CD Projekt RED is responsible for crafting what is arguably this generation's best game, in the form of The Witcher 3. The Witcher 3, at the time, featured some truly unprecedented world building, visuals, and writing, with stellar third-person swordsmanship combat and piles of RPG layers on top for good measure. CD Projekt RED won itself praise for its support of The Witcher 3 post-launch too, which saw features and quality-of-life improvements filter in from fan requests, as well as two large expansions adding dozens of hours of additional story content.
CD Projekt RED set themselves a high bar for any future project they shipped. If what I saw this week at Gamescom 2018 was anywhere near the final product, Cyberpunk 2077 won't just shatter even the grandest of expectations, it will raise the bar for all of gaming for years to come.
It might seem counter-intuitive since I am writing about Cyberpunk 2077, but if you're a fan of CD Projekt RED's work, my honest recommendation is to avoid reading or viewing any previews about this game, including this one. Go into it completely in the dark, and have your mind blown in the same way I have. If you do want to learn more, then please, read on, friends.
Setting the stage for sci-fi dystopia
Cyberpunk 2077 takes The Witcher 3's world-class world-building and applies it to a gritty sci-fi dystopia, based on the classic tabletop RPG Cyberpunk 2020. Mega-corps control civilization, led by corrupt officials protected by private high-tech super soldiers. Poverty and crime are rife, as the corporations turn a blind eye from their ivory towers. Gangs rule the streets, and Cyberpunk's protagonist, "V", finds herself (or himself) fighting to carve a niche in this tech-saturated world.
V is effectively a bounty hunter/mercenary-type, working themselves up through the criminal underworld. The single 50-minute quest we were shown at Gamescom featured so many twists and turns, branching narrative options, and gameplay systems, that gathering my thoughts has been remarkably harder than usual when coming in to write a preview. 50 minutes may seem like a long time, but the sheer abundance of gameplay features and mechanics present in Cyberpunk 2077, even in this "small slice" as they described it, was utterly dizzying.
The demonstration opened with V and her partner in shady dealings, Jackie, infiltrating a criminal gang known to be kidnapping mechanically augmented humans, specifically to steal their cybernetic enhancements, forcibly, to then sell them on for profit. Dismembered cyborgs were piled up and discarded like mannequins in a store stock room, slamming home the idea that the lines between "person" and "product" have become utterly blurred in this late capitalist hell.
It was here we got the first taste of what combat will be like in Cyberpunk 2077. Some have lamented the fact CD Projekt RED has gone for a first-person perspective for Cyberpunk 2077, but honestly, for the type of game they're building, there's arguably no choice. Much of the game's detail needs to be seen up-close-and-personal, especially given how vertical the game's areas can be. A top-down or over-the-shoulder camera view wouldn't do this approach to level design justice.
Cyberpunk 2077's area layouts are crammed with options for traversal, opening up different ways to approach combat. Maybe you can slip through a vent and take a quiet approach, or simply go in gun's blazing. You'll need to pay attention to your environment if you want to take a more thoughtful approach to the game's missions, but you'll still have a vast arsenal of high-tech equipment to blast and cut your way through enemies, in addition to performance-enhancing drugs.
Cyberpunk 2077's shooter combat felt very much like an interactive version of the infamous lobby scene from The Matrix. Bullet time capabilities are on offer to the player, granting heightened awareness for a brief period of time, creating slow-motion sequences of cascading gore and drifting sparks. The environment was also surprisingly destructible, creating a necessity for high-mobility gunplay. At one point, V and her partner were pinned down by a chap spraying gunfire through a wall, prompting the player to sneak around the back for a flanking kill.
Incredible sci-fi freedom
Cyberpunk 2077 does seem to offer the opportunity for contextual stealth kills as well, along with the tools to allow players to play this way if they so choose. CD Projekt RED emphasized their fluid class system, which allows players to, through cybernetic enhancement and weapons choices, to tailor their own classes. Want to focus on hacking and disabling enemies remotely before ever firing one of your bullet-homing smart pistols? You can. Want to be a Metal Gear Rising-like cyborg ninja, complete with the ability to hook onto walls, slice off limbs with a high-tech katana in slow motion, with enhanced mobility? You can. Want to be a heavy focusing on reducing targets to piles of blood and circuits with a wall-penetrating shotgun? Cyberpunk has you covered. And this was just a taste of what CD Projekt RED has in store for us.
