You know the popular saying, “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t,” referring to how a person or group of people will be blamed or considered wrong no matter how they handle a situation? That aptly describes the mess CD Projekt Red finds themselves in right now with the recent release of Cyberpunk 2077 (for which they’ve subsequently apologized), one of the most highly-anticipated and feverishly-hyped video games since it was first announced way back in May of 2013.
Unless you’ve been in a braindance-induced coma for the past few years, you likely knew that Cyberpunk 2077’s December 10th release date was going to be a s—show, whether it was on account of the insane popularity and anticipation leading up to it (the game broke the single-player Steam record for most concurrent players on the day of its release) or the foreseeable disappointment for those that had aggrandized the game to such a lofty degree that anything short of a life-changing experience was going to fall short of their expectations.
So when CDPR’s ambitious, futuristic, open-world opus finally dropped, I was pleasantly surprised to see it given mostly favorable reviews by the initial critics. Notwithstanding, there was one recurring complaint, one touched upon by early reviewers that would escalate into full-on outcry from the fanbase upon the game’s release, especially from those playing on last-generation consoles, Playstation 4 and Xbox One: the bugs.
No, not mostly humorous bugs like characters’ breasts and/or genitalia perpetually clipping through their clothes, women walking through steel fences and vanishing into stacks of garbage bags (refer to the video below) or automobiles getting randomly tossed over bridges at players like the Hulk is on a rampage somewhere in Night City — the mostly harmless stuff you might expect from a game with multiple delays — but immersion breaking bugs you figured wouldn’t even have made it out of the testing phase. Like falling down stairs sometimes launching your character across the screen; weapons and vehicles appearing to float in mid-air; screen tearing; sludge-slow frame rates and delayed texture loading; blurred graphics and other examples of poorly optimized performance. (The blurred graphics can thankfully be fixed through some settings changes.)
But let’s all take a deep breath, put down the Electric Baton Gammas and ease up on blaming Cyberpunk 2077’s developers for all the rampant bugs found in the game. Because there have been bugs in plenty of top-tier, highly regarded games upon release (Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or [insert Bethesda game here] ring a bell?) before. And although the bugs, crashes and performance issues are what the fanbase has been most vociferous about since the game’s release, they aren’t the biggest problem with the game, especially with a team of developers as talented as the ones at CDPR able to patch the problems.
Cyberpunk 2077’s bugs aren’t the problem; it’s the bigger systems like the NPCs’ glaring lack of AI
A bigger problem lies with crucial elements of Cyberpunk 2077’s open world RPG gameplay — which feel both unpolished and unfinished. To say the AI is primitive would be misleading — it’s pretty much nonexistent. Sure, the NPCs are there, in the sense that they’re on the screen but they’re just so oblivious to anything and everything that they might as well not be. For example, the NPCs rarely thank you or even acknowledge you after you’ve helped them. If they’re in the middle of performing an action and your character gets in their way, they’ll just continue doing it, gesticulating like mindless fools midair in perpetuity until you move again. Even if you up and start beating on an NPC on the street they won’t even try to defend themselves, even if you’re just using your bare fists.
Somehow, the AI for NPC drivers manages to be even worse. NPC drivers in Cyberpunk 2077 don’t seem to have been given any conditional programming besides “drive in a straight line to destination.” If that prime directive gets interrupted somehow, they just stop moving or sit in the spot of their obstruction until said obstruction is moved. I’ve seen two NPC cars drive into each other head-on and just stop moving, like malfunctioning bumper cars. I might have found it entertaining if I hadn’t suddenly remembered the NPC drivers in Grand Theft Auto III from 2001 displayed mental activity that was far superior. Of course, this vehicular ineptitude extends to the highway, where guardrails and highway barriers serve as inscrutable enigmas to the denizens of Night City. Oh, and check out this futuristic Karen, who is either pulling off Night City’s first 45-point-turn or just doing Karen things by perpetually honking the horn and blaming a parked car for her own shortcomings as a driver.
