Cyberpunk 2077 released last week for Xbox, Playstation, and Windows. The game has gotten a lot of publicity already, some good and a lot more that’s bad. It’s certainly not without it flaws, and yes- some of the screenshots from the older gen consoles certainly look appalling. I don’t know first-hand much about what all has been going on for players on those systems. I can understand the frustration from what they are saying. While not trying to discredit any of those views, I thought maybe I’d look at it from another angle. So, I thought I would take a moment to interview one of it’s biggest fans: my husband.
Also if you are looking for other games in this genre- check out this article by our own Data_Error!
Cyberpunk the Genre
First off, what does “cyberpunk” mean?
It’s a combination of futuristic tech and scoundrels. You take cybernetics, hacking, and smart robots and purée with anti-establishment miscreants. Rogues! You like rogues.
So was The Matrix cyberpunk?
Ooh! Good example. A futuristic society living on the fringe, wearing tattered clothes, flying beat up ships, but with awesome tech, and capable of hacking into the construct of their evil robot overlords. Yeah, Matrix is totally cyberpunk. Other examples are Blade Runner and Judge Dredd. In Japan, there’s Akira and Ghost in the Shell.
I’ve heard of those. How do they differ from just normal, basic, sci-fi stuff?
Cyberpunk was a counter to classic sci-fi themes existing through the 60s. You heard how the original Star Trek was revolutionary TV for its time, right? You had Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a future where earth is free from war. There’s no racism or greed and everyone works together for the betterment of civilization. Popular sci-fi held that in the future, technology would be mostly good, and mankind would be smarter and better.
Then in the 70s, the pendulum swung the other way and writers were interested in themes of a future gone awry. Dystopia. Technological advancements that quickly outpaced society’s moral development. Cybernetics and advanced A.I. mixed with drug and sex trafficking. Darker stuff. Almost all cyberpunk stories involve a radical class distinction with no middle class and no middle class values, leading to a complete erosion of morality. That’s how you get the high-tech/low-life combo.
Cyberpunk the Game
And Cyberpunk 2077 is just a distillation of all this?
You know, that’s what I thought at first. I figured developers at CD Projekt RED were ready to move beyond the Witcher franchise and do something completely different. I mean…they did! Switched from fantasy to sci-fi! But it’s not an original world they created here. It’s based on the table-top RPG series, Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk Red.
I had never heard of the franchise before, which is ironic, because my introduction to cyberpunk was from table top gaming. At twelve, I was at my local nerdery admiring miniatures and cool dragon costumes, when the cover of a Shadowrun sourcebook caught my eye. Neon and noir. Flashy and gritty. I was so fascinated
with the artwork in those sourcebooks that I picked up a Shadowrun novel—my first cyberpunk novel—and thus began my descent! If I had known about Cyberpunk 2020 at the time, I probably would have been all over it!
Is that why you were looking forward to the game for so long?
Actually I wasn’t. I mean, a lot of people have been waiting eight years for this game, but I figured it would be like a lot of other recent open-world games with a lot of hype and not a lot of substance. It wasn’t until I realized CD Projekt RED was behind it that I got excited. I mean, THOSE guys have always been known to deliver a quality product!
Deliver? Omigosh, yes! [edit to add- at least on the computer, since again we have not seen it on consoles]. This game is awesome! You got all the car-jacking and “Oops!-I-ran-over-another-pedestrian” of a Grand Theft Auto game, mixed with high-concept, philosophical lore of the Deus Ex franchise. There’s the exceptional writing you’d expect from the makers of Witcher 3, but also loads of crazy fun stealth and hacking shenanigans on par with Styx and Metal Gear Solid. It has everything!
I can’t remember the last time you got so excited about a title on launch day.
(Laughs) I wait for the dust to settle and buy games two years later at a 60% discount. In fact, the last time I got this hooked on a brand new title was Saints Row IV.
Oh yeah. You beat that in 3 days, locked up in an upstairs room, refusing bread and water.
It was two days. Like, two and a half. Then I had to pee.
But Cyberpunk 2077’s been out 4 days. What’s taking so long?
