Friday, April 16, 2021

Yes, “Cyberpunk 2077” is a buggy. But above all, he has no heart

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At a climax moment in Cyberpunk 2077, I became crazy.

My husband and I have played this ridiculously frustrating game every night because… well, we don’t have much else to do at the moment. Anytime a bug or a wobbly sequence caused one of us to throw the controller on the ground and shout, “Never again!” the other took it up the following night.

But I can identify when the game’s issues crystallized for me. At a defining moment, a clearly heartbreaking situation was written into the script. I waited for feelings, feelings, to manifest. They did not do it. Instead of feeling sad, I started to feel… bored. And disgusted. And a little manipulated.

Then, at the worst possible time, a bug appeared. “Wait, it’s not a chip,” my husband said. “It’s a gun. He just pulled a gun out of his ear. I ran to my desk, opened my laptop and started writing this article. I can’t stand this game, but not because it’s almost unplayable. It’s just badly written. You don’t need to abuse a group of developers to fix this problem.

Heart and soul

For the context: I do not consider myself a player. (Ed. Note: You totally are.) A few years ago, I bought my husband a Nintendo Switch for Christmas, but we’ve been playing it together ever since. I like Mario kart with friends. Donut County was funny. Breath of the wild made me pant at its beauty, but I spent most of my time collecting horses of different colors.

That was all until I downloaded The Witcher 3 on a whim, after watching the first episode of the Netflix show. From the opening sequence, I was transfixed. Witcher 3 is whatever people say it is. Geralt is a compelling character with a wide range of skills; the continent is vast and richly detailed; the stakes are high. His Law and Order: SVU meets the Lord of the Rings.

But that’s not why I loved it. Despite the fantastic monsters, he felt real, and I forgave the many bugs and glitches (again! years after launch!) because the story was so good. The Witcher 3 is punctuated like a novel. At its heart it is a Daddy game. Geralt is looking for his wife and daughter. Nothing is easier to understand than that.

Despite its length, it is elegant and economical. It sets the stakes up in the first few minutes, with a dramatic opening sequence featuring the Lost Yennefer, and a training tutorial showing Geralt’s love for a spooky miniature Ciri. The writing is dry, funny and at times grotesque, based on a deep and sympathetic understanding of human nature.

For example, “Family Matters” – a side quest where Geralt tries to help a dissolute baron rebuild his family – made me laugh, cry, and feel a little sick all at the same time. It was everything I ever wanted from a game. As my colleague Cecilia D’Anastasio said, Witcher 3 is my A part. The thought that I could have another game like this, and so soon, made me dizzy.

Stupid Leather Dad Pants

For me, as a non-lover, the talk about Cyberpunk 2077 poor performance feels like he’s missing the point. After all, The Witcher 3 was and is full of problems, many of which have settled inside jokes. It’s funny that Geralt’s horse, Roach, gets stuck in unlikely places. When I started Cyberpunk—I’m playing on a Stadia – I stuck my car on a rock in the first five minutes.

“It’s Roach again!” I have made comments to my colleagues.

May be CyberpunkThe rhythms are different due to the source material. Neuromancer, the groundbreaking novel upon which the tabletop RPG is based, is by all accounts frantic and convoluted. But in a week and a half, I’m still not invested.

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