Despite a few minor quest choice differences (and in the case of the video, some VO), the Gamescom demo was roughly same gameplay shown at E3 a couple of months ago. Rather than running through the demo beat-by-beat again, we'll instead pick out several things we thought made this presentation live up to our expectations, which were of course inflated by all that E3 hype. We've also included a short section on what we predict will change, which you can take as total guesswork.
1. Holy wow, the city
Samuel: Over the last two months, the lack of any public release of the gameplay demo has given it this weird mystique—how rare is it we don't just see everything from a game ahead of release these days? Until now, Cyberpunk 2077 was discussed like something you'd read about from a '90s E3.
The demo waits a little while to show you Night City, mostly showing off interiors with little balcony and window snapshots of what's out there. When it does the big reveal of the cityscape, what impresses is how close everything feels—it's a cyberpunk metropolis that feels like a real playable space. It's densely populated, and full of stuff I want to screenshot. This environment is so clearly the star of the demo, as I wanted it to be.
It made me recall seeing Liberty City's Star Junction at the start of my first look at a GTA 4 demo in 2007. I thought, 'I've never seen a city that looks that good in a game before', and that's how I felt watching 2077. If you've seen snapshots of cyberpunk worlds in games like the recent Deus Ex entries and wished you could see all of it rather than just little pieces, this feels like it does that, even if its vision of the future is very different.
2. The potential combat options
Samuel: Cyberpunk's gunplay looks like an amalgam of a few different games: a little bit of Bulletstorm's spectacle, and some immersive sim-y elements, like being able to hack enemy weapons to stop them being used against you in a firefight. You can climb up walls with blades fitted to your arms, and also use these to slice off enemy heads. I dialed out a little watching the early firefights, honestly, but there seems to be a lot going on here beyond basic firearms, and I can already see the makings of a few different play styles.
3. Giving players the option to take the money and run
Samuel: In the demo, the player is tasked with taking a rigged credit chip to a psychogang base, where it's intended to make a copy of their servers for megacorporation Militech. You can go through with the mission, or you can warn the psychogang about the chip, and get a reward for your trouble. Then there's another option on top of that, where you can kill the psychogang anyway after getting the reward and steal an extra 50,000. That's all very impressive, then, but CDPR also explains that the quest we're watching can be ignored entirely if you decide to take the initial credits for the job and walk away.
That'd be a waste of great quest design, but I like the idea that you can do it anyway. It reinforces the idea that you're playing this the way you want to.
4. The bit where a goon shouts ‘aaaargh my legs’ in slow motion as you chop his legs off with a katana
This was easily the best scene of that 48min presentation #Cyberpunk2077 pic.twitter.com/Dx0kzWgDKvAugust 27, 2018
Above: It happens a little differently in the demo shown on Twitch and YouTube.
Tom Senior: The katana is a mean weapon. You can hold it up in front of you to generate an energy field that repels bullets. Then, when you’re close enough you can chop limbs off. In the demo the guy at the controls chose to go into bullet time, slide and slice at the gangster’s knees. Later in the demo we got to see the retractable arm scythes dice up a goon, as Samuel mentioned above.
5. The cyberpunk lifestyle
Tom: As an edge runner in Night City, you exist in the cracks between corporations and organised gangs. In the demo, V ends up bartering with a corp and a band of heavily augmented thugs for the approval of a respected gang boss. V plays her targets off against one another in an attempt to siphon off money without getting killed. That means a lot of tense face-to-face showdowns, often at gunpoint.
Most of the choices boiled down to ‘do you want to fight now y/n?’ dilemmas, but the demo did capture the chaotic existence of a night city merc who goes into every situation expecting it to go bad. The demo visits a lot of seedy cubbyholes where V meets various lowlifes, and a mechanic that gives her a new mechanical eyeball. Whenever the demo visited one of these spaces there was an exciting transition from the sunny, bustling exterior to dark basements an elevator ride away from the surface world. Night City feels like a vast warren, but we don’t know yet how dense and exploratory the final city will be.
Features we think might change in the final game
Tom: CD Projekt Red didn't want to show the demo publicly (until now, apparently) because it was "just not ready". Part of me is surprised the studio showed it at all. Remember the early Witcher 3 demo? Years later folks were comparing it to the released game and pointing out discrepancies.
Features and effects that work in a narrow vertical slice sometimes don’t work in the final game, and we expect a few things might change from the demo.
Conversations in the demo were all intricately choreographed, and often featured multiple characters interacting with you and your partner. Important interactions probably will play out like this, but it would be a vast amount of work to keep this up throughout the game. Ordinary chats should still look better than Oblivion’s classic zoom-to-face, but preview demos can contain a lot of bespoke animations that don’t really feature in the finished product.
I'm also guessing that destructible scenery and the arm-scythes’ wall-cling capability will both be more limited than they appear to be in the demo. Maybe particular rickety types of wall panelling will be breakable at specific points in levels. Likewise the wall-hanging arm-scythe move surely won’t let you jump around buildings all over the city.
We didn't love the dialogue
Samuel: I'm willing to believe that every bit of story delivered in the demo is in line with Cyberpunk's source material, and I learned a lot about that by reading Gareth Damian Martin's excellent breakdown of its lore. The developers even pointed out some major elements of the fiction as they went through the world, which was nice. Removed from that context, though, I can't say I loved what I heard of the dialogue in the Cyberpunk 2077 demo. I'd peg the tone somewhere between GTA and '80s action movies—shouty, big characters and one-liners that didn't land for me.
Like Tom, though, I also liked the dude shouting "Jesus Christ, my legs!" as he gets sliced up. It's the only line I have written down in my notes.