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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (478)

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Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5
Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks... 4.5/5
Eiyuden Chronicle: Risi... 3/5
Psychonauts 2 4.5/5
Castle in the Clouds DX 4/5
Ocean's Heart 4/5
Just Die Already 2/5
Sable 2.5/5
Midnight Castle Succubus 4.5/5
Tower and Sword of Succ... 4/5
Thronebreaker: The Witc... 3/5
Battletoads (2020) 1.5/5
Door Kickers: Action Sq... 4.5/5
Biomutant 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 2 4.5/5
Journey to the Savage P... 4.5/5
Wasteland 3 4.5/5
Daemon X Machina 3.5/5
Earthlock 2.5/5
Override: Mech City Bra... 3/5
SolSeraph 3/5

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Cyberpunk 2077   PC (Steam) 

Eurojank 2020-2023    3.5/5 stars

After finishing their ‘The Witcher’ trilogy, CD Projekt needed a new IP to adapt into what the world expected to be another “AAA” powerhouse. They ultimately chose ‘Cyberpunk,’ a crufty old tabletop RPG from the ‘80s. Their game based on the ‘Cyperpunk’ IP, “Cyperpunk 2077” was to be the second coming of “The Witcher 3,” and the most ambitious Sandbox game to date.

After years of delays, “Cyperpunk 2077” managed to ooze its way out of CD Projekt’s development studio and into the public sphere, where it was immediately eviscerated by players and critics alike for being a bug-riddled mess that could barely run on 8th Gen hardware, and still performed like garbage on 9th Gen and top-of-the-line PC hardware. I avoided purchasing the game anywhere close to launch, as I was waiting for all the bugs and technical issues to be ironed out, much like I have done with Bethesda games ever since my first disastrous experience with their shoddy QA testing.

Two-and-a-half years after release, I decided to give it a shot. I was in need of a Shooter to blow the dust off my Razer Hydra, and the game was on sale for 50% off. Unfortunately, I learned that I should have waited longer.

Presentation
“Cyberpunk 2077” sets itself up for failure through its absolutely dismal presentation, which is riddled with bugs, glitches, and quirks that still haven’t been fixed years after release.

CD Projekt built “Cyberpunk 2077” in their proprietary in-house RedEngine. This seems like a poor choice in hindsight, as the engine just doesn’t seem to be up to the task. While the game’s Sandbox is large and the people look adequate, most things about the visual design are just ‘okay’ and unspectacular.

Important characters, who are central to the story, all feature unique, detailed models and tend to look significantly better than the crowds of NPCs and enemies that fill the game world. There was obviously some effort put into making characters look different, but the effort fell way short of what even older games have done, as NPC diversity just boils down to a ‘normal’ body type for males and females, a ‘fat’ body type for males and females, and a ‘child’ body type for males and females, with minor variations from a fairly small selection of facial features and hairstyles doing most of the heavy lifting. This led to many situations where the game’s crowd generation system made the poor decision to spawn two identical NPCs close enough together that they actually crossed paths with each other.

I was actually offended by the lack of options in character generation as, while there were great pains taken to allow the player to equip a female character with one of two different penises or a male character with a vagina, the game’s attempt at a ‘boob slider’ only has options for ‘small,’ ‘medium,’ and ‘big,’ with ‘big’ not being anywhere close to that, and lazy polygon mesh designs for clothing that compress all boobs down to ‘small’ as soon as the player puts on a shirt. This is a game world where there are advertisements plastered all over the place for nipple mods ranging from stun batons to boob lips, and body augmentation via implants is completely normalized, yet we don’t even have characters – not even unique one-off NPCs – with current-day implant technology sporting ludicrously-huge, fake-looking tits? Come on! Of course, with the designs of some of the key NPCs – like Panam Palmer – it’s obvious that the art team that worked on “Cyberpunk 2077” is much more into butts than boobs. Another failing in the character design system is the fact that I gave my player character a giant afro, simply because that hairstyle was so well animated. Yet, I spent most of the game with a hat smashing that glorious ‘fro into a completely different hairstyle… yet my character’s shadow still showed a giant q-tip head.

