The celebrity voiceover in a bigass RPG is no longer the quaint novelty of The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion's sleepy Patrick Stewart performance or Liam Neeson showing up for a cheeky ten minutes in Fallout 3. Cyberpunk 2077 broke new ground by having Keanu Reeves' Johnny Silverhand be your constant companion throughout the game, and expansion pack Phantom Liberty gets similar mileage out of beloved actor Idris Elba as secret agent Solomon Reed.
So, as enlightened critics and videogame tastemakers, we asked ourselves: which one is like, cooler though? In the rigorous and exacting process of talking to each other for 45 minutes and coming up with a couple funny categories, PCG online editor Fraser Brown and I, PCG associate editor Ted Litchfield have rated these two titans of the Cyber realm on seven crucial categories to determine an overall winner.
It's simple, choom, is this character badass? Can he handle himself in a fight and look sick as hell doing it?
Ted: This felt unfair to Johnny at first. After all, his storming of Arasaka HQ is one of the more badass moments of the game (complete with a sick theme to go with it). Recall, however, that everybody hates Johnny for doing this, it didn't change anything, and Mr. Silverhand followed this up by being electrocuted by a geriatric grandpa who hated his guts.
They say a baby in great peril can have an adrenaline rush providing them with the strength of ten babies, and that's our boy Johnny at Arasaka HQ—his one flash of true badassery amid a life of being a vaguely punk, vaguely hair metal dude who messed a lot of stuff up.
We also can't discount that he might be an unreliable narrator with 'Saka HQ—where was the Cyberpunk lore's cool guy extraordinaire (the "Solo of Fortune"), Morgan Blackhand, during all this? If Morgan was the group's Fighter, Johnny's like, a high-level cyber Bard maybe?
Fraser: Yeah, Johnny nets himself a high body count with that chunky pistol of his, and blows up an entire building, in what is a pretty flashy sequence, but he also presumably murders a whole bunch of relatively innocent people in what is an act of domestic terrorism. It's less badass and more psychotic. And for the bulk of the game he mostly just rants at V, an angry ghost living in their head.
Fraser: Reed's more of an understated badass, never needing to try nearly as hard as Johnny. The first time you meet him, he sneaks up behind you, sticks a gun in your gut, and you never even get a look at him. He's a professional badass, and I respect it.
It's not Johnny's fault that he's stuck in your head with no way to interact with the world, but Reed's ability to actually lend a helping hand during a fight scores him some extra points here. He's able to get his hands dirty and back you up, which is infinitely more helpful and badass than waxing poetic about how horrible Arasaka is.
And you just know Reed has seen some shit and done some shit, but he never needs to boast about it. Granted, that's probably because you wouldn't want to hang out with him if you knew what he'd done, but the mixture of competence, danger and humility is a potent one and ensures he wins this round.
Would you go out with these guys for ramen and shots? Who do you want to chat to when you've had a hard day shooting gonks and robbing corpos?
Fraser: Look, Johnny is a massive jerk, initially seeing you as just a vessel to allow him to get revenge on Arasaka, but from that unfortunate introduction a relationship can flourish—as long as you don't gobble beta blockers and tell him to fuck off, which is well within your right.
You're essentially sharing a body, so Johnny is always there, chiming in, arguing with you, criticising you, but also cracking jokes, sympathising and going through all the shit you're going through. You've got this incredibly strong connection, and yes, it's literally killing you, but that ain't Johnny's fault.
Ted: Your friendship with Johnny is one of Cyberpunk 2077's main throughlines—like Kim Kitsuragi in Disco Elysium, you've got an RPG romance level of interactivity and back-and-forth for a platonic (at least within the text of the game) relationship. You'll never catch me taking the Johnny blockers, he will always be my "choomba."
Ted: We all want to be Reed's friend, but he just won't let us in. He's too cold, too devoted to his imperial masters at the NUSA to really bro out and become our choom, ya dig? Maybe if we had more time with Reed, he'd be able to open up.
Reed reminds me a lot of the Witcher series' bud extraordinaire, Vernon Roche, who similarly served as an intelligence/black ops consiglieri to a majorly messed up head of state. There's no Letho of Gulet around in Phantom Liberty to sever those ties for Reed, and our agency man remains too wedded to the job to score higher on the BFF front.
Fraser: Roche is a great comparison. Reed's a pro and his defences are even more impregnable than the Blackwall. I wanted to be his buddy, because you sure as hell need friends in Dogtown, but he's on the job.
How much do your buddies exude the over-the-top, chromed-up, slang-riddled setting?
