I like a little stealth. Nothing beats being chased through the shadows of a criminal-infested shipyard, suffocating goons and disabling cameras as I sneak toward my target. Knowing that I have the option of pulling a katana and dividing my enemies into ribbons if all goes well is also comforting, and a balancing act that the best RPGs have done for years.
Cyberpunk 2077 manages this as well, but its approach to stealth is pretty rudimentary and hardly rewarding enough to feature as the primary means of navigating Night City. I’m a bluff player, so I’ll enter bigger levels and buggies with the goal of taking down my opponents with precise silence rather than making a fuss, but the lack of useful tools at my disposal and a sense of senseless repetition meant I rarely felt entertained. Everything is incomplete.
Prior to the release, I saw lengthy presentations of Cyberpunk 2077 at E3 and Gamescom, where I watched a virtual slide over 40 minutes of gameplay in great definition. While these sections of the game will be present in the final product, they have promised enhanced features and gameplay systems that will be drastically scaled back upon release. V’s backstory was much more detailed, while the skill system sparked an unrivaled level of customization that made multiple playstyles possible in ways that made it seem that, depending on which character you were, the entire game could change. This was either a lie, or a very lofty promise for his own good.
Pacifica was the focus of one demo, especially your first meeting with Placide and the Voodoo Boys before sneaking into the Grand Imperial Mall. Many of the dialogue choices and narrative decisions remain the same, but the illusion of depth that gave me all those years ago was false, and only two outcomes had any real bearing on anything. I’ll reserve a more extensive detail for another article, as I now want to focus on one aspect – how the heart and soul of Cyberpunk’s disguise was torn before my eyes.
In the end game as it stands now, the stealthy V can kill or drive out enemies, repeating the same animation over and over as we learn the gang members’ patrol routines and move in to kill. The routine is predictable, and Cyberpunk 2077’s level design doesn’t push the boat out enough for me to bother changing my tactics. You wait for them to move away from any nearby cameras or allies before removing them. Hiding corpses is also meaningless, because unless you distract someone, there is no chance for them to stumble across their absent comrades. The style becomes predictable, and it shouldn’t be too boring.
V has a lot of hacking abilities too, but a few of them are explainable and the only ones I used were to disable cameras or distract enemies with nearby vending machines. Those you resist are too dumb to miss out on more complex methods, and land after a handful of bullets or a stealth attack anyway, so it’s a lot easier to take the easy route when the game doesn’t offer nearly enough methods to experience. As for an RPG that offers endless possibilities, I can’t help but shake my head at how shallow it is.
Level design doesn’t always correspond to stealth approach either. Sometimes you may come across a forklift that can be activated to reach higher ground or a doorway that can be forcibly opened with the right skill set, but more often you’ll hit a brick wall or an artificial barrier in the world that makes you aggressive the only way forward. Our creativity is only taken into account in very specific circumstances, so playing the whole game as a killer is not fun. This brings me back to the Grand Imperial Mall mission. It’s a playground full of gang members and loot, with the goal of being the Netrunner away in a small cinema. The thing is, sneaking through my enemies meant I bumped into him too soon and missed the valuable context of what my mission was about in the first place. I was engaging in conversations that felt unexpected and unearned, all because I decided to play Cyberpunk 2077 my way. She broke her rules and was punished, which is very backward.
RPGs like this shouldn’t slap a player in the wrist to use their systems as intended, or create missions and levels that don’t accommodate more than the basic approach. It’s much better than it used to be thanks to several updates, but Cyberpunk 2077’s core design is inherently flawed and unfortunately betrays the freedom it sells itself for. I want to be a cyberpunk undercover working from the shadows, but oftentimes I have to expose myself to enjoy it all to the fullest. Maybe I’ll get hacked instead and see what all the fuss is about.
Next: Overwatch 2 is already making some weird bugs with its Battle Pass
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