Cyberpunk 2077 review

By Heidi Nicholas,
Night City is immense. Insane. The first few times you step outside, it feels like sensory overload — neon lights, billboards, sirens, music, holograms, NCPD officers, news broadcasts, dialogue from every direction, and adverts (usually for The Watson Whore — new episodes every Wednesday). If you’ve been hearing about Night City for years, you might have been starting to worry that the game’s world couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, but put your fears at rest, Cyberpunk fans: Night City is unbelievable.

Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077’s three greatest strengths are its fantastic, fast-paced, and increasingly absorbing story, complemented by the branching and complex dialogue CDPR has come to be known for, combined with that all-important Night City setting. The city feels more genuinely full, more alive, than any game world I can remember exploring, to the point that you do almost forget you’re actually playing a game. Any worries you might have had about the map size should also be put to rest. Each individual street is filled with so much to keep you busy that it’s almost overwhelming, and you’re tempted to send V back to their apartment, close the blinds, and put on some calming music. When you begin to explore the city further and see each district’s own distinct feel and aesthetic — from the neon lights, colour, and Cherry Blossom market of Watson’s Japantown to the wilder, derelict Pacifica — and look up to see towering skyscrapers, it’s easy for V to feel start feeling very small in a very big city. When you combine that feeling with the verticality of Cyberpunk’s city of skyscrapers, plus the vast sweep of the Badlands, it’s clear we’re going to be lost in Night City for a long time yet.

That initial sense of being overwhelmed is a pretty good indicator of Cyberpunk’s pace. The game picks you up, shoves you out into this vivid neon world, and never really slows down from there. The story is fantastic. While colourful, the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is grim, corrupted, and cruel, and the plotline goes to some similarly dark places (helped along by Keanu Reeves’ belligerent character, Johnny Silverhand). But all the while, the game is laced with a dark humour and interspersed with moments of pure silliness — like when my grim-faced assassin companion was mistaken for a famous comedian. Or, in what is possibly one of my favourite quests, when the AI taxi service Delamain experienced a complete crisis. Delamain is usually polite to a fault, so when one of its cars rammed into V’s while shouting, “beep beep, motherf***er,” I got the impression something wasn’t quite right, and was led into a brilliant quest to help Delamain out.

Cyberpunk 2077 bike

The game’s dialogue is also superb. If you loved the branching options available in The Witcher 3, you’ll be more than happy with what Cyberpunk 2077 has to offer. The number of choices available adds to the feeling that you’re making every decision in the game, and often leads to such a natural progression of conversation that you’re often picking the option you would have chosen yourself. Whichever background you pick for V expands those options even more. All of this adds up to the ideal role-playing experience, as thanks to this extensive dialogue, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t limit V to violence. We’d already heard that it was possible to complete Cyberpunk without killing anyone, but it goes beyond that — if you’ve levelled up your Cool or Technical aspects, for instance, you might be able to bluff your way through an interaction that otherwise would have ended up in a shootout. Even when dialogue doesn’t influence gameplay, it really boosts immersion. As a Street Kid, I saw V chat with the different Night City gangs in a way that a Corpo or Nomad character might not be able to. Even after playing as much Cyberpunk as I possibly could, I still get the feeling that I've only scratched the surface — and still, in that time, the story’s swung between crazy, hyped-up futuristic madness, all-guns-blazing chaos, moments of genuine emotion, existential terror, and right back round to laugh-out-loud dialogue.

I usually prefer stealth to open combat, but Cyberpunk 2077 is open to any playstyle. The FPS angle was fluid and fun, especially when switching out guns and throwables for the head-slicing goriness of a katana. Enemies can sometimes be bullet sponges, but it does sort of make sense in a world where everybody has cyberware — including actual titanium bones — installed in their bodies. Depending on the gig or side job I was doing, though, it sometimes felt more fitting or more fun to go for a stealthy approach. One Tyger Claws hideout in particular took me probably an hour to do as I was determined to complete the job without being spotted, and I enjoyed every second of it — scanning and tagging enemies, hacking cameras to check my position, hacking machines to distract my targets, and disposing of bodies out of sight. There’s a huge range of skills and perks on offer to help you pursue every type of playthrough you might like, but for me, the increasing variation in cyberware and quickhacking often made stealth the more appealing option. To make it even better, my fixer often commented on how I’d managed things when phoning to close the gig, letting me know if they disapproved of some of V’s more heavy-handed methods.

