Cyberpunk, being a recent genre in the historical sense, still has a lot of room to grow. It’s why the whole “Wachowski Sisters ripped off Ghost in the Shell” thing doesn’t hold water, at least to me. If you’re going to riff on this particular branch of sci-fi, some overlap and borrowing is going to happen. In The Matrix‘s case, the Wachowskis drew from a lot of different sources, but the way they contextualized their inspirations is what elevated it above a mere also-ran.
I bring up that seminal 1999 flick for a very good reason: Cyberpunk 2077 loves it. It also loves Terminator 2, Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, Judge Dredd, Johnny Mnemonic, that so-so Blade Runner sequel, and about a zillion other sci-fi action movies.
Oh, it also loves classic rock, and practically every single mission is a reminder of that.
I digress. It’s very clear that CD Projekt Red’s writers and artists have seen loads and loads of Hollywood sci-fi films and have a taste in music that rivals your dad’s favorite mix CD. But as I play their latest game, I can’t help but wonder if they actually have any original thoughts about anything they’ve consumed. Because from where I stand, Cyberpunk 2077 is a game content on rehashing tropes without doing anything novel or new with them. The result is a package that, while often mesmerizing, fails to advance the genre of cyberpunk in any meaningful capacity.
Yes, it’s cute that players have to choose between red pills or blue pills to deal with the Keanu Reeves locked in their psyche. Sure, it’s a fun nod to GITS when people take cables from their body and plug them into different interfaces. And yeah, it’s pretty neat to see a triple-A budget thrown behind the retro-futurist, navel gaze-y aesthetics of Blade Runner.
But… is that it? Is that all there is to CDPR’s vision of the future?
Unfortunately, there’s very little here so far to convince me otherwise. Roughly halfway through the game, there isn’t much beyond the trite central narrative that feels truly original. Even that story, too, feels so colored by elements of other pieces of popular fiction that it never truly stands on its own. So far, the game’s central story beats feel cribbed from popular movies and novels, without much in the way of subverting expectations. It doesn’t help that the writing itself is a bit stilted and hackneyed, but that’s a different conversation for a different article. (That I’ll probably write soon.)
This is a shame, too, considering how many cool things have come out of cyberpunk gaming in recent years. Releases like VA-11 Hall-A, Dex, and the Deus Ex reboots clearly had influences of their own, but they took those influences and spun them in wild new directions we’d never seen before. Much like The Matrix, these were works of cyberpunk fiction that had something new to show us and something novel to say, even if they were built on the foundations of their predecessors.
By contrast, it often feels that all Cyberpunk 2077 has to say is that the developers have seen a ton of movies. That’s fine, of course – Quentin Tarantino’s made a whole career off that approach, after all. But for the biggest game of the year to feel this derivative in practically every facet of its design is a bit of a letdown.
Cyberpunk, when written well, can mine current social anxieties to make salient points about the world we live in. However, when done poorly, it feels like a series of recycled tropes, plot points, and archetypes with robot tits thrown in.
I’ll give you two guesses as to which one I think Cyberpunk 2077 falls under.
Cyberpunk 2077 is available for PC on GOG.COM, Steam and Epic, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Stadia from December 10, 2020. When you buy Cyberpunk 2077 on GOG.COM, 100% of your money goes to CD PROJEKT Group and supports their future projects.
Next: The Small Dong In Cyberpunk Is Way Too Big
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Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.
She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.
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