Eight years ago, a little known Polish video game studio called CD Projekt Red (CDPR) gave us a glimpse into the gaming industry’s future with a teaser for a forthcoming game, which would be called Cyberpunk 2077. The year was 2012, and the industry stood on the precipice of an exciting new console generation. The PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Xbox One were just months away and signalled the dawn of a new era for the gaming world. Cyberpunk was to be its magnum opus.
But now, close to a decade later, Cyberpunk 2077 has almost missed the cut, being released as it is with the current generation of consoles at the end of their life cycle instead of the beginning. The game that was to act as the measuring point for the Xbox One and PS4 now serves instead as their swansong. However, rather than playing this era out in one last grand blasting symphony, Cyberpunk 2077 has unfortunately instead brought the curtains down on a sour and messy closing note.
The long-awaited release of CDPR’s latest role-playing game (RPG) has been beset by a number of technical issues and poor graphical performances, particularly on the current generation of platforms. The gameplay and graphical performance on these platforms (the Xbox One and PS4) is a far cry from the impressive footage viewers were shown initially, at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), in 2018. Rather than a world that feels fully realized and teeming with life, the game’s setting, Night City, appears no more impressive than Grand Theft Auto (GTA) V’s Los Santos, and certainly looks no better than it either.
The bugs infesting Cyberpunk 2077 are, by this point, well-covered in other gaming publications; in my own short playtime, I have suffered many of the freezing issues, mission bugs, frame-rate stutters and awful texture pop-ins that have plagued other players. But beyond these well-publicized glitches, the biggest problem with the game (at least on current-gen consoles) is that it has just not delivered on its promise and is far from being a game that feels like it belongs at the very end of a console cycle.
Typically, by the last year or so of a console cycle, developers have had enough time to really become familiar with the hardware and other aspects of the platforms, and as such, the last few releases of a cycle tend to be able to squeeze the last bits of performance from their machines, resulting in impressive works that show off the very final limits of its capabilities. For example, at the end of the Xbox 360/PS3 era, games like GTA V and Halo 4 were released. These titles, among others, are now known as era-defining games that pushed those consoles to the very edge of their capabilities.
Cyberpunk 2077 has, however, simply not been that game for the Xbox One and PS4. The experience of Night City falls well below the technical benchmarks already set by titles much earlier in this console generation. Poor lighting and textures lead the game to feel disappointingly flat, and this is not merely a problem that has beset the Xbox One and PS4 versions. Nor is it a problem with the consoles’ capabilities: other games on this generation of devices, for example The Last of Us Part II, have already blown those graphical limitations out the water.
To be clear, this is not intended as an aggressive review against Cyberpunk 2077 itself; rather, it is a lamentation of a fatalistic end for the PS4 and Xbox One brought on by CDPR’s technically outdated game. Even with Cyberpunk’s below-par visuals and technical shortcomings, I have no doubt that underneath lies another shining example of CDPR’s excellent stories and inspired gameplay. However, for those players still on the current-gen consoles, that brilliance remains largely inaccessible.
The drive to get playing the game on next-gen consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X has ramped up since the game’s release, since it seems now to be the only way to get a decent experience out of the game (other than using a high-end gaming computer). However, just getting the chance to purchase either of those newer machines is particularly difficult at the moment due to stock shortages, meaning many players are stuck playing the game on poor performing devices. So, in that respect, perhaps Cyberpunk is an excellent way to ring in the next generation of consoles, but unfortunately rather than showcasing the brilliance of the new devices, it only serves to unfairly cast the current generation into a false narrative of not being good enough, which is not and should not be the case.
The Xbox One and PS4 should be more than able to handle what Cyberpunk 2077 throws at it – maybe without fancy perks like ray tracing and high framerate, sure, but most of the technical specs of the game seem well within the reach of current-gen machines. However, that has not been the case, and that is a failure on CD Projekt Red’s part, not the makers of the consoles themselves. It is clear that the game has had its faults throughout development, and unfortunately for CDPR, the pressure of the industry’s eyes all on them meant that further delays were perhaps not feasible, lest the wrath of the gaming world start to hit an unimaginable boiling point.
But what that has left for Cyberpunk 2077 and the PS4 and Xbox One is a game that is severely underbaked, and the unfortunate dampened closure to what has up to now been an excellent era in console gaming. As we move into the PS5 and Series X generation, we should not remember the Xbox One and PS4 for this last failure (induced through no fault of their own) but rather what this generation of consoles did manage over the last decade to help propel gaming into a new stratosphere of technical brilliance. In the wake of CDPR’s nightmare release, it may be easy to forget that.
Cyberpunk 2077 may eventually carry the gaming world into its new, bright future as promised eight years ago, but perhaps not in the way that CD Projekt Red originally intended it to.