day, and critics have begun weighing in on this culmination of years of hype and controversy. Carrying the type of baggage Cyberpunk 2077 has been shouldering was destined to turn the review cycle into a spectacle, and consumer attention is charged with sky-high expectations.
According to Metacritic, the result of CD Projekt Red’s years of labor ranges from above average to outright masterful, depending on who you ask. The general consensus seems to be that Cyberpunk 2077 is an enjoyable and pretty experience, even if mechanically it doesn’t do anything particularly new or surprising.
In their review for The Verge, writer Adi Robertson emphasised that Cyberpunk 2077 is a safe and comforting experience, a balance resulting from the combination of handful of systems polished over years of iteration within the greater game design business--a beautiful living city; endearing character design; satisfying roleplaying.
“It’s done that by playing all those elements extremely safe and straight,” Robertson wrote. “Cyberpunk 2077 is a frequently satisfying and sometimes impressive game, but despite its setting in the fast-moving future, it’s almost never a surprising one.”
In her review for GameSpot, Kallie Plagge echoed Robertson’s sentiment that Cyberpunk 2077 is a mostly safe experience. Additionally, Plagge noted an unfortunate amount of bugs during her time with the game.
“Cyberpunk 2077 is phenomenally buggy,” she wrote. “I played a pre-release build that was updated during the review period, and there's a day-one patch planned as well, but the scale of technical issues is too large to reasonably expect immediate fixes. I encountered some kind of bug on every mission I went on, from more common, funnier ones like characters randomly T-posing to several complete crashes.”
Plagge did praise the sidequests, though, which were her favorite part of the game. “Side quests amounted to around 35 hours of my total playtime, and they were what propelled me through. While not every one lands, there are some that feel essential in a way that very little else in the game does.”
In his largely positive review for Game Informer, Andrew Reiner praised the game’s ambitions while calling out the overall dark tone of the story.
“Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t have many joyous bones in its body, and is often heavy in the delivery of its dark content,” he wrote. “Night City may be vibrant, but it's home mostly to evil people doing terrible things. Some of the content made me uncomfortable, including story moments dealing with abuse and sexual assault.”
It’s a conceit that gave Reiner pause on more than one occasion; he noted that CD Projekt Red’s attempt at tackling important social issues often come off as shocking rather than insightful. Further, the attitude of the game is inconsistent from mission to mission, resulting in sometimes jarring shifts in mood.
Overall, though, Reiner was very generous in his opinion, praising the moment-to-moment sense of discovery present in Cyberpunk’s crowded world. Additionally, the variety of skills and abilities available is substantial, providing the motivation to pursue side content in order to gain resources and player upgrades.
One of the more glowing reviews comes from The Gamer editor-in-chief Kirk McKeand, who called Cyberpunk 2077 an almost-perfect experience. He paid particular attention to the game’s appearance, which by and large seems to be rather impressive.
“It’s astoundingly pretty, full of reflective surfaces and ray-traced lighting--the first true next-gen experience,” McKeand, said of his time with the PC version of the game. “Random NPCs look as good as main characters in other games, and every single street and back alley is crammed with detail. I think “immersion” is an overused term in video games writing, but there’s not many other ways to say it--Cyberpunk 2077 is like a pair of wraparound shades.”
One of the more prominent topics of discussion surrounding Cyberpunk 2077 is the concept of representation. It’s a game that, ahead of launch, touted the freedom for players to be whoever they wanted, whether its cisgendered, transgendered, or anything in between. In his review for Vice, Rob Zacny pointed out that while inclusion is a noble pursuit, CD Projekt Red has failed in its efforts to paint marginalized groups beyond stereotypical portrayals, a shortcoming emphasized by the game’s various ethnic groups.
“The game is at pains to indicate that the tech-savvy Voodoo Boys gang are not actually practitioners or believers in voodoo, but they are proud members of a Haitian diaspora that are building a Black nationalist movement in their quarter of Night City who adopt the symbols of voodoo as an expression of heritage,” Zacny wrote. “Which is all well and good but then you realize that the only Haitian dudes you've met in this whole game are Voodoo Boys and you're right back at a setting where, functionally, ethnicity is identity. And that identity frequently comes with a costume and an occupation.”
The buildup to Cyberpunk 2077’s release has painted it as one of the most anticipated video games of this generation, if not of all time. In the shadow of such hype it was perhaps impossible to meet the lofty expectations imposed by eager consumers. There’s no doubt that it will sell extremely well throughout the holidays, which is sure to please shareholders, but Cyberpunk has achieved an almost-mythical level of expectation, a conceit that, by comparison, pales the critical consensus of “it’s a safe video game.”
Not that Cyberpunk 2077 is bad--quite the opposite, it would seem--but the “above average” scores from outlets like GameSpot and PC Gamer and Trusted Reviews are no doubt going to be the focus of ire from expectant consumers. That’s the danger in a long and twisted development path like Cyberpunk 2077’s. It builds a mythos, an aura of anticipation that results in heightened expectation and sentiment. In that way, the lasting legacy of Cyberpunk 2077 may not be the game itself, but the discourse is garnered.
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