Turn up the synthwave, it’s time for some Cyberpunk 2077. The breathtaking Alex Green recalls his time with the game behind closed doors at EGX
With EGX rolling around once again, it’s clear how massive CD Projekt Red have become in the game landscape. The theatre for a 45-minute behind closed doors demo dominates the ExCeL centre, bright yellow walls with tattered futuristic posters towering over a lot as one of this year’s biggest attractions. With good reason; Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the most highly anticipated games of the next year after numerous trailers, promises and the breath-taking Keanu’s appearance at E3. So, what does this demo tell us about the studio’s next big thing?
Well, this demo (of which we have no images due to it being behind closed doors) featured a mission in which protagonist V, accompanied by John Wick look-a-like Johnny Silverhand, has to meet with a gang called the Voodoo Boys to contact their leader, Brigitte. Of course, things are not that simple. Thus begins exploration of their home Pacifica, a district in the game’s location of Night City, and a dangerous mission to an abandoned mall to remove a rival gang, the Animals, and get a meeting to find the information about why you are being haunted by Keanu Reeves.
If this sounds familiar, it highlights a certain sense of familiarity with Cyberpunk’s gameplay. This makes sense, after all; CD Projekt Red made The Witcher series, so are all about cramming their games with tons of missions, diversions and content. Where Cyberpunk 2077 is looking to differentiate itself is in the setting of Night City and story. What is given here is extremely intriguing.
Pacifica as a region is fascinating, full of lore right off the back as a planned paradise for the rich and famous before the project was abandoned and left to rot. Since, a large Haitian community and the gangs seen, have moved into the area. These design decisions give Pacifica an odd feeling of integrated oddities. Driving through on a motorcycle in the demo, we ride through various homeless slums against abandoned fancy hotels. It makes staring into the open landscapes especially great, with excellent attention to detail given to some superb lighting with the game’s day and night cycle aiding in this effort. However, whilst the outsides are truly great, it sometimes pays to look inward.
In this case, Cyberpunk 2077 has some expertly crafted interiors. A butcher’s shop remade into a futuristic garage is full of grime and disuse, tools littering the place. An old hotel transformed into a market area has shades of pinks and purples illuminating its walls. The abandoned mall has many slickly designed walkways and large spacious halls with ornate statues. Add to this multiple districts, radio stations and vendors with unique items, and Night City could be one of the most varied and thematically unique locations in modern video games.
Beyond this, character customization looks like a promising thing. The character creator we were showed in the demo was fairly solid and in-depth and one would think that more options will be added closer to launch. However, Cyberpunk 2077 will add to recent RPG trends with the option of a background. The three shown in the demo were; Street Kid, a character having to get back with very little and just survive, Nomad, a character shifting with the game’s gangs and Corporate, coming from one of the wealthier organisations in Night City. These lead to unique dialogue options with NPCs in the branching conversations you’ll have . Adding these touches just gives an additional immersion to the world and the way your presence is treated will hopefully give Cyberpunk further detail.
Whilst the icing and flavouring on this cake is truly mouth-watering, what about the centre? In terms of gameplay, one has to wonder if CD Projekt Red’s development of the world has got in the way of innovating on the gameplay front. This isn’t to say the demo didn’t show off cool combat. Clearing out the Animals from the Grand Imperial Mall isn’t a simple shootout. You can enter in different routes, using stealth to evade enemies and CD Projekt Red claim the game can be beaten without a single drop of blood spilled. The in-game networks allow you to hack all sorts of objects to cause distractions, even being able to hack weights to trap unwary enemies when they go to ‘bench’. This certainly gives me a second thought on going to gyms. You can contrast this by going in all guns blazing, using your hacking skills to hack turrets and other environmental items. Add to this other abilities such as nano-wires and hacking individual minds and the combat has plenty of versatility. However, there is a central problem with the Cyberpunk 2077 demo: it is a numbers game through and through.
At the start of the demo, we see our version of V get attribute points to spend on 6 different areas. For those who are fans of the Cyberpunk board game of which this is based on, they will know how this works. These range from skills like reflexes and intelligence for stealthier players, to tactical for the more gun-toting players roaming the city. Regardless, these points can actually prevent you from accessing certain routes through a level, which was shown in this demo. A version of V which was built for stealth couldn’t access a different hallway to bypass a camera as they didn’t have the necessary athletics score. Armor and weapons each have rarity with clearly visible stats on the specific damage per second they do. In a continuation of modern gaming trends, damage numbers appear above enemies’ heads when doing said damage. For all the promises of freedom to tackle the game how you wish, some levels funnel down a certain pathway because of your skills and the constraints of number values. Now whilst you can choose these skills, this could become frustrating in the late game if certain missions lean into one skill or the other that your character isn’t optimised for. This is a common RPG problem and the developers have the pedigree to navigate these issues (probably by allowing players to redo their points) but unless the gameplay is truly gripping in every way, players may tire of the happenings in Night City by hour 40 if every mission is just a sandbox within a sandbox.
Within all this is the opportunity for potential fulfilled. Cyberpunk 2077 is guaranteed to have a world that will astound in the visual and thematic sense. Night City could be a great place to spend some time with that famous celebrity friend, a place full of danger and intrigue. Hopefully, the night will be long as opposed to a night that ends early because you get through everything the night has to offer before it’s over.