It's interesting. When I woke up this morning, I had a totally different article written regarding this topic, along the same lines as the one you're about to read, but one that didn't have the information we have now about Cyberpunk 2077 and its release that dropped from developer CD Projekt RED this morning.
In a statement by CD Projekt Red this morning, the team apologized to fans of Cyberpunk 2077 for not only releasing a broken game to millions of players, but also denying them any right to make an informed decision on how to spend their hard-earned money.
The statement primarily addresses the issues surrounding the base console versions of Cyberpunk 2077, as well as the actions taken by the studio during the review process to ensure that no one could see how the RPG from the Polish developer was truly running pre-launch. This is after the studio released two vidoes, one for each console platform, showcasing console gameplay, but only telling part of the story.
It's an admission that goes hand in hand with other reports that the developer is not holding its employee's bonuses hostage to poor metacritic socres thanks to the frankly unacceptable performance. The issues aren't simply constrained to the console release, however. PC players, players on the mid-cycle consoles, and players on the now current-gen consoles aren't faring much better. However, the base versions of this game are undoubtedly the worse-off.
Withholding Actionable Information
When reviews hit a multitude of outlets last week, two common threads caught my attention. Firstly, the embargo for the review restricted any potential review video footage to B-Roll provided by CDPR. Secondly, none of the reviews featured any console impressions, whether they be current gen consoles like the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, or the last gen versions, including the base consoles themselves.
Both of those were worrying (and one reason why I feel ultimately happy we didn't receive early code. I'm not sure I could have agreed to that embargo for the site, even though we currently don't do video reviews). By denying consumers the ability to see Cyberpunk 2077 in motion, using real, raw gameplay, it created an embargo situation that, at the end of the day was simply anti-consumer. This turned the footage into less an accurate, objective look at the game customers were buying into another arm of CDPR's marketing. This constrained outlets and didn't allow reivewers to fully inform their audiences to exactly what they would see in game when they booted it up on December 10th.
Now, this type of embargo isn't new, but it's normally reserved for previews, not reviews. It essentially turned any early video review into a cherry-picked highlight reel by CDPR, taking away any ability for the consumer to make a fully formed purchasing decision because what they were seeing on screen might not be representative of their actual experience.
The other major issue here is that CDPR seemed to be willfully withholding the console versions, and after this morning's statement, that seems to be confirmed. Instead of being upfront and honest with the millions of Xbox and PlayStation users who spent real money on this game, CDPR decided to let those players go in blind, only to be confronted by poor performance, polygon monsters standing on the corners, and an experience not at all representative of what the team showcased in its marketing materials and pre-release footage.
And look - I don't think anyone sitting here ever expected the performance or visuals to be on par with the current-gen versions or PC. But if a game is being sold to consumers on a platform, there is a base expectation that what they purchased works, period. There is also an argument floating around that people shouldn't be upset that Cyberpunk 2077 is objectively broken on base consoles, that "what were they expecting?" The problem I see with that argument is that it's not the fault of the consumer to ensure that their product is viable and working when they purchase it. CDPR set expectations that they would deliver a working product to their consumers when they stated that it would be coming to each of the disparate platforms on which Cyberpunk 2077 released. The onus is on the developers to ensure that's the case.
It doesn't help either that CD Projekt's joint-CEO Adam Kacinski praised the last-gen base console performance, calling it "surprisingly good" in an investor call, per Seeking Alpha (via GamesRadar).
Someone's $60 is no different because they bought it on PlayStation 4, a console released in 2013, or a PC using the latest 30-series GPU (assuming you can find one of those). That's still $60 someone spent on a game that was marketed to work on their platform.
Bugs, Bugs, Bugs!
As Mike B pointed out in his column yesterday, Cyberpunk 2077 has bugs. If you've been reading the internet for the last week, you'll already know that. Hell, if you've booted up Cyberpunk since its release, chances are you've experienced them yourself. The #Cyberbug2077 hashtag on Twitter has some examples of these issues, and they aren't exclusive to base consoles. The general state of Cyberpunk 2077 was something most reviews touched on leading up to the December 10th release. Many outlets cited bugs, but some played them off as not a big deal, or something that didn't detract from the experience. And that is fine - a reviewer can only offer their opinion on their personal experience and thoughts, not the collective thoughts of everyone around them.
However, the amount of bugs and the way they pull you out of the experience makes me agree with Jason Schreier, formerly of Kotaku and now a reporter for Bloomberg, that major game studios need to come clean about their games: Just admit they are in Early Access.