Like the character designs, the world design is adequate but incredibly uninspired and bare-bones. The game takes place in and around a single huge, dystopian mega-city. The buildings are nicely detailed, and everything looks fairly amazing from a distance, yet up close, the game world is mostly a rat’s nest of empty streets and connecting areas where only a few locations are actually interactive. Most of the doors in the world are simply ‘locked’ leaving a huge portion of the world’s architecture inaccessible set dressing. Outside of the city proper, there is nothing but desert badlands and miles and miles of garbage dumps, which are, I suppose, setting appropriate, but not particularly interesting or desirable to explore… especially when there’s nothing in them and thus no reason to set foot in a huge portion of the game’s Sandbox.

While the game world and the dead-eyed NPCs that populate it would be adequate if everything worked correctly, the game is filled with countless immersion-breaking visual glitches that might still remain after years of patches and updates. Multiple NPCs occupying the exact same place, clipping into each other? NPCs clipping through the environment or playing animations in completely inappropriate ways (like humping walls and sitting mid-air)? Floating, static environmental objects? Yup, it’s all there, and demonstrates that CD Projekt was well in over their heads when attempting to build a dystopian Sandbox of this scale.

Audio isn’t much better than the visual design, featuring mostly silence, but with the occasional selection of truly awful music playing over the radio. There are a small handful of memorable audio stings that correspond to gameplay elements, but that’s no way to build a soundtrack.

Aside from the soundtrack, the game is fully voiced with a mix of no-namers, dedicated voiceactors, and – nonsensically – Keanu Reeves, as the central character, Johnny Silverhand, who delivers a lifeless performance. I would have preferred CD Projekt spent more of their budget on gameplay and QA testing than hiring a big-shot Hollywood star to suck up cash without generating any real value.

Technically, though, is where “Cyberpunk 2077” loses nearly all of its points. The fact that the world and its people aren’t particularly pleasant or interesting to look at or listen to probably could have still earned a passing score of 3.5/5, but with all the technical issues, there’s no way I can say this game is “good” or even “mediocre” from a presentation standpoint. Crazy clipping issues, nonsensical physics, summoning my vehicle only to have two copies appear on top of each other and crash… or to have the vehicle just drive past me and keep going… that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Even two years after launch, the game still randomly crashes to desktop far more than any of the recent Bethesda games I’ve played, for seemingly random and inconsequential reasons. Equipped a new weapon and drew it for the first time? Crash. Opened the map after fast traveling? Crash. Got a phone call from an NPC to start a new side mission? Crash. I lost count of how many times “Cyberpunk 2077” crashed on me, but the real cherry on top was when CD Projekt pushed out update 1.62 right as I was ready to pass the point of no return and start the final mission… as update 1.62 – which was simply supposed to add extra ray-tracing options for people with RTX video cards – managed to break all three distinct ending missions, resulting in endless crashes when even trying to load into the final areas. At the time of writing, it has been a week since update 1.62 broke the endgame, and CD Projekt has neither fixed the issue nor rolled-back the update to the mostly-stable 1.61. In order to even finish the game, I was forced to manually roll-back to version 1.61 by following a walkthrough involving Steam’s hidden command line and depot system. Not fun, but definitely educational!

Story
“Cyberpunk 2077” follows the exploits of V – a man, woman, or transgender person of undefined appearance – in the West Coast dystopia of Night City in the titular year 2077. Most of the original ‘Cyberpunk’ tabletop RPG lore focused around years that have already come and gone without the world tipping over the edge of corporate dystopia and post-human body moddinng, so CD Projekt kicked the can down the road another half-century to make things plausible.

V can have one of three different backstories, which lead to slightly different prologues. All of these stories eventually see V meeting up with a goofy contraband runner named Jackie Welles and starting off on a promising career as a so-called ‘edgerunner,’ or mercenary for hire. After a non-interactive montage showing how V and Jackie become the bestest of ‘chooms’ (the in-world terminology for ‘friend’), the duo set their sights on a job that will make them Night City Legends: Stealing a mysterious biochip from Arasaka, the Japanese megacorporation that propped up the New United States after a period of civil warfare and unrest.

