Cyberpunk 2077 Review (Xbox Series X Next-Gen Update)

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I hate when games do this, and Cyberpunk 2077 does it twice when starting for the first time. It greets you with two screens that you must dismiss with the push of a button before you get into the menu. Why, CD Projekt Red? Why? That is not the kind of a first impression you want. It makes for good variety in the introduction segment of my reviews, though 🤷.

(I later discovered that the first “screen” is an intro video. It just does not appear to be one in the first seconds. I am so used to games starting with a pointless screen to dismiss that I immediately canceled the video without knowing and landed on the actual screen to click away.)

Cyberpunk 2077 is coming to its second birthday, and the hype surrounding it and CD Projekt Red came crashing down hard on last generation’s Xbox One and PS4 consoles.

(Like the meteor wiping out all dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.)

CDPR has been very busy since then, and in February 2022, they finally released the next-gen update for current-gen (🙄) consoles. This finally incentivized me to purchase a copy for myself and see if this game is as good as it could have been without its many issues at launch. According to recent reports, I am not the only one doing so.

Unlike the Witcher games, CDPR decided to go with a first-person experience for a deeper immersion into the colorful yet dark and gritty world of Night City. The game’s art style is reminiscent of The Ascent, a twin-stick shooter I played last year. In contrast, Night City is a vast Open-World metropolis with a few rural places surrounding it. Geralt’s companion Roach has morphed into a car, and dirt roads and farm tracks have been paved over and are now asphalt. You can walk, drive, or use fast-travel stations spread across town to get around.

In its simplest form, you can reduce the combat system to be just a Shooter. Cyberpunk 2077 adds a couple more mechanics on top of that for more variety if you choose so. You can go the stealthy and non-lethal route or become a proficient hacker (aka Net-Runner). I am a simpleton, so my character is a tank that sh*ts bullets (although I also like to sneak when I can). Despite the options, from what I have seen, there is no way to play the game without ever firing a gun. Hacking is more than manipulating computers. It seems like everybody is somehow connected over an unprotected Wi-Fi, and you can utilize a person’s cyber implants against them. Ever heard of 2FA 😉?

CDPR has shown in The Witcher games that they are masters in storytelling. You can find the same mastery in Cyberpunk, which I was most interested in. You will meet many different characters with their own traits and agenda. There is a lot of action RPG stuff to do, a skill tree, an inventory – the typical Open-World role-playing experience, if you will.

Let’s get into the details, shall we?

The Nerdy Bits

The biggest question you may probably ask yourself is how does it look and run? Well…

First, please watch Digital Foundry’s video for the overall details. I can confirm the general visual quality and performance. I have opinions, however, and I will start with the ray tracing mode.

More generally speaking, I will start with the 30 fps option since I assume the problem also manifests on the Xbox Series S, which does not support ray tracing. It is almost unplayable. Tom Morgan already mentioned the input latency at 30 fps, but he failed to point out the immensely blurry image due to the employed motion blur. It looks fine in the Performance mode. However, this graphics feature smears so much of the picture that you cannot recognize anything at this lower framerate. It literally hurts my head and feels like my aging eyes suddenly need twice as strong glasses. Do you remember the situations in The Witcher games where Geralt wanders around drunk? That’s more or less how it looks. You can also spot it in the video I linked earlier if you focus on it. Luckily, you can disable the effect, but the input latency is still a problem.

At the higher framerate, this is a non-issue. You get a clear image and mostly direct controller feedback. The worst performance offenders are already pointed out in the Digital Foundry video, but I also encountered other hitches. When driving across almost all of the city multiple times to collect Tarot cards, I frequently experienced short framerate drops of maybe half a second or so. At first, I assumed it was asset loading, but an icon briefly shows at the top of the screen, and I think it says “saving”. It appears to be the checkpoint system that interrupts the fluidity. I am pretty confident that asset and world streaming also sometimes causes stuttering. The same applies to quest updates. Almost every time you progress to the next step, the game pauses briefly while showing a textual update on your HUD.

