It represents probably the biggest divide between different platform releases in years, meaning that a vast amount of people, at thetime of writing at least, won’t be able to see anywhere close to the very real potentialI believe this game has (I mean, just as I was about to record this Sony announced they’reissuing full refunds and taking it off the PlayStation Store? It’s been a while since we’ve seen a situationquite like this).
The glitches, even on my new PC, put recent fallout titles to shame, and it because the developers that clearly worked insanely hard on this stuff are now bearing the brunt of the business decisions that led to the game being released in such an unfinished state. Why this wasn’t delayed further baffles me to no end, and I can totally understand the impulse of disappointedly requesting a refund if that stuff was too much for you, even if, for me—the guy that made that StarCitizen video last year—I’ve grown a remarkably high tolerance for this kind of thing.
In terms of the fundamentals of the game design though, the stuff that’s harder to fix—ya know, no game could possibly live up to the almost decade of hype Cyberpunk has garnered. Turns out my prediction, after seeing the behind-closed-doors demo a couple of years back at Gamescom, that this would be GTA byway of modern Deus Ex was pretty damn accurate—that is to say, little that we haven’t seen before. And you know what? Despite all this, the game’s many, many flaws… I still really enjoyed it.
It’s maybe not the kind of commentary people are looking to hear right now, but beneath these technical monstrosities lies a real heart to Cyberpunk that really resonated with me; one that I hope to convince you of hereby breaking down one scene in particular. Far removed from the grand heists and shootouts you perform in massive corpo skyscrapers, this isn’t some massive world-altering even there—but in the vein of the developer’s previous work, it’s something much smaller in scale, a side mission. To be precise, it’s a gig in a dive bar.
On the surface, at least, it seems relatively minor at best and downright corny at worst, but when you consider the context surrounding it and its implications for these characters, I was shocked by how well this one scene takes everything I found so captivating about the game’s personality—using glorious shlock to get to something much deeper, more human—and manages to distill all of that into the length of a Refused song (and heads up I will be spoiling this side mission from here on out so here’s your chance to delta if you need to).
It’s kind of absurd that this scene works as well as it does. Towards the end of the main quest, your long-brain pal Johnny Silverhand decides to get his old band Samurai back together for one more night of rockin’ out, doing sick solos and throwing up the devil horns exactly the same way he did fifty years ago. He’s a caricature of the hard-partying rocker dude that also happens to be a gun-slinging fightin’ guy as if he could be more ripped from the pages of a thirteen-year-old’s diary.
And for sure, his character fits well with the almost grindhouse vibes of the game’s general tone, reflecting the fact that this is a very accurate reproduction of what an 80’s tabletop game considered cool for the time (I mean, it bears repeating—this game’s mascot is a bullet belt-clad dude named JohnnySilverhand, it’s one step away from Duke Nukem). There is absolutely fun to be had with that kind of juvenile indulgence in a video game. But contrary to what many of the takes I’ve seen seem to suggest about Silverhand in particular, there’s way more to it than that. While CDPR’s business reputation has been in a state of turbulence of late shall we say, there’s no denying that, well, they still know how to write a damn good story when they want to.
See, this whole scenario is not some hollow celebration of Johnny’s debaucherous escapades over the years; in fact, it’s kinda the opposite. It’s the culmination of a series of uncomfortable confrontations between Johnny and everyone around him but most notably with himself; fleshing out this caricature by really forcing him to interrogate his own bullshit in a way that I totally did not expect. And it all starts pretty late into the relationship between Johnny and player character V.
After all this time of Johnny butting in to moan at you about how lame your plans are or something, you’ve started to notice the hostility between the two lessen somewhat, to the point that Johnny feels comfortable making a final request before his presence leads to host V’s untimely death—finish off Adam Smasher, the that gutted Silverhand half a century ago. And so you team up with your fixer, Johnny’sformer flame to get right back to what he started, infiltrating and killing your way to the info you need…
only to find that the dude in question is pretty much untouchable now, that he’s likely long since moved past caring about anything to do with Johnny Silverhand. What you do get, though, is the location of Johnny’s body. And so you take a long drive out to the middle of nowhere. What you find isn’t the flower-covered, well-kept shrine you’d expect for such a well-known rockstar; instead, you find him unceremoniously dumped in a junkyard without so much as a marking to signify his final resting place.
Perhaps it’s the view of Night City in the background, churning away like nothing ever happened, but it’s here that Johnny’sfinal request of V takes a turn for something more personal, reflective. Johnny was supposed to triumphantly take revenge here, tying everything up in a neat little bow and emerging as the lone hero of the tale, but suddenly and unapologetically confronts him with the fact that such a heroic narrative doesn’t jive with the myriad loose ends he has left in his wake—the friends that he consistently over with his destructive habits,
under the guise of some noble desire to change the world that no one else could understand, man—that all ultimately amounted to a need to feel superior to those around him—denying the very real help offered to him at every turn and berating those offering it as weak. It’s a pretty striking thing to see this ghost go from a single-minded selfish to realize that, for all his bluster about how you as a player couldn’t possibly live up to his rebellious ideas, that you’re the only person he’s got left (and given how he’s treated you, it’s certainly not by choice).
And what follows is pretty surreal. Johnny asks to use V’s body to, well, check in on his buddies and former bandmates—leaving them unsure of how to react; he goes on a date through V, he reminisces about the good old days, all while these people are left reeling as to what the is even happening, how this stranger is somehow channeling the musical abilities and personality of their late friend, why he’s decided to show up now after 50 goddamn years—a period of time that hasn’t exactly been kind to these individuals.
You see frontman Kerry, a money-making machine for the Corpo record label that could be dropped at any time for a more profitable model; keyboard stance has changed her name, attempting to distance herself from her past and establish a career in investigative journalism, trying and failing to get a scoop on what’s new in her former field and having to suffer a great many fools in order to do so. People have either moved onto an unfulfilling new identity or they’ve remained in a depressing state of arrested development—targeting each other as outlets for their misplaced rage rather than the corps they used to angrily fight against.
And while Kerry is the only one to know that it’s actually Johnny in V’s head rather than some young upstart looking to just fill in on guitar, you’re constantly reminded that all of this existential anguish is anchored to Silverhand—the figurehead of their collective identity whose initial charisma lured the mall in, gave them some kind of purpose before he treated them all like shit and bailed; his sudden death leaving those close to him entirely in the lurch, unable to process what to do next—unable to move on. This brings us to the gig, suggested by Kerry.
It’s at once a chance for these people to affirm who they actually are, say the “yous” they never got to say, both to each other and Johnny, whether directly or otherize; but also, mourn him; gaining some kind of closure on all of this stuff they were forced to live with for half a century, realizing that if anything the world is worse now than it ever was. It’s a mess of unprocessed emotions on the parts of everyone involved, directed at everyone involved—guilt, joy, nostalgia, anger—which is what makes this outwardly cheesy representation of a dive bar punk show, devil horns and all, feel somewhat less contrived—like the genre itself,
this gig represents a need for general catharsis; a venting of anger that is otherwise difficult to direct at one particular target. And, sure, it is kinda corny but it was this context, these layers of meaning, that completely sold me on it nonetheless—I was headbanging along as if I were on the stage myself, trying to put on a show for the crowd while realizing just how important this moment is for these characters. And it doesn’t end with everything somehow solved, these people will still struggle for a long time. But this gig.