Cyberpunk 2077

What a long and troubled road we have traveled together — a journey fraught with peril and abysmal frame rates, where at any moment, seemingly without provocation, the game world could come crashing down, often forfeiting with it enough progress to make restarting that journey all the less appetizing. I was there at the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 back in 2020, and here I am now, at the launch of Cyberpunk 2077, some 435 days later. 

We’ve had our fair share of laughs, though many of those unfortunately came at the expense of the poor souls who were employed to created this game, whose time was poorly managed and whose efforts were more than likely improperly compensated by a company that wanted to obfuscate the state of the game in order to inflate pre-order sales and satiate the desires of their upper management and shareholders.

But here in 2022, I am finally able to say that — even though nothing is worth inhuman amounts of crunch time short of life-saving endeavors (which video games are not) — Cyberpunk 2077 is finally, at least on PS5, pretty darn good.

I will go one step further: Although the game’s breadth of scope still isn’t as all-encompassing as the pre-launch hype machine had suggested, if Cyberpunk had launched in the state it’s in today (at least on current-gen consoles), we might have avoided this whole debacle altogether.

And we mostly have the game’s 1.5 update to thank for all this.

Cyberpunk 2077

So what has changed with this new update? Well, if you’ve been following Cyberpunk’s meteoric rise and almost immediate tumultuous fall from grace, followed by a meandering attempt at limping toward redemption, you are probably well-versed in the broader strokes of the 1.5 update. But allow me to touch on the ones that I personally have found worthwhile, the ones that have made this game not only enjoyable (as I would argue that, even in its earlier states, it was always at least “playable”), but actually impressive and engaging.

This first observation might seem trivial — especially for a game in which you usually will only see your character while riding a motorcycle or looking in a mirror, or in the character/inventory tab in the menu — but being able to alter your look via your apartment mirror is actually kind of cool. It’s easy to make your character look like a complete tool during the opening character creator before you jump into the game proper and get a load of them in various types of lighting.

I initially thought my guy looked cool enough, but once I was able to inspect them further, I realized he looked like Enzo Amore from the WWE, something that I simply could not stomach. After some quick alterations, I was able to address the gaudy outfit, but with new options on the table, I was finally able to get him looking like a human being instead of a complete buttwad.

Way back in May of 2021, a couple months after update 1.2, I pointed out that that the city was devoid of life while driving. I’m happy to report that this finally seems to have been addressed. Gone are the vacant streets, due to the game simply being unable to load and render pedestrian vehicles and on-foot NPCs because of memory constraints of the last-gen consoles. With the new-gen versions, you can speed to your heart’s content without the world suddenly turning into a scene from I Am Legend. Although it was nice to be able to rip through downtown at top speed without needing to worry about hitting anyone or maneuvering around other cars, it killed the immersion, which is far more important.

And speaking of driving, CD Projekt Red has stated they overhauled the driving mechanics, although I still find vehicle controls (and on-foot controls, for that matter) to be pretty squirrely. If there have been adjustments, I don’t know if I would immediately qualify them as improvements.

That being said, the haptic feedback (on the PS5’s DualSense controller) while controlling your car is a bit of a game-changer. You can now easily apply a small amount of pressure, which the right trigger will sort of fight back against, to drive at a reasonable speed without going balls-to-the-wall in a high-end sports car. It makes obeying the traffic laws easy-peasy and actually worthwhile. This is something I hope the next GTA can make use of, because it feels dang good.

Another big immersion-breaking gripe of mine has been addressed: NPCs no longer spawn with excessive, identical clones. I can’t tell you how disappointing it was to see the same five people — like exactly the same, not just the same model with different clothes — all clogging up the same small strip of real estate. Seeing multiple versions of the same heavyset guy with dreads walking in tandem was quite frankly a worse example of NPC design than Grand Theft Auto III, a game that’s now more than 20 years old.