Consequently, Cyberpunk is a mixed bag performance-wise. It plays well enough but impressive, that it is not. Another part of the performance equation is the already mentioned controller handling. Although the input latency is under control at higher framerates, the default settings are terrible. I have written a separate piece about this topic, so I will not rehash it here. Please go ahead and read this blog post if you are interested. There is no way around manipulating the many controller-setting dials to get a predictable and playable experience.

Is there anything good to say about the game’s technology? How about the graphics? Again: Well…

Cyberpunk heavily relies on its art style and setting. In some situations, the game looks astounding, and in others, it looks “only good”. I would say it is a 60-40 split. Many surfaces appear flat, without any dimensionality. Watch the market section in Digital Foundry’s video, and you will see what I mean. Vendor booths, NPC skins: surfaces look dull and boring. I think this is due to ambient occlusion and shadowing. I get the same impression on the Xbox from Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I have played the PC version of that game, and in my memory, it looks more “three-dimensional” than on the Xbox Series. The same is also pointed out by Alex Battaglia from Digital Foundry in his analysis of the PC release of SotTR compared to the Xbox.

Ray tracing is limited to shadowing, and even that is only ever obvious in indoor scenes. Try to guess which of the following screenshots is the performance mode and which one is ray tracing.

Close-ups of characters look very good, though, and facial animations convey a character’s emotions pretty well. To the game’s detriment, I have started Cyberpunk at the tail-end of my Horizon Forbidden West playthrough. My impression was, and still is, intensely colored by Guerrilla Games’ impressive technology for Horizon. In a direct comparison, Cyberpunk takes a backseat. Horizon’s facial and character animations are just that one step ahead. Cyberpunk can compensate in other ways, though. However, on a technical level, the PS4 version of Horizon makes Cyberpunk’s “next-gen” update on the Xbox Series X hold its beer. Horizon’s visuals and performance are more consistent from start to finish, whereas the optical prowess of Cyberpunk 2077 depends on where you look. It might be a different story on a powerful PC with all ray tracing options enabled (which does not fix the clunky character movement). But, right now, I am comparing a game released on the freakishly slow PS4 to a title on an Xbox Series X, which is leaps and bounds ahead of Sony’s console.

The rest of the presentation works very well, though. The audio quality is good, especially when the combat music kicks in.

(Tip of the hat to the Black Metal radio station.)

Even walking around in Night City is impressive. It sounds as if you are really there with tons of traffic and pedestrians walking and talking. The soundscape is very immersive, and I think it comes across better on a surround setup than headphones. Voice acting is terrific, too. Everyone sounds a bit gruff, but I assume that is to underline the world’s harshness. The one negative standout is the male V’s voice actor. It was almost as if trying to be too much of a badass, and I could not really connect with him and played as female V instead. It reminds me of the divide between Kassandra and Alexios in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. The female voice was so much better in that title, too.

Gameplay

Night City is a spectacular rendition of a futuristic metropolis. Exploring the city reminded me of the roughly two years I spent in Munich. I adored the size and the vastness. At the same time, it felt restrictive and claustrophobic. As someone used to living in a small rural city, getting from A to B took more effort. Whether I intended to use public transportation or my car required some planning. Which bus or subway? When to change rides? At what time do I have to leave? Can I even park my car where I want to go? Of course, the latter is not an issue in Night City. You just get out and walk away 😁. But it feels just as cumbersome overall. Night City is massive, and its architecture is convoluted. The sensation of moving around on foot is slow, albeit realistic. Getting in and out of a car is accompanied by a nauseating camera movement because of the 1st person perspective. It also takes time. It is not as effortless and gracious as Aloy or whatever current Assassin’s Creed hero:ine can do in their respective worlds. It is an incredibly convincing depiction of a massive and overcrowded city in all aspects, and I suspect that was what CDPR was going for.

