Impressions And Details From 50 Minutes Of Gameplay

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At this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, I attended CD Projekt Red’s first live demonstration of Cyberpunk 2077, a project that was announced in 2012, and remained in development until it was officially unveiled at Microsoft’s press conference just a couple of days ago. I entered this demonstration with thoughts of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, assuming I would see something similar in design, only with futuristic trappings in a sprawling city. My memories of Geralt of Rivia and his adventures vanished when CD Projekt Red showed me Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person, open-world RPG. It’s a completely different beast than Witcher, delivering player choice in a what appears to be a more dangerous and dynamic world.

The demo begins with character creation. You select whether you wish to be a male or female and can design what they look like, right down to giving them scars, tattoos, hairstyles, makeup, glow effects, and a lot more. Your character is simply named V, an urban mercenary who takes on jobs that are too dangerous for most people. Who is V? You get to decide what kind of backstory he or she has by selecting from a variety of options in the backstory creator.

I don’t know how deep this well goes, but all of the choices I quickly spied looked troubling, like being a runaway child. The choices you make directly affect the narrative as it unfolds. Your gender choice also plays a role in shaping the narrative. After determining your character’s life path, you then select your position in the world, such as being a Netrunner, Techie, or Solo. CD Projekt Red says you can be a mix of them all if you want. You aren’t really selecting a defined class, but more so your weaknesses and strengths, as the game features a fluid class system that allows you to customize it as you go.

In this demo, CD Projekt Red picked a female version of V with stylish long hair that hangs mostly on the left side of her head. We first see her holed up in Night City, somewhere near the beginning of the game, but not right at the start of it. This world is run by mega-corporations that control almost every aspect of life. The streets are ruled by organized crime, and survival is difficult if you can’t carve out your own path. V appears to be doing quite well on the survival part, and has partnered with someone named Jackie Welles, an assassin and gun for hire.

V and Jackie are hunting down a missing person, who is believed to be in the hand of scavengers holed up in a rundown apartment complex, with trash everywhere, holes in the wall, but just enough high-tech wizardry to make it feel like you’re in a science-fiction world. The scavengers hold true to their name and are kidnapping people to strip them of their implants. We don’t see V in this moment, and only see the gun she’s holding – the same viewpoint we see in every first-person shooter. During the demo, a CD Projekt Red employee says this viewpoint was selected to “bring you closer to the action and to maximize your immersion.”

V enters the room and quickly dives behind a waist-high object, but doesn’t remain concealed for long. She takes a huff from a reflex booster, which glows somewhat magically when its inhaled, and opens fire on a number of unsuspecting scavengers. As the bullets fly, V uses the booster to initiate what is effectively bullet time. The world slows down around her for a few seconds, plenty of time to take down her targets. The scavengers in the next room over don’t want to deal with V directly, and shut a metal door that V and Jackie can’t get through. As they look for an alternate path, bullets from the scavenger’s room come flying through the wall. V and Jackie quickly maneuver out of harm’s way, and use a window to flank to the side of the scavenger that is wielding a huge firearm. V takes him down, and Jackie quips “You won’t need this anymore,” as he grabs the impressive gun.

V works her way into a bathroom to find a disturbing sight: a bathtub filled with water, ice, and two naked human bodies – a male and female. V moves the male body to the side of the tub, and grabs the woman. Her eyes are somewhat rolled back, but she’s still breathing. V pulls her out of the tub, and Jackie says she doesn’t look good. V tells someone she’s communicating with remotely that she’s going to jack in to see if she can be saved. By jacking into the woman’s neuro socket, V is able to see a variety of data, and calls in a medical team. This particular woman is apparently a big deal as the medical team that will assist her is platinum level. After working past a couple of security measures in the woman’s system, V calls in a medical evacuation unit. Before they can move her, the woman flatlines. V uses a “hypo” on her heart to stabilize her. The woman is carried to the balcony outside of the apartment, just as a flying medical ambulance arrives. CD Project Red says a virus was jamming her locator implant, and V was able to fix it.

The trauma team is heavily armed, a high-end version of insurance for rich people. V asks if they can give her and Jackie a lift, but they don’t respond. We then see V walking through the city, a jaw-dropping moment that shows off all different walks of life. People are everywhere, and they all look different, some telling stories just from their appearance. If the player focuses on them, V can see their stance in life. Text appears over their head saying things like “junkie” or “bodyguard” along with their level. When you look at Jackie, you see his name and his level, which is eight in this demo. V is currently level one. As V walks past people, I see some of them can be approached, potentially for conversations or missions. None are engaged at this moment.

We then see V in her apartment, which is much nicer than the one the scavengers were holed up in. Opening the blinds on her window shows a neon-lit view of billboards on old concrete structures, and a window that doubles as a computer where she can check her mail and more. We see V go into a backroom that doubles as her armory. She grabs her trusty pistol, and then moves to her closet near the front door, which holds her jackets, each giving protections for various things like physical, thermal, EMP, and chemical. The jacket also gives her street cred, which can elevate her standing in the world.

V’s journey into the city continues, and again, we’re treated to a showcase of sights to soak in, including a boxing match occurring out in the open between a human with boxing gloves and shorts and either a robot or someone who is modded up to the point that they no longer look human. We also see a crime scene that is blocked off with police tape. It appears that the police are putting the crime together using holographic images, similar in a way to Batman’s detective work in the Arkham games.

