I’m Having a Great Time Playing Broken Cyberpunk 2077

I’m Having a Great Time Playing Broken Cyberpunk 2077
Keanu didn't deserve this. (Image: CD Projekt Red)

I have to admit, I asked for this.

On Sept. 23, I was chatting with my Gizmodo colleagues about whether people should hold off on buying a next-gen console when they released. “There’s only one thing to consider for launch: Do you want to play Cyberpunk on next-gen,” I said. “I want to play the future game on the future console.”

Like a dumbass, I decided that I didn’t need to pre-order a PS5. Cyberpunk 2077 would be playable on the PS4, and it’s a long game. I’d probably start on one generation and finish on the next. And, if nothing else, severe PS5 shortages seemed unlikely. I was wrong.

On Dec. 3, following numerous major delays, news broke that Cyberpunk’s street date had been broken. “Release the game, cowards,” I screamed in work Slack — and I meant it. I was totally prepared to deal with a buggy, broken game just to have something, anything to be excited about. On that point, it turned out that I was right.

If you care at all about video games or even if you don’t, you’ve probably heard that Cyberpunk was released in an unfinished state on consoles. Based on the early reviews, it was pretty buggy on a high-end PC as well. What’s worse, the game’s developer, CD Projekt Red, deceived the public by promising a lower-res version of the game that works on PS4 and Xbox One while promoting it exclusively with PC footage and boxing reviewers into only using the finest hardware for their tests.

In a matter of two weeks, we’ve seen one of the most jaw-dropping reversals of a hype machine in my lifetime. First, we had fanboys piling on reviewers who didn’t bend the knee at the Cyberpunk alter. Then, we had furious gamers demanding CDPR issue refunds. Then, we had CDPR agree to issue refunds. Then, the studio kind of backtracked because Sony and Microsoft didn’t agree to any refunds. Then, in the most unexpected twist, Sony pulled the game from its online store entirely and Microsoft agreed to refund purchases that were made online. And now, CDPR has announced a sweeping refund plan aimed at getting a refund to anyone who wants it.

Despite all this, I’m having a blast playing it on the PS4.

Let me be clear, the game is busted as hell. My console is straining within an inch of its life to play Cyberpunk. The graphical fidelity rotates between PS3 quality and borderline next-gen, sometimes in the same frame. There are tons of glitches and pop-ins. The frame rate is wildly inconsistent. And yes, it crashes. On a more petty note, I’ve seen a lot of minor typos in notes and menus, while other gamers have discovered some major examples. The game is not finished, period. And users who are lucky enough to have a PS5 report a lot of the same issues minus the grubby graphics — it is the same game after all. (The PS5 version is expected next year.)

When I first played Cyberpunk on launch day, my excitement quickly gave way to a feeling of uneasy compromise before I eventually gave up. The moment I was out of the character creator and into the game, the graphics were disappointing. Two NPC bystanders drove by in a car — but there was no car, just the seated NPCs floating by midair. I eventually got into a firefight that was unplayable because the framerate was so bad that I couldn’t hit the enemies.

Video games aren’t my life, and I wasn’t thrown into a rage. I was just disappointed. I don’t want to degrade the experience of people who’ve invested more into the lead-up of the game or for whom the purchase price was a bigger sacrifice. I was just bummed out that I couldn’t play it and decided to wait for the PS5 to do it right.

Unfortunately, if you think playing busted Cyberpunk is frustrating, you should try buying a PS5. It’s the least fun game around. Every retailer’s website turns into an inoperable mess every single time a new batch is announced. I spent a morning trying to make it happen this week and will not be repeating the process until next year.

Seeing that an update was released for Cyberpunk convinced me to give it another try, and I’ve played it for the last four nights. Folks, the game functions and can be played. It’s almost to the point of being in an acceptable state for a day one launch.