A view of Night City's massive and dense skyline from the pier.

I never learned how to navigate the city without heavily relying on the built-in GPS. It is simply too big to study during the time of a playthrough. Since I was splitting my attention between the yellow or blue lines on the minimap and the actual world, I missed any memorable points of interest that could be used for orientation. Reduced to mere map traversal, playing Cyberpunk felt like a Far Cry game at first. Open the map, set a marker, drive or fast-travel to the destination, complete the mission, rinse and repeat. I may have done something wrong, but I never figured out a more effective and, at the same time, immersive way to get directions to the next destination. Going through a bunch of collectible tasks or minor jobs in rapid succession, stuff that is quick to finish, emphasizes this kind of game loop deficiency. It probably depends on what kind of a player you are and how you like to immerse yourself in a game world. After I started focusing on real (side) missions and ignored anything else on the map, the journal became my main entry point. I merely opened the map to find the nearest drop point or, occasionally, a fast-travel station. And this is where the game revealed its true strength to me.

What works exceptionally well is the earlier mentioned mastery in storytelling and how that immerses you in the game. Main missions are as well crafted and structured as those in Horizon Forbidden West. I might even go as far and say that Cyberpunk has the edge here. You complete multiple stages with a lot of dialogue and character development. Missions are complex and can easily take up an hour or more of your time. While the Open World-ness of Cyberpunk never particularly hooked me, the setpiece missions did, and they captivated me like the cute and innocent playing of a cat with cardboard boxes. Take the Aldecaldos Nomad clan, for example. Whenever Panam called, that was my next mission. Everything that involved proper storytelling and character interaction was the first on my list. CD Projekt Red’s writing in this game is nothing short of stellar. It is the reason why I started to enjoy my time in and around Night City after about 15+ hours. Night City had faded into the background and was reduced to a stage. It was there to experience stories and characters, but it was no longer the main attraction.

In other games, you find new jobs by walking up to someone with an exclamation mark over their head. Cyberpunk does not have that. Your character is a mercenary for hire and, as such, is contacted via phone when you have high-enough street cred. That is why the first hours were so Far Cry-like. I needed to learn the game mechanics and get to a certain level for things to open up finally. After that, I transitioned from mission to mission, maybe stopped briefly for a quick Open World activity (highlighted on the map), and then continued to get to my active quest. You can also pick up tasks when listening to people. Some have a story to tell that can evolve into an adventure if you are interested. It is a very organic way of giving players things to do. Being used to question- and exclamation marks, this mechanic made me feel lost at first.

V sitting next to a monk in a dark park illuminated by some light-blue neon lamps.

It also did not help that most games spill a lot of exposition to make it easy to follow along.

(Or, if you are Scarlet Nexus, constantly repeat a person’s own history to that person.)

Cyberpunk’s writing very often requires you to keep your brain turned on. You should pay attention, or you might not make the necessary connections between what was just said and the answers you can select from. In the first hours, I was occasionally confused by some of the missions and how they were related. I wasn’t yet playing regularly enough and hadn’t set my mind on paying 100% attention to what was happening. It is a mature game, and it shows in every aspect.

Story and Characters

Before getting to the game’s positive facets, I must start this chapter with a rant. The first thing you do is create your character in the game’s character editor. It allows for a lot of freedom, yet it is also limited in several aspects. I like making my own character, but I also wondered why it is necessary for a first-person experience. You rarely get to see your V outside of the inventory. Cyberpunk has a 3rd person view when using a vehicle, and you get to see yourself through the windshield of a car or when riding a bike. Fine, I accept that. You can also look into mirrors and make faces (Death Stranding, anyone?). However, I wonder why I get to choose the size of my character’s genitals and pubic hair when I never see them (*), but I cannot define the body type. A woman is always slim and attractive, and a man is mildly muscular if I recall correctly. Why can’t I be a truly buff dude or have a belly? Why can’t a woman be curvy or strong? Those are more tangible settings than a guy’s d*ck size. Seriously. Such body types even exist in the game world.

