One might sympathise with any games critic tasked with reviewing Cyberpunk 2077.
CD Projekt Red's sci-fi epic has been the subject to unprecedented levels of hype -- a single-word tweet three years ago, breaking the silence that followed the original 2013 teaser, accrued over 50,000 likes and 24,000 retweets, so desperate were people for news on this game.
Over the past 24 hours Twitter has been awash with memes and darkly comedic tweets from journalists about the high probability of CDPR's core fans vowing revenge on any who dare give Cyberpunk less than 10/10.
And then there's the problematic context around the game's development -- whether it's the enforced crunch in the run-up to launch (which was not enough to prevent yet another delay) or the accusations of transphobia over an in-game ad.
Expectations are high, to say the least, but so are scores from the first wave of reviews, giving Cyberpunk 2077 a Metacritic rating of 91 after 44 critic reviews. More scores are expected next week when the publications that opted not to sign CD Projekt's NDA -- over the rule that only B-roll, not original footage, must be used, for example -- post their own critique.
"It feels like the kind of world only Rockstar has managed to perfect before now... Like a digital personality loaded onto a biochip, it felt like stepping into another life for a while. It's a life I can't wait to relive"
Kirk McKeand, TheGamer
Given the reputation the studio earned after The Witcher 3, the big question many will want answered is whether Cyberpunk 2077 maintains CD Projekt's acclaimed track record on worldbuilding and storytelling -- and in this critics are in agreement.
"If you've played The Witcher 3, you can expect the same standard of writing here," writes Kirk McKeand in his five-star review for TheGamer. "It's not the brash, juvenile game you might be expecting if you've followed the social media conversation -- it deals with tough subjects with tact and care. You might find some of it uncomfortable, but it's a disservice to apply contemporary morality onto an immoral fictional world. Worse things happen in real life, and CD Projekt does a good job of balancing the good and bad side of humanity here.
"Its main characters are varied and most of them have depth -- they don't just exist to serve you like in some role-playing games. They have their own desires, goals, and even sexual preferences. If you're planning to shag your way through Night City like it's a BioWare game, you might be disappointed -- people won't just sleep with you because you've finished their questline. It's more natural than that."
The Polish developer is also praised for the world it has built from the materials of the original Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop RPG. While Night City is dramatically smaller than The Witcher 3's landscape, reviewers agree it is denser, with plenty to do and an exceptional level of detail bringing it to life.
"The architecture of Night City itself is one of the best parts of Cyberpunk 2077," explains James Bilcliffe in his five-star review for VG247. "The sense of scale and verticality achieved by the first-person perspective makes it feel big, even if you can drive from one end of the game world to the other relatively quickly.
"The size of the world and how seamless it is can't be overstated. The occasional elevator ride is used to hide loading, but they're fast enough and spent in the company of in-elevator TVs playing Night City's news and entertainment shows, so you don't notice."
"If Cyberpunk 2077 depicts a society where trans people can exist without worry, why does it maintain the tired tropes we've failed to upheave in the 21st Century?"
Jade King, Trusted Reviews
Acclaim for the world goes hand-in-hand with acclaim for the visuals. All reviews so far are for the PC version, which is further boosted by the ray-tracing capabilities of the latest graphics cards. The impact for GamesRadar's Sam Loveridge was so effective, she opens her 5/5 review with it:
"I've spent more time than I'd like to admit just staring at Night City. At its neon-lit streets, dappled with pink and yellow after rain; at the smoke rising through the elevator shaft in V's apartment building; at the shimmer of chrome running through the arms and faces of NPCs; at the lurid metallics and high-gloss clothing that adorn its citizens; or simply at yet another city-wide vista I've discovered after driving to a new hill in the Badlands. Cyberpunk 2077 is beautiful... such an aesthetic joy that it feels disrespectful to fast travel or skip drives in Night City."
McKeand adds: "It's astoundingly pretty, full of reflective surfaces and ray-traced lighting -- the first true next-gen experience, if you're lucky enough to play it on a PC with an RTX 3090 graphics card and an i9-10850K CPU like I did. Random NPCs look as good as main characters in other games, and every single street and back alley is crammed with detail. I think 'immersion' is an overused term in video games writing, but there's not many other ways to say it -- Cyberpunk 2077 is like a pair of wraparound shades."
However, large and detailed worlds depicted with high-end graphics is almost par for the course at this point. What is perhaps most interesting is the steps CD Projekt Red takes in improving the diversity and inclusivity seen in AAA games.
In this, McKeand says Cyberpunk 2077 is "ahead of the curve," if only through its character creator, with voice type and genitals kept separate from body type. It may not solve all issues seen in past games, but it's a crucial start.
"I strongly believe that imperfect representation is better than none at all, which is how 90% of games approach the issue," says McKeand. "If there are missteps, the hope is CD Projekt Red will learn from them for the next game."
TrustedReviews' Jade King was particularly impressed by the character creator, as she explains in her four-star review: "As a trans woman, I jumped into the game with much trepidation, but was pleasantly surprised by the inclusiveness... Never has a character creator made me feel so valid and represented as a person."
She also highlights the narrative arc for side character Claire, a transgender woman who confides in V about deciding to become her true self. King adds that while this is a "touching gesture," using Claire's identity as her defining character trait "felt lazy."
