The first thing I did in Night City was set my broken nose. As reggaeton thumped out of the club’s speakers, I caught my neon teal hair in the mirror and cracked it into place, cursing under my breath in tandem. Barking back chat at the barkeep, I sauntered upstairs to see a slimy fixer and his burger-munching goon.
Trapped by his body in a pleather booth, I’m given a screamsheet with a living advertisement for a Rayfield, an expensive car that I need to “klep” to pay off a debt of eddies.
This is the opening that awaits you if you choose to be a Street Kid in Cyberpunk 2077, one of three life paths the player can pick at the start of the game. This important choice bleeds all over the canvas the game gives you to experiment with when you hit play.
As a result of my life path, I’m street-wise, cheeky to a fault, and get along better with the ambitious underdogs and miscreants that fought to rule the chrome underbelly of Night City.
If this doesn’t take your fancy, you could be a Nomad – a lonely drifter in the badlands who must negotiate a tricky border-crossing – or a Corpo, a lavish sycophant who looks down upon the proles through augmented eyes from their luxury starting zone, the brutalist Arasaka Tower.
Either way, you’ll get pulled into the orbit of Jackie Welles one way or another.
V’s charming sidekick adapts to your choices, and instead of being a trusted friend, I first met Jackie as he was pointing iron at my dome, telling me to get the fuck out of *his* car.
Unfortunately for Mr Welles, the police arrived before he could paint the walls with my brains, and the rest is history.
We’re now partners, and as he slurps on some hawker’s synth-sirloin, I’m staring at the electronic panels that indent upon his cheeks, and later the hand-painted mural on his chaps as we head out to meet our new boss.
Bloody hell, this game is stunning.
We need to stop for a moment and talk about how detailed Cyberpunk 2077’s world is.
The graphics are remarkable, we already knew this – but it’s the granular, wrist-flick animations and flavoursome morsels of fidelity that made me feel like I was wandering through the scenes I imagined when I first read William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
I’ve caught every Cyberpunk demo at Gamescom over the years, and while this preview did cover some similar ground, one of the new features I was introduced to was Braindancing, which is Cyberpunk’s SimStim equivalent.
In video game terms, they’ve taken the Detective Mode from the Batman Arkham games and unraveled it into something really special.
By jacking in to a memory with the help of a Braindance editor, you can scrub through a situation in situ and unpick its most important details.
On the sensory layer you can follow sounds in cyberspace, or use thermal imaging to find where targets are hiding precious items.
So much thought has gone into the way information is overlaid on the screen in this game, and it really is jaw-dropping, down to the way the screen artefacts during a Braindance when you’re moving around the room like a ghost in the shell.
The environments I found felt lived-in too – I’m told the team worked on four separate art-styles to give the world this unbelievable texture, and from the sleek neomilitarist penthouse of a narcissistic executive heir to the viscera-filled ice baths of a poverty-stricken apartment block, I indulged all of it, and to say it stoked my imagination would be a gross understatement!
So across my four-hour preview, I took plenty of chances to soak in the atmos.
Nodding my head to one of Night City’s banger-stacked radio stations, I ran away from the main quest to have a rooftop fistfight with a duo of boxers sharing one mind (seriously!), put biker gangs to bed and platformed my way up to a secret stash.
The map is massive, and just like The Witcher 3, it’s full of those teasing ‘undiscovered’ markers – who knows what you might find?
CD Projekt Red’s affinity for quest design speaks for itself – those who’ve played The Witcher 3 know that they rarely drop the ball in this department – and the studio has brought a similar attention to detail to the side content in Cyberpunk 2077.
I didn’t encounter any ancillary quests that felt like they were in the game for the sake of it.
The stories and secrets I stumbled into respected my time and added important context to the game’s world, often divulging details on the politics and power structures that rule Night City.
I would have loved to have four more hours where I was just allowed to explore, without the pressure of any main missions. Driving feels great – I’m particularly excited to hop on a motorbike and peel through Kabuki, the game’s gorgeous homage to Kabukicho.
Even when you’re just trying to barrel through the main quest, it’s impossible to ignore ongoing crimes and other ambient activities that you can dive into for some quick endorphins to break up long drives.
Enemies are intelligent for the most part and levels are designed with plenty of approaches in mind, but I will say that the combat in 2077 is not yet as fluid or satisfying as Geralt’s acrobatic sword fighting in The Witcher, which always feels like effortless fun.
Combat in Cyberpunk feels a bit like a souped-up version of Fallout 4, for better and for worse.
It sits between the tactical immersive sim combat of Deus Ex and the more scrappy, fast-paced shooter style that we’re all a bit too used to by now.
It can’t quite decide which side it wants to commit to – I think that’s the problem.
Bear in mind that I was playing Cyberpunk by connecting to a CDPR PC which was running the game, through a streaming service app from the comfort of my bedroom.
As such, I did miss out on some of the haptics and viscerality of being in front of a console with the game installed.
I have high hopes for the combat at launch once these kinks have been massaged out, and there’s really nothing wrong with it in the grand scheme of things – it’s just not the most impressive part of the package, at least in my opinion.
The world is what is going to make this game essential.
From the way an informant emotes over a tumbler of tequila to the lacquer on the posters in a strip club dressing room – there’s so much richness in this game’s world… it’s a meal for the eyes.
Given the sheer number of gangs and special interest groups in Cyberpunk, I imagined it would be hard to follow the narrative, but I was surprised to find that each faction has been comprehensively fleshed out, with a vivid art style tied to each group.
You’ll quickly grasp their motivations, and most importantly, you’ll know where you shouldn’t dwell if you don’t want to get your head kicked in!
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Cyberpunk 2077, and this short preview has me very excited to get my mitts on the full experience later this year.
By weaponising CD Projekt Red’s greatest strengths – world-building and quest design – the team has crafted an astonishing world that is thick with atmosphere and character, one where I’m compelled to gawp at every advertisement and scavenge in each twisted metal alleyway.
- Cyberpunk 2077
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