Previews

Digital immortality — Cyberpunk 2077 E3 preview

From the second we took our front row seats at CD Projekt RED’s booth at E3 2018, it was immediately clear that the team was not content to rest on the immense (and well-deserved) pile of awards and accolades of their Witcher roots for their next outing. Based on Mike Pondsmith’s similarly-named pen and paper series, Cyberpunk 2077’s reception among the press carried a common theme — it was so damned good, it was hard to believe it was real.

It’s very real, and it’s like nothing we could have expected.

Sitting down with Level Designer Miles Tost and Combat Designer Lucaj Szczepankowski, we got to see 50 minutes of uncut gameplay, and fellow Editor Maddy Wojdak and I couldn’t have been more blown away. While we don’t have any footage to share (yet!), we’ll do our best to describe the amazing work we saw on display.

In true CD Projekt RED fashion, the game is a story-driven narrative in an open world. While it is an RPG, it’s also, surprisingly, a shooter. America is in shambles, and megacorps now control everything. The streets are rife with organized crime, and that means nothing but opportunity for you. Why? You play as V — a mercenary for hire. You carve your own path, living free outside of the system. You are a cyber punk, and the only thing that matters to you is being in control of who you are.

Kicking off the demo proper, we get our first look at the deep customization engine, starting with the easiest choice — will V be male or female? Other background elements like “Where do you come from, what are the key events that lead you to where you are now? Why are you in Night City?” are bracketed by cosmetic options like tattoos, makeup, hair style, cars, style, clothing, makeup, piercings, eye mods, body composition, and more. Since it’s a full-fledged RPG, you’ll also pick your stats (Strength, Constitution, Intelligence, Reflex, Tech, and Cool — more on these later), but what you won’t do is pick your class. Cyberpunk 2077 uses a fluid class system that you can customize and morph to organically fit your style of play.

The DJ for the soundtrack is “Johnny Silverhand”, as pictured in this image.

With our character built (a female cyberpunk with some hacking and gunplay skills), we hit the streets of the free state of Northern California — a place called Night City. The first surprise in a long line of surprises over the course of the demo was that the game takes place in first person perspective. To build as immersive a world as possible, the team has shifted from third person to first person, letting the player get as close to the action as possible.

In this world, implants are as common as tattoos, and there is big Eurodollars (that’s the world’s cryptocurrency at this time), aka “Eddies” to be made in kidnapping and extracting wetware from their previous meat-owners. In our first mission, scavengers have kidnapped our target, Sandra Dorsett, and our contact TBug has tasked our friend Jackie and us with her recovery.

Using some sort of vapor inhaler dose to boost our reaction time, the world takes on a bloom-style glow, not unlike the look of taking Slo-Mo in the movie Dredd, and with the same effect. Using bullet-time, we zip into the room and start slinging lead into the scavengers, damage numbers popping up as they are hit. Taking another hit, we slow time again, and cut down a few more, the shitty apartment walls being ripped apart by the small arms fire. Looking for an alternate path, we head out onto the balcony as Jackie heads straight in to take down the final target. We get a flanked shot and ice him, finding Sandra floating in a bathtub. Flipping her nude body, we see her eyes fluttering in whatever trance she’s in, be it cybernetic or drug-induced. Jacking into her biomonitors, we confirm that she’s indeed our target based on her data panel. Here we see the first semblance of RPG elements as multiple options for how to deal with her situation present based on choices, skills, and conversation choices.

Our buddy Jackie always seems to have our back.

Using hypos, we keep the target from flatlining, but swarms of reinforcements are headed our way as we head to the balcony. Thankfully, our target is filthy rich, and her Trauma Team insurance kicks in the moment we dispense with the implant jacker someone placed in her head. With the block removed, her GPS locator had the Trauma Team on site within moments, courtesy of a flying transport. They take immediate possession of the target, placing a stretcher on the ground, and brushing us back at gunpoint — it’s as much military as medic in this world.

Skipping out ahead of the reinforcements, the job is successful, and we now have some money to burn. With a good reminder that the game is mature (beyond the ultraviolence and nudity), we spend our money on a little sex and booze to while away the time. Our plan was to get out and meet up with a ripper doc (wetware implant doctors capable of providing body mods and upgrades), but Jackie gives us a call, asking us to “put some pants on our culo and make our way to the subway”. Picking up our Federated Arms Vindicator Pistol, and Samurai Jacket (an Uncommon item that increases our street cred levelling speed by 5%, as well as physical, thermal, and chemical resistance by 30%) we make our way out of our Megabuilding apartment and down to the street level — again, shades of Dredd, and I love that.

