Cyberpunk 2077 initial review: Console version

(Pocket-lint) – Here it is, the most eagerly-anticipated game of 2020. Not least because it suffered many delays throughout the year.

However, while Cyberpunk 2077 might have finally appeared after the launch of the next-gen consoles, it’s not quite ready for them. Not natively, at least.

The full, enhanced next-gen versions will be available at some point in 2021 (hopefully sooner rather than later), but the game will work on both Xbox Series X/S and PS5 in backward compatibility. In fact, you get little quality bumps anyway, thanks to the increased power of the new machines.

That’s how we’ve played the game so far, to give you our initial impressions. In full transparency, many other reviews out there are based on PC code which was available much earlier. We, however, decided to wait until the console version was ready for review. Sadly, that wasn’t until a couple of days before the full release of the game across multiple platforms and, therefore, we have only spent four to five hours with the Xbox One version played on an Xbox Series X and S.

We will, therefore, bring you an in-depth review in the coming days, but here are our initial impressions so far.

Night City fever

From the start, it is mesmorising. Night City is superbly detailed and designed – so much so that you spend the first hour looking around at everything rather than taking in any plot or mission objectives.

Running on an Xbox Series X, the game offers two graphical modes, for performance and quality with the former aiming for increased frame rates. The latter locks them to provide a crisper experience.

CD Projekt Red

We have to say we prefer performance mode, which makes driving around the city and action segments move much more smoothly. It’s also necessary to flag that the Xbox Series S doesn’t currently include this option – so we suspect neither does the Xbox One S, although we haven’t tried it on that console ourselves. We also haven’t been able to try it on a One X, but would be surprised if that didn’t have the same modes as Series X.

Without a native next-gen game version of the game yet (which will be a free upgrade when it does arrive) there is no ray-tracing nor any of the other fancier graphical gubbins on console. But, it must be said that CD Projekt Red has done an incredible job with the look and lighting anyway. Night City teems with neon signs and bold colourways, and the game looks spectacular regardless. Lens flare and shiny textures abound, while the ambience is spot on at night time, day time, inside or out. Indeed, the city could be seen as the star of the game, at least initially. It’s certainly got significant wow factor.

It’s also worth noting that the Xbox versions of the game offer Dolby Atmos sound – something you won’t get on PS4 or PS5, for example.

How long?

The first thing you come across in Cyberpunk 2077 is the character creation tool and it can be a little, well, surprising.

As well as stats and body type, you get to choose your character’s lifepath from a choice of three, which determine not only where you start in the game, but some of the conversation choices you will have throughout. We opted for Streetkid, which launched us straight into one of the Night City blocks and gave us a specific criminal endeavour to start with. Nomad and Corpo are the others, with the first placing you outside the city walls to begin with.

CD Projekt Red

The most staggering part of character setup surely comes with tweaking your bodily attributes and, specifically, your genitalia. We won’t go into too many details, but yes, you really can choose the length and size of your wobbly bits. You can also choose to censor nudity in the settings, in case you get totally unnerved by the angle of the dangle.

What we like about character creation – beyond the aesthetics (that you’ll hardly ever see considering the game is mostly played in first-person) – is that it is reasonably simple. The stats are uncomplicated and you don’t have to wade through pages of perks and abilities before jumping straight into the game. After all, we’ve all waited long enough to play Cyberpunk 2077 already.

Story time

Cyberpunk 2077 certainly doesn’t waste any time launching you straight into the story. After a scene setting mission or two (depending on your lifepath choice at the start) you will end up in partnership with new best friend Jackie and the main plot begins.

Admittedly, we’re not that far into it ourselves at the time of writing, having spent most of our time getting our bearings, completing a combat tutorial and savouring our first experience of the braindance VR-style detective sequences. But it’s clear that each portion of the main campaign is full of depth and interesting NPCs.

There are also plenty of side missions to take on, even in the earlier hours of the game, with targets to be found, bounties to be secured and thievery to be undertaken. Not only do these expand the game somewhat (as some PC players have already reported that the main story is fairly short), but they allow you to take in more of Night City and its rich tapestry.

We’ll be able to give you more of an idea of the story and side missions as we ourselves get more time in the game, but for now it is clearly well scripted and well crafted.

We will give you a word of warning though, especially if you plan to give a copy to a younger player for Christmas or whathaveyou. Cyberpunk 2077 is an 18-rated game for very good reason. Its themes involve extreme violence and sexual undertones (sometimes overtones), and the language throughout is spicy to say the least. It seems everyone in Night City has the mouth of a docker, as old nana Henderson was very fond of saying.

First-person fisticuffs

One of the boldest decisions by CD Projekt Red was to make Cyberpunk 2077 a first-person game, even though it had little experience in the field. The Witcher 3 is one of the best third-person RPGs around (if not the best), so swtching the perspective for the developer’s next big title was a gamble.

CD Projekt Red

It has paid off, though. Indeed, the entire game feels like a VR experience even on a 2D display. You get more of a tangible feel for your surroundings in first-person, and characters genuinely seem to be talking to you. It is more visceral.

Combat works well too, although don’t expect Call of Duty – this is more Fallout. Enemies, for example, have hit points which you see reduce as you, well, hit them. Even a well-placed headshot merely knocks some points off their health score and they only drop when the entire HP is depleted.

Plus, as well as shoot, you can fight melee with fists, your bionic implants or hand weapons. And you can even opt for non-lethal takedowns if you like, both in fights or stealth.

It is this variety that makes the more action-oriented sequences feel different to other games – even different with subsequent playthroughs, we’d imagine, as you can tackle the game in alternative ways.

We haven’t yet had the chance to play with a whole load of the different weapons that will undoubtedly become available, but have experienced enough to know that CD Projekt Red has nailed FPS at the first time of asking.

First Impressions

Naturally, we need to play much more of the game to give a valid final opinion, but so far so good.

We also haven’t yet encountered Johnny Silverhand – Keanu Reeve’s virtual character that joins you on your journey – so there’s much more for us to do for sure.

CD Projekt Red

For now, we can safely say that Cyberpunk 2077 is living up to its promise, even though we are yet to play a native next-generation version and need to explore NIght City a whole lot more.

And owners of current-gen consoles can rest assured that CD Projekt Red has seemingly provided the best final dance your machine could ever have had.

We’ll update with our final, in-depth review soon.

Writing by Rik Henderson.

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