Videogame (2020). CD Projekt. Directed by Adam Badowski and Konrad Tomaszkiewicz. Story director Marcin Blacha. Written by Tomasz Marchewka and Jakub Szamalek, additional writers include Alexsandra Motyka, Magdalena Zych, based on the game created by Michael "Mike" Pondsmith. Cast includes Robbie Daymond, Gavin Drea, Jason Hightower, Rome Kanda, Hideo Kimura, Cherami Leigh, Jane Perry, Alix Wilton Regan, Keanu Reeves, Carla Tassara and Emily Woo Zeller. Playstation 4, Playstation 5, PC, Xbox One, Xbox X/S.
An adaptation of the Cyberpunk Role Playing Game created by the Polish studio responsible for the bestselling The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, Cyberpunk 2077 launched as one the most anticipated videogames of all time. It is an open-world Computer Role Playing Game that plays from a First Person Shooter perspective, and along its mean streets players encounter every Cyberpunk trope imaginable jumbled together in a bloody, neon extravaganza.
Like its namesake role-playing game, Cyberpunk 2077 takes place in Night City, an independent megalopolis situated somewhere between San Francisco and Los Angeles (see California). It is the year 2077 in a timeline which split off from our own somewhere in the 1980s and continues into a familiar retro-future where humans routinely augment themselves with cybernetic implants, income inequality is rife and most people live under the de-facto rule of international megacorps such as the Arasaka corporation. Key to understanding the game's plot is the fact that much of Night City was destroyed in the year 2023, when anarchist rock star Johnny Silverhand detonated a nuclear weapon in the Arasaka corporation's headquarters; a vain attempt to destroy the company after they kidnapped and murdered his girlfriend Alt Cunningham (Alix Wilton Regan).
In the year 2077 you play as either a masculine or feminine mercenary nicknamed "V" (Gavin Drea or Cherami Leigh). You and your friend Jackie Welles (Jason Hightower) are hired by a local crime boss to steal a cutting-edge biochip called "The Relic" from Arasaka corporation. You steal the chip but in the course of the heist you witness Arasaka heir Yorinobu (Hideo Kimura) murder his father, thus seizing control of Arasaka for himself. Jackie is killed during your escape, and you are forced to insert The Relic in your own brain-port to safely transport it out of the building. After being double-crossed, shot, and left for dead, you wake in a garbage dump to find yourself haunted by the "ghost" of Johnny Silverhand (Keanu Reeves). The Relic turns out to host a digital replica of the dead rocker's personality, allowing you to telepathically communicate with each other and access each other's memories. A "ripperdoc" informs you that the biochip has fused with your brain and is rewriting your neural structure: meaning that you cannot remove it, and that your mind will soon be overwritten entirely by Silverhand's.
Unwilling to accept this fate, you form an alliance with Silverhand in which you agree to pursue his vendetta against the Arasaka corporation in exchange for him holding back from psychically dominating you. What follows is a colourful tour around the tropes of the genre with passing encounters with Japanese dynastic politics, AIs masquerading as voodoo gods, militarized cops, wasteland-roaming biker gangs, sex workers with programmable personalities, digital mind Prisons and much body modification. Keanu Reeves's man-out-of-his-time Johnny Silverhand functions as an ironic commentator throughout (see Sleeper Awakes).
Most paths through the game end with a final mission to infiltrate Arasaka and infect its systems with a rogue AI patterned after Silverhand's dead girlfriend Alt Cunningham. The initial release of the game had six potential epilogues, each heavily dosed with fatalism. If V wishes for a happier ending, Silverhand says, "For folks like us? Wrong city. Wrong people." You can go out in a blaze of glory, but the system always wins.
Cyberpunk 2077 was written in consultation with franchise founder Mike Pondsmith, and for fans of the pen-and-paper RPG the game offered a loyal continuation of the series' lore, including missions replaying famous adventures from Cyberpunk 2020 such as Johnny Silverhand's attack on Arasaka Tower. Individual subplots vary in quality, but V's four possible romances are well-scripted and some side-quests provide memorable moments. One mission introduces V to a penitent murderer who wishes to record his subjective experience of crucifixion, so that the faithful might relive it and feel closer to the Messiah; he asks V to hammer in the nails.
The production design of Night City is phenomenal, the city is a colourful labyrinth that seems to extend vertically as much as horizontally, and the world's many factions are clearly delineated and beautifully integrated into their surroundings. However, like many large-scale RPGs, Cyberpunk 2077 suffers from a mismatch between the urgency of a plot where V has only weeks to live and a game-world which encourages the player to dawdle between drag-racing, amateur boxing and running odd-jobs for criminals. While the mega-corporations are the villains literally overarching Night City, in practice most of V's time is spent murdering gang-members drawn from Night City's underclass, either in petty turf-wars or in collaboration with the city's murderous police-force. Whether this grim existence was intended as commentary on the necessities of life in a capitalist Dystopia or shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the politics of cyberpunk's foundational texts is open to interpretation.
Cyberpunk 2077 was eight years in the making, an unusually long development cycle, and showed its age in more ways than one. Released in 2020, the year once synonymous with Cyberpunk 2020's imagined future, Cyberpunk 2077 implausibly extends Night City's culture into a frozen pastiche of the 1980s. The canny choice of Keanu Reeves to play anti-hero Johnny Silverhand adds to this future nostalgia, Reeves being a veteran of previous forays into cyberspace in Johnny Mnemonic (1995) and the Matrix movie cycle opening with The Matrix (1999). In other ways, such as its relatively binary concepts of gender or human identity, the world of Cyberpunk 2077 seemed less adventurous than elements of its contemporary society.
Mechanically, Cyberpunk 2077 is an urban open-world action game closely modelled on the Grand Theft Auto series, particularly Grand Theft Auto V (2013), the gold standard of the genre when planning for Cyberpunk 2077 began. However by 2020 game design had moved on, and in comparison with contemporary games the beauty of Night City seemed skin-deep. The initial launch of the game was undermined by game-breaking bugs and cut features, an egregious example of what had become common practice in a period where videogame companies had learned they could release unfinished products and patch them with downloadable content down the line. Rumours swirled of disagreements between Cyberpunk 2077's large and passionate development team and the management that had been paying the bills for eight years. It seems that whether it be the 1980s, the 2020s, or the Far Future, the clash between corporate suits and punk artists remains an eternal constant. [JN]