Previews

Cyberpunk 2077 Preview: 5 hours of pure ‘Cool’ with its hardest build

For those of you who haven’t met me yet, I have a malfunction in my OS. There’s this glitch that forces me to test my limits whenever I lay my optics systems on a new video game. I suppose the non-sci-fi equivalent is, “I’m the absolute gonk who tries a fresh save of a Souls game with no stats and an old dishrag for undies.” That said, I deliberately sought out to play my 5-hour hands-on with Cyberpunk 2077 in the most difficult way possible. I manufactured, for science, what I imagined is the hardest build to play: maximum ‘Cool’.

For starters, I can tell you that the create-an-avatar mode has expanded threefold beyond what was briefly teased in that deep-dive vid from September last year. I sifted into the minutiae here, trying to make life as interesting as possible for my V. Out of the whopping 252 individual options to select from – everything from nail length to nipple size to piercings – I fashioned my champion. Honestly, I took way too long doing so and could write an entire thesis on the experience.

Some 40 minutes later I added the pièce de résistance to my character. Along with some moobs I had dialled my default penis size down to a Tic Tac (circumcised, if you must know) plus I gave myself a thatch of radiation green pubes. That old Joker manscape. Lastly, I also trimmed that bush back to resemble the Arasaka company logo. Reasoning: my lovers ought to know, at a glance, that I’m all business when I get on the job.

Embracing CD Projekt Red’s Fluid Class System approach, I next came up with the toughest attribute build I could think of. Able to throw points into Out of Body (raw physical power), Reflex (speed/coordination), Intelligence (hacking ability), Technical Ability (expert craftsmanship) and Cool (self-control/willpower), I just maxed everything I could into Cool and left the others at minimum. I was fully prepared to suck at most everything but look goddamned exceptional while doing it.

Lastly, in the three Life Paths (read: a short origin story prologue that greatly shapes your narrative course through the game) I ignored Street Kid and The Nomad; instead, I became a filthy Corporat. This was mostly because we’ve not seen the Corporate choice play out in preview materials yet, but also because I figure being dropped into a a high-powered viper’s nest of turbo Patrick Batemans is about as uphill a start as one could get.

As luck would have it, my instincts were proven right in all of 20 minutes (mind you, it’s my understanding that all three prologues jerk you around and leave you figuratively washed up on the shores of Night City). It starts out well. I’m a medium-sized wheel in Arasaka’s counter-intelligence mob, rubbing shoulders with the pretty people throughout an office space that sports décor from the Brotherhood of Nod collection. Pretty soon my V is drawn into some inter-office backstabbing going on between my clearly psychotic boss (Arthur Jenkins) and his promotion-thieving new superior (Susan Abernathy).

Long story short: Jenkins slaps a whole bunch of Eddies in my palm (read: Eurodollars) and more or less orders me to hook up with my underworld contacts and get to (wet)work on Abernathy’s dearest ones. I hop an AV and go for a very Blade Runner-esque hoverride downtown. Like an excited prom attendee, I fiddle with the radio and drain champagne as I’m offered a breathtaking view of Night City. It’s a neon-soaked seaside metropolis filled to the brim with cyborgs out to screw you for a percentage. Often literally, as the whole damn place is a red light district.

As brutalist, fortress-like skyscrapers give way to slums, I make a decision of peak assholery. I instruct my driver to “fuck the procedures” and land wherever the hell we want. An amusing scripted moment plays out when I exit the AV into the middle of a rooftop basketball court that’s adjoining Lizzy’s Bar. Three irate jocks try to get pushy about my parking choices, and I zero two of them with my top-of-the-line, military-grade fists of steel. With the urbanites pacified, I stride over to the bouncer and intimidate her into not only letting me in, but to also watch my hovercar for free. For a final flourish, I press X to scoop up a nearby basketball and swish that shit in from the halfway line. Cool stat, yo.

The same said stat doesn’t save me from the calamity that unfolds inside, however. The basic gist: I meet up with Jackie Welles, man mountain, ne’er do well and trusted friend. We’re just starting to layout a scheme when Abernathy’s corpo-goons bust in, fire me for gross misconduct, seize my meagre assets (financial) and render all my company-owned augments inoperable. Thus ends my brief stint at the top of the food chain. Thus begins the game proper – a phoenix rise that syncs up nicely with that 48-minute preview video CDPR put out in 2018.

For those of you unfamiliar with that, Jackie and V meet up with Dexter Deshawn, a legendary fixer whom they hope will be their means to enter the big leagues of mercwork. I’m to secure a high-end spider-bot that a local gang (Maelstrom) has five-finger discounted from some corpos called Militech. This is the first time I’m let lose into the game without strings attached, and I’m determined to not only do things differently but to get a nitty-gritty, connoisseur’s feel of CDPR’s engine.

