CD Projekt Red’s magnum opus, Cyberpunk 2077, is a controversial and contentious game that failed in a lot of important ways, and not just its previous-gen console performance.
To put it in a way that is really unfair to two games that I really like, it was the AAA title version of No Man’s Sky.
Years of hype followed by a release that resulted in some very real (and valid) anger. In both cases, however, there are plenty of positives that an optimist could choose to focus on, and one of the big highlights in Cyberpunk for me was the vibrant and unique automotive culture of Night City.
Transportation is something that immediately becomes important in Night City, as the size of the location means walking places is pretty much out of the question. You can fast travel to locations, but if you’re one of those people that prefers to encounter world events organically, then you’ll be after some wheels.
It doesn’t take long before cars start to become available, but it’s a bit of a strange system. Used cars become available for you to purchase via text messages that you receive as you progress through the game. The models are initially quite boring and cheap, before eventually becoming much more powerful, exotic and suitably expensive.
There is no car customization in the game, as of this writing, and you can’t even pick the color of the car that you’re buying, so you’ll need to pick outfits that match the car, not the other way around. Despite being a nearly entirely first-person experience, looking good is just as important as staying alive in Cyberpunk, and the fashion definitely extends beyond just the clothing and into the aesthetics of the cars and motorcycles. It’s not just the exteriors, either.
Racing is definitely something that happens in the 2077 universe, as I did find a newspaper article about a “Salinas Grand Prix” which seems to be a racing series that uses the Rayfield Aerondight “Guinevere”, or a race-spec version of it. Unfortunately, you’re never given the opportunity to race in anything like that in the game, however.
The actual racing is very minimal and has a lot of shooting involved, so if you’re a sim racer then this one probably isn’t for you. It’s part of Claire’s side jobs, so if you play the game, you’ll likely partake in the questline, but if you’re a veteran of racing games then these missions will probably be very easy for you, even in Claire’s slow 4×4.
And this brings us to the elephant in the room that’s been stomping their feet this whole time – the handling. The cars (and indeed the traffic) in Cyberpunk are, to be generous, not great. You definitely wouldn’t buy this game just for the driving. It can be fun, sure, weaving through traffic on a bike, the neon lights of the city reflecting off the puddles that grow on the streets beneath you, the superb radio station belting a banger as your jaw drops to the floor from the pure splendor of the moment.
But the extreme rear-locking under braking while on that bike brings the whole experience crashing (literally) to a halt at the next corner.
Therefore, as a racing game, even when compared to another open-world game like GTA, Cyberpunk is a complete flop, but as an automotive experience for fans of the aesthetic and glorification of those objects which get us from A all the way to B in style, comfort – and maybe even speed – well then it’s hard to compare this title to anything else.
The number of cars that you can get in the game is actually quite low, but each is overflowing with character. They tell a story about where they came from, and what kind of person you are for driving them, they demand certain clothing to accompany them and they make that journey back to the quest giver something to smile about, rather than a burden. Transportation is something to savor in Cyberpunk 2077.
Sometimes the fastest car isn’t the one you actually want to take. Sometimes the one you want to drive is the one that suits the radio station you’re planning to listen to on the way to your destination. Sometimes you want to pick something that’s going to blend in with the neighborhood you’ll be arriving at. And sometimes you just want that perfect blend of set, setting, and style.
And thankfully it’s not all about cars from the year 2077 either. The appearance of the 100-year-old Porsche 930 Turbo from 1977 (featured image) is a welcomed change of pace. It’s easy to imagine that a car that old would be nearly as rare as a car from 1921 is today, and yet somehow it doesn’t look at all out of place on the streets of Night City.
It’s hard to recommend Cyberpunk 2077 as a game. From stuff like quest bugs to over-hyped acting, to things much worse, like the transphobic elements and some of the marketing that fans were horrified to discover or learn about. The developers have a lot to answer for, and a lot to think about when it comes to all future releases (and rightfully so).
But the source material from Mike Pondsmith is truly fantastic. The original tabletop RPG provided such a rich world from which to pull inspiration that it must have been relatively easy to design the cars of Cyberpunk 2077. And seeing a version of Mike’s vision brought to life (especially when seen through the lens of a 2080Ti) is truly incredible, and it makes me yearn for more of these types of games and movies and TV shows – especially since Altered Carbon was cancelled.
It’s been just over a year since the game was launched, and a lot of updates have improved it, but it’s still almost taboo to even talk about it. For what it’s worth, I really did enjoy the experience, I liked most of the story and I thought the world was immersive. It was very easy to fall into Cyberpunk 2077 and let its beautiful and buggy arms wrap around you and hold you close.
But the technical and social faults with the game still make it impossible to recommend to anyone whom you don’t know rather intimately. It’s not a racing game, not even a little. It’s not even really an automotive game.
Grand Theft Auto has better driving physics and more things for racing fans to enjoy. But where Cyberpunk really shines is the aesthetic. No game has ever quite done what this game has done for cars. The vision of an alternate automotive future is as romantic as it is unrealistic.
One thing that can be said quite categorically about the game, though, is that the screenshots look great.