In the sci-fi action RPG Cyberpunk 2077, players are thrown into the dark future of the year 2077 and into a world where advanced technologies have become both the salvation and the curse of humanity. A multi-threaded, nonlinear story designed for mature players takes place in the sprawling metropolis of Night City and its surroundings. Based on renowned pen-and-paper-RPG designer Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk system, Cyberpunk 2077 provides freedom of action and diversity in gameplay thanks to the sandbox nature of the game and mechanics. Players experience the world through their own unique characters chosen from different classes — be they blood-thirsty mercenaries or cunning hackers — that they will equip with vast selection of cybernetic implants and deadly weapons. Gameplay pumps adrenaline through players’ veins with the celebrated Cyberpunk spirit — rebellion, style, edge, uncertainty.
CD Projekt Red’s last work is an ambitious epic, taking everything it learned from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and using it to craft a vast, uncompromising vision of our broken future.
I sat down to watch a 50-minute gameplay demo at Gamescom 2019, catching yet another brief glimpse at what awaits in the neon-lit streets of Night City. The world of Cyberpunk 2077 consists of multiple city states, each representing a different aspect of society. Our demo took us to Pacifica, a once prosperous hub that has now succumb to the disarray of gang violence, homlessness and corrupt underground markets.
It turns out, it’s not a very nice place to be, and our character finds that out soon after entering a nightclub and being pulled aside, escorted across the floor to meet the leader of the local faction – Placide. Heading up The Voodoo Boys, he wants our hero (V) to infiltrate a rival gang known as The Animals. A request like this is much easier said than done, as the gang is cooped up in an abandoned shopping mall full of traps, secrets and other things you want nothing to do with.
Nearly every moment in Cyberpunk 2077 is punctuated by meaningful dialogue choices. People’s opinion of your avatar is reflected by each decision you make, no matter how major or miniscule. You can take the aggressive approach, stay completely quiet, or even use your backstory to relate to the population. You choose between three stories creating your Cyberpunk, and after, there’s no turning back.
How you create your avatar is also ripe with customisation options, right down to the facial details on your cheeks showcasing scars of cybernetic tampering. As a queer woman, it was wonderful to hear that you can step into the shoes of a character like that in the full game, roleplaying that feels true to who I am. This simply isn’t a thing in most triple-A experiences, and given the far-flung future of Cyberpunk 2077, I’d expect this diversity.
V is forced to make some of the tough aforementioned decisions throughout the demo, such as whether or not they allow Placite to channel into his Personal Link, a device located on the wrist of almost everyone in Night City. Letting someone in makes you vulnerable, spilling personal secrets alongside the framing of your mind. This comes back to bite our hero, or doesn’t, depending on what choices are made.
Upon agreeing to his mission to infiltrate The Animals, V makes his way across town aboard a lusciously futuristic motorcycle. CD Projekt Red said there will be a variety of vehicles across Night City, some of which you’ll call your own, while others might be stolen from the street at a moment’s notice. The act of driving looks great, possessing a weight I imagine will matter after spending hours in this world. You can also switch to third-person, providing a better look at your suave cyberpunk.
After arriving at his destination, we finally see some of Cyberpunk 2077’s multi-faceted combat in the flesh. Regardless of how many enemies are in the room or where you are in the world – every situation can be tackled in a multitude of ways. This all depends on your class, which CD Projekt Red has stressed is completely non-linear. You aren’t bound to a specific role, and can mix-and-match however you like once putting the effort in.
The demoist presented us with two distinct class options – one stealthy hacker man and a brutish, hard-punching woman. You can’t switch this easily in the full experience, but for convenience, the developers worked their magic. I loved seeing the hacker crouching through bleak complexes, distracting enemies with rogue vending machines before slicing their hands off with a melee-weapon known as the Nanowire. This bit of kit can also hack foes from afar, if you don’t fancy getting your hands dirty.
While progressing through the facility, we come across a door we don’t have enough cybernetic juice to access, and that’s when our first switch happens. Now, we’re a burly broad capable of tearing people apart with her bare hands. Except, she channels her aggression on opening a reinforced door instead. Soon, we’re in the mall’s atrium crawling with guards.
The objective is to reach a van located in the middle, housing an objective, and getting there won’t be easy. Luckily, V has more than enough firepower. She tears through the building, using a bullet time-esque ability to obliterate squads in seconds. After taking one captive, we use them as a human shield to breach a manned turret and use its cannon for ourselves.
Gunplay looks solid, if a little predictable, as you pop between cover taking potshots. I would’ve loved to see cybernetic powers used to enhance your ammunition, or even transform parts of your body into firearms at a moment’s notice. Cyberpunk 2077 teases so much potential in its world, and I hope its shooting mechanics aren’t constrained to vanilla mechanics. For this demo, there was plenty of blowing nameless guards away until the mission goal was met.
Melee weapons are also common, and V obtains a colossal sledgehammer after taking down a boss known as ‘The Sasquatch.’ Despite her strength, not even she can go one-on-one with this massive beast. She quickly discovers a weak point on her back, which also happens to be the source of her strength-inducing capabilities. Plenty of encounters like this feel engineered for taking advantage of your repertoire, and not being constrained to a single solution.
I didn’t see anything in the realm of gun customization during the demo, but I have to think it’ll be explored in the same way as your character and everything else in Cyberpunk 2077: with absurd levels of detail. After completing the mission set for us by Placide, it becomes clear he shouldn’t be trusted, using his network link to shut us down and free his captive friends from cyberspace. That’s all he wanted, regardless of our survival.
However, it turns out we aren’t so easy to take down, and soon we’re off to Placide’s haunt to enact revenge. If different decisions had been made on the way, or had we known a different load of information going in, the outcome of this mission would’ve been completely different. CD Projekt Red is creating a versatility in it’s design that is genuinely thrilling, and it remains to be seen whether it can maintain the hugely ambitious scope of its previous two demos.
I also have concerns about its world and its depiction of minorities. Both people of colour and transgender individuals have been questionably depicted through the game’s world and dialogue, and it feels unsettling in some ways. CDPR has said “they want to make you feel uncomfortable” but if that doesn’t ascend beyond surface level shock, we should be worried.
I’m likely lacking context, and have no doubt the player character will be fighting to push back against bigotry in Night City as they desperately cling to any hope they have left. However, from what I’ve seen, it does leave an unusual taste in your mouth. For those hoping for plenty of Keanu Reeves – he appeared multiple times throughout the demo, seemingly acting as a spectre of sorts as he shows up randomly throughout quests. Think of him of as a sexier, more violent version of The Legend of Zelda’s Navi.
Cyberpunk 2077 continues to look like a phenomenal RPG experience, with CD Projekt Red keen to push forward benchmarks in open-world design, storytelling and the importance of creating your own character.
Night City is V’s to help grow, destroy or eventually come to call their own, all through decisions the player makes. Of course, it’s all bark and no bite at the moment – but we know CDPR has the chops to pull this off.