Let’s get the middling news out of the way first. The base gunplay certainly feels solid enough, but utilitarian in spots. You have a soft cover system that allows you to pop and pepper targets, and contestants are easily acquired via a soft-lock that snaps to centre mass when you ADS. You’re also packing a three weapon system cycled by taps of Y (or hold down for a basic selection wheel). Also, a sprint function and multi-directional double-tap dodge that are bound to a generous stamina bar. Everything is more or less where it should be, but it just doesn’t quite feel as exciting and kinetic as what was shown in 2018.

Admittedly, in a subsequent non-Cool build, things improved slightly with wallrunning perks, double-jumping and Dredd-esque drugs that allowed me to disco slide around in slow-mo. That said, the preview code I played of 2077 never fully lost that niggling combat rigidity. I certainly didn’t go in expecting Destiny or Apex Legends hyperactivity – this is an ARPG first and foremost – but yeah, a touch more polish is needed to make this more faithful to the promotional materials.

I think the simplistic AI lets the side down a little here too. As I’m lighting up scumbags they’re taking cover well enough, but they’re continuing to poke their beaks out into bad situations where I have clearly already established a bullet right of way. In a later fight they show more spirit by flanking me and pushing in to use the fully-fledged melee system against me (think: light/heavy attacks, blocks and timed parries, all bound to that stamina bar). I even get zeroed once or twice by flung grenades. But that’s more due to the fact that I have no HUD element yet that highlights when and where they land.

I am however pleased by the alternate tactical options available in a combat arena. Unbeknownst to me, the Cool stat largely governs stealth, which means I could get my neck-snapping Solid Snake on. When the heavy boss from the E3 video appears and starts renovating out walls with a machine gun, I go the opposite way to CDPR’s demo and flank extreme right, through a crawlspace hole in the apartment wall that lets me more sneakily dispatch this goon.

With this opening trial by fire done, I secure our naked, near-dead package. Plonk her outside for the militaristic Private Health Insurance squad to appear, and I do my very best to light up the medics with my new boomstick. Nope. Scripted moment. Best I can do is give their ambo a dozen new speed holes as they exit stage left (to no response). Unfazed, I turn on my heel and go down to street level for a taste of 2077‘s much anticipated Night City sandbox.

Like the gunplay, I’m left to sift through unmet expectation and a mixed bag of emotions. I’m impressed by the visual slickness and mechanical potential of it all, but there are rough edges and I get the sense I need to be quite a bit further into the game before this sandbox blooms into being an amazing playground.

The crowd tech and pedestrian AI is definitely impressive. A veritable horde of garishly dressed citizenry  — tranks, lobos, zipheads, etc – naturally flow around me as I (weirdly) catch myself worrying about our complete lack of social distancing. Holding LB allows V to scan these nobodies to glean their basic “citizen type” and threat level. 2077 certainly doesn’t rise to Watch Dogs levels of identify theft — I’m talking a sea of most inconsequential, one-line only extras. That said, there are more than enough unique NPCs seeded in there who are worth investigating, plus roving gang members and NCPD to do side-battles with or against. (I crash a few of their turf wars for kicks.)

Vehicular traffic is not as thick or reactive as I thought it would be. I tap dance on humming bonnets to no applause – not even a critical honk. Also, carjacking requires the sort of Body or Technical Ability stats a normal player might acquire after many more hours of play. I have limited means to test out anarchy, but I do so nonetheless. The chaos I ignite is satisfying, however, the cops punch my dance card with little effort soon after.

It’s also worth noting that V’s version of Geralt’s Roach, a summonable Quadra Turbo-R 740, is always at your fingertips. Once again, it’s a case of “looks wicked cool in videos but the reality isn’t as amazing”. For starters, the top speed of this bad-ass knock off Lambo leaves a lot to be desired and, much like the shooting, we’re veering into utilitarian. All this despite the ability to do handbrakie cornering and you can leave sick, full-street-length burnout marks.

It also has to be said that the combat-from-vehicle sections (which can actually be achieved from your driver’s seat at any time) lack the blockbuster adrenaline and speed of what’s been shown in promo vids. I’m not sure if some velocity-enhancing motion blur or other visual effect wasn’t activating in my build, but my shootout against a van full of pursuers sort of felt like it took place at 50 km/h, not the 100+ I’d salivated over previously.

And, once again, disclaimer: I obviously have to concede that this could be another case of “the early part of the game”. As bad-ass as it looks, the Quadra is most likely a starter jalopy in the performance department. There’s certainly flashier, presumably more radically handling autos waiting to be plucked, but only by mid-game specced Vs. And then there’s always that wise enthusiasm curb that is: well, this wasn’t meant to be GTA V or Burnout Paradise – it’s an ARPG.

