Saturday, April 10, 2021

Cyberpunk 2077

 Like a late 90's webring, replete with link back and hints at an actual relationship with other authors, this is a piece I'd like to say in.. rebuttal is too harsh a term, in reply, to my very long standing internet friend, zompist, where he posts his various gripes with that great sprawling hot mess, Cyberpunk 2077.

Now I say hot mess because that's what the internet at large thinks of it, but me, playing on the worringly over-powered computers on GeForce Now, have experienced nearly no problems. Or at least not problems that bother me enough. Keep in mind I'm the Homer Simpson when it comes to critiquing alot of things. I just like, alot of things. Cheap date, as it were. 

 It might be my hundreds of hours in Bethesda titles and regularly having to look up console commands to debug yet another janked out quest, but it takes a rather large bug to befuddle and begrudge me. Like if a bug repoed my car, maybe, or  told me how much weight I had actually put on during this Covid-19 pandemic.

 I'm not a gamer for story, generally. When you talk story you eventually draw connections with story from film, or story from books, and, as far as I played, there have been nearly none that have matched a really excellent book. But that's just me, I don't play for overarching stories. For amazing .. I dunno, they are always puppets to me. The 3D models, the pathing, the tricks behind the curtain. There have been a few times when the motion capture and acting of the actor behind a cinematic really grabbed me, weirdly enough the main bad guy in Far Cry 3 (the kinda Malaysia one). But over all, no. 

 When we are taking open world sandbox games, of which I've played a few (Fallout 3, 4, Oblivion, Skyrim, Just Cause 3; GTA 3, SA, VC, 4 , 5 etc), I play for the action and small stories. The side missions, the little nuances that attempt to paint a world by inference. And there are so many here. Mostly about the horror of combining the worst of capitalism and technology together. 

There is a story about a lovely dad and son side business, or would be, if they had been selling pretty much anything else. Or a various side missions about migrants, invariably gone horribly wrong. Or a side mission involving scuba gear which is the most affecting bit of gameplay I've ever played.

What are the results if greed and technology continue unfettered? What are the unintended consequences? What are the mortifying, obvious consequences? As a Canadian it's like America Taken To 11. For profit health care is monstrous. For profit security/health care when your body parts can be harvested? Unspeakable.

 That's a whole lot of preamble. On the whole I agree with most of what zompist says, but it's still not enough to deter me, because they dont' take up the majority of the game, or anything near it. 

First zompist gripe, the cutscenes. Yes, annoying. Moreso than other games? I don't think so? Or not so much more that I was losing patience. Again, the main arc for me is just a way to get the next story act. 

The joy of Cyberpunk is in the atmosphere, and in the bizaare/macabre side quests. In ornery characters with hinted backstories. In motion capture and 3D modelling that really astounds.

Zompist has other gripes, world building wise. I've always viewed this game as a East European's take on an 80's American RPG take on the future. So, there's going to be some disjointedness. The fact that the Japanese have risen ascendant and now run the entire world? Pure 80's (Nakatomi Plaza, etc). The tone-deaf transphobic advert? I would say they are being transphobic, but there is a side mission which is surprisingly progressive. Are they making a comment on society in the future? Did the left hand not know what the right was doing?

Now about the stealth gripes. There are options for stealth. They mostly involve hacking, and hacking nearby devices to distracts enemies. It's not the stealth excellence of, say Shadow Tactics. But it's no slouch. You can regain your stealth. You must use hacks though, to track the baddies and take unsuspecting enemies out of line of sight.

I do wish there were more achievements for doing things stealthily. The most you'll get is a comment from a fixer that you did a job smoothly. Going in with guns akimbo and katanas flying rarely gets you that. But yes, in, say, Dishonored, it tracks down to the dropped pin how stealthily you did everything. Would be nice. It is a much tougher option to clear out areas.I would like a big BONUS XP for distracting, katanaing badguys, and storing every body until the last one.

 I can't say I disagree with everything zompist says, he has a much better nuanced, well thought out opinion. I play mostly with my gut, leaving things like 'plot' or 'storytelling' or 'is this actually a good game' to smarter people.

But CyberPunk is a gutsy game. It's a glorious mess. It's a loud disjointed jarring experience. The side missions and atmosphere. Even the NPC dialogue which I usually blow by. All outline a world powered by a capitalist techno nightmare, with real people with completely reasonable hopes trying to live within it. It's the human heart, struggling to survive in horror of humankind's making. The casual references to the natural outcome of unfettered everything. These are the things that stayed with me, that elevated the hot mess to something rather more.