Good morning Night City

With an audible reaction from the crowd, we got our first real glimpse of Night City. Open world games try to drive immersion with massive crowds, but they citizens often come across feeling like clones with little to do. It’s very easy to see why people were having trouble believing that this demo was real, because, this scene was easily the most impressive thing I saw at E3 2018. Dense overpopulated streets surged with people, trash, cafes, pawn shops, and a blend of Asian and English neon advertising that has become synonymous with the word cyberpunk. Here, each crowd member seemed to have something to do and somewhere to be. Each one was clearly bespoke, wearing different gear with obvious dermal implants, external wetware, armor, weapons, and a ridiculous amount of hairstyles and makeup. Sure, it could be the smoke and mirrors of E3, but damn if it wasn’t very, very convincing.

Alhough we only got one clear example of it, the team went out of their way to show an interactivity element in the world of Night City. Walking up to an ad (which was clearly calling out to us), we gave it a click and it indicated where we could pick up the sugary nicotine “Nicola” drink from the nearby dispenser.

As we set feet on the street, Tost tells us that this is one of six districts in the city — specifically, we are in the Watson District, and much like The Witcher, it’s an entirely seamless open world with no loading screens.

Making our way towards the subway, we spot Wilson, a local gunsmith in Night City. He can provide us with upgrades for our existing weapons, and sell us guns, but our interest lies deeper in the flesh. Before we can make it to our ripper doc, however, we get sidelined by Jackie who informs us that a local fixer named Dexter DeShawn wants to have a word with us nearby. Hopping in the back of the limo, we sidle up to a hulking African American man with a golden prosthetic arm smoking a cigar. We give the nod to his job, but he wants to make sure we’ll follow through with a little test first. Taking the data shard, we slot it in our head and get a layout of the gig. A local psychogang has jumped a corporate convoy, and he would like us to jack a combat bot from their payload.

Once again, choices present themselves in our approach. We can go in guns blazing, but that’d be a test of our skills, as well as our stats, abilities, and equipment. Additionally, we might meet with the corporate agent DeShawn mentioned and see if it presents further possibilities. Unfortunately, few options were available to us, but that’s what our trip to the ripper doc is meant to fix.

Our favorite ripperdoc has the goods to grant us new biosofts.

Dr. Vector, a heavily modded man himself, sits us down in the chair for some work. Giving us a quick look at his wares, we select a Kiroshi Optical Scanner, Mk 1 and a Subdermal Weapon Grip. Our choices made, Dr. Vector uses his tools to extract our tool with a jerking motion and some wet crunching sounds. We go “light out” for a moment, and then our Kiroshi comes online (after giving us a birds eye view of the eye rolling around in his hand). This new scanner lets us zoom in on distant objects, scan for gang affiliations, see threat levels, and much more about our targets and their environment than they might like. The grip gives us an optical targeting reticule, a better grip on our weapon systems, and an augmented reality counter to more easily keep track of our ammunition expenditures. Our wad spent (and a bit of an I.O.U on top to Dr. Vector), we met back up with Jackie to tackle DeShawn’s mission. It was here that we got our next big surprise.

People in the crowd couldn’t believe that what we were watching was live, so Miles directed Lucaj to zoom in on any section of the room called out by the crowd, scanning it for us to read. Walking around, we saw that everything we were seeing was indeed real, and being run in real time. It was still hard to believe, as the game just looks that damned good.

Jackie suggests that where we need to go is a good clip down the road, tossing us the keys to his ride. As we round the fender we spot some thug asshole that we think was eyeballing us from earlier. As we put him in the rear view mirror, we have a feeling we might see him later. Under full player control, the car (powered by something called “Chu2” — a superfuel from the future) roars down the freeway paths choked tight by the urban sprawl. Unfortunately, our friend from a moment before came back sooner than expected, and he brought friends. Giving Jackie the wheel, we lean out of the window and engage in a brief bit of run-and-gun.

I was shocked to see driving in the game, but it looks fantastic already.

With our foes dispatched, we zip back onto the streets and head towards the nearby meeting location — we are going to link up with the corporate agent to see what sort of deal we might make. After the ambush on the road, we apply some wisdom, scouting the area from above with our new Kiroshi Mk. 1 eye. Looking down, we spot that her car is a tank, and she has two corporate bodyguards, but otherwise the area seems clear. Dropping down into the area for a chat, our outstretched welcoming handshake is met with a pistol butt to the back of the head. Forcibly jacking into our head, they take control of our personal link and begin hacking us. Fighting back, we have several dialogue choices, or we can physically fight the hack and attempt to grab the gun. Resisting our urge, we instead try to talk our way out of it and answer their questions.

