Cyberpunk 2077 – Separating the Controversy from the Game

Tomorrow is my Cyberpunk 2077 review. But it’s almost impossible to talk about Cyberpunk 2077 without a lot of extras.

Cyberpunk 2077, the most anticipated gaming event of 2020, had issues that made mainstream headlines. Some of these issues are genuine, a lot are blown out of proportion.

But everything has been analysed and applied to every conceivable situation. Sometimes with fair points, other times with clickbait the main objective. Some of these outcries are more than justified. A lot, however, are not – at least not to the level they have been elevated to.

I have never hidden my excitement for Cyberpunk 2077. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I was ready with the ‘Bullets’ teaser, well before Keanu Reeve’s involvement was announced. Marketing wise, CD Projekt Red nailed the hype buildup getting him onboard.

Cyberpunk 2077 - Keanu Reeves 2019
No you're breathtaking! The meme and excitement level of this reveal were a phenomenon

Just to be clear – The TL;DR version

There is a lot to all of this, and this is a long piece. So the main points I want to make but not in a review are included below.

Shortest possible take – CD Projekt Red should have delayed Cyberpunk 2077 for at least 6 more months. Maybe even a year. Yes, it would have been disappointing, but it would have given the dev team time to fix a lot of things before the release and polished the game to a gem.

The gameplay experience on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One S almost shouldn’t have been released. If the team says that they can improve that experience, they should have had time to do so before the game was released. Short of that, I would have been happier with a next-gen only console release.

People comparing PS4 graphics to Geforce RTX 3080 Ultra settings need to keep the hardware differences in mind. For example, I have seen people blasting developers for the ‘poor graphics’ quality on PlayStation 5. Nice headline, but they seem to conveniently forget they are playing the PlayStation 4 version, with graphics capabilities set almost 10 years ago. Even keeping that in mind, in general the game looks amazing in my opinion.

I don't like using stills to show off graphics, but the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is gorgeous - even on consoles

For myself, playing on PlayStation 4 Pro and PlayStation 5 without ray tracing looked terrific. I would be happy if this was the final next-gen version once bug patches are applied, even after playing on PC with an RTX 3080.

Yes, there are bugs and other issues, even on the ‘better’ PC and more powerful console versions. The CD Projekt Red team has been working hard to get fixes out as quickly as possible, even right up to Christmas after a considerable development crunch cycle. Many bugs aren’t exactly new to open-world games, and the term ‘game-breaking’ is used more liberally than I think it should.

But the stories dominating headlines can’t be summed up quickly. That’s what feeds the media headline machine. The issues are a confusing knot of marketing issues, development issues, and various companies’ business decisions.

As usual, there isn’t one issue in play here

Whenever there is a massive story (or in this case, a series of stories) in play, multiple factors are involved. There are ‘standard’ development issues, like quest triggers and NPCs disappearing. Then there are the ‘drama-issues’ that blow up.

What I call drama-issues are hard to quantify. They make the best headlines but usually could have been avoided, especially in hindsight. Sometimes though they are promises made that have nothing to do with the game in question.

The one common thing that ‘drama-issues’ have in common is they take away from the actual product. People talk about suspicions and misquotes as fact, without looking at the bigger picture. Or sometimes, without even playing the game in question.

Today I am looking at all the things around the game so that tomorrow I can talk about just the gameplay experience of Cyberpunk 2077.

Bugs like this can pull your immersion, but they are far from 'game breaking'

Building anticipation – the dangers of a double-edged sword

This hype was the start of the double-edged sword for CD Projekt Red. Mainstream coverage went through the roof, and preorders followed suit. This is great for the company, but it also started the pressure. I am not talking about development crunch (although that is a real thing).

The real pressure comes from the release date. To say the internet is unforgiving is an understatement. The internet also has a short memory. A release date was given, and that was potentially CD Projekt Red’s first mistake. This mistake isn’t unique to Cyberpunk 2077 though – it’s a standard marketing vs development issue.

The first official release date for Cyberpunk 2077

How is giving a release date a mistake?