I’m more than happy to say, then, that the actual role-playing part of 2077 is in fact running on all cylinders and then some. I instantly gelled with V’s voice actor and attitude, and CDPR’s much renown gift for great script writing and intriguing multi-solution questing takes hold immediately. In no time I was tactically asking probing questions, seeking out cunning alternate problem solutions and swimming – absolutely swimming – in incidental world-building info. There’s so much going on in Night City, I can already see myself spending quadruple digit hours here, poring through every rich, grimy inch of it (while probably still missing most things).

Better yet, it was gratifying to see how my Corpo backstory opened different doors compared to the original CDPR demoer (who clearly went with a Street Kid build). In one example, I met with a desperate Militech corpo who wanted me to cut Dex out of the transaction in order to retrieve the spider-bot.

Using my Corpo instincts and unique dialogue options, I cut through her bullshit scheme to have me pay with a virus-ridden credit card. I even managed to reason with her on a “fellow working stiff” level to glean more info than some filthy street rat could ever hope to. Hell, I think I may have even seen the beginnings of a beautiful frienemy-ship there. Only time (and god only knows how many story branches / ending permutations) will tell.

Though I was armed with the knowledge to neutralise the credit chip virus, I wanted to radically divert from the E3 demoers decisions. I basically strode over to the Maelstrom hideout, gained entry and tested what would happen if I let a timed dialogue option get out of hand. In this case, a goon ordered an irate Jackie to sit his punk ass down on the lounge. I let the four second timer on my conversation option expire, just to see if things would kick off and ruin what could still be a lucrative trade with seriously chromed-up borgs. I was not disappointed.

The Maelstrom boss, Royce, doesn’t even have a chance to appear to size me up, nor do I get a cool spider-bot infomercial demonstration. Everybody draws iron and we get to it. By now I’ve invested in a double-barreled shotgun that takes everybody off at the legs if you get close enough (heads and arms too). Even with the limitations of my Cool fixation, I’m still surprisingly effective in a gun battle. The biggest downside is that it feels like I’m made less out of bionic armour and more out of balsa wood.

I’m also still reasonably adept in hacking my enemies into submission. Holding LB for 3 seconds allows me to scan any victim in my line of sight in slow-mo time. Tapping RB opens a suite of malware which, providing I have the “cyberdeck memory” to spend, lets me ruin their day in creative ways. We’re talking revealing/tagging any pals that are sharing a LAN with them and making their grenades blow up. Or I can get instil in them an irresistible urge to decorate. By turning their pistols on themselves and painting the walls red.

Effortlessly sliding between these sorts of attacks, solid but staid gunplay and gratifying stealth is lots of fun. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t yearning to get my mitts on some of the crazier, unlockable perks.

It would be an understatement to say that the selection has grown since the last reveal. The unlock screen is practically unrecognisable now. The 5 aforementioned main attributes now split off into 12 sub-specialisations. And each of these specialisations house a whopping 20 perks each (so 240 perks total). Obviously I didn’t have time to drool over every single one, so I scrolled down the list to jot down the most expensive ones. The crème de la chrome.

We’re talking about endgame things I could definitely work with. Having a rocket launcher for an arm. Having no weapon sway or bullet spread for full, 10 second killing sprees. Being gifted with 50% less shotgun recoil because you’ve dismembered somebody. Or receiving a cyberdeck memory regen speed that gives you God-like, Neo from The Matrix hacking abilities for a while. The list of delights goes on and on.

And I’ve just realised I haven’t even spoken about the joy of Cyberware mods yet. Game-changing, purchasable hardware that can be installed in one of 20 mod slots located all about your person.  You might want the ability to slow time for 25% for 5 seconds, be completely fireproof, have mantis arm blades or a deadly whip-like filament attack. Go see your local Ripperdoc for a full catalogue of your nasty, nasty self-improvement options. I sure will be.

Oh, crap. We haven’t even gotten into braindances yet – a next-next-gen enhancement over Rick Deckard’s “photo scanning” detective tools. It basically lets you relive memories as you scan visual / audio / thermal feeds or hack into cameras for additional clues. Incredibly slick virtual crime scene stuff that’s sure to get you scratching your head.

Sadly, I’ve also just noticed that I’ve gone way over-budget on my words and yet, oddly, I still feel I’ve only scratched the surface on my time with 2077. Bottom line: I think it’s great news that CDPR has wisely decided to delay this and take some more dev time, because I think the odd screw is loose in this otherwise gorgeous and enticing chassis.

Don’t let my necessary griping put you off, however. I went into my Cyberpunk 2077 with an expectation of being shown something with Game of the Year potential barcoded all over it. I left with slight concerns, but absolutely the same expectations and the brightest of hopes for the future. In short, I’ve been infected by this code. Until I can get my hands on it again, it’s going to stay at the absolute forefront of my frontal cortex. My Eddies are ready.

Cyberpunk 2077 heads to Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4 on 19 November. A Stadia release will follow where available in 2020; a next-gen release on Xbox Series X and PS5 is planned for 2021.



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About the author

Adam Mathew