“Cyberpunk 2077” was supposed to be the marquee entertainment product of 2020. The first-person video game promised to plunge buyers into a futuristic dystopia where corporations reign supreme, drastic forms of body augmentation are rampant, and Keanu Reeves portrays a punk rock terrorist who lives in the player character’s head. Publisher CD Projekt posited the game as a mature, immersive role-playing experience entirely unlike other video games. Anticipation for “Cyberpunk 2077” reached feverish heights in the months leading up to its launch and numerous news organizations that typically do not heavily cover video games — including IndieWire — began reporting on the title.
By now, everyone knows that “Cyberpunk 2077” did not live up to audiences’ expectations or the publisher’s effusive marketing claims. The video game released on December 10, 2020 after numerous delays and immediately caused a public relations disaster for CD Projekt. “Cyberpunk 2077” essentially did not work on the old PlayStation and Xbox consoles — constant crashes, slowdowns, and innumerable bugs permeated every aspect of the experience. The situation wasn’t much better on the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles. “Cyberpunk 2077” worked best (and continues to do so) on the PC, but consumers’ mileage will significantly vary depending on the strength of their hardware. Even at its best, “Cyberpunk 2077” was rife with glitches, performance issues, and other immersion-ruining problems that often derailed the experience.
“Cyberpunk 2077” was hardly the first video game where expectations failed to match reality, but the unprecedented level of mainstream interest in the title, as well as the sheer mismatch between the finished product and its marketing videos, caused an unusually large consumer push back. CD Projekt issued several apologies, promised to fix the game’s issues, and eventually offered consumers refunds. In an unprecedented move, Sony, the company that operates the PlayStation consoles, pulled “Cyberpunk 2077” from its online store and offered full refunds due to the game’s launch controversies. Given PlayStation’s popularity and the fact that most consumers play video games on consoles, fixing “Cyberpunk 2077” to the point where Sony would allow the game to be sold on the PlayStation store has been one of CD Projekt’s highest priorities in the months following the game’s launch. “Cyberpunk 2077” was on the PlayStation store for eight days; at the time of this writing, it’s been unavailable for 112 days.
CD Projekt released the 1.2 patch for “Cyberpunk 2077” on March 30 and the 8000-plus words in the patch notes detail an exhausting list of bug fixes, tweaks, and other improvements. The game’s 1.2 patch includes many changes intended to help the game run better on old consoles and CD Projekt has billed it as the game’s most important update yet. So, is “Cyberpunk 2077” finally in a good state? And what could the game’s controversial launch and ongoing issues mean for CD Projekt going forward?
The short answer to the former question is: Not really. Gaming outlets such as Digital Foundry and IGN have analyzed the patched game’s performance on every console and the consensus is that while there are improvements in some areas, the game’s performance is still fairly lacking. The game will still frequently slow down and jitter during driving and combat sequences, and though the game runs more smoothly in some cases, it often does so at the cost of visual fidelity: World-building elements like street signs, citizens, and all sorts of textures either fail to load in or do so very slowly. “Cyberpunk 2077” no longer crashes regularly, which was a major issue on consoles at launch, but it’s genuinely hard to play the game for more than a minute without some sort of performance issue or bug breaking the player’s immersion, even on PC. Compared to “Ghost of Tsushima” and especially “Red Dead Redemption 2,” which both look and run fantastically well on the base PlayStation 4, “Cyberpunk 2077” is still in an inexcusable state.
I played “Cyberpunk 2077” patch 1.2 on a PC with modern hardware (a Ryzen 5 5600x CPU and an RTX 3600 Ti graphics card) for around 20 hours, and though the game is considerably more stable than it is on consoles, the entire experience still feels janky. Pedestrians, cars, and even the city itself still flicker in and out of reality like glitches in the Matrix and there’s occasional moments of frame rate drops. There’s also an overwhelming litany of minor bugs; individually, they wouldn’t detract much from the experience, but that’s not the case when they’re this omniscient.
