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Words: James Bentley
Cyberpunk 2077, where can we possibly start with you? Your neon-lit city and half-baked promises have left the world enthralled over the last half a year - but not exactly for the right reasons. Now that CD Projekt Red's game has finally relaunched on PlayStation, having been delisted just days after its December 2020 release, it's time to find out if it's worth returning to - or playing for the first time on Sony's hardware. Luckily, we've played it on PS4, PS4 Pro and PS5 to satiate that morbid curiosity. Here's what we found out.it
It's very apparent that, even though they're selling it again, Sony does not want you to play this game on a base PS4. They have even gone as far as to warn players not to play it on the company's 2013-released console. Up until mere days ago, you couldn't even buy the game, and many players had opted to refund their copy to potentially revisit it at a later date. Now, we're at that later date, and even the performance of the title screen will let you know how well Cyberpunk 2077 works on last-gen consoles. It's grainy and slow, with wildly inconsistent frame rates. Basically, the game is still broken.
Watch GAMINGbible's video showcasing some of Cyberpunk 2077's bugs around the time of its December 2020 release, below...
One thing that hasn't changed in the months of updates is Cyberpunk 2077's story - it's still as enchanting and interesting as it ever has been. Despite it all, by the time I'd finished the first big main story mission, The Heist, I was sucked in again on a PS4 replay. Your partner Jackie Welles is just as charming, fixer Dexter DeShawn as edgy and cool, and the world you're told you exist in is a much more vibrant and thoughtful one than the one you can actually purchase.
It's hard to really immerse yourself when playing on the PS4. It is still laden with glitches - both visual and technical - and its general performance is surprisingly mediocre at some points, and entirely broken at other times. Cyberpunk 2077 tries to cover its many cracks with bandages and paper clips - but it seems like CD Projekt Red has run out of paper clips.
It's hard to see a future where Cyberpunk 2077 runs on last-generation consoles - certainly on the PS4 - without being an entirely different game to the RTX-infused "living breathing world" promised by the next gen versions, and the pre-release trailers and demos that got us all so excited. The world of Cyberpunk 2077, running on lower-end systems, is a facade, or more like a collage made by AI. When zoomed out, you can piece together something intriguing, something fascinating. But when you zoom in, you find dozens of ugly pixels and faces trying a little too hard to be human on hardware that can never quite handle it.
This facade is perfectly illustrated by the game's driving scenes. If you drive looking forward, with the wind in your hair and songs on the radio, you feel kind of cool. Then you look to the left to see barren streets and half-loaded buildings. You are actively chasing the slim section of the city you actually have available, a sliver of virtual reality rendered in full, as all around you, crowds of people disappear into thin air and chunks of buildings pop up seconds before a crash.
On the PS5 and even PS4 Pro, that facade is a little more complex - but seeing the curtain pulled back on the PS4 has illuminated some of the worst parts of Cyberpunk 2077's world. The performance is so poor on PS4 that it actively spoils a little of the mystery in the much better versions of the game.
This being said, the experience on a PS4 Pro and even PS5 is still severely flawed. From minor glitches and major crashes in the past, the game has certainly improved over the last six months to a state that is enjoyable under all the jank - but it's hard to really justify the time and money you need to get the most out of Cyberpunk 2077, with so many other great games out there already.
But Cyberpunk 2077 still has a lot of great qualities. Its world design and general aesthetic is memorable with detailed and thought-out ideas, only accentuated by a likable cast of characters and a robust story that can carry you through even the dullest moments. But unfortunately, there are a few of those. The actual decisions you make often feel a bit hollow, compromising your agency and suppressing your will as a player, as the architect of this story. The game makes many decisions for you - but this works, story wise, what with Johnny Silverhand living inside your skull. It covers its tracks well and really compensates for its flaws, when it works.
"True to the very nature of cyberpunk, there definitely is a soul beneath the foundations here. But it's been hopelessly, perhaps appropriately, lost to corporate greed..."
Playing Cyberpunk 2077 on PS4, however, is like having a friend drunkenly walk you through the story of the Matrix trilogy. There's certainly some cool story elements underpinning what they're trying to get across, but the picture is never clear enough to get any real enjoyment out of it. You let them continue because it would be rude or wasteful not to - but you can't help but wonder why they had to tell you this story right now. Surely this could have waited until the morning.
It's hard to really capture the unique ways that Cyberpunk 2077 goes off the rails as you play. It's such a wildly inconsistent game - even after all the updates and fixes that CDPR have implemented in order to get it onto the PlayStation Store again. One scene brings you in and welcomes you to the story, and then the next has an NPC run through a wall as you flail around in the middle, torn between watching a disaster unfold and progressing with what the game wants you to do (assuming you can, subject to the still-present bugs).
Like the dynamic between Johnny and protagonist V, Cyberpunk 2077 is a game torn apart by forces on either side of this middle ground. Where the spectacle of it all slows you down, the story catches you right back up. If you veer too much into any direction, you leave behind the soul of what CD Projekt Red are trying to achieve here. And true to the very nature of cyberpunk, there definitely is a soul beneath the foundations here. But it's been hopelessly, perhaps appropriately, lost to corporate greed - and it's hard to say if it will ever shine as bright as it should have.
There's a chase scene early on in the game that encapsulates the feeling of playing Cyberpunk 2077 on last-gen consoles excellently. After the opening segment, you and Jackie are heading home just as you are ambushed by people in vans, trying to take you down. The blur of speed and lashing rain come together to make an enveloping atmosphere - one that almost whisks you away and sucks you into it, wholly.
But if you pause and turn around, all of the vehicles disappear, the frame rate starts to chug, and the game slowly breaks apart. Every minute you spend playing Cyberpunk 2077 on a past-gen machine is a minute where you feel you're one hard tug away from unravelling the fabric of the entire game world. It left me playing on edge - but not in the way CD Projekt Red intended.
The glitch-ravaged, low-res streets of Cyberpunk 2077 are constantly straining on the outdated hardware of the PS4. All around you are pixelated and lopsided faces, where you were expecting something more futuristic, more finished. Even though the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is enthralling whatever the hardware, and there's a compelling mystery to crack under all of the mess, it's never quite worth the effort. So, would-be buyers, beware: Sony is selling this game for PS4, but if you've another option, use it.
Featured Image Credit: CD Projekt Red
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