At the Gamescom 2019 conference in Cologne, Germany, precisely 237 days prior to the release of Cyberpunk 2077, Den of Geek was ushered into a darkened cinema to watch close to 45 minutes of gameplay from CD Projekt Red’s upcoming sci-fi RPG. With one member of the development team playing the game live and another one providing commentary, it was a neat way to learn more about the game in lieu of actually getting to play.
The segment of Cyberpunk 2077 that we witnessed takes place midway through the game. This live gameplay demo began with the player character, V, making some changes to their appearance. The developers are very keen to show off all the customization options: you can craft V’s appearance in hundreds of different ways using cybernetic enhancements, and you can also choose from a variety of backstories (which have names like Nomad, Street Kid, and Corporate). How your V looks and what kind of history you give them will alter the game in a number of ways: for instance, certain dialogue options will only be available to certain sorts of people.
The customization options chosen by the player for this demo are quickly ridiculed by Keanu Reeves, who has a supporting role in the game as the digital ghost of a rebellious rockstar named Johnny Silverhand. “You really think they give a rat’s ass how you look?” he asks, and V seems to be the only one that can see or hear Johnny. (A bit like Mark Hamill’s hallucinatory turn as The Joker in Batman: Arkham Knight.)
At this point in the game, V is trying to learn more about a chip in his neck. To do this, V heads off to meet a gang called the Voodoo Boys. Following a lead takes him to a chapel in Pacifica, which is one of the rougher districts in the game’s sprawling Night City locale. On the way there, it’s obvious that the graphics in this game are pretty impressive – looking out a window, you can see helicopters flying by, and there are glimpses of vast cityscapes in the distance. There are also details to be spotted in the foreground, like some “Where’s Johnny?” graffiti that is presumably a reference to Reeves’ long-dead character.
You make your way into the chapel, pushing through a crowd to get to the one person that will give you directions. You can hear snippets of people’s conversations, including some exchanges in Haitian Creole, which are translated in real-time as floating words above people’s heads. As you get into a conversation, you’ll be able to see certain dialogue paths that you could have taken if you had a different background. A Street Kid version of V will have more luck blending in with a criminal gang than one that has come from a corporate background, for example.
Chatting to the right person rewards you with a new waypoint to reach, and another character to go and talk to. It’s back out into the world, then, with the developers taking this opportunity to get V onto a motorbike and give us a glimpse of the vehicles in the game. As fans of GTA games will be happy to hear, there are various different radio stations to choose from. Zooming around the city looks like fun, but it isn’t long before V is at the next destination.
V meets up with the next quest-giving character, Placide, who looks to be some sort of crime lord. He demands that you “jack in” to his computer system, which is a fairly big leap of faith in this world. After a bit of convincing, V takes a cable out of his lower arm and plugs it into a machine on the desk. This allows Placide to have a look around in your internal coding (lest we forget that everyone in this world is cybernetically enhanced in a big way). Placide can now talk to you remotely, and he can see and hear everything that you do.
Giving you a chance to earn his trust, Placide sends you off on a mission: to head over to the Grand Imperial Mall, which is currently occupied by a rival gang called the Animals, and basically sort them out. This is when things got really interesting, with the developers using this level to showcase just how much your customization choices can impact your playstyle.
Giving us our first proper glimpse at how different sorts of players will be able to tackle missions in their own unique ways, CD Projekt Red showed us three different ways of beating this level: in the first playthrough, the player stealthed their way around the shopping center, deploying sneaky takedowns to defeat enemies and using environmental hideyholes to stash the bodies (there were some fun takedowns involving items in a gym, like a boxing robot that you could override to knock a dude out). Then the developers loaded up a second save game, showing how a player that had maxed out on the strength options could tear down doors and smash a completely different path to their goal (even ripping turrets out of the ground to make super-heavy guns). Another save showed us a “Netrunner” playthrough, with a player maxing out their technical stats to hack their way through the level, even fiddling with the code in enemy characters’ heads to gain tactical advantages. The options seem to be pretty vast, allowing players to bend the levels to their own unique tastes.
You can check out some of the footage from this level in the following video, which CD Projekt Red shared after Gamescom…
After showing us these three different playthroughs of the same level, the developers moved onto the next chunk of the story: after clearing out the mall, you come face to face with a special agent that had been monitoring the Animals gang. He offers up some pretty hefty revelations about Placide, and you can either choose to believe the agent or turn on him. Either way, the game will keep going – there are no right or wrong answers here, and there seems to be a carefully constructed branching narrative at play.
Before the lights went up and we were sent on our way, CD Projekt Red had time for one more surprise: we saw the player meeting up with some intriguing characters that are offering to send V “beyond the black wall.” Using some tech that involves plunging your body into an ice bath, V is invited to enter a fully digital world that could hold answers to some pretty big questions. Apparently no one has ever returned from this virtual realm, but the digital consciousness of a character called Alt Cunningham is hoping to be the first being to make a comeback from the great cyberspace beyond.
Like Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Silverhand, Alt Cunningham is a character that originated in the tabletop game Cyberpunk 2020, which this video game will serve as a sequel to. Exactly how she factors into this new story remains to be seen, but we look forward to finding out more about this overarching story when the time is right. Much like V hovering above that ice bath, we’re ready to take the plunge.
Cyberpunk 2077 launches on April 16 on PS4, Xbox One, Google Stadia and PC.