The law enforcement AI is even more disconcerting and not on account of the fact that V has to keep his illicit activities on the DL for fear of being locked up. In Cyberpunk 2077, the police are unintentional amalgamations of judge, jury, executioner and Agents from the Matrix; for whatever reason, CDPR didn’t give the police the ability to drive cars, so they’ll just seem to teleport in directly behind you out of thin air and shoot you for even the most minor of transgressions. Stand next to them for more than a few seconds? They shoot you. Cross yellow tape at a crime scene? They shoot you. Bump into them by accident? They shoot you. Snipe a pedestrian from a rooftop? They spawn behind you in an instant and shoot you. There’s no questioning, no warnings, no thrill of the chase and no crescendic build-up like in GTA or Red Dead Redemption — it’s 0 or 100, real quick.
The frustration isn’t exclusive to the game’s NPC systems. There isn’t a character customization option post-creation, which means you’re stuck with the same look you picked in the very beginning, even if you grow tired of it. The crafting system is also inefficient. It’s oftentimes not worth upgrading your items or rare armor because the materials needed are too sparse for the paltry 3-5 armor upgrade which they offer; besides, in a level or two a common piece of loot will drop that beats out current and upgraded armor by more than 10 armor points, rendering the whole upgrade/crafting process a counterproductive one.
Reddit user Hammer_keys explains a few more glaring shortcomings, like weapon attachments not being properly designated (rendering them almost useless, since you don’t know which weapons to fix them to), mobile phone mix-ups and character attribute permanence.
“Certain attachments, like scopes, don’t say what weapons or items they can be slotted into,” explains Hammer_keys. “It’s a guessing game, and when trying to clean my inventory of the dozens of scopes I’ve accumulated I’m afraid of tossing anything for fear of throwing out the one scope a certain gun could have used. We need better information on our inventory items.”
He adds, “[There’s] no control over my mobile phone. If someone calls me, I have no option to refuse the call. I will always take the call, even if I’m already talking to someone in a conversation. Wow. Bad design! I can’t understand either conversation because someone is talking in world and someone is talking over my phone.”
In regards to character attributes, Hammer explains, “[There’s] absolutely no way to reset your attributes, and no easy way to reset your perks. The only way to reset perks is by using an item that costs $100,000 euros, and whatever attributes you choose you’re stuck with forever. This is a single player game. There is NO reason I shouldn’t be allowed to sculpt and craft my character any way I see fit over the course of the WHOLE game, and not just at character creation or during the times I’m allotted skill points. Even multiplayer games like World of Warcraft allow you to freely swap around your builds and points to try various things.”
So it’s the bigger systems that are the true culprit of Cyberpunk 2077’s disappointing launch then? Not entirely, because much like the bugs, these gaping in-game voids, though more difficult a burden to remedy, can still be remedied nonetheless by CDPR’s talented developer team (although whether that will take another ten patches or thirty-five is still up in the air).
The biggest problem in Cyberpunk 2077 is that the game still needed a lot more work, even after its fourth delay and CDPR management decided to release it on December 10th in its clearly incomplete state anyways.
I have a vague idea of how commerce works, so the economic reasons behind the CDPR management team’s decision isn’t that difficult to discern. They wanted to get the game out in time to capitalize on the holiday rush and stave off any further stock price drops that would have been pretty much guaranteed with news of yet another delay.
While you could view the CDPR execs’ as being greedy, the problem with their decision to release the game before it was ready stems from yet another problem — the Cyberpunk 2077 fans, whose ire in reaction to the last delay before the game’s release was loud and downright ugly. Among such derision as, “They’ve had almost a decade to work on this game already,” some fans went even so far as to threaten the developers’ lives. Take CDPR developer Andrzej Zawadzki’s account, for example:
I want to address one thing in regards of the @CyberpunkGame delay.
I understand you're feeling angry, disappointed and want to voice your opinion about it.
However, sending death threats to the developers is absolutely unacceptable and just wrong. We are people, just like you.
