The first impression of CD Projekt RED’s closed-door demo of Cyberpunk 2077 at E3 2019 is that it’s taken a lot of influence from similar titles, such as Deus Ex games. The hour-long session focused extensively on the kind of gameplay you’ll take part in as you adventure through Night City, with a specific look at the choices available to you in combat and story situations. The big takeaway: you’ll get lots of options for working through an area or dealing with combat depending on your playstyle and decisions.
Cyberpunk’s RPG underpinnings mostly come through in its “fluid class system,” which allows you to pick abilities and perks from a variety of areas to develop your own version of V, the game’s main character. That means you don’t have to be a specialized Net Runner (read: hacker) or Strong Solo (read: super-strong brawler) in particular; you can mix and match your abilities to fit your desired play style. The abilities you choose will give you a variety of options for dealing with combat, working your way through areas and missions, and interacting with other characters–similar to games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
CD Projekt’s E3 demo showed one such mission and the options available to two different variants on V. After seeking out a gang called the Voodoo Boys for help dealing with V’s “biochip” (which seems to contain a “digital ghost” version of Keanu Reeves’ character, Johnny Silverhand, who exists only in V’s head), V gets contracted to do a job for the gang. It entails venturing to the Grand Imperial Mall in the district of Pacifica, where a rival gang called the Animals have taken up residence. V’s job: infiltrate the building, figure out what the Animals are up to, and shut it down.
One version of V sneaked in through the mall’s loading dock, using cybernetic implants like an optical scanner to spot enemies and carefully move past them. Good thing, too–the Animals are known for bodybuilding and muscle-enhancement technology, and the weaker Netrunner V would have been handily pummeled if he’d been discovered. While you’ll have a lot of firepower at your disposal, as we saw in last year’s Cyberpunk demo, relying on stealth is an option as well.
A little further in, this version of V, who specialized as a Netrunner ran into a surveillance camera covering the hallway. A nearby network node offered an opportunity to hack in and take control of the camera by way of a quick hacking minigame–but slipping into the network offered its own problems.
Turns out, there’s a Netrunner hiding out in the mall somewhere running counter-hacking on you, and that’s no small thing. In Cyberpunk, hacking into people can be deadly; the only reason V survives this encounter is because of the help of the Voodoo Boys’ Netrunner, Placid, who is linked to your character during the mission to provide tactical support. Despite the interference, being connected to the network gives you the opportunity to mess with a number of devices throughout the mall.
Still undiscovered, V continued into a gym area where a few Animals were distracted watching one of their pals with a robot in a boxing ring. V’s “quick hack” skill allowed him to mess with the robot, ratcheting up its difficulty setting. That created a handy distraction as the bot brained his sparring partner, causing a handful of Animals to run over to see what was up. Just a little way further, the way was blocked by another Animal using a bench press station. Luckily, the Internet of Things is alive and well in the 2077–V quick-hacked the bench press to increase the weight, dispatching the poor enemy as the barbell choked him to death. That’s why you don’t lift without a spotter.
The quick hack ability has a lot of uses. V was able to commandeer a gun turret and switch off its friendly fire function, for instance. Quick hack looks very reminiscent of the remote hacking capabilities players get in the Watch Dogs franchise, with a lot of similar applications. He also carried a “nano wire,” a physical hacking cable he could throw at enemies at close range to jack into their brains, cooking them alive or causing them to attack their friends if you’ve purchased the right malicious software. Even cooler, though, was the fact the nano wire doubled as a laser whip–something borrowed directly from the cyberpunk movie Johnny Mnemonic (which also starred Reeves).
Switching speeds, CD Projekt showed the same mission with a female version of V who specialized in overwhelming force. Sporting cybernetic implants like gorilla strength, this V didn’t have the option to hack her way past the surveillance camera; instead, she ran to a nearby door and used brute strength to force it open. That created an alternate path into an elevator shaft, completely bypassing the Animals in the gym. The move gave off a very Deus Ex vibe, with alternate paths through areas accessible depending on your abilities and your playstyle.
That same access to alternative situations was true in the next room, where V faced the turret and nearby Animals. Instead of taking over the turret, this V simply ripped it off its moorings, turning it into a massive minigun and ravaging enemies with it. She also didn’t have the aversion to melee combat that her weaker Netrunner counterpart did and set about punching Animals to death, as well as stabbing them with broken bottles and other handy implements. You’ll also be able to wield things like swords, or deal with unaware enemies with stealthy takedowns–including environmental ones. At one point, V sneaked up behind an adversary standing next to a garbage chute, grabbed him by the neck, and bounced his head off a nearby wall before tossing him in, taking him out and disposing of his body in one move.
As with its many story choices, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t seem to be breaking new ground with its approach to gameplay choices and playstyle iterations. A lot of similar games in the genre offer a lot of similar variations. But Cyberpunk’s balance of giving you lots of options that conform to your style, and making them all viable and interesting, makes it look pretty exciting. We only saw a small snapshot of what you’ll be able to do in the game, it seems–you’ll be able to play the whole game non-lethally, for instance, as well as mix and match a number of different abilities, too. All the different play styles and abilities look they’re receiving equal love from CD Projekt, which should make playing Cyberpunk 2077 a pretty responsive and individual experience, regardless of how you want to tackle Night City.
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Author: Phil Hornshaw