V enters the backseat of a futuristic car to find a larger man named Dexter Deshawn, who has golden implants on the arm he lifts to smoke a cigar. Dexter is a fixer and he has a mission for her. V is in the market to make some “eddies,” a form of currency in this world, and is glad to assist. She sits in the backseat with him as he details a potential heist. The player is frequently given input in conversations. The choices you make don’t just alter the flow of the conversation; they can completely change the mission you are about to take on.

We see this first hand in the mission Dexter has assigned us to. He wants to see if V can be trusted and is worthy of working with him. She’s tasked to retrieve a piece of high-combat gear stolen by a gang from Militech Corporation.

Jackie Welles runs with V.

She will meet the head of the Militech Corporation under a bridge in a bit. She first visits a ripperdoc to get some upgrades. It appears the player can visit this location freely, as numerous upgrade options appear onscreen. The amount of detail that accompanies this process is stunning, showing V’s arm get numbed with sci-fi needles and shoved into a device that fastens metal and wires to her palm as the doctor communicates with her. The doc then does a procedure on her eye, which is removed and turned off briefly. V has a bit of an out-of-body experience as her eye is moved away from her for a brief time while the upgrade is applied. What exactly did V get put in her eye? A Kiroshi optical scanner that can be used to scan for threats, access points, and more. The scanner also allows the player to zoom in on objects. Her hand is outfitted with a subdermal weapon rig, which increases her gripping force and helps with her shooting. We’re told this doctor is honorable, but others can apply illegal upgrades

V is now ready for action. She meets Jackie outside, who is bragging about his new car. V says she wants to take it for a spin. Driving can be handled from first- or third-person, and in this instant shows us just how big the world is. V takes the car across crowded streets, onto the highway, and more. Jackie is constantly chatting with V in the car. Along the way, the car is attacked by a random scavenger group in a van, who throw open the back doors to open fire. V can lean out of the car to return fire. After the gunmen are down and the vehicle is destroyed, they drive to the meeting point.

Before engaging with the corporation, V stands above them and scans the female leader, her bodyguards, and the vehicle they arrived in. CD Projekt says preparation is crucial for most missions. They are all much higher levels than her. V approaches them carefully, and decides to talk to them. What’s interesting here is they’ve created a neuro-link with V and can determine if she’s lying. They ask her things like if she’s alone or not, and you have the choice in what you say. V says she’s alone, and they believe she’s lying. She is forced to the ground, and a gun is put to her head. V has the option to grab the firearm, but CD Projekt says you should really think something like this through. V instead uses dialogue choice to turn the threat around and have the corporate leader trust her. This entire scenario could play out differently or not at all.

CD Projekt says choices and consequences are bigger in this game than in any of their previous ones. V is handed a credit chip, and is allowed to leave. She and Jackie drive to another, and are currently engaging in a non-violent approach. They are going to hand over the chip for the stolen gear.

This exchange doesn’t go as planned. The Maelstrom gang are even less trusting than the corporation. Their leader Royce has turned an abandoned meat factory into a hideout and has already turned some of the stolen gear into newfangled weapons. V doesn’t like what she is seeing and bemoans not taking a silent approach. The complex is heavily fortified with gang members everywhere. V and Jackie are walking right into the heart of it.

V tries to make the exchange, but the Maelstrom don’t take likely to Jackie. They want him to sit down, but he won’t. The tension builds before Jackie complies. The gang shows off the gear that V wants to exchange the credit chip for. They agree to a deal, but quickly learn they were double-crossed by Militech. The chip had a virus on it that fried the Malestrom’s system. One member that was jacked into the system dies terribly as the jack heats up and flames shoot out of his eyes.

V and Jackie are now in a combat situation. Before the Maelstrom truly know where they are, V loots the room for a variety of upgrades, one allowing her to jack into a controllable knee-high bot. She also finds a weapon that has ricochet bullets. We see it used in the next room. A spray of fire bounces off of a wall and hits a foe behind cover. If V decides to sneak instead, she can silently slit enemy throats and even hack into their neuro system to mess with their interlinked networks. As V explores, she finds a door that can be hacked, but she isn’t a high enough level yet, so she decides to take the vents instead. This level of exploration is similar to the Deus Ex games, in that the player always has a variety of choices available to them.

We also learn that V is equipped with Mantis Blades, which are attached to her arms like Wolverine’s claws, but with just one long singular blades like swords. With these powerful melee weapons, she can run along a wall and stab a blade into it to stay positioned at a higher vantage point. She can then let go and drop onto an enemy. If you time your swipe right, you can lop off his head. V is incredibly agile. She can slide along the ground at any time, combine that move with bullet time, and unleash fire from a lower angle.

This particular move is used again a boss-like figure. Royce ends up jumping into an exoskeleton that cannot be attacked outright until its defenses are lowered. To do this, V needs to expose its weak spot from behind. When the shields go down, Royce is no match for V and the powerful shotgun she just happened to pick up.

The demo concluded with V threatening Militech’s head, and reporting in to Dexter to give him a heads up what happened. These conversations, which are all fully spoken (even for V), incorporated all of the choices that she made.

This first taste of Cyberpunk 2077 was unexpected and nothing short of amazing We know CD Projekt Red has a firm handle on player choice and narrative – which are both evidenced here – but now we see this dev has first-person shooter chops as well. The combat looked dynamic, fun, and filled with RPG elements galore. Although we were treated to roughly an hour of finely polished and beautiful gameplay, the developer didn’t share a release date or give any hint of when we might see it. That likely points to 2019 or later. Don’t worry, it’s for this generation, and is currently slated to hit Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.