In-keeping with playstyle customization, Cyberpunk 2077 will also allow you to tailor the way your character looks, including things like gender, and other aesthetics. It also enlists some pen-and-paper inspired stat choices, including things like constitution. It also allows you to select some pre-determined backstories for your characters. No doubt these choices will play a significant part in the game's plot as you progress.
This could be a world sim without equal
If the full Cyberpunk 2077 experience is truly representative of the final product, the world the studio is building for the game will represent one of the most completely realized digital worlds in gaming history.
Cyberpunk's imagining of a futuristic Northern California megacity is as daunting as it is enticing. Mega-complexes designed to house thousands of residences soar into the sky, while the streets are jam-packed with hundreds of seemingly unique NPCs plying their trade, heading to work, or skulking about in alleys ready to pounce on the innocent.
Everything in Cyberpunk 2077's world, from menus to quest markets, to HUD elements, are fully realized as part of the game's world and lore. If you want to display bullet count in your onboard brain OS, you need to purchase a modification for your eyeball. An advertisement in the world might allow you to download a quest marker to find a vendor or other opportunities, while information provided by NPCs in the game's story will be uploaded directly into your cybernetically-enhanced brain, via personal uplink ports carved into your neck. All menus appear on screens in-game, or via augmented reality, rather than separately.
These systems work both ways, too, of course. Enemy NPCs and characters can hack into your brain, which impacts your HUD display, distorting elements. At one point during a conversation, V was forcibly uplinked by a bodyguard and made to answer questions while being monitored for telling lies or the truth. This opened up several dialogues, and actionable choices, all bearing web of consequences which should grant Cyberpunk 2077 some serious replayability.
Of course, your stats and skills with play a part too, when it comes to hacking and counter-hacking. During another mission, V had the opportunity to escape a tricky situation through a locked door, but the security requirements were too high for the player. Instead, V was able to subdue and hack into the network through an enemy NPC's brain instead, giving you to upload all sorts of viral software into the gang's internal network, offering new combat capabilities.
To modify your character, you must attend special clinics in-game that will facilitate upgrades to your body and mind. In the demo, this occurred as part of a cutscene, with "V" remarking that it was akin to visiting the dentist. The player selected mods that connected your gun to your HUD remotely, allowing you to see bullet and ammo count for your weapon, as well as information on different weapon modes. The doctor removes V's eyeball to perform the enhancements, in a vivid out of body experience. This is a where your organs and senses can be fully digitized, and the very idea of "humanity" has become stretched.
So, so much more to find out
The Cyberpunk 2077 demonstration felt intentionally fast-firing, bombarding the audience with utterly insane amounts of information and gameplay systems, briefly hinting at features before tearing away into the next.
Cyberpunk 2077 at its core is an open-world, first-person RPG, but in execution, it feels like so much more than that. It's complete with Grand Theft Auto-style open-world driving and car-chase gun battles. It enlists a Deus Ex-style approach to level design, with multiple pathways for different types of playstyles. The gunplay is as violent as Wolfenstein, but as elegant as something like Max Payne, with stunning slow-motion effects, a vast array of super high-tech weapons, with the breadth of combat options you might expect from something like Fallout or The Elder Scrolls, with Metal Gear Rising cyborg ninja combat for good measure.
For me, what really defined Cyberpunk 2077 was the way choice and consequence is weaved so intricately into the quests, in a way that many other big-name RPG developers have begun neglecting over the years. V's mission to impress an underworld gangland boss had multiple pathways to completion, some including a non-violent approach hinging on conversational skills, while another focused on hacking abilities and stealth. And of course, there's always the direct approach, spattered in blood.
Cyberpunk 2077 looks like it has terabytes of secrets waiting to be revealed as we head towards its – as of now – unknown launch date. But, as a fan of The Witcher 3, and CD Projekt RED in general, I know I'll be dropping my digital pre-order the second they go live. This is the first press presentation that made me wonder, "can a game possibly be too good?"
Cyberpunk 2077 will hit Xbox One, PS4, and PC. It has no known launch date, but it is currently available for preorder at Amazon.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!