Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
As the big ol’ rollercoaster labeled “2021" begins to gently tip its way over its first major hill, dragging us all, screaming, toward the inevitable crash-landing in a burning dumpster, it’s important not to forget the various and myriad clusterfuckeries of the past. Like: Remember when we were are all upset about Cyberpunk 2077, a video game that released in 2020 with no apparent grasp of how, say, cars work? (We’ve mentioned this before, but it feels telling that the Mario Kart-inspired driving minigame in Yakuza: Like A Dragon had better vehicle physics.) Remember when the game’s technical failures, its sketchy marketing, its ugly labor policies, its deluge of carefully shattered promises seemed like they mattered? Better times. Better, less pants-wettingly terrifying times.
Anyway: I bring all this up not to condemn Cyberpunk 2077—a game that still can’t be purchased through the PlayStation Network, so thoroughly did developer CD Projekt Red piss off Sony with the messaging around its blatantly broken game—all over again, but to note that I’ve actually been having some fun with it of late. And not just the kind of fun where you take a video of what happens when the game tries to reconcile the incredible, ultra-demanding task of driving a car around with a body in the trunk, which then transforms the vehicle into a sort of four-wheeled bucking bronco:
No, I’ve been having actual, genuine, “Hey, video games!” fun with Cyberpunk 2077, which I played a great many hours of over the holiday season. (With a great many attendant crashes because, well, yeah.) I can’t speak for other paths, but playing through the world of Night City as a high-level hacker turns out to actually be kind of a blast: Once you get out to the edges of the game’s Intelligence skill trees (and buy a better cyberdeck than the extremely limited POS you start with), your character starts picking up abilities that essentially turn you into a digital wizard. It’s gotten to the point where my version of personality-optional mercenary V doesn’t even bother entering the buildings he’s been asked to infiltrate, more often than not. Instead, I’ll Ping an external camera to see everyone inside the facility, find a crowded group to upload a spreading, poison-spewing Contagion on, neutralize any high-level targets by literally shutting off their brains, and then plant a virus to shut off the eyes of everyone else as I waltz in and secure the objective. I can’t remember the last time I actually had to fire a gun, as opposed to playing this sort of weird “Find the silhouette, fry the silhouette’s brain” menu-hunting game I’ve transformed Cyberpunk into.
Besides being legitimately empowering, high-level hack play also ends up being one of the rare places that Cyberpunk holds up its promise of really expressive play. There are very few restrictions on what I can do with my digital god-like powers; the game may not like it when I take out every threat in a two-block radius before actually entering whatever shitty warehouse it’s sent me to lately, but it begrudgingly acknowledges that I’m making good on the tools it offers. Like I said, I can’t speak for other routes—frankly, the Technical Ability tree, which seems to mostly be about breaking fences and crafting crap items to sell to idiots, seems dire—but as a hacker, Cyberpunk, for once, actually gets me close to feeling like a badass mercenary of the virtual world.
And then it crashes again, but hey: Pobody’s nerfect!