When you give a release date, you say that everything is ready to lock the final stages. Not done, but so far along that there are no surprises that need to be worked out, and all remaining work has a predictable timeline.

I think it is evident to everyone that Cyberpunk 2077 wasn’t in this state at all. The development team needed more time. A lot more time, if you look at the console versions.

So, the April 2020 date was moved to November 2020. And how did the internet respond? A mixture of understanding and slurs. Impatience began to simmer, but the negative feedback was relatively low.

And the dev team did the best they could. There was still work to be done, and then the delay from November to December was announced. The marketing announcement was ‘just for final polish’, and I hoped it was true. I also know how much change you can implement in three weeks.

And this is where public disappointment in my eyes went way over the line. Sending death threats to the development team is not an appropriate response for the delay to the game.

I know it wasn’t the public as a whole, but remember Cyberpunk 2077 is just a game. This lets me take the stance of “Take your time, I will play it when it comes out.” Many players have this opinion, but this isn’t the clickbait title that the mainstream media latches onto for headlines.

And what happens?

It's a meme sure, but it does show things both sides did wrong

Wait, you are saying the bugs are our fault?

No, but I can see people can draw this conclusion. What I am saying is the ‘get it out wait it’s broken’ cycle has repeated over and over again. No side seems to learn from past mistakes here.

This is where CD Projekt Red shouldn’t have succumbed to the pressure to release. And I am not solely blaming public pressure. There were surely business pressures and investor interests at play here as well.

Mass Effect Andromeda, Fallout 76, Anthem and No Man’s Sky are three quick examples from different development teams that I can think of with the same problem. Remember the release issues on those games?

This is what I mean by the internet has a short memory. Think about how you feel when your boss/a friend/whoever says to you “Take all the time you need, but I need it done by tomorrow”.

This is why I think CD Projekt Reds’s first avoidable mistake was giving a release date in the first place. Imagine a world where instead of in December 2020 headlines of ‘Cyberpunk 2077 unplayable, Sony pulls from PSN‘, we got an announcement of Keanu Reeves playing as Johnny Silverhand, and you can play it soon?

The following say 6 months would then be applied to fixing issues and applying the next-gen patches for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. A shorter wait for players, a set in stone release timeline, and a better day one product. Doesn’t that sound like a win to you?

Holding off release announcement could have helped the second potentially avoidable issue – PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

The biggest issue I can see is the decision to release on now ‘last-gen’ consoles. This is a tough one as I am just a guy sitting outside the development looking in. I don’t have any inside info on CD Projekt Red’s internal workings but follow me here.

PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles weren’t even on the radar with the original release date announcement. Bringing Cyberpunk 2077 to consoles meant bringing it to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Upon release, Cyberpunk 2077 has become the new ‘Crysis’ benchmark meme. You need a beast of a computer to run the game smoothly. This is a game that is pushing hardware not even released yet.

When you think about it like this, what hope does a 7-year-old console have? This is generally done by reducing the rendered resolution, using inbuilt rendering tricks, tweaking the number of NPCs – things like that.

It gets really confusing, but techniques like Checkerboard Rendering trick the eye while reducing GPU load

Even with all these technical outs available, the base consoles have not been able to keep up. Playing for a while on the Xbox One X, the experience isn’t silky smooth, but it isn’t wholly broken as headlines suggest. The experience is better on my PS4 Pro, but I suspect the SSD I installed helps a lot with this.

My best console experience? Playing in ‘compatibility mode’ on my PlayStation 5. Yes, it crashed on me, but I am talking about general playing experience right now.

If CD Projekt Red had withheld a release date as discussed before, there would have been an easy out. Coming to consoles would have meant PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X (although Xbox Series is also a trap). It’s evident that the game required more horsepower than the standard consoles can provide.

The other issue with this is Sony and Microsoft’s stance of ‘no Pro/X exclusives’. This is a tricky one because, on the whole, I agree with not excluding gamers purely on hardware choice.

But if at the end of the generation, by which I mean 12 months after the new console is launched, cross-gen titles can become ‘Pro only’ when required. This would be a stance change from Sony and Microsoft and help developers have a higher target to aim for. It would also hopefully give gamers a better gaming experience overall.