Naturally, this big job goes awry, with V, Jackie, and their co-conspirators getting messed up in various unpleasant ways. V, for their part, ends up on the verge of death, but saved from an ignominious junkyard funeral by the contents of the stolen biochip: A dead rockerboy named Johnny Silverhand who tried to obliterate Arasaka Corp. 50 years prior, but ended up transformed into a digital engram as part of the prototyping phase of the corporation’s ‘Secure You Soul’ technology for the uber-rich.

Johnny and V quickly learn that they are inhabiting the same body and that the biochip is overwriting V’s own consciousness and DNA in order to replace them with Johnny’s engram. Thus V sets out on a race against time to find a way to separate them before they’re both destroyed by Arasaka’s tech.

This core narrative arc plays out in a very linear way, though with a reasonable number of side-arcs and optional character interactions that can lead the player (and V by extension) to understand Johnny’s history and personality, and even start to commiserate with him in spite of his overwhelming narcissism and bravado. By exploring all of the side quests, it’s entirely possible to help Johnny undergo a post-mortem epiphany and turn over a new leaf as a tolerable person.

Unfortunately, along with the main mission and the closely-tied side missions, “Cyberpunk 2077” is, like “The Witcher 3” before it, completely drowning in superfluous “Sandbox stuff” that absolutely murders the pacing. There are Gigs, in which V can do side-jobs for various Fixers (that is, criminal organizers) around the regions of Night City… but all of these ultimately just boil down to money-making affairs or things to do because, like Mount Everest, “they’re there.” By far the biggest offense in the game’s Sandbox structure from a pacing and narrative perspective is the fact that the Night City Police Department is overworked, underfunded, and woefully corrupt, and thus will allow any edgerunner who wants to earn extra money to subcontract as a crime fighter. While I generally approve of vigilantism in games and other fiction, and I greatly appreciated the fact that NCPD simply wants gang banger trash brought in ‘dead or alive,’ there are just way, way, WAY too many crime scenes all over the city. Sure, it’s possible to just fight crime as you come across crime scenes while doing other things, but there are achievements for completely cleaning up the various regions of Night City, so players are actively encouraged to forget about V’s story, Johnny’s story, or even the stories of the handful of fleshed-out NPCs and potential love interests in Night City, in order to wander off for a day of two (of real-world time) to murder groups of gang thugs and gather ‘evidence’ out of glowing briefcases.

Another thing that kills the pacing and encourages the player to go fart around with unimportant side-stuff is the fact that many of the central missions and story threads have gulfs of time between steps, where the player is forced to ‘do other things’ while waiting for an NPC to call them on the phone. These mandatory waiting periods between quest steps can actually become a huge problem if the player has been dedicated to doing all the side stuff available before doing the next main mission, as it can lead to situations where the player literally has nothing to do while waiting for the next step in their current quest to kick off.

I would have been much happier with a plethora of side-content if it actually did something to build the world or dump ‘Cyperpunk’ tabletop lore on the player in an interactive way. But that’s not what it does. The world feels incredibly basic, threadbare, and generically cyberpunk (the genre, not the IP). None of the corporations besides Arasaka and Militech get any serious screen time, while most of the available ‘lore’ comes from text dumps picked up as digital books. I always felt that ‘The Elder Scrolls’ did a good job of revealing its lore to the player while providing optional books to sit and read, but “Cyberpunk 2077” does this completely the wrong way, effectively forcing the player to read through pages and pages of dull material to pick-up a few tidbits of backstory and worldbuilding that might-or-might-not be interesting.

Overall, “Cyberpunk 2077” has a modestly short main story that I estimate to be around 30 hours. However, all of the side-junk roughly triples the main runtime, with my final save clocking in at a little over 100 hours. I enjoyed the main story for what it was, in spite of some lame technobabble and some forced plotting, and I greatly enjoyed the fact that exploring the closely-related side missions directly leads to more options leading up to one of three-ish different ending sequences. However, the side-stuff is just too much, and feels like it exists solely to justify the size of the Sandbox, instead of being good, engaging, relevant to the plot, or important for world-building.

