CD Projekt Red’s RPG was the most exciting game at E3
“being in first person, it’s more your story, it’s more your adventure”
It’s 2077, and America is in a bit of a state. It’s everything you’d expect from a cyberpunk world: megacorporations rule all aspects of people’s lives, and organised crime is rife on the streets. There’s extreme poverty and extreme decadence both. It’s like now, but more so, and with cyborgs.
You play as V, an ‘urban mercenary’ who… well, that’s up to you. Unlike TheWitcher and its white-haired lead, Cyberpunk2077 lets you define your character – their look, their tattoos, their gender, and even their backstory, which, depending on what you choose, will unlock different possibilities throughout the game. You can also assign stat points into a number of attributes – I spotted RPG regulars such as strength, constitution and intelligence, but also reflexes and ‘cool’.
This latter attribute also appears in Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk pen-andpaper RPG, upon which Cyberpunk2077 is based. “It’s going to unlock certain things that you might not have been able to do, certain options when dealing with situations,” level designer Max Pears says of the cool attribute, in an interview with PC Gamer’s Steven Messner.
“Or, another example, the vendors that you have, the ripperdocs, if you have that cool and street cred level, they might bring down certain weapon prices or unlock certain weapons you might not have had there. So it is an integral part of it. It’s also a throwback to the original tabletop game as well. So we are thinking of – forgive me for saying this – cool ways to use it. It’s going to be an important thing for sure.”
In the demo, CD Projekt Red picks a female V, and heads off on a contract to retrieve a missing girl. While later in the demo we’ll see V in cutscenes, the game is played in a first-person perspective. “The reason for this,” says Pears, “and it was a purposeful decision, it wasn’t just us saying ‘hey, let’s do it’, for Cyberpunk, CD Projekt Red … felt that when you are first-person, it immerses you better.
“Say with Witcher, you’re really immersed in that game, but you’re kind of with Geralt. Here, in Cyberpunk, because you create your own character as well, being first person, it’s more your story, it’s more your adventure, of a cyberpunk. What are you going to do in this world? That’s why we chose first-person perspective, in terms of making it more immersive. Using it as a story technique. That’s why we want to go for that. If you haven’t seen the demo, just believe us that we’re not doing it to scare or anything. We’re doing it because we believe it can help make this game better.”
Got your number
V and her partner, Jackie, break into the hideout of some scavengers, who have been snatching people off the streets and harvesting their implants to sell on the black market. Before the fight begins, V takes a reflex booster – an inhaler that gives temporary access to a slow-mo ability. Combat, and the mix of abilities and gunplay, looks comparable to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, albeit less stilted, and with Borderlands- style damage numbers popping off enemies on each hit. The action seems more fluid, although it’s hard to get a good sense of it based on watching someone else play.
“We don’t want to say ‘first-person shooter’,” admits Pears, “we just want to use the words ‘first-person perspective’. It will feel different to a traditional FPS because it is an RPG, so there’s going to be numbers. And we’ve got a great team, so that is a challenge for us. Not only do we have to consider the range in combat, but also think about how that’s going to work in terms of stats and figures.”
With the building clear, V finds her target unconscious and naked in a bathtub. She jacks into her biomod – the
target is alive, but she needs medical attention. By disabling the virus blocking the biomod’s signal, a trauma team is dispatched. V carries the woman to a balcony, where the trauma team swoops in. There’s a tense standoff – the trauma team is armed – but V calmly hands over the woman, and the mission is complete.
The demo cuts to the next day, with V getting a call from Jackie who asks if they can meet up. First, she gets dressed. Clothes will bestow stat bonuses – in the demo she picks a jacket that boosts her armour and street cred. V exits her apartment, and steps out onto a floor of a high-rise megabuilding.
This is the most impressive section of the demo. The building is enormous; a series of floors filled with apartments and shops – an ecosystem packed into this single location. V takes an elevator down to the bottom and exits to the street below. It’s here that you can sense the scale of the game. The megabuilding itself was packed with life, but here it’s revealed to be just a small part of the entire city.
“One of the biggest challenges is that seamless transition from being in a megabuilding – these buildings, depending on the district you’re in, are going very vertical,” says Pears. “So you’ve got your own kind of ecosystem, in the sense that there are different things happening in those buildings than on a street level. So having that transition there has been one of the bigger challenges. From that, as well, it’s about making it feel dense. We want it to feel packed, depending on the district. Making sure it feels alive. That’s been the big part. Not just alive as in it’s populated with numbers, but it feels like stuff’s actually happening around you.”
Jackie tells V that a local fixer, Dexter Deshawn, has a job for her, and the two head over to see what he wants. Deshawn explains he wants to test her abilities, and asks her to acquire a combat bot from Maelstrom – a gang obsessed with dehumanisation and cyberspace. There are many ways to go about this mission, but in the demo, V arranges a meeting with the agent of a corporation recently targeted by Maelstrom. First, though, she heads to the local ripperdoc to upgrade her implants. She buys a cybereye – letting her scan and analyse objects.
Back on the street, V jumps in Jackie’s car and drives them both to the meetup. “It’s definitely not fast-travel,” Pears says of driving. “You’re going to have control over that, and as you saw there’s car combat. That’s going to be on you as the player, being in those moments as well. Everything you saw in the demo, our player was playing that. So he was driving.” Vehicle handling seems like it still needs plenty of tuning – it was the most unnatural looking part of the demo – but Pears suggests CDPR understands the importance of getting it right. “It’s not just through cars, there’s bikes as well. It’s an important thing to make that feel good.”
V exits just out of sight of the meeting point, and uses her new implant to scan the corporate agent and her bodyguards. They’re well equipped and clearly dangerous, so V takes the nonviolent approach – not responding to the agents’ taunts and threats. She strikes a deal – the agent will give V the money to buy the bot in exchange for information.
This deal has consequences later on, when V is inside the Maelstrom gang’s HQ, negotiating for the combat bot. The agent had secretly installed a virus on the credit chip – frying Maelstrom’s systems and killing a gang member jacked into their terminal. V is trapped, and surrounded by pissed off psychopaths.
During this final breakout sequence, I get a sense of the flexibility Cyberpunk 2077 will offer. V reprograms the combat bot so she can use it in battle, then uses her engineering skill to take apart a maintenance panel, giving her a route out. CDPR uses a debug command to unlock some high-level abilities and weapons. There’s a targeting system that lets her ricochet bullets off of walls, and a gun that autotargets enemies. There are even retractable arm chisels you can use to attach to a wall – letting you take down an enemy from above. It’s versatile stuff, ensuring players should have plenty of options as they tailor their character.
This was a small, controlled slice of what CD Projekt Red has planned, but I couldn’t help but come away excited at the possibilities. The size and scale of the city, and the variety of options to tailor combat style and approach – it’s a tantalising mix of RPG and immersive sim, and I can’t wait to see more.
THE BUILDING IS ENORMOUS, A SERIES OF FLOORS FILLED WITH APARTMENTS AND SHOPS
Armed medics is probably commentary on… something.
Living in a dystopia? Get some arm chisels.