The ‘console footage hidden before launch’ controversy

Looking in from the outside, this can go a couple of ways. Yes, pre-release console version footage was not allowed to be shown before release doesn’t look good.

The thing to keep in mind is this is a semi-common practice. ‘Gameplay’ footage for years has been running on a high-end development PC rather than natively on a console. This is because marketing wants the prettiest version shown.

And today, the best looking version of Cyberpunk 2077 is with the newly released and almost impossible to buy RTX 3000 series of graphics cards.

This means that even on PC, people can’t get Cyberpunk 2077 to look it’s best. This makes me think that the ‘only show this footage’ decision from CD Projekt Red was a ‘bad in hindsight’ marketing decision.

If you follow the headlines though, there is a definite push on the conspiracy theory angle. It gets in views – why wouldn’t they? Let’s say that this is actually correct for a second though – why blame the developers of the game?

That’s a business decision, firmly in the realm of the board. This fact seems to be conveniently forgotten by people. And that is why I don’t understand why it is heavily referenced in ‘game reviews’. Is it news worthy? Yes. Conjecture can abound. But it has nothing to do with the game itself – only the final product should be reviewed.

And finally, game bugs themselves

There are bugs in Cyberpunk 2077. Some are silly visual glitches, some impact gameplay.

On the PC, the most significant issues I have had are quest triggers not firing and controls not working. What are quest triggers? An example is where I had to search for a key on a defeated foe, or an enemy was not appearing in the first place.

Examples of controls not working was scanning or jumping just stopped working. The controller inputs just refused to work. It’s tough to jump over a barricade to get somewhere when the jump button doesn’t work!

The other issue I had occasionally was the frame rate would tank. Not dip – the game would suddenly just start running at 20-30 fps. It wasn’t during a fight or anything like that. It most commonly happened after getting out of an elevator or your car.

The fix to every one of these issues? Restart the game. Well, that was the fix until patch 1.05. Now, it runs really well overall.

This case was carried in, but was still sitting here when we left the room

Bugs still outstanding

There are still issues when I do NCPD events where I help the cops (as the missions are designed to do), and I get a wanted rating for being a criminal.

Random T-Poses are still a thing on some character models, the most annoying being when driving. My character model just stands on the bike/car arms outstretched. The only reason this is annoying is that you can’t see where you are driving!

The other weird but hardly Cyberpunk 2077 bug is when items just kind of hover randomly in the world. You can see them, but you can’t interact with them.

Short of being unable to complete a few quests or quests not starting though, the game isn’t ‘broken’. Not for me. It has bugs, yes, but no more than Skyrim, Fallout (take your pick which one), or even previous Witcher games.

There were a lot more bugs that ranged from weird to game breaking in previous games

So bugs are OK because other games have bugs?

Again, I can see where people can get this idea, but this isn’t my point. My point is that games that are considered genre and generation-defining today started as a mess.

Am I happy that there were problems with Cyberpunk 2077 on release? No. Nor do I think people should be ‘happy’ about them. But people reacting like Cyberpunk is the first massive open-world game with issues is merely blowing things out of proportion for clicks.

I have seen people slam scenes like this with the 'bad' effect of jagged lighting

People slamming the graphics for lighting effects like this are – in my opinion – nitpicking. I can’t think of a single game without some strange visual glitches if you look hard enough.

True, the visual glitches are very obvious in Cyberpunk 2077. I am not fully convinced that some of this is due to things like the checkerboard rendering. Should CD Projekt Red have tested for and fixed things like this? Absolutely. Does it stop you from enjoying the game? Not at all.

No developer wants to release a game known for bugs, but they do happen. CD Projekt Red has already released quite a few patches for the more pressing issues and did so when most companies would be shut down for holidays.

Why I still have confidence in CD Projekt Red

The Witcher 3 when it was first released was just as bad (arguably worse in areas). It has received many updates to make it the masterpiece it is thought of today.

That wasn’t just for their last game either. The Witcher 1 and 2 both received an Enhanced Edition, adding multiple patches and improvements. It’s the way they have built up the goodwill they have.

