(Pocket-lint) - Having decided to wait for the console version before reviewing the game, we ended up playing Cyberpunk 2077 first around the same time as everybody else – with our Xbox copy arriving a day or so before the official release date. Therefore, this review is somewhat late.
But, by holding off in order to play across multiple format platforms, we've got the full picture of the experience. We've also had the chance to play it on PC (through Nvidia GeForce Now and natively using a rig with an RTX 3080), Stadia and PS5. And, we've been able to test it across Xbox Series X and S (installed on the internal SSD), plus on an Xbox One S (on its internal HDD). Boy oh boy have we found a mixed bag of results.
There is such disparity between experiences that it is almost impossible to provide a single review of Cyberpunk 2077 that will cater for all audiences across all platforms. Therefore, the mainstay of our review is based on our experience on both Xbox Series X and S, as we've played it for the most part across those machines. We do, however, provide the following caveats before we progress.
Even after the several hotfixes released so far, if you own a base Xbox One or PS4, do not buy Cyberpunk 2077 right now! From our experience on the Xbox One S, combined with the vast amount of anecdotal evidence we've seen online, performance is so bad at times that you'll just want to throw your controller at the screen. Developer CD Projekt Red has promised numerous additional bug and performance fixes over the coming months, so it's best to hold off at the very least, to see how much the game can be improved first.
If you own an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro, it is playable but still knackered enough for you to maybe think twice – at least until performance issues are addressed. Also, don't expect anywhere near the quality or crispness of the graphics of the PC version, which perhaps goes without saying.
If you have a PS5 or Xbox Series S, you get a better experience for sure. It's still got more bugs than an episode of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and can suffer crashes, freezing or gameplay errors, but it is playable and, in the case of the PS5, runs at 60fps.
The Xbox Series X provides the best console experience – partly because of its SSD (like the other next-gen machines), partly because it has the most firepower. It also offers a choice between quality and performance modes, with the latter sacrificing resolution for 60fps. No next-gen version has ray tracing nor any other "next-gen" enhancement – those won't be available for months as things stand – but this offering runs smoother and at a slightly higher res.
This is true of Google's Stadia cloud gaming platform too. The experience is very similar to Xbox Series X, including the option to favour either resolution or frame rate. It is seemingly a touch more stable on Stadia too, but mostly comparable to the best console experience.
The PC version is undoubtedly the best, depending on your setup. It is especially spectacular with ray tracing switched on. However, you can read plenty of glowing reviews of that version elsewhere, so we won't dwell on it.
Here instead are our honest thoughts of Cyberpunk 2077 running on console, based on a decent enough experience of it running on next-gen Xbox hardware.
Perhaps the saddest thing about everything we've mentioned so far is that underneath the litany of bugs, glitches and performance issues, Cyberpunk 2077 is a bold, ambitious, impressive open-world role-playing game (RPG). It is hard to fully recommend right now, especially on lower-powered machines, but it has the story, voice acting, branching mission structure, and creativity of a triple-A masterpiece.
It is also stunning looking, even without true next-gen enhancements, with an art style that makes the very best of an high dynamic range (HDR) telly. Yes, there are plenty of graphical issues when you look closely, and the world is more sparsely populated (with pedestrians and vehicles) than previously promised, but Night City still fills you with awe from the first time you travel through it.
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The gameplay is fun and fluid, too, with the developer's decision to opt for a first-person perspective clearly being the right choice. It gives you an impression of virtual reality without needing a headset, and is much more immersive than The Witcher 3, say. We do suggest you switch to an included third-person mode for driving, as it can be hard to navigate the streets otherwise, but everything else works well.
As do the game mechanics. Based on a pen-and-paper role-player from the 80s, the game embraces stats and attributes, but disguises them enough to not bamboozle you with numbers. You get simple yet effective character creation tools at the start, to determine your initial attributes and skills, plus what you look like and the angle of the dangle of your bits and bobs.
The rest of the RPG elements are par for the course kind of stuff. For example, levelling up your character through earning experience gives you points to assign to both attributes and perks – the abilities you'll need to improve weapon mastery, hacking, health, and so on. Plus, you have the obligatory inventory where you can change clothing for armour bonuses and your weapon loadout.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a little different to most (bar Deus Ex and a couple of others that spring to mind) in that it also allows you to change the cybernetics installed in your body. These provide additional modifiers for combat, tech use and the like.
