If you spent any time at E3 this year, it would have been immediately clear that Cyberpunk 2077 was biggest game at the show. The huge, gaudy booth on the show-floor had lines of people spilling out of it every day, eager to get a glimpse at the upcoming CD Project Red title. Make your way up to the discreet meeting room area with hallways of unassuming doors and basic signs displaying the name of each company, and you’ll run into a massive Cyberpunk poster surrounded by huddled fans and media people waiting for their turn at an extended hands-off demo viewing.
Cyberpunk 2077 has promised to be a lot of things, and fans across the world are itching to see and play one of the most ambitious games of this generation. As someone who saw this 45-minute gameplay demo, allow me to say that you should temper your expectations.
Our Cyberpunk demo begins with V, the protagonist of Cyberpunk 2077, discovering the chip in his head has some massive secrets held within. He’s given a mission to track down more info about it, and is ready to go track down his informant. First, though, we need to customize our V. Many times throughout the demo, there’s a bizarre disconnect between what is explained to us by our developer guide, and what actually happens in the game. This is the first of those instances.
We see a character customisation screen open up with a variety of options and sliders, and our developer guide promises that in Cyberpunk 2077, you can customise V to look any way you want with a huge variety of options. Additionally, with body modification and cybernetic enhancements being such a huge part of the game, you can have a V that looks truly inhuman if you so desire. As they say this, the second developer toggles a couple of sliders that make the shape of V’s nose slightly kinda-sorta different, and then calls it a day. We walk out of the customisation screen with a generic, white as rice, square-jawed V that fails to show off the breadth of customisation we were just promised.
As we walk away, Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Silverhands leans against a wall and takes a drag off a (cyber?) cigarette, before telling us to pick up the pace and disappearing off-frame. It’s confirmed later in the demo that the character that Johnny is a cyber-ghost stuck inside the head of our protagonist. Throughout the demo he pops up and makes snide, one-sided comments on the things that V is doing, only being addressed directly at the very end of the demo. It’ll be interesting to see just how involved with the story his character is in the final release, and whether he’s a main player or just a fun series of cameos.
Eventually, V found their way to Pacifica, a corporation-funded island city intended to serve as a tourist paradise, right up until the very corporations who built it abandoned it as the economy collapsed around them. The government followed suit, and now this lawless, decrepit ghost town is home to refugees and street criminals. Literally all of these refugees in the demo were specifically of Haitian descent, which is… weird. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with Pacifica being a slum city occupied exclusively by Haitians, but it certainly sends an awkward message. The sloppiness of that message is only amplified by further uncomfortable missteps, like the subtitles for Haitian dialogue going out of their way to replace words like “the” and “they” with “de” and “dey”.
Another moment that had me muttering “yikes” under my breath, where our protagonist mocks their Haitian informant, Placide, by mockingly asking “and who are dey?” Maybe V’s just a scummy lead character, but the further along this demo went, the more I was sure that it would end with a tasteless Ugandan Knuckles meme and my eyes rolling directly out of their sockets.
After this weird racial bullshit, V is mind-linked with Placide via a link-cable that everyone in the world is implanted with, and given his mission: sneak into the abandoned museum across town that’s the hideout for a rival gang, the Animals. V hops on a motorcycle, puts on some cyber-music and arrives at the hideout in next to no time. Our protagonist in this demo had skills focused on hacking, and so he does just that. We hack environmental items like robot sparring-machines and weight racks to distract enemies, and infiltrate the network of the facility to unlock some doors in our way that lead to the main atrium.
At this point, the demo pauses and the developer playing it decides to switch to an alternate V, a female version of the character we saw in last year’s E3 demo. We’re instantly transported back to the beginning of this break-in, but with a new set of abilities focused on raw strength. This V rips open the doors blocking the way and drops right into the atrium, ripping and tearing into the Animals occupying the space with brutal melee attacks and plenty of bullets. Shooting looks a bit improved in this demo, but the weight of the shots and the subdued way they land in enemy bodies still leaves a bit to be desired.
Swapping back to our Netrunner hacking-focused V, and transitioning once more back to the beginning of this atrium brawl, we’re shown how this V can use hacking abilities directly on enemies, taking control of their cybernetics to make them draw the pins on their grenades, hold their guns up to their own heads and pull the trigger, or even immobilising them by overloading their circuits. Combined with the use of our wrist-mounted link-cable as a molten slicing wire to mow down enemies, the playstyle of this V seems a little more inventive and downright fun than the raw brawn of our other V.
The demo soon ends with our protagonist encountering the leader of the Voodoo Boys, who tasks V with diving into the cyberspace in order to track down the truth behind the chip in their head. Much like Cyberpunk 2077, we don’t know a whole lot about cyberspace, but it sure is pretty. Pretty isn’t the only thing that matters in a game, though, especially not a game of this scope. CD Project Red has promised a lot with this title, but between the two demos I’ve seen of it so far, it’s shaping up to be a kind of cool open-world shooter with some light RPG elements. Keanu Reeves is certainly breathtaking, but it’s hard to say the same about Cyberpunk 2077.