Back in 2013, CD Projekt Red revealed a teaser trailer for its new game based on the tabletop roleplaying game, Cyberpunk 2020. The title was Cyberpunk 2077 and although the trailer was incredibly short and nondescript, it excited everyone that viewed it not only because it looked cool, but because it was within a genre we haven’t seen the Polish developer take on yet. Every game they developed before had been set within The Witcher universe, so seeing them branch out into something completely different was exciting, especially from an award-winning developer.
Five years later, at Microsoft’s Xbox Briefing during E3 2018, we finally got a full trailer for Cyberpunk 2077. Unsurprisingly, the trailer set the gaming world on fire and became one of the must-see things at the show: however, I had my reservations. Dystopian sci-fi has been done so many times and is most often some rip-off or slight variation of Blade Runner, arguably one of the most iconic landmarks of the sci-fi genre. After seeing a small slice of its gameplay, CD Projekt Red has convinced me that it is much more than that: it’s becoming one of my most anticipated titles.
Cyberpunk 2077 includes everything you’d expect from a western-style RPG: a robust character creator — which allows you to fully customize your character’s look, backstory, and starting stats — dialogue choices, and quests are all present here. What sets it apart from other open-world RPGs is its combat, mature themes, and the scope of its world.
First-person RPGs are not new by any stretch of the imagination — Ultima Underworld, which released in 1992, is often credited as the “original” first-person RPG. However, there has yet to be one with tight shooting mechanics. Sure, we’ve received games like Far Cry and Fallout, but they don’t have the more precise mechanics of shooters like DOOM, Destiny, or Call of Duty.
Right at the beginning of the demo, we see the protagonist V (pronounced “Vee”) whip her automatic pistol out and violently decimate anyone in her path. From this moment alone, it is clear that CD Projekt Red is putting a focus on its combat. Not to rag on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but its combat was not the game’s best attribute. In Cyberpunk 2077, we see V zipping around a dingy apartment using a variety of abilities, like a dash that allows her to dodge bullets and find cover more easily, as well as an inhaled drug that gives her stat buffs for a short period of time.
The shooting itself looks great for a first-person RPG. We didn’t get hands-on time with the game so I can’t tell you how it actually feels, but it looks fantastic. Seeing the apartment and enemies get ripped to shreds by all the action taking place was adrenaline-inducing. It seems a bit more fast-paced than other first-person RPGs, which gives the impression that this has tighter mechanics akin to a well-made FPS.
Human augmentation is an integral part of the game’s world, as well as its gameplay. With every step taken in Night City, we can see the effect that technology has on the lives of everyone, in both positive and negative ways. The most interactive way to experience this is with V and the augmentations that she applies to herself when getting ready for a mission. You’ll visit Dr. Victor in his seedy back alley workshop to install these upgrades. In the demo, for example, V installed a cybernetic eye that allowed her to augment her vision and zoom in on enemies, as well as being able to track their abilities and toughness.
That isn’t the only cybernetic upgrade your character will have, as V’s hacking abilities were extremely useful in a variety of ways. She was able to hack an enemy’s memory to garner information for her mission, as well as hack into an enemy’s weapon to jam it and push the fight in her favor. Additionally, V was equipped with a set of arm blades that not only made her more nimble, but exceedingly more deadly.
Cyberpunk 2077 also puts a focus on player choice and agency. During the demo, the developers emphasized that both of these facets are not only tied to dialogue trees but your actions within the world, as well as its combat. Any given situation, including the mission from the demo, has multiple paths to take and will influence how the story will play out.
Aside from what we saw of its gameplay, what truly sets Cyberpunk 2077 apart from other RPGs is its alternate American setting. Run by mega-corporations, Night City is bright and full of color outside. Inside, we see a completely different and honest look at the lives of civilians and it is far from bright. It is actually the complete opposite; it’s dark, dirty, and dangerous. The contrast between the two is so apparent: it’s a clear representation of the relationship between the civilians and the corporations that seemingly run their lives.
Although it it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, it is important to note that Cyberpunk 2077 is a mature experience with adult themes and visuals. It isn’t far off from CD Projekt Red’s previous work with The Witcher series, but it does feel more grounded because of its near-future setting.
CD Projekt Red seems to be doing something special here. From its fast-paced, methodical combat to its living dystopian world, this is more than just your standard sci-fi fare: it’s not just a rip-off from one of the developer’s favorite sci-fi movies. It may be inspired by well-known dystopian worlds but it sets itself apart with its own unique take. The colorful and bright outside world is just a facade for the true nature of what’s within the many buildings of Night City. It’s grimy and drug-laden, filled with corruption and crime. CD Projekt Red’s decision to make a sci-fi first-person shooter is bold, especially for a company that has mainly been known for creating third-person fantasy RPGs and card games.
It’s exciting and refreshing to see a beloved developer take on something totally out of its comfort zone and, seemingly, do it so well. There isn’t a release date yet for Cyberpunk 2077 — and I also don’t think it’s coming to this console generation — but I’ll be patiently waiting for more.