Cyberpunk 2077 is the hottest ticket in games right now and CD Projekt RED knows it.
With the critical adulation for The Witcher 3 – creating what many people already consider the game of this generation – this is a team understandably brimming with confidence.
But while The Witcher 3 was phenomenal and took its respective franchise to new, unimaginable heights, Cyberpunk 2077 has already managed to go several steps beyond.
If the behind closed doors demonstrations, branded beer, and vibrant jackets hasn’t convinced you of that, then the remainder of Cyberpunk’s marketing campaign almost certainly will.
There’s an expectation attached to this game usually only reserved for a Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption. Every scrap or breadcrumb shared is devoured and consumed ravenously. It’s already cracked the mass market even though nobody outside of CDPR has played it yet.
Gameplay demonstrations are nothing new at trade shows. I actually had a few appointments this year where I was totally hands-off. But none of them were as thrilling, enjoyable, and unforgettable as Cyberpunk 2077. I had a knot in my stomach the entire time.
The good news is that this was completely worth sitting through, even though I was itching to get my hands on the pad. It gave me a great glimpse into RED and Pondsmith’s vision and has me yearning for even more.
Where to begin. You play as V, a character that can be defined through things like body intelligence, reflexes, technical know-how, and even a cool factor. The devs gave everyone a whistlestop tour of the customisation possibilities, showing off things like eyebrow placement, augments, scars, and eye colour, allowing you to customise V as you see fit.
There’s even an option to pick your background and how you grew up which will open up different dialogue tree options and conversation topics. You can put as much effort into your character as you like, but it’ll all be to hear Keanu Reeves tell you ‘nobody gives a rat’s dick what you look like’. Breathtaking, indeed.
And in our demo we soon learned that what Johnny Silverhand says, for the most part, goes. While I’m sure there’s much more to the plot than what we’re being shown, this very much seems to be his story as much as V’s. For those that don’t know, Silverhand is a virtual ghost-like hologram that’s been uploaded to V’s subconscious and is pivotal to Cyberpunk lore, appearing in the original Tabletop RPG.
The purpose of the demo was to see V travel through Night City to find Alt Cunningham, Silverhand’s girlfriend. The only person who seems to know where she might be is Bridgette, leader of the Voodoo Boys, a group you’ve reluctantly agreed to work with.
But while on the mission, V also decides to try and learn more about the chip that’s been implanted in their neck, how to harness control over it, and learn how it can influence abilities.
As the demo begins, you see the glorious Night City in it all its finer detail – from the architecture to the lighting – but also get a glimpse at the life dwelling within it. The Voodoo Boys, for instance, band together in a cult-like environment, worshipping a profit on stage, chanting and cheering.
As we sifted through the crowd, asking questions along the way, we finally heard about a man named Placide who could give us some of the answers we seek. A giant man with dreadlocks who can be found at the back of a butchers. Subtle.
This leads us onto some mercenary work that we need to do before Placide will talk and take us to Bridgette. Fortunately for us, this also gives us a good look at how the combat and world building in Cyberpunk really works.
But as fascinating and intriguing as the story was shaping up to be, I was also interested in the feel of movement, the action happening in the background and how the world is shaped, but also the technical side of the game and how CDPR are portraying this universe.
Subtle things really caught my eye, like subtitles gradually translating themselves from binary as the words are spoken was a lovely little touch, as well as the little flashes and fritzes that sometimes destabilise your line of sight.
And then from a weapons perspective, there are multi-zoom options on a rifle and an ability to scan the environment so you can tweak and change things dependent on what skills you have levelled up. All details you’d expect from a game drenched in Sci-Fi lore.
Even the character’s facial expressions and gestures add another layer to the acting experience, with the voice acting clearly on a level higher than you’d expect from an average game. You can tell CD Projekt RED have learned so much from their time with The Witcher and have not just sought to recreate it, but evolve the experience even further to create an even more compelling narrative.
But it’s the world of Night City I kept coming back to. Futuristic arcades with tech shops where you can customise your gear, purchase samurai jackets, and add shards. Back alleys with a sinister outlook, and wide open spaces filled with live action ads, open and appropriate for any kind of action.
And yet, this isn’t just a recreated Blade Runner or Minority Report despite much of the Tabletop Game’s influence from Dick’s works, the demo really showed off the nature of hacking, the use of hover bikes, the sounds of the future, the political struggles, and a surprising emphasis on magic and mysticism.
It’s all been grounded to feel natural and real through reactive, time-sensitive situations that add an immediacy to the proceedings. Like being able to pull your arm away when Placide tries to force things on you, and the natural way conversations occur on the back of your bike or as you’re passing by.
The second half of the demo is where CD Projekt RED really started to lift the hood on the game and what’s really going on. By travelling on your bike, you can traverse the world in full without a loading screen, but you can also scan your environment to see how your stats affect things within it and prepare strategies accordingly
At this point, CDPR showed us two different ways to approach a situation. With one character build, they were able to bypass the building’s mainframe, so we could hack doors open, increase the weights one thug is lifting so that it ends up crushing him, and even have a training dummy knock out one of the goon’s sparring with it.
V was carrying a sort of red fibre wire in their hands, which can be used as a stunning whip as well as a way to garrote victims from behind. Put together, this offered a kind of stealth-based approach, with the developers re-emphasizing that the game can be played without ever killing anyone.
On the other hand, they showed just how effective V can be in combat with the right build, alternating between assault rifles and pistols to keep the action fast and furious. And rather than hacking their way through, V can tear doors wide open, use enemies as body shields, and even rip a turret gun out of its holster and fire it at enemies.
Cyberpunk also offers more fluid classes, which let you mix and match between various perks so you can have the best of all worlds, effectively letting you make your own class. For instance, there’s an ability that lets you hack an enemies chip and either send them off fighting for you, shoot themselves, or, if they’ve just pulled a pin out of a grenade, let it drop at their feet.
All this was great, but we also got a glance of how that might work in the boss battles in the game, with one boss trying to hack its way into V’s systems to corrupt their vision, making it difficult to focus and see what you’re doing in the fight.
Dependent on your class, there’s different ways to approach each boss fight – reminding me, in part, of how Deus Ex did it – but based on how the developers said you didn’t have to kill everyone, I imagine there must be a way of ultimately stunning the foe rather than purely gunning them down. I look forward to seeing how that comes across in the finished build.
My journey towards the deep net was a thrilling one. I saw how world traversal will work and the way the game flows without loading screens. I got an idea of the different methods of combat and how your approach can differ.
The cast of characters is rich and diverse, the feel of the game is slick. This world just sparkles as it comes to life. And seeing the excellent Keanu Reeves in a sci-fi world again, a place where he feels at home and seems to put out some of his best work, is a joy. His acting and line delivery was sublime and adds complete authority to the narrative unfolding before you.
There aren’t too many games where you can say you have a good grasp of what’s going on but you didn’t even get to press a button. And yet, coming out of Gamescom, I feel like I understand more about this world than some games I got to spend time with, while still having a thousand questions. CD Projekt RED did their job perfectly.
Cyberpunk 2077 is the biggest attraction in the industry right now and for good reason. It’s backed up with a world-class pedigree, it’s deriving from one of the most exciting, elaborate sci-fi worlds on the market, and it has one of the world’s biggest action stars leading the line to keep it in the headlines.
My advice, if you’re planning to release a game on April 16, 2020. Don’t.