Cyberpunk 2077 (Series X)
Also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, and Windows
Cyberpunk 2077 is the quintessential example of corporate bosses ruining the artistic vision of game developers in my opinion. When this game was revealed, it had the potential to be the greatest open world game ever made, and in the state it's in today, it's a solidly great game. When it launched, though...Jesus Christ, it was a disaster. It was playable on PC at launch, but if you were using a PS4 or Xbox One - especially base model instead of a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X - you were in for a miserable time. Frame rate was a disaster, bugs galore many of which were game-breaking, and a generally muddled resolution and craptastic frame rate were what gamers were treated to. Playing via backwards compatibility on PS5 or Xbox Series X was, like PC, playable, but it still wasn't what CD Projekt Red had hyped us up for. With all of that said, that's why it sat on my shelf for a year and a half before I played it. I tried it on my One X when it came out, but I didn't actually play more than an hour until the Series X optimization patch dropped. I wanted to experience the best possible version of this game so I could judge the game on its merits rather than the incompetence of CD Projekt Red (regardless of whether it was the development or publishing wing to blame).
Cyberpunk 2077 takes place in the world built by a long-standing tabletop RPG series. Like most people who probably played this game, I've had no experience with the series. Basically, you play as V, a merc in Night City doing whatever jobs pay the bills and trying to become a legend of Night City's seedier side. You end up with the mental construct of famed terrorist Johnny Silverhand in your head, though - basically sharing your brain with his soul. Since Johnny Silverhand is played by Keanu Reeves, you shouldn't need to hear anything else to sell you on this game. The game mostly lets you play how you want; you can choose from three backgrounds (gangbanger garbage, corporate scum, or glorious nomad), you can get through most of the game either by killing or non-fatally incapacitating your foes, and even lock yourself out of entire quest lines depending on the choices you make. There's not a morality system per se, but your choices absolutely impact various aspects of the game.
The game's visuals look, at least on Series X, fantastic. It definitely looks better than it did on One X a year and a half ago. On Series X, you can choose between a higher frame rate with more basic visual effects or ray tracing at 30 fps. The ray tracing can be pretty noticeable at certain times of day, but at other times of day, it really doesn't look at that different from the non-ray tracing mode. With that said, I personally think the added visual effects of the ray tracing just isn't worth the constantly very noticeable drop in frame rate. That said, though, on the performance mode, I only noticed frame rate drops when transitioning to a different part of Night City (although it visibly stuttered at those points). The game's audio design is also fantastic with some great voice acting and a truly killer soundtrack. Honestly, the soundtrack is one of the best parts of the game.
The game plays a lot like what you expect from a gun-based RPG from CDPR. The gunplay isn't quite as accurate in my opinion as a true first person shooter, but it's significantly better with accuracy than Fallout. The driving mechanics can also take a little bit of getting used to - it feels like your wheels are coated in Crisco - but once you do get a feel for it, driving is actually one of the most fun parts of the game. I really can't say enough good things about the gameplay itself. Unfortunately, even after a year and a half of patching and fixing and playing on the most powerful home console released thus far, it's riddled with bugs. These bugs are almost all thankfully dumb and often funny glitches rather than game-breaking bugs, but I did have to close and reload to fix a few, and it's just unacceptable to have this many bugs this persistent in a game with this large a budget this long after launch. It's a shame because it really just gives the game a sloppy and utterly unpolished feel.
Cyberpunk 2077 is absolutely worth playing if you have a PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, or powerful PC. I'm gonna say to avoid it if you only have last-gen consoles. It's definitely a lot better than it was at launch, but those consoles just don't have the horsepower the game needs to be done justice. CD Projekt Red needs to take a step back and take a long, hard look at its practices, though, because they definitely overpromised and underdelivered with this one. That said, the game is a TON of fun in the state it's in now 18 months post-launch. Hopefully they'll learn from this game's disaster of a launch, but I've learned better than to trust corporations to learn from their mistakes.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Metro Exodus (Xbox Series X)
Also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Luna, Linux, macOS, and Windows
Metro Exodus is the latest entry in the Metro series, a series of first-person shooters with a horror element based on novels by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky (don't worry, he's a vocal opponent of Putin's invasion of Ukraine). Exodus took a sort of pseudo-open world format, something I'll explain in a bit, which was the game's biggest diversion from the last two games in the series.
The most important thing to know up-front if you're going into Exodus after Last Light is that the game is a direct sequel, but it specifically takes place after the good ending of Last Light. I got the bad ending (because I can't stop murdering people I think need murdering), and I was VERY confused when I started Exodus because I wasn't aware of that. "Why aren't you dead?" "Why is he here?" "What's going on?!?" So just keep that in mind. The premise of the game is that Artyom learns that there are suvivors outside of Moscow, something that no one thought was the case, so through some plot events, he and a handful of Spartan Rangers end up taking a train on a long journey out of Moscow to look for survivors and see what the state of the world and Russia are.
