Warning! The following article contains early game spoilers for Cyberpunk 2077—specifically about the nature of Johnny Silverhand, the character played by Keanu Reeves, and some story missions.
If all those blurry phone videos of Keanu Reeves being delightful and charming in public are to be believed, he's the nicest man in Hollywood. But in Cyberpunk 2077, where he plays a character called Johnny Silverhand, he's a big asshole. Silverhand, frontman of the chrome rock band Samurai, is what's known as a rockerboy in Cyberpunk's world: rebellious musicians who use their music and influence to smash the system and stick it to the man.
This makes him a hero to many of Night City's downtrodden citizens. But when you hang out with him in Cyberpunk 2077, you see the real Johnny Silverhand: a bitter, angry, manipulative jerk with a massive bio-chip on his shoulder. But, to be fair, he has his reasons. According to Cyberpunk lore he was forced to fight in an unjust war by a corrupt government, was imprisoned for protecting a woman from her abusive partner, and his girlfriend was kidnapped by the evil Arasaka megacorporation. No wonder he's mad at the world.
Johnny Silverhand disappeared in 2020, decades before the events of Cyberpunk 2077, and yet he hasn't aged a day. If you don't want to know why this is (the info is out there already), this is your last chance to click away. Seriously, we're heading to spoilertown from here onwards.
Still here? Good.
The Johnny Silverhand you meet in Cyberpunk 2077 is a digital construct. In 2020, a program called Soulkiller was used to make a copy of Silverhand's mind, and that copy—for reasons I'll skip, just to retain some of the mystery—is now inside your head. This means that when you see Johnny Silverhand in the game, only you can see him. He's a ghost in the machine—a digital echo of his former self—which explains why his appearance hasn't changed in 57 years; not just because Keanu Reeves never seems to age.
As you play Cyberpunk 2077, Johnny frequently flickers in and out of existence to comment on what you're doing, hassle you, reminisce about the past, or just crack sarcastic jokes. And, naturally, V is not too happy about having this uninvited hitchhiker in her brain. In the 15 hours of the game I played, their relationship was almost entirely combative.
Johnny is still mad at the world, and despairs at how much worse things are in 2077. And V just wants her mind back. This makes their relationship an uneasy one, to put it mildly, and things only get worse when V starts getting debilitating headaches (and occasionally puking) as Johnny's personality starts to creep in and take over hers. Finding a way to stop this fatal process (if it can be stopped at all) is the basis of several major story missions.
Shortly after discovering her fate, a friend of V's gives her two bottles of pills: blue ones to temporarily suppress Johnny's influence, and red ones to speed the process up and surrender to him. Red and blue pills? Keanu Reeves? This reminds me of something, but I can't quite place it. Anyway, at no point in my hands-on did V consider taking the red ones. But when Johnny was being particularly bothersome, I was occasionally given the choice to pop a blue one and chase his ghost away—which pisses him off massively.
Sometimes Johnny is an overbearing presence, getting in your face and screaming at you. Other times he just appears in the background, leaning against a wall, smoking, quietly observing you. He doesn't just appear in conversations either; a few times, while randomly exploring the city, I'd interact with something and he'd appear and comment on it. It's no cameo—he's a constant companion. Keanu Reeves must have recorded so many lines.
What's interesting about Johnny is how, sometimes, a little of his humanity slips through the digital cracks. You get a sense of the person he was before the world fucked him over. And I even got the feeling, at times, that he was warming to V. This might be his manipulative side coming out, because he needs his new host to exact revenge on Arasaka. But maybe not. Alas, I didn't get to play far enough to find out. But I'm definitely intrigued by this bizarre relationship, and I can't wait to see where the writers take it next.
Just don't expect to like Keanu Reeves all that much in Cyberpunk 2077—at least to begin with. He's a massively negative influence on V, with nothing good to say about anything, and a real mean streak. But if your mind was downloaded onto a memory stick by the megacorporation that kidnapped your girlfriend, you'd probably be pissed off too. You can see Johnny Silverhand in action for yourself when Cyberpunk 2077 is finally released on December 10.