Fraser: Johnny is so cyberpunk the lad snorts metal. Everything about him is just steeped in cyberpunkitude. He's an ageing rocker, an anti-capitalist poser, a chromed-up edgelord, and he knows all the lingo. He's also a bloody digital ghost, living in your brain because you slotted the Relic into your noggin during a heist-gone-wrong. It's simply not possible to be more cyberpunk. Extra points for having a drink named after him in Afterlife.
Ted: Johnny just embodies that CyberDadRock vibe of Cyberpunk 2077, this incongruous corporate war veteran who almost has a Mick Jaggery thing going on, claims to be a DIY anarchist punk, and drives a Porsche. He's goofy and corny and all over the place but he is unapologetically Johnny and unapologetically Cyberpunk—not the subgenre, but Mike Pondsmith's tabletop setting.
Ted: Dear reader, does Solomon Reed ever call you his "choom?" Does he ever describe something as "nova" or "preem" during the 30-odd hour runtime of Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty? Johnny Silverhand is Mr. Cyberpunk, while Solomon Reed is a cool secret agent who'd be right at home in Deus Ex or even a contemporary thriller.
I like to imagine that Idris Elba had something in his rider prohibiting his character's use of fictional slang from getting too goofy with it. The biggest indictment of Reed's lack of Cyberpunkitutde? My cyborg ninja character felt like some kind of dorky Venture Bros. theme villain next to Reed's serious Company Man persona.
Fraser: I think if I ever heard Reed start spouting Night City slang I would need to lie down. It's like when I had a highschool teacher call me "dude". It's just wrong. His groundedness is a positive, though! The game needs this juxtaposition to ensure the world isn't just filled with caricatures. And there's something about Reed's stoic attitude that just makes me want to earn his respect.
We're picturing Cyberpunk 2077's Cool stat here, or maybe Composure from Disco Elysium. Is this character cool under pressure and able to handle social situations well?
Ted: You can't deny that Johnny has a certain Charismaaaeeeeee, but that's balanced out by him being such an impulsive dick. Insulting Alt during their last meeting together? Not smooth. Trapping her in cyberspace and turning her into an AI construct? Not smooth. Alienating all of his fans and friends before dying in the worst way imaginable? Brother, it's simply not smooth.
Fraser: Johnny definitely thinks he's smooth. He's too cool for his fans, his band, his friends, but really that just makes him a mega arsehole. He's an old rocker, dead for 50 years, but when he goes on his rants about corporations and the shite state of society, he just kinda sounds like a stoned politics student. He ain't wrong, but he just sounds childish.
These flaws make him an immensely interesting character, and one who absolutely grows during his stay in your head, but smooth? Not really.
Fraser: Reed's stone cold, man. You can't be a super spy if you aren't pretty damn smooth. But he's also a bit too broken and sad to get full marks here. He's a cool customer, but he's seen too much and betrayed too many people, so he spends a lot of time looking sadly off into the distance.
He can definitely bring out the charm when he needs to, though. And despite being pretty understated, especially when compared to Johnny, he's a master manipulator, so much so that the people who know him best keep warning you about him. Never trust the smooth ones.
Ted: Any doubts about Reed's smoothness evaporate the second you see him pull out the shindig threads for Phantom Liberty's party infiltration mission. He's cool as a cucumber, and never flies off the handle the way Johnny often does. Like Fraser points out though, there's a certain brittle quality to Reed evident in his frequent extrajudicial killings and self-delusion about the people he serves.
Night City is a loud place filled with clubs and music, with beats filling your ears whenever you hop into your ride—but can the boys hold a tune?
Fraser: OK, I'm just gonna come right out and say it: I enjoy Samurai. It's more dad rock than the kinda punk that Johnny wishes it was, but I like that shit, as hard as it is to admit being down with a song called Chippin' In. And regardless of whether or not you're a fan, there's no denying that music, and more broadly the scene, is a vital, inherent part of who Johnny is, which is reinforced by his side quests that see you talking to fans, buying LPs, and visiting his old bandmate Kerry.
Ted: I was initially way more sour about Samurai's music before Fraser won me over. It's still some of my least favorite stuff in a soundtrack that includes Health and The Armed, but if I'm to remain internally consistent on my stance that Cyberpunk's corny Dad Rockitude is good, then I've got to find it in my heart to accept Samurai.