(*) There is an option to disable underwear. I interpreted it as a global toggle to give me a mature and uncensored experience throughout all aspects of the game. However, it only shows your character utterly naked in the inventory when you remove all clothes. After some research, it seems like this is a conscious decision by CD Projekt Red. What’s the point of having it at all?

Why do I mention the editor? Because it is related to your main character. If it were a third-person game, you wouldn’t only hear but, obviously, also see the hero you created, like in Mass Effect or Dragon Age. And there are a few situations where this actually happens. You’ll have a short moment to see V through Panam’s eyes during the Panam storyline, which I appreciated. It’s about forming a bond between you and who you play on screen. You get to define your V. You can be a jerk or a nice person or something between that, depending on your answers and reactions. Aloy is always predefined; the authors wrote her character. V, on the other hand, is yours to mold. I don’t think it influences the game world, like a reputation, but it affects the moment and maybe the storyline’s outcome. I have encountered a mission where bugging out was an option. Since I continued because I was curious, I cannot say if that would effectively be the end of the story or if you would come back to it at a later stage.

Coming back to the exceptional writing I already mentioned earlier; this is what makes you empathize with or antagonize NPCs. The stories are always complex, and there is more than meets the eye. Even if the narrative is pretty straightforward, the way it is told is how it captivates you and makes you feel something for the person you are doing it for or with. I haven’t finished the game yet, so I cannot speak for every mission. Most of the ones I have played so far really focus on characters. It was rare that I went on an adventure on my own. V interacts with the companions, and you learn more about them while on a mission. It can be like watching a TV show, only from a first-person perspective. Characters emote. They walk around and gesture. Occasionally you get a smug wink from Johnny Silverhand or an appreciative pointing with the finger. Sometimes I wish to experience conversations from another perspective so I could see V react and emote. It is the only missing piece of the puzzle that could strengthen the connection between you as the player and your hero:ine.

However, I have experienced some great moments through V’s eyes. A very early assignment with Jackie takes you to a mobster’s apartment. At some point, the proprietor shows up while you are still in the room. You and Jackie must quickly hide. With time running short, the only option is to crawl into a compartment behind the giant TV screen. Luckily, it is translucent in only one direction. You are trapped in a tight space, pressed right up to the screen’s back. One wrong move and you alert the enemy to your presence. Your hiding spot brings you close to the two noteworthy people to eavesdrop on their conversation. Together with Jackie, you witness an emotional exchange between the leader of a criminal organization and his prodigal son. Meanwhile, the bodyguard sweeps the room and comes near you. The only thing keeping you safe is a thin sheet of glass. The room is silent except for the conversation, and you can feel the tension. The game does not play any ambient music that could ruin the moment. Brilliant.

This scene is just one example where the first-person experience works exceptionally well.

Cyberpunk’s story is one of survival. It is about the city and society as a whole, not just about V. V wants nothing more than recognition and to be famous at first. As it turns out, this desire for fame is what leads to V literally fighting for life because of the Johnny Silverhand construct. But everybody in Night City is as well. Corporations and politicians only care about wealth and influence. Without that, they cannot survive. Having almost unlimited funds, those entities do not shy away from illegal activities to stay on top. Nomad clans live a dangerous life, as witnessed by the Panam storyline. Regular citizens are trying to get by in a city plagued with misconduct. Nobody knows if they are the next victim of a random or planned crime. The world of Night City is dark and cruel, and the game perfectly conveys this atmosphere.