— Andrzej Zawadzki (@ZawAndy) October 27, 2020
This is one of the mildest messages some of us got. There were far, FAR worse. Every single one is being reported. We will not let it go through.
Do not treat it lightly. Do not ignore it. It is serious.
That said, I'm off TT for couple of days. Take care.#Cyberpunk2077 pic.twitter.com/Z80HHWADqU
— Andrzej Zawadzki (@ZawAndy) October 28, 2020
Obviously, a person issuing death threats over a video game delay is far removed from the realm of rational thinking (and should seek therapy) but sadly, it was this predominantly negative backlash from the fans which was a major determining factor in CDPR’s decision to stay the course for the December 10th release.
Which brings us back to my whole, “You’re damned if you and you’re damned if you don’t” point. Or should that be, “You’re damned if you don’t and damned if you do,” in this case? As we witnessed, the CDPR devs were denounced for not releasing the game early enough (damned if you don’t) and now that they’ve rushed to release it in time for the holiday season to appease both the higher ups at CDPR, the investors and rabid fans, they’ve been denounced once again (damned if you do).
The memes on social media and the rest of the internet, (like this one that juxtaposes the malformed Hagrid meme face from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on the PS1 and a roughly-textured character from Cyberpunk 2077) which focus egregiously on the game’s graphics and clips of janky AI make me feel even more for the developers because beneath the myriad bugs and unfinished content is the framework of a masterful game. For starters, Night City is one of the most impressive and all-around magnificent-looking video game cities ever. That’s not even hyperbole. From the sleek, neon-lit skyscrapers to the “fortress-like skyline” of the layered megacorp towers to the enormous LED-screens advertising futuristic wares to the hologram-mantled, yokocho-styled alleyways to the arid, desert plains of the Badlands — the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is undeniably vast, impressive, and beautiful even in areas that they shouldn’t be, like the destitute slums of Watson.
The characters too, such as rainbow-haired, Braindance-operating Judy Alvarez or the free-spirited, ex-nomad Panam Palmer and of course, the game’s poster character played by Keanu Reeves, sunglasses-sporting, rebellious, ex-US military vet Johnny Silverhand, are diverse and immaculately detailed.
Even little touches like the eye-catching animation put into reloading a firearm or the way Mantis Blades whirl with deadly fluidity from your cybernetic arms as they slice and dice your enemies are things of magnificence to behold.
Was the decision CDPR management made to capitalize on profits and satiate shareholders worth the tradeoff of releasing an unfinished game? In the economic sense, we’ll have to see when the initial sales numbers roll in; if the game’s 8-million pre-orders and record-shattering Steam numbers are any indication, they’ll be just fine in that regard. Would the sales numbers have been as good if CDPR had delayed the game a fifth time? Would the hype have been as zealous? It’s tough to say.
Cyberpunk 2077 is likely fine from a revenue standpoint, but what about the December 10th release debacle and all its bugs and unfinished content overshadowing the actual quality work that the CDPR devs did? Or fans being unable to trust the company when they say a game is ready to go by a certain date? These detriments could be more difficult to overcome, but if The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Skyrim, or Fallout are any indication, these drawbacks will likely be handwaved once the game is adequately patched and overhauled.
Of course, this should teach the Cyberpunk 2077 fanbase a lesson as well. If a company has to delay a game, then let them delay the game and work on what needs to be worked on instead of threatening to burn the developer’s houses down like some basement-dwelling edgelord. Otherwise, well, this will happen all over again. Only the next time it happens, whichever publisher is responsible might not offer refunds. Or even hotfixes and patches.
Can Cyberpunk 2077 pull a Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and reverse a bug-laden launch to become a benchmark-setting epic? Or is there simply too much core content and NPC augmentation that needs to take place?
Do you think Cyberpunk 2077‘s bugs were its biggest problem at launch? Or was it the mismanagement from CDPR and the ire of the fanbase? Let us know in the comments.