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6 December 2022

Cyberpunk 2077 Review

by Florian

William Gibson’s Neuromancer is one of my favorite books. That meant I spent a lot of Cyberpunk 2077 vascillating between:

Wow this is such a cool realization of Gibson’s cyberpunk world!


Wow this is such a bad realization of Gibson’s cyberpunk world!

Cypberpunk 2077 is Neuromancer-lite

The plot of Cyberpunk 2077 is basically that of Neuromancer. No, it’s not quite 1:1, but the plot beats are so close to being equivalent that it’s almost laughable:

I could go on - there’s tons of little details throughout that are homage’s to the book and/or just adaptation of those ideas. Yes, I know that Neuromancer set the stage for (and invented) many core cyberpunk concepts, but still.

I wouldn’t actually call this a fault in and of itself. It’s only a fault because it so easily calls the comparison to the book, which has such a better plot and is overall such a superior piece of media, that it makes Cyberpunk look pretty bland by comparison.

Cyberpunk has a lot of cool concepts, without much to say

This is the core tension at the heart of this game: There’s some some incredibly cool and novel ideas that go precisely nowhere.

Johnny Silverhand

Video games are about living the imagined life of another. In Cyberpunk V is the character and you are the player. The player is inhabiting the world of V, while V’s world is being inhabited by the life of a 3rd character - Johnny. The player-character relationship is paralled in the V-Johnny relationship - both Johnny and you are living the voyeuristic life of another. Your actions affect V which affects Johnny which in turns affects your actions on V. And that’s a really cool concept! There’s three feedback loops running between you as you, you as the character, and Johnny as V.

V and Johnny’s relationship makes great use of this. His plot/redemption arc, while a little hamfisted, is engaging and I really enjoyed it. Johnny being a complete self-absorbed asshole who inhabits your body was clever - the player remained the character (V) while experiencing the broader world, backstory, and concept. It’s a neat conceit and it answered the meta-mechanical-question of video game story telling: How do you tell a multi-perspective story from a single character’s experience and perspective?

I also played as a woman which was an interesting twist on the V-Johnny relationship that I thought made it a lot better. Johnny effectively transitioning into a woman when he took control of V’s body was interesting as a premise and it changed how various sex scenes/gender dynamics felt - particularly when Johnny and Rogue go on their pseudo-date thing later in the game. I can’t quite put my finger on why I found it more interesting than a male V, it just piqued a lot of questions in my mind around gender and gender dynamics when pivotal scenes played out between V and Johnny.

All-in-all, Johnny and V were such a cool pair. I didn’t like V (or Johnny) all that much, but the ideas were there, and they were well done. Unfortunately…

Science fiction as a reflection

There’s a famous quote or aphorism that goes something like:

Science fiction isn’t about the future, it’s a commentary on today’s society represented through the future.

Essentially, good science fiction says something. Cyberpunk doesn’t say a lot. It glances off ideas and plot beats without delving into them at all or really giving you a reason to care.

Take the probably central tenant of the game: Corporations are bad. Johnny hates them. Jackie hates them. Everybody hates them. But, well, why?

It’s never really explained why Arasaka in particular is so evil. You try to steal from them! Johnny detonates a nuclear weapon (killing countless innocent people no doubt) on their headquarters! And they don’t even kill him outright for that - they copy him into code to live again someday.

I dunno, I just never got a sense of why the central villain was bad. Yes, they kill people, but so do you. Takemura was one of the kindest, most honorable characters in the game. Hanako completely honors the deal you make with her at the end of the game and, in addition, allows you access to their company’s latest and best technology. And we’re supposed to root against them because… Johnny, a moronic, self-absorbed dumbass for much of the game, hates them?

I just didn’t see it? I never had any reason to hate these people other than Johnny’s backstory with Alt which was weak at best. The plot certainly never tied the actions of Arasaka to a relatable company today or made a real commentary about class and wealth. Sure, those things were there in Cyberpunk but they were all “tell not show.”

Or take the Voodoo Boys. The idea of a shadow cyber war happening between AIs and the corporate net with an immenient collapse of all cyber security is really cool! And the game basically just drops it in there for a single quest and moves on. Nothing is said about it, it’s just kind of like “Well this is a cyberpunk world and that’s a thing that happens” and then moves on. Cyberpunk as a genre has something to say about AIs and the net for sure, but just plopping it in Cyberpunk doesn’t say anything new.

And the whole game is like this! It’s certainly cyberpunk, which is really great, it’s a genre I love realized beautifully, but it’s not science fiction in the way good cyberpunk should be.

Braindances, Dolls, and Sex

I think the best rebuttal to the above argument around vapidity is Evelyn and Judy’s plot arcs.

The braindance scenes are taut, graphic experiences and the way Evelyn is tossed aside like a literal doll is horrifying. People being cut up for their implants and altering themselves to please other’s sexually was gross and weird and so was the concept and visualization of Dolls as a whole. I know they were copied from Neuromancer but it was such a great adaptation.

Braindances solved another interesting riddle that a lot of modern, open world(ish) video games experience. How do you get the player to go to X location and do Y non-combative thing without that being boring?

The Witcher 3 had a little detective mini-game with your Witcher senses and Cyberpunk has braindances. I think the latter is a lot more interesting and I was always really excited to jump into them. It’s one of the times the game really capitalized on it’s setting/genre to use video game storytelling in a new way, and I really liked that.

Perhaps because sex, violent delights, and violent ends are so graphic they’re more salient when represented visually as opposed to in-text.

I wouldn’t say Cyberpunk said anything deep per-se about the concepts of, e.g., the sancitity of the body in relation to technical progress, sex without consequences, or the dehumanization of man, but watching a ripper doc replace a sex worker’s face plate while they berated one another was jarring in a way that only visual media can reproduce.

Cyberpunk as a game is a mess

I’m not one to complain about graphics or bugs, but wow people were not kidding about Cyberpunk’s incompleteness.

I encountered multiple game breaking bugs or oddities during central questlines. Two years after release! In one instance, the “Relic malfunction” mechanic just kept going forever. In another, I had to go back and kill all the guards after I’d escaped because the game wrongly triggered an “attack” scenario for no reason.

It was pretty bad. The optional “secure the stash” pop up events were ruined because I’d drive to them, get out of my car, there’d be nothing there, and then all the enemies would pop-in on top of me and kill me. This was pretty annoying at first, but…

There’s no difficulty here

This game has a real problem of keeping engagement up. There should be a lot more combat and a lot less go here, do X (non combative thing) and return. At one point in the Aldecaldos questline, I got a tank, used it to wipe out a few guys, and then the tank-driving mechanic never came back - it was the same as any other go here, do X quest in the game. This isn’t all that bad, but the non-combative quests reward a lot of experience which means by the middle of the game you are an absolute monster: I killed the final boss with just a katana and I wasn’t even all that skilled in blades.

There’s a horrible balance problem which is exacerbated by the fact that most quests aren’t even throwing a lot of enemies at you in the first place.


If you have even a remote interest in cyberpunk and science fiction, bugs and overall blandness notwithstanding, you should absolutely play Cyberpunk 2077. For all its faults, it’s ultimately one of the best and most engaging realizations of a cyberpunk world.

Does it do all that much with that world? Not really, but it’s an amazing place to inhabit while it lasts.

tags: posts - video games