"In a world that takes advantage of women and queer bodies in such an abundant manner, a character who identified as such taking the fight to corporations in the smallest of ways would have been fantastic," she says. "There are so many opportunities to reinforce Cyberpunk 2077's thematic elements beyond 'corporations are bad' but they're all tossed aside in favour of a central narrative that simply isn't that compelling."
"Cyberpunk 2077 is beautiful... such an aesthetic joy that it feels disrespectful to fast travel or skip drives in Night City"
Sam Loveridge, GamesRadar+
She also asserts that the advances Cyberpunk makes do not take away from "the commodification of queer bodies that is spread throughout Night City like a plague," noting that the use of trans people defined by their physical attributes are used on in-game billboards and more in a way that "feels woefully gratuitous."
"CDPR is right to show how this dystopian world is treating us like objects in pursuit of profit, but the storytelling rarely ventures to places that challenge such views, meaning this imagery exists to shock and nothing more. The world's relationship with sex is equally as troubled, coded in a heteronormative way that objectifies men and women alike, but female bodies are put in the firing line far more often.
"If Cyberpunk 2077 depicts a society where trans people can exist without worry, why does it still maintain so many of the tired tropes we've failed to upheave in the 21st Century?"
King observes there remain some issues with the writing of female characters, which is delivered with "the subtlety of a jackhammer" as key women are "undermined in service of furthering their male counterparts."
Finally, she adds that, for all the attempts to tackle sensitive subjects in a way that AAA games rarely do, Cyberpunk 2077 lacks the message one might expect: "CD Projekt Red aims to pick apart the cynical existence of corporate greed and consumerism in an open-world RPG that pushes the genre forward in so many fascinating ways, pulling you into a dystopian hellscape that takes hold and refuses to let go.
"It's an interactive achievement of the highest order, but such technical accolades can't detract from a somewhat misogynistic approach to female character writing and a core narrative that feels inconsistent and lacking in dramatic consequence."
Critics have also noted that -- despite recent stories of a developer playing for 175 hours -- Cyberpunk 2077 can feel shorter than The Witcher 3. There are a plethora of side activities to engage with, but the main campaign can be completed in roughly 20 hours. While this will be a selling point for some, Loveridge notes that focusing solely on the core plot can be a disservice to the game given the depth of the side quests. That said, she recognises a shorter campaign makes the game more accessible than its fantasy forebear.
"If finishing The Witcher 3 was a feat that not everyone could achieve, completing Cyberpunk 2077 is an experience that -- hopefully -- a larger majority of players can have. But, more importantly, for what Cyberpunk lacks in campaign length, it more than makes up for with the depth and breadth of the content available in Night City."
"CD Projekt Red delivered a big-budget thrill ride with entertaining quests in a thriving setting. But it isn't much more than that"
Jeff Grubb, GamesBeat
It is perhaps a combination of the shorter campaign, the attention to detail and the aforementioned hype that means Cyberpunk 2077 may fall short for some. In his three-star review for GamesBeat, Jeff Grubb wrote that the game "is a promise... but it's a different promise to different people." Some will expect a blockbuster that does everything The Witcher 3 did and more, while others -- including Grubb -- will hope for a game that promises "the next generation of choice, simulation, and interactivity."
"Now that I've played it myself, I think that developer CD Projekt Red delivered a big-budget thrill ride with entertaining quests in a thriving setting," he writes. "But it isn't much more than that.
"What Cyberpunk really is, however, is a big open-world action role-playing game. What it's not is a look at gaming's future. Instead, it feels like a summation of where we've come in gaming since the Xbox 360 generation. It feels like a game built by people looking around to see what works -- like Grand Theft Auto's open world, Watch Dogs' hacking, Assassin's Creed's quest-filled maps, Fallout's combat and character progression, Mass Effect's dialogue system, Batman: Arkham Knight's crime scene investigations, and every games' skill trees.
"At the same time, Cyberpunk doesn't try much new. It feels big and expensive -- and getting all of these parts to fit together seems like an impossible challenge. But because of this, Cyberpunk 2077 is a glimpse at where we are and not what is next."
There are reports of bugs in most reviews, varying from amusing glitches that prompt a quick reload to issues that are nothing short of game-breaking -- although most critics seem to be hopeful that these will be patched out in time for or shortly after launch. There are even reports of Cyberpunk 2077 triggering epileptic seizures.
But overall, the game has been well-received, delivering on both the hype and the long wait. Some critics hail it as CD Projekt's greatest work to date, with Loveridge declaring it a "paragon of open-world gaming."
"It takes everything we celebrate about open-world games, and learns from it, implementing best-in-class variations in a world that's so dense and detailed," she says. "Add in the human-like level of reactivity and emotional depth that it brings to its narrative, and it all combines for the most spectacular experience. "
McKeand concludes: "When it works as it should -- which is most of the time -- all those issues fall away like tears in the rain. Whether you're speeding through the Badlands in a rattler or strolling through Night City in the rain, it feels like the kind of world only Rockstar has managed to perfect before now. It's that same level of detail and craft. It's astounding.
"Like a digital personality loaded onto a biochip, it felt like stepping into another life for a while. It's a life I can't wait to relive."