Cyberpunk 2077 is poised to be one of the best games of 2020

Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the most hotly anticipated upcoming games, and this E3 the hype got even bigger with a new trailer revealing the release date and the casting of Keanu Reeves as digital ghost Johnny Silverhand. After all this news I got a chance to check out a 50-minute behind-closed-doors presentation of an in-game mission which highlighted some of the different ways you’ll be able to build your character and some of the factions that you’ll have to deal with on your journey. I have to say I wasn’t disappointed at all with what I saw.

First of all, CD Projekt Red is still keeping fairly mum about story details. You play as V, who somehow has acquired a biochip that allegedly contains the secret to immortality. Along with that, a digital ghost named Johnny Silverhand appears only to you to help guide you on your mission from time to time and deliver snarky commentary. The hands-off demo I saw took us through a mission in Pacifica, a section of the city abandoned by the corporations during development. Pacifica is now home to a gang called the Voodoo Boys, who seem to have the best hackers of any of the criminal factions of Night City, the overall setting of Cyberpunk 2077.

V is reaching out to the Voodoo Boys to get their assistance to contact Alt Cunningham, the first, and apparently only person, to completely digitalize their consciousness and pass behind the black wall in cyberspace. Alt Cunningham seems to hold the secret behind the biochip and Johnny Silverhand has some interest in her as well. However, the Voodoo Boys help isn’t going to come freely.

You meet Placide, one of the capos of the Voodoo Boys, who has a job for you. If you complete it, he promises he’ll take you to the Voodoo Queen who leads the gang and who can help you contact Cunningham. He jacks into you, which you’re none too happy about, and give you information that a gang called the Animals seem to be protecting a van containing advanced equipment in a nearby unfinished mall. This is unusual because Pacifica is wholly Voodoo Boys territory and the Animals are low-tech drug addicts who are much more muscle than brains. This means that there must be another faction making a play and using the Animals as muscle.

The mission seemed pretty typical in execution, but it was likely because CD Projekt Red chose one of the less dynamic ones for the demo. While the demo was live, it was evident that it was meant to showcase some very specific things while leaving the rest for later reveals and the game’s full release. After seeing what some others who saw the demo have to say about it, I’m a bit shocked. Somehow people have found controversy in what was a fun and informative hour.

The Voodoo Boys are a fascinating faction. They’re immigrants from Haiti that have formed a tight-knit community in the abandoned ruins of Pacifica. They speak in a creole blending English and French, which is familiar for anyone who has visited Louisiana. It’s a great way to tap into Carribean tradition and culture and examine how it would look in 2077.

We got to see less of what the Animal’s background and motivations were in the demo, mostly because it was spent avoiding or killing them. They use a drug called Juice which gets them all jacked up like a combo of hyper steroids and PCP. You get a choice of either sneaking in through the garage of the mall or heading straight in the front when assaulting their hideout. Going through the front is the shorter route, and you’ll find the van almost immediately. However, there are a ton of animals here, and taking the stealth approach is by far the less risky path.

We also got to see two separate playstyles. We initially infiltrated as a male corporate netrunner V. We were able to hack into the Animal’s cameras and disable their security network. This let us stealth through the area easily. When we encountered Animals in a gym, we could overload their exercise equipment to subdue them. Having so many hackable items was excellent, and it gave a real Watch Dogs sort of vibe. This path was a lot more brains over brawn and involved observing the environment carefully, then methodically setting up enemies for a fall.

The second playstyle was a female V whose stats concentrate on strength. She’s not able to hack like the netrunner, but her brawn allowed her to force open locked doors to create a shortcut past the cameras and areas we had to sneak through as male V. Her concentration on brawl meant she has to fight more, but she’s also better equipped to.

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Eventually, we made our way to the Animal’s leader. As befitting the game’s name, she’s a muscular beast. A mechanism on her back continually feeds her Juice, which allows her to wield a giant hammer. Taking her on from the front is suicide. Instead, you have to first destroy the Juice pump and then take her out. The combat seemed fluid at this stage of development, though it’s hard to tell without getting a hands on. There are still ten months to go before the game is released, so I feel like we’re not quite getting the full picture of how things will look in the final product. For an alpha, though, everything worked as explained, and the boss fight was pretty thrilling. Considering that this boss is likely relatively minor in the scheme of things, I’m excited to see how some of the more powerful enemies are presented.

Once we made it past the boss, we met the government agent behind the van. He explains that he’s been assigned to root out the Voodoo Boys and help remove them from power. He also says that they are just using us and will turn on us as soon as the job is done. In the demo, V chose to ignore his warnings and jacked into him as Placide instructed. Placide then overloads the agent’s mind, killing him and the other agents in his network. Unfortunately, this also has the unfortunate side effect of almost killing V. Looks like the agent was right. Different paths could have been taken along the way. A big one it seems would have been siding with the agent against the Voodoo Boys. We didn’t get to see that path, but it would have likely changed the next events considerably.

V somehow survives the overload, striking fear into the Voodoo Boys outside that expected them to be dead. They take him back to Placide, who is just as awestruck by V’s survival. The Voodoo Queen has been reawakened by the agent’s defeat and agrees to help V find Alt Cunningham, after which they jack into the net. This is where the demo ends.

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From what I saw, Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be an absolute blockbuster and brings something new to the first-person action RPG genre. It looks to have the depth of Elder Scrolls or Fallout when it comes to character building, inventory management, and world interaction but does so in an environment we’ve never been to before. As much as I love high fantasy and post-apocalyptic settings, the world of Cyberpunk 2077 brings something new and exciting to the table.

Don’t listen to all the naysayers, Cyberpunk 2077 is on track and looks like it’ll be ridiculously fun. I’ll reserve my final judgment until I’ve played the final product, but this was one of my top three games of E3 2019.