Unsatisfied with our answers, our Corporate Officer jerks a man named Anthony Gilchrist out of the back of their truck and threatens him with bodily harm. He runs his mouth, but offers little additional information, so they jam him back in the truck. Knowing we are officially in over our heads, we instead make an offer to nab the thieves who hit our Corporate friend. Her response is that she doesn’t care about money — she wants the same bot that DeShawn is asking for. We take her 50 credit chip — the price the scavengers are asking. It looks like we might have a diplomatic option after all.

Our head a bit sore, we climb back in the car and continue on to the All Food Plant. Driving and cutscenes, unlike the rest of the action, takes place in the third person perspective, giving us a great view of the dilapidated blend of neo-futurism and aging infrastructure that makes up the city.

At our destination, we meet up with some scavengers who our scanner identifies as part of the Maelstrom Gang. These guys are obsessed with becoming the most extreme blend of man and machine, eschewing all humanity. We state that we are here to see Royce, our credit chip in hand. Naturally, an asshole named “Dum Dum” decides to get into it with Jackie over Jackie’s unwillingness to sit down and wait for Royce to arrive. Through dialogue options, cooler heads prevail, and we finally get our meeting with Royce.

Royce describes a spider bot that sounds like our objective. After another quick little Mexican standoff, we end up with the bot in our possession, but nothing is ever quite that simple, is it? The credit chip that our corporate contact provided is compromised, and when Royce runs it, it unleashes its payload. As the virus takes control of the base’s systems (including the two large turrets we saw on the way in), we slot the control chip for the bot into our head and add him as a companion to our trio. Snapping up the street-modified shotgun, we note that it’s capable of cutting through people, as well as through cover — that’ll come in handy.

This little spiderbot is the source of all this consternation.

Unfortunately, we aren’t that great at hacking yet, so we can’t open the door to get out of this predicament. Thanks to having the Mission and Combat designer on hand, however, a nearby cleverly-placed access panel would provide us an alternative. Using our Engineering skills, we hack this secondary hatch and duck out of this room, fast forwarding to a new sequence “in the interest of time”.

Cyberpunk Combat

The team wanted to give us a glimpse of the combat capabilities of Cyberpunk 2077. With our skills, we could now see foes behind walls, as well as a ricochet targeting system that would let us bounce bullets off surfaces to hit foes behind cover. We also have a smart gun — an advanced late-game weapon that can track and follow targets. Guns and gear can be modded, though we didn’t get a chance to see that mechanic in action in this demo.

Springing into action, we knocked holes in the destructible environment, ground-slid into position while using slo-motion inhalers, then sprang into the air with a pair of shotguns to eviscerate our enemies. One foe had his legs blown off, suggesting a system that allows for enemy dismemberment. The room cleared, we opted for a stealth approach to the next area, sneaking up on a scavenger and grabbing him from behind. Jacking into his neural socket, we see his entire neural network. This allows us to see not only what’s in his head, but also the squad he belongs to. Injecting a virus into his neural net, we infect his entire squad. Unleashing the mantis blades we saw in the first reveal trailer, we wall run and sink the steel into the wall. Leaping down, we sink them deep into the enemy, carving them into bloody bits with quiet ease.

These corporate assholes? They aren’t your friends.

Quietly making our way towards the exit, we encounter a gang member in an exosuit with a massive corporate weapon. Corporate weapons are high quality and do significant damage, but we brought a rail gun to this fight, blowing chunks off his exosuit after scanning it for weak points.

We could have done this entire demo in several other ways. We could have paid with our own credits, avoiding the virus-laden credchip from the Corporate Agent. We also could have avoided her entirely, pulled a gun on her and her goons, gone entirely stealth as a world-class netrunner, gone in heavy with large-bore weapons, or several other options beyond these surface choices.

I once wrote an article on how The Witcher III: Wild Hunt would put the RPG world on notice, pushing everyone to raise their game. Now it looks like CD Projekt RED is ready to do it again, but for the action/RPG genre. I, for one, cannot wait to be a netrunning street samurai in the world they’ve created, and it’s very easy to see why we nominated it for a Best of E3 2018 award.

Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t currently have a release date, but is targeting Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Stay tuned for more E3 coverage here on Gaming Trend.

Digital immortality — Cyberpunk 2077 E3 preview
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