Gameplay
“Cyberpunk 2077” is one of those unfortunate modern games that attempts to adapt the rules and lore from a tabletop RPG – in this case “Cyberpunk 2013” from 1988 and “Cyberpunk 2020” from 1990, both published by R. Talsorian Games – by transforming it, not in to a cRPG, but into a First-Person Shooter with some vague RPG trappings that feel like pointless window dressing. Let’s be clear: CD Projekt may market this game as an RPG and many of them may be true believers in the RPG-ness of the project, but it’s nothing of the sort.

Underpinning the Action in “Cyberpunk 2077” is an overly-busy stat-and-perk system. V has 5 stats: Body, Reflex, Tech, Intelligence, and Cool. While the stats themselves don’t really do anything to affect gameplay, the skill trees tied to them do, and each skill on each tree has a basic stat requirement to unlock it. Each stat doesn’t just have one skill tree associated with it, but two or more, with Body and Reflex governing a whopping three trees each, and the other three stats governing two trees. As one would expect from a game that styles itself as an RPG, V gains perk points, which can be used to unlock skills on these trees, by gaining experience, both from completing missions, killing enemies, and from a surprising number of other things related to the skill trees and stats (even running around and jumping a lot generates experience, much like in older ‘Elder Scrolls’ titles). Gaining a level earns a stat point and a perk point, but there are other ways to earn perk points as well. Leveling up an individual skill tree by doing a lot of the things associated with it will grant a perk point, and each tree has an insane number of levels before it caps out. Likewise, earning ‘Street Cred’ via a parallel leveling system associated primarily with committing acts of violence in full view of the public, will grant the player an additional 50 perk points before capping out, while also governing the tier of cyberware a given version of V is deemed badass enough to purchase. Basic character level also caps out at 50, which I consider too low for a game with so much content, but I was surprised to find that – after installing a mod to remove the level cap – that there’s not even enough experience in the game to hit level 60 just by doing all of the available content.

While some of V’s stats – mainly health and stamina – increase with level-ups, the primary vector of BIGGAR NUMBARS in “Cyberpunk 2077’s” pseudo-RPG mechanics comes via equipment, with each character level up to 50 increasing the base stats of found weapons and armor. “Cyberpunk 2077” employs a very ‘Diablo’-esque loot system, with the same color-coded rarities, but also includes so-called ‘Iconic’ weapons and armor that feature unique traits above and beyond what their rarity would suggest. Furthermore, there is a robust crafting system in-game that allows players to build their own equipment from garbage and dismantle old equipment into garbage, provided they have the right schematics on-hand. The most interesting thing about the crafting system, though, is the fact that Iconic weapons and armor can all be re-crafted into the next higher rarity, until capping out at Legendary, while every single piece of equipment in the game can be upgraded to match V’s character level, meaning that players will never have to rend their garments and gnash their teeth over the fact that they’ve out-leveled their favorite weapon.

Other than the token level and loot systems, though, “Cyberpunk 2077” feels like a very standard Sandbox FPS, similar to Ubisoft’s ‘FarCry’ series. All of the action takes place from a first-person perspective and requires the player to have decent aim. The player has access to a wide range of guns and melee weapons, with guns typically divided into Power Weapons, which have bullets that can ricochet; Smart Weapons, which fire homing projectiles that streak toward anything within the targeting reticle; and Tech Weapons, which can have their shots charged to deal increased damage and – excitingly – shoot through walls and obstacles. In addition to their categories, guns come in a wide variety of types to meet the needs of all sorts of players, including pistols, revolvers, automatic rifles, semi-automatic rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, submachineguns, and light machineguns. Melee weapons are divided into general Blade and Brawling categories, with Blades encompassing everything from knives to katanas to gas-powered chainswords, and Brawling covering a range of non-lethal blunt weapons from baseball bats to bare fists to vibrating combat dildos (not kidding). The player has three weapon slots to fill to create a loadout, but it’s also possible to open the menu at any point, pausing the game, to switch weapons.