Where CD Projekt Red gets it right is that while it all sounds complex, these are each intuitively implemented. You won't feel like you are being constantly pulled out the meat of the game just to tweak a stat here or change a jacket there. And weapons are so easily attained in missions you will have plenty to swap in and out without ever needing to buy anything.
We also generally ignored the crafting options – which give you the ability to build and improve your own weapons and items – as the loot found in the game in plentiful enough to not have to bother.
Another area we feel the developer gets things right is in mission variety and structure. The game has a main plot thread running right down the middle, but also hundreds of side missions and objectives that pop up throughout. Indeed, we were 40 hours into Cyberpunk before we realised we weren't even halfway through the main story.
What's more, these missions are rarely as simple as "pick up from location A and deliver to point B" – which most open-world adventures are generally criticised for. Instead, they feature stealth, driving, first-person shooting, melee combat, puzzle solving, detective work, and often a combination of any or all of them. Many also allow you to complete them in different ways, depending on your character and playstyle.
In addition, your character type can determine the general path you'll take through the game, what missions you are offered and some of the dialogue options you get to choose from. At the beginning, you get to choose your background – your Lifepath – between three alternatives and each will not only give you a different first 40 minutes or so, but also affect moments further down the line.
We have so far played as a Streetkid, for the console playthrough, and Nomad, which allowed us to experience something else when we started again on Stadia. There is also Corpo, which puts you in the shoes of someone who works for the largest tech corporation around. This initial choice enables second or third playthroughs to feel a bit different, although it's worth pointing out that the main story itself maintains a similar course no matter which Lifepath you choose.
Certainly though, it's a further example that the ambitions of CD Projekt Red cannot be questioned. Its application is another story.
A bug's life
It's hard to continue to wax lyrically without addressing the issues. While there is so much to like about Cyberpunk 2077, it is currently hampered by bugs that rip you from the otherwise cleverly crafted immersion. Some of them are glitches that are more visual – such as a character hovering in mid-air rather than sitting on a nearby chair – but others have direct effect on gameplay – like a boss fight being impossible to complete because of the boss himself disappearing into a wall mid-battle.
CD Projekt Red has already pushed two major patches to mend mission-breaking bugs, which has made things reasonably better, but there is so much more to be done and even on subsequent playthroughs, we've still encountered issues.
We mostly ran the game from an SSD on the Xbox Series X and S, and both presented a very decent form of the game (bugs aside). Indeed, in the high quality 30fps mode on Series X, it is also very good looking – not quite a 4K presentation, but still crisp and clear.
The SSD also ensured that not only were loading times speedy between fast-travel locations, graphics pop-in was almost unnoticeable. It didn't suffer the horrible lag before textures appear on objects and pedestrians, as experienced on current-gen consoles.
We did run the game from an external HDD too as a test (after all, this is just an Xbox One game running in backward compatibility through next-gen machines) and sure as eggs is eggs, there were some issues with the graphics. But, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as on the Xbox One S – likely thanks to the faster processing on Series X/S consoles.
From the SSD certainly, the game is very playable, looking decent and smooth in frame rate. That gives us hope that, once more bug fixes arrive, Cyberpunk 2077 will start to resemble the game we'd hoped for.
Indeed, everything is there for it to be a properly top tier game, it just needs the finesse that a few more months of development would have afforded. Sadly, we were among those lamenting the continual shifts in release dates. With hindsight, we wish CD Projekt Red had delayed further still.
So much of Cyberpunk 2077 is superb. The combat belies the studio's relative inexperience with first-person play, the story is gripping and soulful, and the voice acting and characterisations are simply next level.
Its use of Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand is much more than a gimmick, adding a sense of indie sci-fi flick to the proceedings, while Night City itself is a beautifully crafted character in itself, providing an open-world setting that delights round every corner – especially if you're a Judge Dredd fan.
But it is also broken. So much so on the base PS4 and Xbox One consoles that we cannot fathom why they were released in that state, or even ever released at all.
On next-gen through PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, there are issues still, but it's such a better game and, once serviced by more stable updates (including the promised next-gen enhancements), will likely reach the pedestal we've all been putting it on throughout its development.
We'll revisit it then and could even change our score to match the opinions of those playing it on PC. The lucky beggars.