There are other problems with “Cyberpunk 2077” that would be considered major issues in similar games, but seem quaint compare to this one’s slew of performance issues. Combat is one of the primary parts of “Cyberpunk 2077,” but the enemy artificial intelligence is horrendous — antagonists will stand around idly waiting to be shot and oftentimes won’t even return fire. There are genuinely well-written quests and interesting locales in this game, but the map and user interfaces are so poorly designed that locating them is far too difficult. “Cyberpunk 2077” is set in a world where guns are as common as bottled water and extreme forms of body augmentation are the norm, yet your ability to customize your weapons and armor is shallow and you can’t even get a haircut.
It’s a minor tragedy, because there are parts of “Cyberpunk 2077” that are good, and even brilliant. The plot isn’t a masterwork of science-fiction, but “Cyberpunk 2077” boasts quite a few memorable characters and the voice work and animations during quests — when NPCs aren’t T-posing or vanishing from thin air, anyway — are uniformly fantastic. The soundtrack, both the licensed music and original compositions, are among the best I’ve ever heard in a video game. The first-person perspective works incredibly well in the game’s story-driven segments and there are, despite all of its issues, moments when “Cyberpunk 2077” is a more immersive entertainment experience than practically anything else on the market.
But we’re four months past the video game’s launch, and it’s clear that it’ll take at least another few months of patches before “Cyberpunk 2077” is in a acceptably playable state for most consumers — and it’s probably never going to be the kind of boundary-pushing product that CD Projekt claimed it would be during the game’s seemingly endless marketing campaign.
What does this mean for CD Projekt? “Cyberpunk 2077” was undeniably a public relations disaster, but it’s hard to tell what the game’s release means for the company’s finances. CD Projekt claimed in December that the game sold 13 million copies within two weeks (factoring in refunds). That statistic means that “Cyberpunk 2077” sold well enough to recoup CD Projekt’s costs for developing the game, which was first announced in 2013. (The company has yet to provide more recent sales numbers.)
“Cyberpunk 2077” sold well despite its launch controversy, but the reputation of CD Projekt, which was once one of the most well-regarded video game companies in the business, has taken a significant hit. Bloomberg reported on March 30 that investors were underwhelmed by the company’s most recent strategy meeting, which did not offer a clear timetable for the game’s future patches, multiplayer additions, or its return to the PlayStation store. The Poland-based CD Projekt was once one of Warsaw’s strongest stocks but has fallen as much as 53 percent since “Cyberpunk 2077” released, according to Bloomberg. Netflix is slated to release an anime spin-off series in 2022, but there’s little doubt that public enthusiasm for that project might’ve dampened due to the “Cyberpunk 2077” launch fiasco.
As for the video game industry more generally, “Cyberpunk 2077” will likely end up serving as a cautionary tale on marketing. Various features that were promoted in pre-release teasers and interviews, such as wall running and corrupt police officers, were either trimmed down or cut entirely — a regular occurrence as game development progresses, but “Cyberpunk 2077” promised an unusually large number of elements that were ultimately absent in the finished product. News organizations that wanted to review to the game had to agree to a ludicrous embargo that disallowed reviewers from showing their own video footage, which would’ve better detailed the game’s performance issues. Most reviewers only received copies of the game’s PC version and CD Projekt intentionally did not show footage of the game on old PlayStation and Xbox consoles prior to launch; as mentioned, the game performed significantly worse on consoles, which is what most consumers play video games on.
There’s an argument to be made for news organizations to push back against such draconian embargo requirements, but “Cyberpunk 2077” also made one thing painfully clear for video game publishers: Lavish trailers, promotions, and celebrity tie-ins can generate considerable interest in your product, but no amount of fancy marketing is going to stop the consumer blowback when there’s this much mismatch between the finished product and what was promised prior to release. All this could have been avoided is CD Projekt just stuck to their most-repeated promise while marketing “Cyberpunk: 2077”: The game should have been published when its development was actually completed.
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