Ted: How does Solomon Reed, NUSA company man and by the book agent, score so high on the music front? We gave him props for Idris Elba's real life musical contributions to Cyberpunk, as well as the radio station Impulse 99.9, which is basically a curated DJ set from the actor. I like to pretend that these are actual, in-universe contributions from our man Solomon, who has a day job as a bouncer.
Fraser: We're really scoring Idris Elba here, but I'm cool with that. Your man has his own Night City radio station, so props.
What does this character believe? Both Johnny and Reed are driven by their convictions, but what are those convictions worth?
Ted: Look, I'm always pumping my fist at Johnny's anti corporate screeds, but he's right for the wrong reasons. Johnny's a pissed-off poser who drove a Porsche and nuked a major American city because he was mad that he killed his own girlfriend. He could have accidentally stumbled into any number of belief systems to make that shitshow work.
Fraser: Night City is full of people who have been fucked over by the corporations and are actively sticking it to them, but Johnny thinks he's the only one—the messiah who will take down Arasaka. With a nuke. Even playing as the most anti-corpo V, he just wants to argue with you, because even when he's right, he isn't an ideological activist, he's just a really angry dude.
Fraser: Well, this is an easy one. Reed's a company man propping up a fascist corporate system, which he mostly does by murdering people. He's utterly ruthless, and so are the people he's working for. Cyberpunk is constantly reinforcing just how comically evil the corporations are, and the politicians who do their bidding, and while Reed doesn't present himself as an over-the-top villain, he's still completely embedded in that world. And he doesn't even do the job for a paycheque—the man's doing it all for free.
Ted: I think there's some juice to the fact that Colonel Kurt (get it?) Hansen and NUSA president Rosalind Myers are basically the same person. They're both cold blooded, ambitious actors who cloak themselves in some kind of ideology—a kind of rah rah military esprit de corps for Hansen and the faint suggestion of a legitimate United States government for Myers. When all of Reed's cool swagger, patriotism, and charisma is, at the end of the day, just more fodder for a pointless conflict between two assholes, it's hard to feel like it's worth it.
David Martinez's preem jacket, Adam Smasher's monstrous chrome—you can't be a Night City legend without the right look.
Fraser: Johnny's drip is actually pretty low key for Night City, the most garish place on Earth, but that in part is what makes him stand out, with a look that's become iconic. And ever since I watched The Blues Brothers as a kid, I've respected a dude who wears shades when it's dark.
What I really dig, though, is how Johnny's style connects to his personal narrative. The shades, leather trousers and biker boots mean you'll never forget that he's the frontman of a band, while the ballistic vest evokes his militant side, both his former life as a soldier and his later stint as an anti-capitalist terrorist. His alt appearance, meanwhile, is 100% STD-riddled party boy.
Ted: Shout out to Silverhand's titular silver (chrome, really) hand. I love the detail and craftsmanship CDPR put into a prosthetic that's very impressive and futuristic to us, but in 2077's era of discrete, flesh-tone cybernetics is actually a museum piece. An S-tier videogame robot arm on the order of Venom Snake's bionic arm or the Unalloyed Gold prostheses from Elden Ring.
Ted: Yeah, Reed's got a cool outfit, but it's also the exact one my character is wearing. Come to think of it, Placide in Pacifica's got a cyberguy trench coat thing going too. Oh god, so does that random NPC netrunner on the corner over there. A big, shapely leather trench coat is a popular fictional fit for a reason, but just like with Reed's lack of Cyberpunk-ness, he could fit in anywhere while Johnny is so perfectly 2077.
Fraser: Reed's a spy, so he really doesn't want to stand out. He's dressed for work. So yeah, not the most stylish guy in Night City, but he makes it work, and it's still a cool look. He does get gussied up in one quest, too, where he embraces sequins, and for that we really had to give him a solid 4.
And the winner is…
Johnny Silverhand: 26
Solomon Reed: 20
Fraser: I had an inkling it might pan out this way. Reed's a great character, but we spend significantly less time with him, and as a spy he's a lot more understated than a rocker-turned-terrorist-turned-ghost. He fits Phantom Liberty perfectly, but Johnny is just such a huge part of Cyberpunk 2077, and such a larger-than-life character. Anyway, I'm very glad we could categorically determine who's the best Cyberpunk buddy with this totally objective system.
Ted: Congratulations to John Cyberpunk himself, Johnny Silverhand. I was legitimately surprised at this outcome, but the cold, rational, and unimpeachable system Fraser and I created cannot tell a lie. We both still love Solomon Reed to bits, and Idris Elba's performance has worthily continued CDPR's campaign to redeem celebrity mo-cap performances in videogames.