I've been playing Cyberpunk 2077 since it launched (full disclosure: I bought my copy. MMORPG did receive a copy launch day which our reviewer is using right now). Instead of excitedly talking about the systems with my friends and colleagues, more often than not I've been discussing the bugs and issues I've experienced playing this on PC. More often than not, in my 14 hours since starting my journey in Night City, the moment the story or some side activity started to pull me in, a bug would break the spell of immersion, reminding me of the reality that is Cyberpunk 2077's release.
I've had the cars I'm driving explode while cruising through Pacifica. I've seen myself T-Pose naked while driving through tunnels in certain parts of Watson. I've had a weird issue with DLSS not fully understanding where pixels should go on characters' beards, causing them to look like a blocky mess. When calling my car, it's bumbled its way towards me, only to explode when popping up and down out of the ground like a daisy.
I've had entire conversations in quest chains stall because the NPC wouldn't pick up the conversation after me. I've had to uninstall and reinstall the game to get past that point. GOG, the platform where I bought Cyberpunk 2077, seems incapable of uploading Cloud Saves for me, meaning that every time I start up Cyberpunk 2077, I have to play 50/50 with my save file and the current cloud file which never match.
And that's just a few of the issues I've experienced in Cyberpunk 2077. Players might get lucky - a few of my friends can't say they've experienced any bugs so far, while others have refunded the game faster than any other title in the past.
The Human Element
The elephant in the room is that the human cost of creating this game hasn't ended. CDPR promised their employees they wouldn't be crunching to finish Cyberpunk 2077, yet ultimately that's what happened. Based on the statement this morning by the game studio, the upcoming patches to "fix" the console versions look to be more work than a simple bug fix. Rather, it makes one consider whether or not the studio should have delayed it - or simply canceled it on base hardware outright.
Crunch on Cyberpunk 2077 was never going to end once the game released. There were Day One patches, massive updates for the current-gen consoles to take full advantage of the hardware within them, as well as any lingering problems on PC or Stadia.
The question that keeps coming to my mind is how much of this could have been avoided had CDPR simply delayed Cyberpunk 2077 indefinitely?
Oftentimes, when people read that last word, their first thought is canceled, and with good reason. Many games that are put on hold indefinitely are oftentimes confirmed to have been canceled years later during investor calls or quietly released press releases on a Friday evening news dump.
However, what I mean is the team at CD Projekt Red, the company who developed Cyberpunk 2077, should have delayed the game without releasing a new target date, instead allowing the developers to fully examine their product and ensure it was ready for mass release.
Additionally, the team should have been given the time to truly look at all the versions of Cyberpunk 2077 and come to a decision whether it made sense to release this game on some of the platforms it’s currently struggling on. The release state of Cyberpunk 2077 is frankly unacceptable. This is especially so for the versions on base consoles. Instead, those fans who choose to "stick it out" with the developer won't have a product that works till at least February, according to the studio's own estimation. That's unacceptable for a game sold to those consumers in December.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
Cyberpunk 2077 is an example of some of the shadier sides of the games industry - one the vast, vast majority of gamers out there will still be oblivious to after all is said and done. What CDPR did by willfully withholding actionable information for their customers is, simply put, disgusting. CD Projekt Red knew how it ran on those platforms, yet willfully withheld that information from consumers, allowing millions to spend their hard earned money on a broken product.
While it's good that the studio is offering refunds to those consumers - especially given how notoriously difficult digital-purchase refunds are to get on Microsoft and PlayStation's closed ecosystems - it should never have been released this way in the first place.
I understand that showing your title in a bad state is a surefire way to impact sales. But releasing it broken does more damage than simply being honest and upfront with your customers. Rather, the studio should have stepped back and looked at Cyberpunk 2077 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and truly asked themselves if their vision could work on hardware from 2012. Cyberpunk 2077 might very well be the new Crysis, pushing tech and hardware to its limits, even on the most powerful of PCs. That comes at some cost once you scale that vision down. Is Cyberpunk 2077 a game that viably could have worked on 2012 hardware released in 2013? Right now that answer is no.
When all is said and done, Cyberpunk 2077 won't be remembered for its cutting edge technology, at least by me. I would venture a guess that for many out there, that won't be their first thought when thinking of CDPR's latest title as well. Instead, we'll have consumers thinking about those opening moments, where a game they spent their money on after waiting almost a decade released broken. It'll be remembered for the bugs that cause many to simply put down the controller, or mouse and keyboard, and simply walk away.
Cyberpunk 2077 might be the new Crysis, but it shares just as much with Assassin's Creed Unity right now in my mind. And it's a shame in the end.