Keanu Reeves is pretty much Cyberpunk 2077’s Cortana.
I just got out of Cyberpunk 2077’s behind-closed-doors, hands-off demo at E3 2019, and it went into deep enough into some of its unanswered questions that this is actually starting to look like a real game. It was an impressive chunk of roughly 50 minutes of new gameplay that started to show some of the more nitty gritty elements of how you’ll actually be playing this epic-scale RPG, even if it didn’t have quite as much impact as last year’s big reveal.
This vertical slice was entirely new gameplay, with no overlap with what we saw at E3 2018 (that demo eventually went public after Gamescom), but it was also incredibly similar in structure and presentation: Establish V as the main character, have them walk around talking to folk a bit, assault a facility full of baddies, end with a big story moment.
That similarity isn’t a bad thing, but it meant it didn’t share that jaw-dropping “oh my god, I can’t believe we’re seeing this” feeling I had in 2018 – but I don’t think it needed to. Instead, we just got a look at another angle of Cyberpunk. More about the story, more details about leveling and tactics, more about customization and shopping, and more of everything.
One of the best parts of that was a live character-swap the demo did twice. The demo started from the perspective of a hacking, netrunner-focused version of V – hacking doors to open them or vending machines to distract enemies – but at one point CD Projekt Red jumped back to an earlier section and replayed it as a much more aggressive, strength-focused character.
If every mission has the option to go in loud or quiet that’s a huge amount of flexibility for a large-scale open-world RPG.
While one was making stealth kills with a laser garrot called a monowire, the other ripped a turret off its base and used it as a minigun in a bloody rampage. When it came to stealth, the hacker route had them sneak up on an enemy training against a boxing bot and hacking it to up the difficulty to knock them out cold, while the strength route just ripped a closed door open and avoided them entirely. If every mission has the option to go in loud or quiet (which is suggested by the fact that CDPR confirmed we’d be able to do full non-lethal playthroughs) that’s a huge amount of flexibility for a large-scale open-world RPG.
We also saw how leveling will work: it’s a system that’s split into attribute points like Strength and the notorious “Cool,” and perks for specific things like handguns, shotguns, melee, and more. CDPR tells me those perks get stronger through use (as well as a perk point system), but they are also bottlenecked by your attributes. For example, if your strength is too low, you’ll eventually hit a wall in your melee perk until you get more, but you’ll be able to respec attributes in some fashion, too.
Meanwhile, the surprise inclusion of Keanu Reeves turns out to be less of a quick cameo and more like Cyberpunk’s version of Cortana. CDPR said that at some point in the story you’ll essentially start being haunted by the digital ghost of Johnny Silverhand, played by Reeves. Silverhand will be your constant companion, chiming in with dialogue in your head and occasionally projecting himself out into the world to be seen, and CDPR tells me he is a significant part of Cyberpunk 2077.
You’ll unlock more languages you can translate as you progress rather than having to buy them individually, essentially gating parts of the world off with a literal language barrier.
That said, some of the dialogue spoken by Reeves (and a few others) felt a bit stiff and strange at times. When the demo character finished customizing their hair and outfit in a mirror, Silverhand chimed in with “You really think they give a rat’s dick how you look?” which felt reminiscent of the unwieldy cussing present in the first demo. (I’m not squeamish about profanity, but there’s an art to using it well.)
There was a cool dialogue bit in how Cyberpunk handles translation. V has a chip that will translate certain languages on the fly as you encounter them, and that happens live on screen as you watch the subtitles change into English. CDPR tells me you’ll unlock more languages as you progress rather than having to buy them individually, essentially gating parts of the world off with a literal language barrier.
We also got our first look at Cyberpunk 2077’s hacking minigame – because of course there’s a hacking minigame. It seems to be similar-ish to Fallout’s, with a grid of hex code characters (pairs of a number and a letter) that you have to pick the proper ones from. A base level of success will get you access to whatever system you are hacking, while there are also optional objectives that give you bonuses for doing well. It’s also important to note there is such a thing as “quick hacking,” which lets you instantly access certain systems, so you won’t always have to play that minigame.
As for the other parts we’ve already seen, I’m still not yet sure how I feel about the gunfights and driving. The demo saw a variety of different weapons used and a travel scene where V is riding the red motorcycle seen in Cyberpunk 2077’s collector’s edition statue, but it’s hard to get a sense of the weight or feel of either these activities without going hands-on for myself. The combat at least looks to have lots of options to pick from (we saw everything from machine guns to broken bottles used in this demo), but the driving still looked fairly arcadey as of now.
But, as CDPR said very clearly at the start of the demo, this is all a work in progress. CDPR told me that it’s still figuring out how certain stuff will work, like how much you’ll be able to change your appearance mid-game (it will at least allow things like hair color and style) or how often you’ll be allowed to respec your attributes and how expensive it will be.
So while this demo didn’t floor me the way last year’s did, it certainly got me excited to play Cyberpunk 2077 – mostly because now I can actually see myself playing Cyberpunk 2077. We’ve got a real release date – April 16, 2020 – and we’re starting to fill in the blanks to some of the specifics here, and I can’t wait until I can dive into it for myself.
Tom Marks is IGN’s Deputy Reviews Editor and resident pie maker. You can follow him on Twitter.