Rapid Fire Observations

(Formerly known as Random Thoughts)

  • Tarot collectibles are highlighted on the map. What’s the point in “finding” them when all you need to do is set a map marker and drive there?
  • Waypoints often (not always) reveal the exact route in an area of interest. I’d prefer more exploration to find entrances, for example.
  • Billboard or elevator button textures are sometimes low-res.
  • NPCs driving a car do not turn the steering wheel often to get around corners. Magic.
  • Cars and pedestrians sometimes just appear or disappear right in front of you.
  • There is a lot of asset pop-in from the LoD system.
  • Cars in which you are a passenger occasionally get stuck. Be patient. So far, all have eventually continued driving. No quest was bugged because of this.

Famous Last Words

At this point in the review, I have spent about 30 hours in Night City. I am roughly 40 to 50 percent into the main storyline, I have a few available side quests, and I finished the Aldecaldos story with Panam and the quest line with River Ward. Cyberpunk lives off of its storytelling. The adventures you go on may not always be the most intricate, but they are well-presented. It is way more than simple fetch quests. They genuinely are an adventure, which makes them so great. Experiencing these various narratives is what keeps me interested in playing.

I usually prefer 3rd person action games, but I also understand why CD Projekt Red chose the 1st person perspective. Only then do you get to be close to a character. They are literally up in your face, something a third-person camera cannot convey. However, you also never get to see your character react to events. V can sometimes feel sterile from the first-person perspective because you do not see any emotions. It’s just a view into the world that does not move until you tell it to. Where this fundamental gameplay decision works nicely, though, is in combat. Cyberpunk is an ego-shooter at heart, and the limited field of view suits itself very well in this dark world of Night City. It adds to the often claustrophobic feeling you experience. During exploration, I’d like the option of switching the camera so I can see the character I created. Honestly, though, this is a complaint on a very high level. CD Projekt Red did the right thing. What I am not so happy with is the technical presentation. The scale of Night City is breathtaking. Cyberpunk can display gorgeous visuals, with many lights and reflections at night. But that is not always the case. At times, the game just looks good. It varies a lot.

A view of Night City at night. A car crashes into the safety barrel on a highway exit. Night City's neon lights reflect in the wet surface of the asphalt.

For the most part, Cyberpunk plays smoothly. You will rarely find stutters or slowdowns during a heated gunfight, and this is what counts. Map traversal is a different beast. Unless you solely rely on fast travel, which is not instant, you will run into pauses because of the automatic checkpoint saving. This is extremely annoying and must be fixed. The same goes for the input latency in the 30 fps mode of the game. Series X or PS5 users should always opt for the performance mode, but Series S users do not have that option. If you are sensitive to input latency and own a Series S, I sadly suggest staying away.

Another complaint I have concerns the controller input handling. The default settings are unusable, and I do not seem alone in this assessment. Lastly, the aim-assist implementation is an instant snap-to-target when you point your crosshair close to an enemy and press the left trigger. That’s it. It sounds beneficial, but enemies move around, and shooting from behind cover is difficult to pull off. Halo Infinite’s gunplay is much better and way more satisfying – even with a controller. After a bit of getting used to it, I managed to be proficient enough to have a good experience. I would much prefer a keyboard and mouse, though.

A gunfight in a dark and empty bar as Johnny Silverhand together with a young Rogue.

If you are a console-only player, the next-gen update for the current-gen PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X is now good to play. If you have a powerful PC, then I strongly suggest using that. I am confident you can get more consistent performance and better visuals from a computer. Not to mention the superior input devices for the shooting portions of the game.

Cyberpunk rarely takes you by hand, like other games. You must experiment and explore to get the most out of it. It took me a while to adjust to the game’s design, but once I found a way that worked for me, I had a lot of fun completing all the story missions. I can recommend this game with a few caveats regarding the technical underpinnings. If you are searching for an excellent shooter, I do not think you will find it here. If you are searching for a story and character-driven game that happens to be a shooter, you might find something to love in Night City.

I, for one, cannot wait to experience more stories and find out whether V survives or not.

Maybe this “little” summary contained a few tidbits that helped you decide whether to buy Cyberpunk 2077 for your PS5 or Xbox Series console.

Thank you for reading.

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