It’s so big! It’s a BIG game! I mean, Night City might be the same size as Steelport from Saints Row, but it’s still BIGGER! Because it’s vertical too! Ok, that makes no sense. See, in a lot of sandbox cities, whether GTA or Spider-Man, you’re essentially working with a map of x-by-y dimensions and then the buildings are just obstacles that get in the way. They might have doors for instance missions or an elevator or two, but nothing like what I’ve seen in Cyberpunk. Night City has tons going in the z-dimension! Lots of verticality!
Night City is the setting of Cyberpunk 2077?
Yah, sorry. I got ahead of myself. In Cyberpunk 2077, you play as V, a “solo,” or freelancer, living in Night City. It’s located in California between a fractured version of the US. There’s a tentative peace between the Free States (NorCal) and New-USA (SoCal). Night City’s neutral territory. To paraphrase agent K, “Did you ever see the movie Casablanca? Same thing but with cyborgs.”
Right. And “V” stands for?
Vendetta? Just kidding. I dunno.
Your V is female?
Yeah. For this playthrough I went female, partly to dodge the whole “epeen” thing. But mostly because she’s fully voiced by Cherami Leigh. She’s great. Remember Gaige from Borderlands 2? That’s her, along with about nine-thousand other video game characters.
I love the look. You really got the whole “punk” thing down.
Hard not to. But I know what you mean. Mohawk and tons of piercings. Not how I’d usually customize a character, but, when in Rome…
The visuals really are so amazing!
They are! I wasn’t sure you’d like the 80s-inspired clothes and all that neon.
Oh, I love it! I think it’s just stunning. I love looking over your shoulder.
The graphics are a huge selling point. Devs have learned how to use their REDengine to quickly render unbelievable amounts of detail with like, no load time on PC. So much smoother than anything Rockstar has pulled off.
I know the console versions look a LOT less appealing and I feel bad for everyone upset their console experience is less pretty. I don’t know what to say. Looking back, I felt the same way when I had to play Altered Beast on my stupid Master System and everyone else had a Genesis. At least CD Projekt’s offering full refunds.
You think that’s going to hurt their bottom line?
No, I think they’re going to come out of this just fine. I looked at Steam stats on opening night and over half a million people were playing the game. That’s not counting GOG sales and console sales. CD Projekt has a great business sense. And they know gamers. They’re gonna do right by them and still rake it in.
Tell me about the lore. As a philosophy grad, are you satisfied with the writers’ handling of the cyberpunk themes?
Very much! In fact, that might be the real reason I’m taking so long. There’s tons of lore and it is DEEP! Like, world-building is handled best with lots of backstory and history. Myths. Legends. Religions. But for me, there’s a difference between reading all the books in Skyrim and reading all the emails in Cyberpunk. One is prose, the other is philosophy. Like, one random shard I stumbled into was a review of the rock band the “Cartesian Duelists” and their new hit Cogito Ergo Sum.
As with all good forays into world-building, Cyberpunk comes with its own lingo: choom, gonk, eddies. A shard is like a thumb drive with a small packet of information. I haven’t found any other reference to the rock band, but the name alone is awesome. Cartesian Duelist. Rene Descartes. People in the western world do not realize how much of the way they think is due to Rene Descartes. And his duality, his theory of mind and body, is such an entrenched concept, we struggle to conceive the world in any other way. He literally claimed the spirit was housed in the pineal gland, like a little pilot, driving the body, which he thought of as a gear-like automaton. Sound a bit like Inside Out?
And that duality has always been a focus in cyberpunk. What is the self? Is it the body or the mind? How much of the body can be changed with implants and prosthetics before it’s no longer the same? Can the self be copied and implanted? Would a clone be a twin or even legally a person? And on and on. This game doesn’t just dabble in these concepts, it dives full in. And the whole aesthetic, the whole juxtaposition of teeming impoverished masses living in the shadows of monstrous corporate skyscrapers fuels the aporia, that sense of being lost when faced with unanswerable questions, and it is so deftly handled in this game. I love it.
Sure, the game doesn’t just appeal to philosophy majors. Many will come for the fast cars, mad gibs, and cheeky billboards. But the philosophy is very present in the game and it runs about deep as ever I’ve found.
So would you recommend this game?
uh… For the general community, I think it’s one of the best games ever made. It has it all. However, it’s also dark and gritty. Would I recommend it to my mother? No. Would I recommend it to a child? Also no. Would I recommend it to a peer? Well, depends on the peer. Enter at your own risk.