Gamescom screen 1

And then there’s all the extra stuff to do. The dialogue and story are incredibly extensive, so it’s no surprise that the main path of Cyberpunk 2077 can also branch off into a ton of side content. When V steps out the door, it’s 99% likely they won’t end up doing what you had originally planned to have them do. Say you’re heading to a quest objective that’s about 400 metres away: unless you find V a pair of blinkers, you’re not going to make it more than a few steps before your attention is pulled to any number of distractions. A crime has broken out, a few gang members have a tempting bounty on their heads, a fixer calls you with a new gig or a car for sale, or a contact from a completed quest rings you up with a whole new favour to ask. If you do end up at your objective, it’s likely to be completely by accident, weighed down with new loot, clothes, and cyberware, trailing a three-car pileup, and with the police out looking for you.

Cyberpunk 2077 has a massive cast of characters. Due to the story’s complexity, it’s hard to guess just how long they’ll all be in V’s life, but the ones I’ve met so far have been brilliantly realised. If any of my favourites (Takemura! Takemura! Takemura!) ring V, even after their respective questlines are finished, I’m ready to help them out straight away — and not just because I’m determined to do everything Cyberpunk has to offer, but because I genuinely care about them, from the troubled cop in my apartment building to the awesome Judy Alvarez. And underpinning everything in Cyberpunk 2077, there’s that rich layer of lore. We’ve heard about it all in the lead-up to launch, but experiencing it in-game is something else: cyberware, ripperdocs, braindance, quickhacking, netrunning, and all the other tidbits of background info we find out through news broadcasts and shards, the readable documents lying out around the city with info on everything from cyberpsychosis to braindance trends.

Because of this abundance of things to do, Cyberpunk 2077 can fall into one or two RPG pitfalls — for instance, making you too scared to open your inventory because of how much there is to sort in it. The map in particular can be a little mind-boggling, due to the sheer number and variation of icons to see: fast-travel points, drop-boxes, side jobs, fixer jobs, NCPD assists, every type of crime, clothes shops, cyberware shops, bars, places to eat, ripperdocs, joy-toys, and much more. And there’s the amount of detail across the screen, too. Every time you scan the environment or an NPC sends you details on a job, you see information scrolling across the screen, in addition to everything going on in the background. The quests page is also a little intimidating, as although it’s helpfully broken up into gigs, main jobs, side jobs, and more, it’s still a lot to manage. These are only issues because Cyberpunk 2077 has so much to do, though; if you’re a fan of RPGs that swamp you with content, you’ll be very happy.

Cyberpunk 2077

One other downside of everything Cyberpunk has to offer, however, is that it’s not always clear exactly how you’re levelling up. V was gaining Street Cred every now and again, and while I was pleased for him, I wasn’t entirely sure what we should use it for. Likewise, the abilities and perks pages were pretty intimidating. The game’s tutorial does a good job with the basics of combat, stealth, and quickhacking, but you’re left in the dark at first with levelling up and installing cyberware. It’s the same with crafting and upgrading; two things I’m still as confused about as I was when I started the game. One other very small gripe is that while Cyberpunk is completely absorbing, it can also be a little draining. The game seems to be going for a sort of glitching aesthetic to match its futuristic/hacker vibe, and heading into a braindance sequence is accompanied by glaring flashes, while changing clothes or skipping dialogue is accompanied by visual glitches and blurs. These look effective but if you’re settling in for a hefty playthrough, it can start to wear on your eyes.

E3 2018 stills

Now, back to the good stuff. Remember Skyrim, when the guard captain and Hadvar were determined to execute your character, but still waited very patiently while you spent hours sorting through customisation options? It all comes flooding back with the Cyberpunk 2077 character customisation. I spent some truly agonising minutes trying to decide whether beard number 12 might look better with nose number 5 — and which nail polish? Which nail polish?! — as although you’ll be playing from a first-person perspective, customisation is important. You’ll continue to choose V’s clothes and cyberware, whether for practicality or just to put your own touch on Night City fashion.

