If Cyberpunk 2077 had been released today, with all of the improvements version 1.2 brings – and all of the other hotfixes and patches rolled out since its abysmal release in December – it would have received the exact same negative response from players and critics. This is a game that, for all of the minor improvements made, still has a long way to go to get to a decent state. At least, that seems to be the consensus now that the latest version of the game is live.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that, quite frankly, is still in development. But CD Projekt Red opted to release it to the public before development was finished. The game will go down in gaming history as one of the worst and most egregious examples of the horrible “release now, fix later” business model that has plagued the industry for the better part of a decade. Whatever improvements may come in future as development on the game continues, its reputation has been defined by its catastrophic launch. Don’t believe me? Just look at No Man’s Sky, another game that took years to get to where it should have been at launch. No matter what happens now with No Man’s Sky, it will forever be known as the game that was overhyped, lied about, and that players hated upon release. Cyberpunk 2077 is in the same boat.
Even the game’s biggest fans and supporters seem practically united in their unwillingness to recommend Cyberpunk 2077 in its current form, even after the updates and fixes brought by version 1.2. “If you’ve held off this long, you can wait a little longer,” suggested one Cyberpunk 2077 fan on YouTube. If that isn’t damning, I don’t know what is.
The problem with Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t just that it was full of bugs, glitches, crashes, frame-rate problems, and graphical errors. Ironically, those issues concealed what may come to be seen as the game’s worst traits – awful enemy and non-player character AI and scripting, unrealistic physics, and a game with what is considered to be an engrossing story held back by first-person shooter gameplay that’s average at best.
Fixing those things, if it’s even possible, will take a long time.
Taking on an ambitious project should be commended, and CD Projekt Red were certainly ambitious with Cyberpunk 2077. As with No Man’s Sky, though, the ambition was clearly not backed up with sufficient skill, knowledge, and management. CD Projekt Red stepped away from the style of their previous title – the critically-acclaimed Witcher 3 – to tackle a wholly new genre. There’s clearly a big difference between a third-person action-roleplaying game and a first-person shooter roleplaying game, and for CD Projekt Red, the transition from working on one style of game to the other did not go smoothly – to say the least.
Perhaps one day we’ll learn more from those involved about how Cyberpunk 2077 went so far off the rails, and that will be an interesting story. However, even without knowing the details, we’ve been in this position so many times over the years with so many different games that we can make some reasonable assumptions. Developers were pushed into working on a totally different style of game without sufficient backup or training. Management kept changing their minds about the direction of aspects of the project. Despite being announced way back in 2012, development didn’t begin in earnest until 2016, meaning the game was developed in a scant four years, not eight. An absolute rock-solid deadline of the end of 2020 was in place and immovable, despite the game not being ready. And so on.
Many of those points about poor project management, a lack of necessary skill and training on wholly new systems and engines, and rushing to meet deadlines applied to games like Fallout 76, Anthem, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and many others. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn something similar happened to Cyberpunk 2077.
It’s clear, though, that CD Projekt Red lack the development skill to match other open world games, even those from years ago. Grand Theft Auto V, while not directly comparable as it isn’t a roleplaying game, uses a densely-packed city as the main part of its open world, with systems like driving and evading the police that are present in Cyberpunk 2077. Yet that game manages to do every aspect better. Police in Cyberpunk 2077 randomly appear out of nowhere, spawned into the game within feet of the player. Even older Grand Theft Auto titles didn’t do that. Heck, even a game like Saint’s Row 2 from 2008 handles driving, pedestrians, and police way better than Cyberpunk 2077 version 1.2, and that game was released twelve years earlier and cost an awful lot less to develop!
For me, this is the real problem with Cyberpunk 2077, and it’s one that is not easily sorted out. The bugs and glitches at launch took attention and focus away from the fact that some pretty major gameplay elements are sub-par, and now that some of the glitches are finally going away (though by no means are all the problems fixed, especially on consoles) people are beginning to come around to the simple fact that the game itself is suffering from some significant issues.
Far from being a quick patch job, with the game being fixed and playable by the summer or even the end of 2021, Cyberpunk 2077 is in the early stages of a complete root-and-branch overhaul. The version that launched should have been a beta. Heck, it should have been an alpha. The game is still in development, but it’s already been released. This has to be one of the single worst examples of the “release now, fix later” business model that plagues the modern video games industry.
Individual developers are not to blame, and they never are in cases like this. That’s why I was so upset when some “fans” seemed to be celebrating the company being hacked a few weeks ago. This is a failure of management. Management failed to understand the complexities of the project they were taking on. They were overambitious. They failed to ensure the development team had adequate resources to do their jobs. And when it came to marketing Cyberpunk 2077, they allowed a ridiculous hype bubble to get completely out of hand.
Version 1.2 may be the biggest step so far toward getting Cyberpunk 2077 into a more enjoyable – or even just basically playable – state. But the task facing CD Projekt Red, at a time when harsh but deserved criticism has surely lowered staff morale, is a truly daunting one. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes!
Cyberpunk 2077 is out now for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Cyberpunk 2077 is the copyright of CD Projekt Red. Some screenshots and promo artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.