Oh dear. The launch of Cyberpunk 2077 has not gone well for a lot of players. The lucky few who managed to acquire a next-gen PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X seem to be managing to have a decent enough time, as do PC players with an above-average machine. But anyone who picked up the game on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One has encountered a bug-riddled mess that many have described as “unplayable.”
CD Projekt Red is now receiving a lot of criticism, not only for releasing the game in a broken state, but for trying to cover that up. Reviewers who received copies of the game prior to release were only given access to the PC version – the version of the game which seems to run best – and were prohibited from using in-game footage they took themselves; launch day reviews were only allowed to use footage of the game provided by the developers. These things add up to a company trying to shield their game from well-earned criticism – and, as usual, the gaming press fell for it.
There is once again a disconnect between reviews from professional games journalists and reviews from the general public. On Metacritic – which is usually a decent aggregator of both professional and amateur opinion – Cyberpunk 2077 is sitting at a 90 from professionals, but even on PC it’s only getting a 6.6 from regular players. On consoles the average score dips massively – 3.2 on Xbox One and 2.6 on PlayStation 4 respectively.* There’s a degree of review-bombing, with many players giving the game 0/10. And if the experience is so bad it’s “unplayable,” I can quite understand why.
On a normal Xbox One or PlayStation 4 – i.e. not an Xbox One X or PlayStation 4 Pro – frame-rates for the game routinely dip below 20fps, textures are massively downgraded, there are fewer cars on the road, fewer NPCs on the street, and the game suffers from a strange haze effect that makes it look blurry. And that’s before we get into a single bug – such as hard crashes, broken missions, and so many different graphical issues that it makes Mass Effect: Andromeda look good by comparison.
The overwhelming consensus is that the game should not have been released on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. At some point during the development of Cyberpunk 2077 – which began in earnest in 2015 having been in pre-production since 2012 – the decision was made to prioritise higher-end PCs and next-gen consoles over current-gen machines. However, the game remained in development for older hardware and has clearly been unable to adapt. It’s possible that patches may be rolled out in the coming weeks that blunt the edge of some of these issues, but if the game is fundamentally built with better hardware in mind, it’s hard to see how that’s something that can be patched out.
Even if patches are coming, though, many players are asking themselves a perfectly reasonable question: why wasn’t the game delayed? Cyberpunk 2077 was delayed twice: from its initial April release to November, and again from November to December. With the game clearly in such a state, how on earth did CD Projekt Red decide to go ahead with the release? Surely they anticipated this reaction – otherwise they’d have allowed reviewers access to the console version of the game. Knowingly launching a broken game is something we’ve seen become all too common in the last few years, and as I’ve said before: it almost never works.
Players have trusted CD Projekt Red as one of the few “good” games companies out there. Compared with the likes of Electronic Arts and Ubisoft, CD Projekt Red have a good reputation, largely because they’re considered pro-consumer. That reputation is in tatters right now, and the trust they’ve broken with millions of players will be very difficult to rebuild.
We’ve seen games launch in a bad state many times, and often it’s a killer blow. A few titles like No Man’s Sky manage to partially rehabilitate their reputation over time, but I know people today who still refuse to play that game because of the “lies” and broken promises at launch. And of course there are many games that simply fail because of the reputational damage suffered by a buggy, broken launch. Mass Effect: Andromeda is a good example; its planned expansions were cancelled and the entire franchise put on hiatus after its disastrous release.
Even if Cyberpunk 2077 can be reworked on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 to be basically playable, the damage to the game’s reputation has been done. As many commenters have said: it doesn’t matter how good the game might be if it doesn’t work on the console they have. Pretending Cyberpunk 2077 is a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game was a mistake. CD Projekt Red have clearly known for some time that current-gen consoles are not capable of running the game in any meaningful way, and a decision should have been taken a long time ago to either make significant changes and scale back some of the next-gen elements, or to make it a next-gen exclusive.
Had such a decision been taken a year or more ago, Cyberpunk 2077 would be in a better place today. It could have been one of the launch titles for the new generation of consoles, hailed as a great advertisement for what players can expect in the years ahead. Instead it’s being attacked and ridiculed for being such a mess.
We haven’t even touched on an issue I brought up last time I wrote about Cyberpunk 2077 – the insane level of hype that has surrounded the project. I said then that many players, having built up in their heads an idea of what the perfect game could be, will come crashing down to earth when they realise it’s just a game. A good game, perhaps, but just a game. I didn’t anticipate this, though. For players who’ve been eagerly awaiting this game for eight years, this must feel absolutely awful.
Far from being the spectacle they wanted, the game doesn’t even work. Anecdotally I’ve heard from players who literally can’t get past the main menu, hard crashes that make any meaningful progress impossible, and the framerate being so low that at key points the game cannot be played. Players have crashed their cars or been unable to survive a firefight because the framerate tanked at the wrong moment. The sheer frustration that must lead to is unparalleled.
The most important lesson we’ve learned here is this: DO NOT PRE-ORDER GAMES! Don’t even buy them on launch day! Wait! Slow down, jump off the hype train, and be patient. Wait for the game to be properly looked-over by professional and amateur critics before making a decision, no matter how much you think the game looks amazing or that the developer can be trusted.
On the developers’ side, the lesson they need to learn is that exaggeration and false advertising always comes back to bite you. The marketing team at CD Projekt Red allowed the hype for Cyberpunk 2077 to get wildly out of control, and now that players have their hands on the buggy, barely-functional game, all of that criticism is their fault. They took the No Man’s Sky approach of failing to rein in the hype when they had the chance, of over-promising, exaggerating what the game would be like on current-gen hardware, and all the problems and low scores are their own fault. I have very little sympathy for the marketers, and as someone who worked for several years in video game marketing, I understand fully the environment they’re in.
It’s possible that Cyberpunk 2077 will eventually be made to run better on current-gen machines, but I wouldn’t bet on it looking anywhere near as good as advertised prior to launch. If you were planning on picking it up, wait. Either wait till you have a next-gen console or a PC, or keep checking to see if the issues have been fixed. For such a highly-anticipated game, I get that it won’t be easy to do so, and I sympathise. But paying £50/$60 for it today will only lead to disappointment.
Shameless plug time: I wrote a list of ten games you could play instead, and you can find it by clicking or tapping here.
*All review scores were correct at time of publication.
Cyberpunk 2077 is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions may be used on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X respectively. Cyberpunk 2077 is the copyright of CD Projekt Red. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.