Saturday, 3 Dec 2022

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners Is Great, But It Won’t Make Me Play 2077

I’m not much of an anime head, as my colleagues constantly bemoan. I’ve seen most Studio Ghibli films, the first few series of Pokemon, and Death Note, but that’s it. I’m not going to watch 1,000 episodes of One Piece, and although Cowboy Bebop has been recommended to me time and time again, I still haven’t got around to watching it. But ten short episodes set in the Cyberpunk 2077 universe? Sure, I’ll give it a shot.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners was great. I enjoyed the second half much more than the first, but overall it was a really cool story propelled by great characters. The show explored concepts of losing your humanity as you augment your flesh with increasingly complicated bionics in interesting ways, and the central love story was as poignant as it was tragic. Gory fight scenes are full of unrealistic athletics, time-slowing gadgets, and more explosions than a Schwarzenegger flick. For an anime noob, it was perfect.

On the other hand, we have Cyberpunk 2077. While I only played five to ten hours of CD Projekt Red’s RPG before I got bored and turned it off, I’ve read a lot about it. I’m aware that’s no substitute for playing the game, but everything I’ve read has turned me off it, and I’m not even talking about bugs. When it first launched (and was subsequently pulled from stores), I read about its childish views of sex (something Edgerunners sadly replicates), its useless skills, and the fact that Cyberware barely worked. You can only play by shooting your way through levels, there’s no place for hackers or any other roleplaying in Night City, no matter how hard you try.

Since joining TheGamer nearly a year ago, I’ve read and edited countless articles about Cyberpunk 2077, and have therefore read up even more on the subject to provide useful and constructive advice. I’ve read about a world full of locked doors and buildings you can’t enter, racial stereotypes and poor-to-useless cosmetic upgrades. Sure, there are apparently some great characters, quests, and set pieces, but it’s clear to me this is not the game that will replicate the Edgerunners experience.

I don’t care about getting David’s yellow jacket or spotting the Edgerunners references that have been patched into 2077, I want to upgrade myself with an Arasaka Exoskeleton so I look more like a Warhammer 40,000 Dreadnought than I do a man, become a metal monster and wreak havoc in Night City of my own accord. But that’s not an option for V, whose cyberware only buffs stats and grants abilities rather than giving her any cosmetic changes or significantly changing her playstyle. The only real physical upgrade is the Mantis Blades, which I’m told are useless when melee combat is rare and ineffective.

While I’ve also been made aware that a cyberpsycho does wear a similar exoskeleton in the game, that’s not enough. What’s the cyberpunk genre without the risk of losing your humanity? Edgerunners tells that story perfectly, and while I don’t know how Johnny Silverhand gets to grips with his virtual life in V’s head, nothing tells me that 2077 will even attempt to tackle similar existential questions.

From the outside, Cyberpunk 2077 looks all style and no substance. The character creator – which I did use in my short playthrough – is a prime example of this. You can match any genitals with either of the binary genders, but your voice is locked to being deep for a male V or high for a female. Everything is for show, to create a cool-looking world filled with edgy-looking people, but nothing goes deeper. Nothing is explored or analysed, none of the most interesting genre concepts used for anything more than epic set pieces.

Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe Cyberpunk 2077 does a great job of embodying and interrogating cyberpunk ideas but it just so happens that nobody talks about that aspect of the game. But, at least from the outside, Edgerunners seems to achieve that better in its ten short episodes than 2077 does in its 100 hours of gameplay. Either way, I’m not going to waste my time in finding out.

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