Visually, the game looks great. Granted, I'm playing the Series X version, but at the end of the day, it's an 8th gen game that just got polished up to 9th gen kind of like how 2033 Redux and Last Light Redux were just remastered 7th gen games, not true 8th gen games. I mention that because, looking at the screenshots, a lot of people are going to point out that it doesn't look as good as games made specifically for PS5 and Series X, and that's fair. That said, though, it's a huge step up from 2033 and Last Light, so credit where it's due; it looks pretty solid for a game from 2019. The voice acting, while still a bit wonky for some characters, is generally better than in the older games.
I described the game as "pseudo-open world," and what I mean by that is that you get to explore each of the game's areas like you would in an open world game, but the game is divided into distinct sections that don't transition fluidly into one another, and you can't move between regions at will. This part of the game is in Part A, then when you finish that main quest, you move into Part B for the next part of the game. It's a good way to do it that fits the game's story way better than a true open world design, but with gaming's current belief that "open world is best," it's worth noting up front.
Metro Exodus is an excellent entry in an already pretty solid series. It's not going to blow anyone's mind with visuals, gameplay, or story, but it's extremely competent in all of those areas. Unfortunately, the aren't any Nazis to murder, but there are some cultists and cannibals, so that's a decent consolation murder. The story is much less supernatural than 2033 and more grounded in, for lack of a better phrase, reality, but I was a bit let down by the ending. Of course, my murder sprees got me the bad ending again, and while the good ending is definitely better, it's still wasn't super satisfying in my opinion. Still, like Mass Effect 3, don't let the disappointing ending dissuade you; the ride is more than worth the play.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Metro: Last Light (PlayStation 4)
Also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia, Linux, OSX, and Windows
Metro: Last Light is a direct sequel to Metro: 2033 and picks up after the end of that game. In its original release, Last Light took on a much more action-oriented approach compared to 2033’s more horror-focused gameplay, but the Redux remaster of the two allows you freely choose between the more ammo and more action focus of Last Light and the less ammo and more horror focus of 2033 for both games. I, of course, being a violence and carnage loving American, chose the former in both games.
The story picks up one year after the end of 2033. After Artyom defeats the Dark Ones and destroys their nest, he goes off doing badass Spartan Ranger stuff until he hears a rumor about a single surviving Dark One. Miller, commander of the Spartan Rangers, sends Artyom out to kill this last Dark One with his daughter, Anna, tagging along for sniper support. Khan, Artyom’s cryptic mystic friend from the first game, urges Artyom not to kill the Dark One and encourages him to try to communicate with it instead. While conflicted, Artyom sets out to accomplish the mission assigned to him by Miller, opting to take a “cross that bridge when I come to it” approach on whether or not to kill the Dark One.
Obviously, things don’t go exactly to plan (there wouldn’t be much of a game otherwise), so Artyom is once again trekking across the Metro and leaving mountains of mutant, Nazi, and communist corpses in his wake. As far as the overall feel of the game, Last Light feels a lot more fast-paced than 2033 if you’re playing the original releases, but the Redux remasters do a good job of keeping it feeling pretty on-par with 2033 if you play through them in the same gameplay style (Spartan for more action, Survival for more horror). Last Light does, however, have some much larger environments than 2033 for some awesome firefights. Visually, the game is identical to 2033 if playing the remasters and only a little more polished looking if playing the original releases, but they’re definitely nice-looking games. The stealth mechanics are extremely well done, balancing visibility in light and the effect sound has on enemy alertness. You’re also, fortunately, not required to use stealth unless you want to minimize kills and go for the good ending, so you can just kill everything if that’s more your style (something I learned the hard way - the good ending is canon, so if you go on a genocidal rampage like I did and get the bad ending, the start of Exodus will leave you confused and googling to figure out wtf is going on).
All in all, Metro: Last Light is an excellent follow-up to 2033, but it is worth noting that this isn’t just Russian Fallout; the game is still linear, and there’s a decent bit of supernatural shit going on, and unlike 2033, the supernatural shit is more out-in-front in Last Light. For me personally, that was a bit of a turn-off, but it’s by no means bad. It’s not explained very fully, but that’s part of the game’s MO - the mystery shrouding the effects of the nuclear bombs. If you enjoyed 2033, you’ll love Last Light. Personally, I found it fairly standard, but it was definitely on the upper end of average, and I have no problem recommending it. I played around with it a bit on Switch, too, and while there are some obvious graphical downgrades, it runs really well (loading times aside) and is a definite jewel of the slew of Switch ports we’ve seen.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.