Cyberpunk 2077 is Breathtaking

The famed developer of The Witcher series, CD Projekt Red, has a new IP coming out in 2020 that’s taking the RPG to the next level.

Game: Cyberpunk 2077
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Genre: RPG
Formats: PS4, PC, XBO, Google Stadia
Release date: April 16, 2020

It’s an odd name for a developer, isn’t it? It’s not like CD Projekt Red rolls off the tongue. But the Polish developer has most certainly established itself as one of video gaming’s premier studios over the last decade. With its three core games in The Witcher series, the developer has consistently pushed back the boundaries of what is possible in an RPG.

Those games were loved for their scale, depth, combat, character, story and visuals. For their huge immersive worlds. And for remaining morally ambiguous, allowing the player to truly become the hero and forge their own path, including branching storylines and multiple endings, through the world. For 12 years now, The Witcher has been king of the RPG genre, standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of The Elder Scrolls and Mass Effect.

But it was time for a change. For something new. And it arrives on April 16, 2020, in the form of Cyberpunk 2077. Maxim has not only been lucky enough to get a sneak peak of the game in action, but to do it alongside studio head John Mamais, who talked us through his exciting creation.

A Bright New World?

“Story is the most important thing for us,” Mamais reveals enthusiastically. “We started with the story and everything centres on that. We spent the most amount of our development time on story.”

As you may have guessed from the title, this game is set in the year 2077. Society in America has more-or-less crumbled, with megacorporations running the show. Set in a location called Night City, these corporations are easy to spot, residing in towering skyscrapers. But their influence spreads all the way down to the sewers, where drugs, sex, gangs, poverty and decadence clash with pop culture into an immersive stew, thick with possibility. In it, people try and find a way to survive by any means necessary.

This includes wannabe mercenaries like V, your character, who hide in the shadows and cracks. You have chosen to run from a life controlled by the corporations. Instead, you’ve set about enhancing yourself with black market cybernetics, giving you the powers you need to give “the man” the finger by taking on bigger and better contracts.

When you step into V’s shoes, you’re more-or-less a nobody who has just picked up their first genuine contract. But by the end of a game you’ll be an urban legend. It’s just unclear what kind of legend you will be. “It’s not just the game overall that is non-linear,” Mamais points out. ‘But the individual quests themselves don’t follow any set path. They can branch depending on how you talk to people or how you behave.”

A Huge, Open Environment

Night City is mammoth. It has six distinct districts, as well as the surrounding outskirts, and you’re free to roam the entirety of this world as you see fit. You can steal cars, bikes and other vehicles, negotiate your way through areas of varying safety, trading for better gear or cyberenhancements or mixing with a near endless roster of characters.

The latter offers branching dialogue trees, where not only the abilities you level-up, but the player background you create for V at the start of the game, have an impact.

In a huge technical achievement, the transition through the world – in and out of fantastic cutscenes and even between quests – is seamless. This, combined with the incredible visuals, creates a truly immersive playing experience.

Infinite Gameplay Possibilities

Also immersive is the way you can level your character into certain play styles. You can become more of a run and gunner, or play stealth, or opt to be a hacker. And layered on top of all of that are the cybernetics, which offer layer and layer of options to the way you handle any situation. “It’s not alchemy and magic like The Witcher, this time it is about cybernetics,” says Mamais, indicating just how central modding your player’s body is to the gameplay.

The overall feeling reminds us of Deus Ex or Hitman, where you are free to find any solution you like to complete a challenge using a fast array of tools and abilities. And as Mamais points out, that’s not where the freedom ends.

“If you put more points into abilities that favour a heavy style of play, but then also funnel some towards abilities that support a hacking style, you can shift your playstyle quite freely. There is also a stealth style, which focuses in on melee combat. By the end of the game, when you have lots of points, you can play any style.”

Adding further intrigue, at the end of our session we were taken out of Night City and into cyberspace. There is some gameplay in this Matrix-like world, as well as a suggestion that a key part of the story will involve battling a virus that’s invaded your cybernetics and finding a way beyond a firewall set up in this playing space. But Mamais was coy on details:

“After the second corporate war, the wider internet become too dangerous, so they shut it down. Instead we see these smaller corporate sub-nets, which are individual closed systems you can hack into. They’re not all interconnected.”

Addictive Gaming

To say we walked away impressed from our time with Cyberpunk 2077 would be an understatement. The richly detailed world, incredibly layered gameplay and a modern story can’t help but resonate. This is surely one of 2020’s marquee gaming experiences.

You must hand it to CD Projekt Red. To shift from the sword and sandals medieval fare of The Witcher, to a futuristic first-person shooter with stealth and hacking mechanics is incredible. But the gunplay – from sliding into cover, using human shields, ripping off turrets and adding modifications – is so incredibly smooth, you’d think they had been making FPSs for decades.

Plus, we’ve barely touched on the incredible results you can get from the hacking minigames, such as forcing an enemy with a bionic arm to shoot himself. More on that closely to release; April 16 can’t come soon enough!

For the full article grab the December 2019 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.

State of Play – December 2019

Hannah Widmer