Another big part of that goodwill is the free DLC you get with their games. People are already screaming that they ‘deserve’ the free DLC already planned for Cyberpunk 2077. They seem to forget the vast amount of free DLC received with The Witcher 3.

Features missing from the main game were patched in with free DLC, and have been for a while

Yes, Cyberpunk 2077 limits character customisation after you create your avatar. But you couldn’t change Geralt’s hairstyle until after the free DLC was released. These ‘should have been in the base game’ inclusions are handed out when it works and is how CD Projekt Red believes games should be.

Compare this with Capcom where I had to pay to get the iconic “Resident Evil” voiceover when you start a game. You can see money-grab vs love of their product in action.

What about lawsuits and other issues?

I have only touched on the issues that I feel that CD Projekt Red could have avoided, or issues that directly affect gameplay. And this is already a huge article.

The class-action lawsuit (possibly suits if media is to be believed) is a very big issue for the company. What it isn’t is directly affecting the game.  Investors that feel duped have the right to take action against the company, but unless you were such an investor the suit is just more drama.

I also have a personal bias against such lawsuits. The only people that truly get financial reimbursement are the legal firms that bring such cases to court. Yes, huge reparations can be awarded, but then you have to apply for your $3 share of the pot.

This is a very jaded view of the situation. Class action lawsuits have bought good to society, but remember we are talking about a video game here. Sometimes the lawsuits have good outcomes, like in Australia where there ACCC determined that Fallout 76 players were entitled to refunds. But this doesn’t feel like that kind of case. I am not a legal expert on this kind of thing, but I am backing off from it based on it has little to do with the produced game, headlines notwithstanding.

There is also the issue of lighting effects triggering epileptic responses in players. This is very serious, and the worst offender was patched out quickly, with a warning placed front and centre when starting the game.

It's safe to see in a still like this, but the flashing LED sequence was distracting, especially in HDR

I am not trying to give CD Project Red a pass on this one. This should have been taken into consideration well before people got their hands on the game. If the lighting was indeed modelled on the hardware used to trigger epilepsy responses, that is negligence on the part of the designers in my opinion.

People diagnosed with epilepsy already know the dangers of playing video games. The danger is more for people that haven’t been diagnosed.

Hiding that specific lighting effects are present in the game that has a chance of causing epileptic reactions in the EULA seems at best a thoughtless oversight. Here is where it gets really tricky – was that a legal, creative or marketing decision?

Here is the rub on this one – I am not a medical expert. I also cannot say with any certainty if the claim of the braindance hardware being based on current medical tools has any basis in fact. But Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t the first game that has triggered epileptic episodes in players, and the sad case is it won’t be the last.

Looking from the outside, CD Projekt Red responded quickly which was good to see. It is still something an issue that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. The blinking lights in the braindance equipment didn’t have to play the flashing animation.

It still sounds like you are just making excuses for CD Projekt Red

Maybe. I am definitely not out to blast the developers that have created a fantastic game. Some of that is based on potential still but again look at their track record. I believe that Cyberpunk 2077 can live up to its potential, even if it takes another year.

Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t the first game to launch with issues, and it won’t be the last. The success of their marketing hype all but guaranteed that problems would be front-page news.

All of the things wrong with Cyberpunk 2077 need to be addressed, especially the parts of the gaming industry as a whole. But that shouldn’t be a part of the game review. Cyberpunk 2077 is just the latest high profile example of problems with the game industry, and these need to be bought to light and addressed. But that isn’t just a Cyberpunk 2077 issue.

The game should be reviewed separately to these issues, hence splitting this article from the review. I listened to a few ‘reviews’ release day and was disappointed that the reviews were mainly pointing out problems rather than talking about the game itself.

So should I play Cyberpunk 2077?

Well, that’s really the game review. The point of today was to talk about the things surrounding the game, and how a lot of it has been warped to fit certain viewpoints on the internet.

I will talk about it tomorrow, but short answer yes you should be excited about Cyberpunk 2077.

Now that a lot of the noise has been addressed, I am looking forward to taking you through the game review tomorrow!

Until next time,

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