Cyberpunk 2077 is bad (unless it's performance art)

I’m finding it enjoyable to consider Cyberpunk 2077 as a work of art involving the creation and consumption of the commercial product in addition to the game itself. A cyberpunk cyberpunk experience. A game about videogames, if you will.

A woman talking to the player. A handbag is fused through the palm of her left hand.

“Better ask yourself that question. Do you want to spend the rest of your days hunting bugs? Or fuse a handbag to your palm and ship the game?”

Consider: A product, lauded in the fan space, hit the market like an un-wrapped Fabergé egg falling out of a 747. Colossally broken. Deeply disappointing. So bad that business partners pulled their support. Twenty-three patches later, I felt it was ready and jacked in.

I’m presented with a gorgeous and violent world, and a broken world. When it works, it’s beautiful. It’s what the thirteen-year-old dropping Netrunner cards on the table with a flourish that I inherited this meatsuit from thought this world would be. It’s a thing of beauty with broken edges. And the game itself is… The same. When it’s all working, it’s perfect. But how often it comes off the rails.

  • I stand and talk to a woman who tries to convince me to sell out my chooms and split the money 50/50 with her. Her handbag is fused through her palm at a right angle, and she gestures with it wildly. I try to focus on her entreaties of betrayal, but it’s tough… That urge to let someone know they have some broccoli in their teeth, or some Cronenberg in their hand kinematics.
  • Another mission unfulfilled forever. The trigger just didn’t fire in the event scripting language. The gun seller stands there, slack-jawed, waiting for a pattern of 1’s and 0’s to tickle his data structure’s flag fields… A pattern that will never come. You know what, fuck it. This was tutorial; XP’s not worth the time to reload and do it again. But that mission will be in my inbox forever. Shouldn’t bother me. It’s just that games’ve got me wired so I feel the uncleared objectives like bugs on my neck… But I can’t swat.
  • Jackie, my best friend, the man I’d die for, the man I’d kill for, is an unstoppable juggernaut. Literally, as he plows face-first through a shelf, the shelf letting him pass like the mathematically described non-thing it is, immobile and unchanging as the number 7, the items on the shelf screaming away, ping-ponging into the corners of the room as the simulation desperately tries to reconcile impossible collisions. Jackie, his attitude unchanged, the rudimentary AI driving him unable to comprehend what it’s doing.
  • A glass-walled conference room. I shoot out the glass with my Unity auto-pistol. It shatters algorithmically into fractal shards, realistic patterns, giving brilliant visual verisimilitude. And it shatters silently; they’d spent so much time on fractal glass break algorithms that they didn’t have a bug-free audio playback of a stock-standard “crash” sound.

And then, the stories of its creation: the exploitation, the crunch time, the promises made by suits that the rank-and-file were never going to be able to honor. The scent of scope creep everywhere in the finished product. The blood-in-the-mouth raw ship-or-die survival economics that is the tragic story of so very many game studios in this bastard of an industry that has Hollywood and Silicon Valley ciphered into its DNA and seems to have taken the worst genes from both.

This game is a dream of steel, wire, and chrome, wrung from the meat, blood, and bones of the dreamers who thought they could build it. They failed. They failed beautifully. The wings of this Icarus are so fragile but when it soars, oh, how it soars.

11/10 GOTY would recommend bring aspirin.

p.s.: To fully round out the experience, I’m playing on Stadia. It works great; no complaints about that. But my goal with this choice of platform: to finish the game before a faceless corporation gets bored being in the gaming-as-a-service industry and wipes my account.

V’s on the clock and so am I.