Cyberpunk 2077

But thankfully, with update 1.5, I can’t say I’ve seen the same two people in any given area, or even within multiple blocks. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but I have yet to notice it. And I’ve looked, believe me I’ve looked. Shoot, I even continue to look.

And apparently, some NPCs are now packing heat, and they can be provoked to draw on you and engage in a firefight. Pedestrian NPCs will now also react realistically to their surroundings, so even if you’re not the one firing your gun like a maniac, you should notice them cower or flee or stand their ground, depending on their personality.

For example, I was walking down the street en route to V’s apartment when I started to hear distant gunshots, maybe a block away, and everyone around me started to run like hell to avoid the danger. As the gunshots increased, so too did the mayhem. That was the first such moment I can recall having in Cyberpunk 2077.

But it’s not all rosy. For example, here’s a person I stumbled upon who was just sort of floating and gliding around instead of walking, shuffling, or simply shifting their weight:

CDPR also revamped the shooting and combat for enemy NPCs, but I have yet to experience this in any meaningful way. I did get into a shootout on my way out of a sex parlor, but considering I only had a samurai sword at the time (my gear was stored in a locker in the lobby), I didn’t get to gauge how well the A.I. reacted to me dishing out the lead. I did chop off several limbs contextually, which was pretty gnarly. Having not been a melee proponent beforehand, I can’t really say if this is new or if it’s something that’s been in the game since launch.

Another big addition to the new-gen version of Cyberpunk 2077 is the Performance vs. Quality mode option under the graphics settings. Performance offers 60fps at 4k resolution, while Quality offers locked 30fps with raytraced shadow and reflections. While Performance is probably the better option overall, the framerate isn’t entirely locked at 60fps, and it will mostly hover around the 50s with the occasional lower dip. Quality mode is almost always able to hit 30fps with maybe an anomalous dip here and there, and the raytraced effects, especially the reflections, are a marvel to behold. It adds that extra layer of visual flourish at the expense of a higher framerate.

There is, however, a bizarre effect that occurs in both modes that sort of sours all of the gains made in the visuals department.

As you can see in the video above, as long as you keep your character’s head level, the graphics are pretty impressive. Light bounces and reflects off of the shiny wet surfaces. At times, this game gets wetter than a random “GTA in 8K Max Settings” video on YouTube. But as soon as you move the camera below the eyeline, that shimmer and shine start to recede and melt away, and you’re left with a rather underwhelming texture. Hopefully this will be addressed sooner rather than later.

Along with this glitz and gloss (that is, when it is actually still present), there is also an overall richness in color on display in the next-gen console versions. Across the board, blacks are blacker and whites are whiter. The world no longer looks washed out, as it previously did when compared to the PC version. Because of the additional performance afforded by the newer consoles, this game is very much the one we saw in those earlier trailers. That plastic, desaturated look is now a thing of the past. 

Unfortunately, if you are still only able to play Cyberpunk 2077 on last-gen hardware, you will be left with the same experience that you’ve had in the past. I’m sorry to report that this will not likely change going forward. It was downright nefarious to release the game in the state is was in on the PS4 and Xbox One, and while playing this game on those consoles is possible, it certainly isn’t optimal or really even advisable — unless you have a high tolerance for bad performance and a crash rate that is still rather high. And that really just sucks.

Cyberpunk 2077

That being said, if you have a current-gen console and want to give Cyberpunk 2077 a whirl, especially now that it’s on sale for half price on PS5 (and probably even cheaper if you pick up a physical game disc), I can finally recommend picking it up.

There are still issues, for sure; I had the game freeze during a mission, causing me to have to replay a few tedious moments of redoing dialogue options I had already sat through. But a freeze is better than a hard crash, if only by inches as opposed to by miles. There is also an underlying, pervasive jittering jankiness that is just inherent to how this game was stitched together; the seams far too apparent. It’s been there all along, and probably won’t ever go away completely.

But in light of how Cyberpunk 2077 used to underperform, sometimes you just gotta take the flatlining heiress with the organ harvester’s ice-filled bathwater, if you catch my meaning.

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