You can see glimpses of some of the best games of recent years, too. There’s something of The Witcher 3’s world-altering chaos, but also the intimacy of the story of Red Dead Redemption 2. Cyberpunk’s driving and racing mechanics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of GTA V. You can helpfully summon your vehicle from anywhere in Night City (so far, it hasn’t copied Roach and ended up on the roof) to drive around and take in the sights while listening to the excellent choice of music Night City has to offer, and although there are fast travel points, I mostly used my battered, beat-up old car, just because I didn’t want to miss a second of Night City. The difference between each vehicle is immediately noticeable, but since on my playthrough V was often penniless from recent (and very pricy) clothing and cyberware purchases, I had to resort to accosting innocent drivers to try out their swankier cars. I am, it turns out, not the best driver, and my attempt at a fast getaway ended in me accidentally reversing over the original driver, knocking over a lamppost, driving back over him again, and going the wrong way down a one-way street. Once you’ve got that ironed out, however, street racing will most likely become one of your favourite ways to earn Eddies (European Dollars).

Meanwhile, the cyber hacking aspects are all brilliantly in-depth. As we saw in the Night City Wire episode on braindance, for example, it has a number of uses, but the level of control you have over braindance in-game is fascinating: pausing, rewinding, and editing it to spot things that might have been missed before. Quickhacking gives you a great level of control over your environment, and even before you start, you can take part in a fun little mini-game where you have to match the code to successfully hack in. Then, there’s your cyberdeck itself. This is different from the cyberware implants V can have in their body. Your cyberdeck consists of the quickhacking options you have when scanning enemies or machines: pinging an enemy, for instance, will briefly show up all enemies in the area so that you can tag them. But as you progress through the game, you will come across more quickhacking options, switching out your cyberdeck for a more complex stealth or combat gameplay experience. This works in tandem with the increasingly cool cyberware options, such as the Mantis Arms cyberweapon.

Cyberpunk 2077

Now, I know if you talk about Cyberpunk 2077, you have to talk about Johnny Silverhand, but I don’t want to say too much — I don’t want to spoil anything. Suffice to say, Silverhand’s interactions with V are always perfect. You love him, you hate him, but you have to know more about him. Silverhand is a fascinating character and a complete ass, and his interactions with V as they struggle to share a headspace range from two adorably-arguing sitcom pals, to all-out open hostilities. Silverhand is enigmatic, absorbing, and impossible to ignore, since he’ll shove himself into the centre of attention as often as he can. Even though his outline is blurred and glitching, it’s hard to remember he’s not physically there, which often leads to oddly unnerving moments when you turn to carry on a conversation, only to see he’s disappeared.

Summary

If you stopped to think, Cyberpunk 2077 might be overwhelming. The different gangs, the references to netrunning, the Blackwall, the massive corporations; even the slang. Luckily, Cyberpunk doesn’t give you much time to think. You are sucked in and completely absorbed in Night City and in V’s own story, hurtling through increasingly crazy quests, heading to a showdown that can only end badly, but unable to turn away. Cyberpunk 2077 is a bit like Breaking Bad, Pulp Fiction, GTA V, Raymond Chandler, and a dozen more cult classics, but it’s also completely unique. In my time with Cyberpunk 2077, I stole, killed, hacked, raced, assisted cops and criminals alike, sold out my employers, argued with Silverhand, befriended the most random people, and still feel like I only accomplished a little of what the game has to offer. I also ran into a few bugs, but nothing game-breaking. I haven’t finished the game — it’s hard to imagine how that would be possible — so I can’t tell if Cyberpunk 2077 continues to live up to expectations, or whether it becomes too unwieldy in all it’s attempting to do. It’s a gorgeous game with a gritty story; sometimes overwhelming or tiring, but nearly always beautiful. It might not reinvent the genre in every aspect, but for a fantastic story, an insanely detailed world, and brilliant dialogue, you’ve got to try it. The achievements will likely take you quite some time, mind: in over 30 hours of playtime, I unlocked six.
4.5 / 5
Cyberpunk 2077
Ethics
Heidi spent 35 hours exploring Night City, earning six achievements along the way. A PC review copy of Cyberpunk 2077 was provided by CD Projekt Red.
Heidi Nicholas
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Hey, I'm Heidi! I've been a staff writer for TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies since 2019. I love open-worlders, RPGs, and fantasy games, am obsessed with tea, and forever loyal to The Witcher 3 and Red Dead 2.