Developer CD Projekt Red’s latest release is an embarrassing technical disaster on launch, marred further by dishonest company practices.
This article was originally published on December 11, 2020 on Within the Abyss. This article was last updated on February 6, 2021.
It’s been a long, long wait for Cyberpunk 2077. In development since 2012, with its first CG trailer dropping in January of 2013, the ambitious project promised unprecedented immersion, narrative choice, and customization, all contained within a fully realized, open-world environment. Since then, the hype for Cyberpunk 2077 grew rapidly and steadily, with expectations only further raised by the developer’s gold-status reputation after the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015). These expectations were largely met and arguably even exceeded, upon the release of a 45-minute gameplay trailer in August of 2018. Showcasing a freely explorable world with the combined aesthetics of legendary science-fiction works such as Akira (1988), Ghost in the Shell (1995), and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), along with elements of breakthrough games such as System Shock (1994) and Deus Ex (2000), Cyberpunk 2077 seemed destined for greatness.
“A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad”
Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario and Legend of Zelda
Then, the delays began. The original release date of April 16th, 2020 changed to September, then November, and then finally, December 10th, 2020. In between these delays, the next generation of gaming consoles arrived (Xbox Series X on Nov. 10th and PlayStation 5 on Nov. 12th). And yet, Cyberpunk 2077 is only currently released for the previous console generation, Xbox One X and PlayStation 4, as well as on PC. While CD Projekt Red have confirmed that they are hard at work on bringing their game to the next generation, with no public release date, it’ll likely take a significant amount of time before those releases. These numerous setbacks and delays wouldn’t be much of an issue if the currently released version of Cyberpunk ran well on all platforms and if CD Projekt Red had honored their commitment to avoid forced crunch time for their employees… but for a variety of reasons: internal pressure from marketing, publisher and fan release expectations, and the generally, frequently demanding toxicity of game development, Cyberpunk 2077 nevertheless went live on December 10th to a polarizing reception.
Immediately, Cyberpunk 2077’s story and the world design of fictional Night City received near unanimous praise. However, its transphobic marketing campaign and character creation menus, needlessly cruel treatment of minorities, and rampant objectification of women also received due criticism (read here and here for more info on these topics). While it’s hard to distinguish which elements of Cyberpunk 2077 are shallow eye-candy and which are truly interactable, the overall density, interconnectivity, and infrastructure of Night City is astounding. What’s also astounding, is the sheer lack of polish and performance present after three delays and almost eight years of development (five, if we’re being undeservedly kind). Not only is the game chugging along at a measly 20 frames-per-second on the base 7th generation consoles, it’s doing so hovering at around a 720p resolution, with constant stuttering, screen-tearing, and hard crashes (click here for Digital Foundry’s excellent video on performance issues). The last game to launch in such visual and technical shambles, Mass Effect Andromeda (2017), had the majority of the internet in complete uproar and caused developer BioWare to unceremoniously cancel future plans for the Andromeda series. Suffice to say, Cyberpunk 2077 is launching in a similar state to some of the previous
generation’s worst day-one experiences.
And, it gets worse. Prior to launch day, CD Projekt Red weathered criticisms for their unorthodox embargo restrictions. Complaints around the scare distribution of early copies were the first glaring issue, followed by the refusal to release any console versions of the game for pre-release reviews, and finally, the bafflingly shady decision to limit all review footage of the game to only pre-released demos, trailers, and assorted promotional material. There’s no mincing of words here, the decisions that CD Projekt Red have made, in leveraging their previously golden reputation, in comprehensively censoring review copies, and in talking up a technical garbage-fire, are inexcusably insulting. Yes, there are versions of Cyberpunk 2077 running on high-end PC’s that don’t majorly suffer from the issues listed above, but these are rare exceptions to an otherwise abysmal launch. When a AAA game launches this poorly on a majority of its platforms (and even sold exclusive bundle editions of the console on Xbox One X), there’s no excuse.
As you’ve noticed if you’ve read this far, this isn’t a review of Cyberpunk 2077 on PS5, because I refuse to finish it in its current state. I have my own clips and stories of game-breaking bugs, obnoxious glitches, unintelligible UI decisions, and pervasive performance issues, but it’d be needlessly repetitive to hash through individual issues with the game’s current state. To be clear, there is a wonderful game here, full of touching character interactions, staggeringly impressive amounts of narrative agency, and an entrancing score. The beautifully varied cesspool of Night City is as revolting and problematic as it is inviting and engaging, and I’m desperate for the opportunity to jump back into the experience once it’s a finished, stable product. But for now, I’d encourage those without the financial means to run the game on a top-of-the-line PC to let it rightfully gather dust.