Early on, the shooting in “Cyberpunk 2077” feels sub-par and not very fun. At first I thought his was going to be one of those games like ‘Deus Ex’ that messes with aiming and accuracy using its pseudo-RPG stats to punish players for not building their character in a certain way, but it turned out that the guns given to the player early on just suck, and there’s nothing that can be done to salvage those particular product lines. I ultimately ended up loving Tech Weapons, both for their extremely fun ability to shoot through walls, their ability to send enemies flying, and to dish-out adequate amounts of damage that prevent every combat encounter from feeling like V vs. the Bullet Sponges. Until I got my hands on some decent Tech guns, I primarily used Bladed melee, and found that, even without specializing in it by picking up a bunch of perks, it was a lot easier to rush into a group of enemies, hacking away at them, than it was to try to shoot it out with them using terrible guns.

That said, early game melee combat can be tiresome, for both the player and V, since swinging a melee weapon, dodging, and sprinting all consume varying amounts of V’s stamina meter. Fortunately, the Body skill trees contain perks that eliminate nearly all of these, allowing a dedicated Melee Spec V to chop (or bludgeon) all day and all night.

Ultimately, though, I ended up enjoying combat hacking more than most other forms of combat. By equipping V with a Cyberdeck and slotting in a handful of Quickhack daemons, it’s possible to quickly, stealthily, conveniently, and non-lethally clear out entire buildings of enemies. So, as we’ve seen in every other cyberpunk genre game the MJ Crew has played, either solo or coop, hacking in the grim dystopian future, is OP.

No cyberpunk game worth its salt would be without cybernetic augmentations, and “Cyberpunk 2077” has an adequate interpretation of those mechanics in its cyberware system. V has a large number of body slots in which to install replacement organs, subdermal armor, wetware, and all manner of crazy things. Unfortunately, several of the slots left me wanting. Arms, for example, only come with options for built-in weaponry, with most of them being melee – I really would have liked some more passive arm options, like an auto-reloader, or something. Hands are also quite disappointing with only two major option categories, both of which are rather basic. Other cyberware, though, is crazy fun, such as the leg augment that allows double-jumping, and the incredibly cool optical camouflage that makes stealth actually feel viable. It is frustrating, though, that a large number of different cyberware systems are “active,” meaning the player must activate them from the quickslot, similar to a healing item… except the game’s user interface only has ONE tech quickslot and one consumable quickslot, making it cumbersome and impractical to use multiple active cyberware systems at once.

On the topic of UI design and controls, I found “Cyberpunk 2077” to be mostly functional, but with several major annoyances. First, since it is a FPS and NOT an RPG, I played “Cyberpunk 2077” using my Razer Hydra. Yet for some reason, in spite of the Hydra feeding the game emulated keyboard/mouse inputs, the game insisted on showing me the console/Xinput UI, which meant I literally had to memorize every key and its associated function (or set down my Hydra and wiggle my mouse to get the keyboard UI to return briefly). Likewise, in the keyboard and mouse interface for “Cyberpunk 2077,” the game defaults the dodge maneuver to double-tapping one of the movement keys. I found myself accidentally doing this CONSTANTLY while trying to be stealthy, which was a huge pain in the ass. Even worse, I never found the dodge maneuver to be particularly useful and never actually did it on purpose. I searched through all of the game’s settings menus trying to turn of the double-tap dodge, but there simply isn’t a setting to do so. It wasn’t until I started digging into the game’s config files and other under-the-hood guts while trying to resolve the crashes caused by update 1.62 that I found a line in a text file to disable this dodging mechanic. Too little, way too late!

Overall, “Cyberpunk 2077” feels like what it is: A first attempt by a Eurojank developer to create a huge, ambitious game in a genre they’ve never done before. The result is a largely-functional FPS with an overly-convoluted stats/perks system, and upgrade system that wouldn’t need to exist if not for the misbegotten use of BIGGAR NUMBARS on equipment, and just enough UI/control quirks to prevent the player from truly relaxing and getting immersed in the gameplay.

Overall
In spite of its overwhelming number of flaws, quirks, and technical issues, I didn’t really enjoy playing “Cyberpunk 2077” any less than I enjoyed “The Witcher 3,” so I’m going to be generous and give it the same overall score. Maybe CD Projekt will eventually get their doo-doo together and patch this game up into a nice, polished finished product. But for now, it’s a very Polish finished product. I guess I should have waited another year to play it. Either that, or I should have used more mods.

Presentation: 1.5/5
Story: 3.5/5
Gameplay: 3.5/5
Overall (not an average): 3.5/5

 

 


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