Despite the release of two new consoles, the most anticipated videogame this season was no doubt the multiplatform release of Cyberpunk 2077 by CD Projekt Red. Upon its release we mainly saw big clouds of dust fly up, and a few months later those still haven’t settled. Rather than wait for more patches or the eventual next gen launch, we decided to go ahead and check out the PS4 version of the game before the end of the year anyway.
And yes, of course the anticipation for Cyberpunk 2077 was sky high, and not just because of the amazing trailers and live gameplay we had seen. We too were mesmerized by the audiovisual spectacle of 2018’s and 2019’s gameplay demos that we attended at E3 and Gamescom, both of which showcased very diverse gameplay and a lush and vibrant city delivered in glorious audiovisual detail.
Part of the expectation wasn’t built on those demos though – it was because of CD Projekt Red’s impressive track record in delivering games that excel in both the gameplay and technical departments. The Witcher 3 was a masterpiece, and more recently it became one of the most technically impressive ports for the Nintendo Switch as well – showcasing the publisher’s ability to squeeze an impressive experience out of a very modest system.
Obviously you can see where we’re going with this – we had good reason to believe that the ‘last’ gen PS4/Xbox One versions of Cyberpunk 2077 were going to turn out well. Not only did we have CDPR’s ability to deliver quality upon release, we had also gone through a series of delays for the game – letting us know that the publisher itself wasn’t happy with the game’s earlier state as well.
In all honesty, Cyberpunk 2077 on the PS4 feels like what we previously imagined the game looked like back at the start of the 2020. A game where, when faced with an April release date, everyone involved would agree that it wasn’t ready to be released yet. Why it was released now, despite its state, no doubt has a lot to do with the holiday sale period, alongside the fact that the PS4 and Xbox One will start to lose ground over the course of 2021.
From everything we’ve heard, the PC version is actually pretty decent, though we didn’t have a chance to test it. Hopefully we will one day, or maybe we’ll just try the PS5 edition when that comes out, because Night City’s atmosphere is palpable even in the technical mess that is the current PS4 version. If the game is crumbling under its own weight, it’s easy to see why – with so many streets to road, so much going on around you and huge buildings that you can explore, this is a potential new benchmark for open world environments.
But while every character in the earlier gameplay demos felt almost alive in how they looked and behaved, the way that NPCs behave and appear in the final product quickly breaks that illusion. Perhaps it’s for technical reasons, but as busy as the city’s streets appear while you’re on foot, it’s crazy to see how empty the roads are while you’re driving – which is strange when you consider that overcrowding is apparently a big issue. We also noticed characters popping into and out of the scene as if by magic – like when cops would disappear after losing our trail, not even searching the area and thus leaving us free to wander back into the scene of the crime two minutes after it happened. That’s not even a technical issue we assume, it seems like a gameplay design decision – and not a good one. Luckily, combat itself – especially later on in the game – works great, and for every bug of glitch there’s a moment of brilliance in the gameplay, with some visceral combat and a great use cybernetic augmentations that goes hand in hand with it.
The biggest hurdles for (our enjoyment of) the game are technical in nature though. We played on a PlayStation 4 Pro with the 1.05 (post-release) patch installed, and although the game’s frame rates were solid enough, the experience was plagued by immersion-breaking bugs and even a few crashes. For a game with so much promise – and you can still see that through the bugs – we were extremely tempted to just set it down and try again later, perhaps with some of the post-release story DLC included, just so we could explore Night City as it was intended.
Look beyond those problems, and what shines through is that impressive visual storytelling we all saw in the demos. Characters have been well realized, and your interactions with them feel both organic and impactful, even when they’re not. Some NPCs can really get up in your face and have been gorgeously rendered, putting the pressure on your conversation choices. They’re ultimately quite linear in their narrative scope though, usually offering a few different gameplay paths that ultimately all converge on the same point. Granted, because this is an almost cinematic experience thanks to some great main missions, this never felt like an issue in Cyberpunk 2077.
What the game reminded us of, at times, was Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs – the original 2014 release. It was criticized (rightfully) for not delivering the visuals that people had expected based on the pre-launch footage, making players feel that Ubisoft had overpromised and underdelivered. Watch Dogs was perfectly playable and still looked good though – its main issue being that it wasn’t the “next gen” experience people were expecting. With Cyberpunk 2077, it would be hard to argue that the game is “perfectly playable” in its current state, and the way the PlayStation 4 version plays at the moment makes us doubt that this is a game that deserves a place within the PS4/Xbox One generation of consoles. Luckily, the upgrade to the PS5 version is free, so if you feel like jumping in and eventually seeing the game’s promise fulfilled either through patches or a next gen version, be our guest. Our advice would be to wait a bit and see if CD Projekt Red can go back to their old standards of excellence for this one. Cyberpunk 2077 is a gem of a game, but it’s a rough, rough diamond at the moment. The score below could have been at least two full points higher than it is, but it feels wrong to score it any higher than this in its current state. Cyberpunk 2077’s release state is another reason to leave 2020 behind and look forward to 2021.