Whether you choose to merely pause support for CD Projekt Red’s catastrophe due to its technical performance at launch, or shelve Cyberpunk 2077 permanently for its regressive, dishonest handling of the review process, this launch experience has unfortunately proven to be an undisputed mess and a crippling blow to one of gaming’s most anticipated titles.
What a shame.
December 14th update:
CD Projekt Red released a statement on their Twitter, apologizing for the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 on consoles and for not paying enough “attention to making it play better”. The developer confirmed again that they’re working on a variety of patches (the two biggest of which, will go live sometime in Jan. and Feb. of 2021). CD Projekt Red is also offering full refunds until Dec. 21st. Unfortunately, the refund period ends before any significant patches will be released… So those looking to experience the game with minimal crashing and performance issues, will not only have to wait up to an additional three months, but have no opportunity for a refund by that time.
While a developer/publisher admitting the faults in their product and offering refunds (even if the return window is small) is an unfortunately rare sight in the gaming industry, this still feels like too little, too late. For now, it appears those playing on console paid full price for what’s essentially an early access title.
Additionally, video game review aggregator Open Critic has issued a warning about performance disparities and CD Projekt Red’s suspicious decision to “intentionally… hide the true state of the game on Xbox One and PS4”.
More shocking than Open Critic’s warning statement, is IGN’s PS4 and Xbox One console review for Cyberpunk 2077, which cites the ludicrously poor performance as the main reason to wait until further patches or instead demand a refund and cut ties. Compared against IGN’s own 9/10 PC review, the console versions received a jaw-dropping rating of 4/10, one of the lowest I’ve ever seen for a AAA game. Taken alone, this score also places the PS4 version of Cyberpunk 2077 at a 3rd place tie for the worst PS4 game released this year (according to Metacritic).
December 17th Update:
Wow, what a disaster. In an unprecedented move, Sony has pulled Cyberpunk 2077 from the PlayStation Store.
This is likely in response to two factors. Firstly, during a conference call on Dec. 15th, CDPR’s Board Member and SVP of development, Michaeł Nowakowski, admitted that Cyberpunk 2077 was able to bypass both Sony and Microsoft’s certification process. Whether Sony and Microsoft’s trust in CDPR’s standards was too high or that CDPR maliciously leveraged their reputation in order to ship the game, is a implicit/explicit argument, but it clearly led to significant issues (including Cyberpunk 2077 launching with a scene that caused reports of epilepsy in players). Secondly, CDPR’s Dec. 14th statement, where they reluctantly agreed to issue refunds, has proven difficult for the PlayStation user-base. Sony initially refused to issue refunds, as their company policy states digital games that have begun downloading/installing cannot be refunded. This led to players bouncing between CDPR’s and Sony’s customer support with mixed messages, even further
alienating consumers who simply wanted their money back.
These issues have evidently prompted Sony to extreme measures in order to both smoothen out the refund process and reduce the stress on their customer-support backlogs. More importantly, though, this is a bold move to further wound CDPR’s sales and reputation for Cyberpunk 2077’s continuing launch catastrophe.
For a title with over 8 million pre-orders, 75% of which were digital copies, this is a massive blow, especially as we’re entering the final stretch of the holiday season. While Sony’s decision to pull the game is undoubtedly a form of corporate damage-control and not a display of consumer allyship, it admittedly does feel validating to see CDPR’s reputation and legacy take another deserved hit. Hopefully, the message that the general gaming-public and now, Sony, have broadcast is unmistakably clear; the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 was unacceptable, and it will be treated as such until it’s fixed.
February 6th Update:
After a long break from Cyberpunk 2077 coverage, and after receiving a full refund from Sony, I can safely say I likely won’t be returning to the world of Night City in 2021. It’s clear that the next-generation update is far, far away, and though CDPR have continued to release patches, they routinely cause almost as many issues as they fix. If I ever do decide to re-purchase and finish Cyberpunk 2077, I’ll be sure to let you all know. As for now, it’s a game better laid to rest, destined to join the “Top 10 Games that Disappointed Players” YouTube compilations.