The frame rate is still unsteady but much improved in my experience. The glitches are still present but infrequent and I’ve come to love them. Glitches are totally appropriate in a Cyberpunk game. The game is clearly full of stylised glitches and effects that are intentional, and sure it’d be nice if everything was functioning as its creators intended. But I love video game glitches, and they make sense in this world. It has crashed once each night after several hours of gameplay, but every time it crashed was miraculously at the moment when I should’ve been going to bed, and no progress was ever lost.

Before starting one game session, I saw a viral video that someone shared in which their Peloton spin class instructor took a moment out to pay tribute to all the people in our lives who died this year as a pandemic ravaged the world. We live in a dystopia that makes the world of Cyberpunk feel like an absolute joy to visit.

That’s what I want out of a video game right now. I want to go visit a place that is not this place because I don’t have any other place I can go under lockdown. I want to have experiences that my subconscious can chew on because I’m not having a whole lot of real-life experiences right now. And I just want to do something cool.

When I was playing Cyberpunk last night, a very dramatic thing happened, and I was totally immersed in the story and my character. Without spoiling anything, Keanu Reeves immediately made his first appearance in the game. It was the perfect moment for it to happen and the way he was introduced was flawless. My partner and I screamed simultaneously, “*** *****!!!!!!!” I have to censor the exact quote because it’s a spoiler but suffice it to say that we were very excited. That’s probably a memory I’ll keep with me.

I decided to play Skyrim for the first time, earlier this year. For all the same reasons I listed above, Skyrim was a good game for quarantine and it has a good bit in common with Cyberpunk. I remember horror stories of people losing dozens of hours of gameplay in Skyrim when it first launched. That prevented me from ever playing it, and all these years later, I still saved like a maniac out of fear that it would happen to me. Today, Skyrim is a beloved classic, and it’s still full of glitches. The game-ruining stuff is mostly fixed and its jank is quaint.

I don’t say that to defend CDPR or promote the company line that everyone will be happy after a few more patches. I think it’s illustrative of a change in how much we demand from corporations when they fail to meet their own standards or deceive the public. Skyrim wasn’t yanked from stores and life went on.

Obviously, the circumstances of this year are a bit different. CDPR is scrambling to appease people, and it screwed up in a much more glaring and dishonest way than the publishers of Skyrim did back in the day. It seems like the executives at the company faced a choice: Delay the game again and make everyone mad or release it unfinished and only make some people mad. I’m sympathetic to the conundrum, but the big shots made the wrong decision and now they have to live with it.

The executives at CDPR deserve every bit of criticism they get. Before Cyberpunk was released, there were numerous reports that developers working on the game were forced to engage in extreme overtime — or crunch — to get it ready in time. Earlier today, Bloomberg reported that execs and developers held a contentious internal meeting to address the fallout of Cyberpunk’s release. Poor planning, crunch, and false claims that the game was finished were reportedly at the top of the creative team’s concerns.

This is something else that I’ve thought about a lot while playing Cyberpunk. Flaws aside, these artists are clearly working at the top of their game. The storytelling is cinematic, the world is rich, the designs are incredible, the music is solid and mercifully unrepetitive. Those people didn’t deserve to have their work thrown out into the world before it was ready and they still have a big job to do. But in years past, the public wasn’t even aware that crunch is an issue in the games industry, and now it’s on the minds of fans who demand companies do better.

But how do we demand that a company do better without the threat of consequences? Arguably, the only way to send a message is to refuse to buy the game or demand that refund. But that hurts the artists who are finishing the game and building out the multiplayer component that’s expected next year.

Cyberpunk is probably too big to fail, so if you want to give a big middle finger to the money men by boycotting the game, I think that’s fine. But the rage I see online makes me sad, and I hate the idea of it being removed from availability entirely. Screw CDPR, but if you can put up with a little jank, don’t screw yourself out of some fun when it’s currently in short supply. And when the time comes that you can hug your friends and have a cup of coffee in a diner, do that instead.