Cyberpunk. What is it? In the simplest terms it is a genre of writing. In not so simple terms, it is a future world held captive by mega corporations and advertising overlords featuring a neo noir setting and often times a hard boiled or rough around the edges character must navigate this future world to uncover or expose a conspiracy which will ultimately lead to their salvation or their downfall. Phew. Ok, so explaining the entire history of cyberpunk in a few words is impossible but that’s the general idea but what does this have to do with Cyberpunk 2077? Well everything, you see while my description of cyberpunk is passable at best, it does cover the general essence of the genre and that is that. The world is big and no one man or cyborg or authority can command it or contain it.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a sequel to the 1988 Mike Pondsmith designed Cyberpunk 2013 (The much more popular edition Cyberpunk 2020 wasn’t until 2 years after this initial release). It is a tabletop roleplaying game in the vein of Dungeons and Dragons where you select a character and build a backstory then set off on an adventure through a neo dystopian world where anything could await you. Combat was quick, exploration was encouraged and interaction with the world around was paramount as unlike other roleplaying games of the time, your health points do not increase as you develop your character making every fight and every choice hold real weight.
There was even a cyberpunk sequel corporate sabotage event with the designs of the game being stolen in 2017.
It’s important to note that in the 80’s cyberpunk had existed in some form or other (Blade Runner) for a while but it wasn’t until 1984 where a centralized model for cyberpunk was created by William Gibsons’ novel titled Neuromancer. Gibson pretty much wrote the blueprint for what cyberpunk would become even though he was inspired by Blade Runner and people accused him of plagiarism. Nonetheless, Neuromance was still the groundwork for all of cyberpunk going forward. It features everything from a matrix like network in cyber space literally called the matrix, it features street gangs, warring factions and an AI that has gained sentience so, yeah, its every cool cyberpunk thing ever. Gibson’s work in this book was so influential that he was brought on as a play tester/consultant on the Cyberpunk 2013 board game created years later.
Flash forward several million years from the 80’s to today and we have Cyberpunk 2077 a game being developed by CD Projekt Red who rose to fame for developing the Witcher series of games most notably the Witcher 3. Announced all the way back in 2012 with a trailer being released in 2013, reaching millions of views it was clear that gamers were excited for CD Projekts’ next game. Details trickled out as they do in this business with Mike Pondsmith the creator of the Cyberpunk tabletop games being brought on to consult. There was even a cyberpunk sequel corporate sabotage event with the designs of the game being stolen in 2017. With details coming out at a regular pace, we learn that the guys over at CD Projekt Red will be using a new engine. We learn that this game will closely mimic the tabletop experience meaning there will be a multitude of ways to play ranging from a Netrunner class which primarily uses hacking and guile as its main attributes which presumably would allow the player to stealth through the game or using a classic guns blazing style in which you would spec into your HP or speed to tank encounters. There would be driving segments and multiple-choice dialogue and branching events and a fully custom main character and….and… geez that’s alot right?
What scares me about Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t that it has now been pushed back several months or that a chunk of gameplay that was very impressive isn’t what I should expect.
With so much to offer one begins to wonder of the quality of each individual part. Now in fairness there was a 45 minute demo released about part way in to the development of the game and what I saw did greatly impress me but unfortunately CD Projekt Red has said that what we saw then is not indicative of the final product which is par for the course in the gaming industry things are subject to change all the time. What scares me about Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t that it has now been pushed back several months or that a chunk of gameplay that was very impressive isn’t what I should expect. And now, what scares me about cyberpunk is the sheer scope of its world and the magnitude of its promise.
In gaming, we often get a promise and the reality. The promise of cyberpunk is the promise of the original tabletop adventure, build a character, decide your class, get equipped and explore a dystopian future where every action you take could lead to your untimely demise. The reality of Cyberpunk 2077 is that it is a videogame and videogames historically over promise to secure sales. Now I trust CD Projekt Red because they made the Witcher 3 which is simply fantastic but that trust only runs so far. The reality is they are promising quite a bit with Cyberpunk and what they are promising, if all the parts work together would be, simply put, magic. But when games have such lofty goals and dreams as big as Cyberpunk, sometimes we the gamers face a nightmare. I think with the hype it has generated and the expectations of gamers being at such a peak, it is impossible for it to succeed at least not in the way it should. Time will tell but if history has taught us anything, it’s that the promise is always better than the reality.