Jeff Grubb invited me to contribute to Giant Bomb’s 2023 Games of the Year article, and I immediately asked if I could cheat. (Jeff said it was fine, so don’t give me any attitude about my pick, OK?)
In 2023, I’ve spent a lot of time on a lot of different video games including some by my current employer (who shall remain nameless because I’m not a spokesperson – and whose games I didn’t nominate for conflict-of-interest reasons). But the one my heart constantly goes back to actually came out in 2020. And I assume 2020 releases generally aren’t eligible for 2023 Game of the Year kudos.
But this game wasn’t all that playable in 2020. It was so janky, you couldn’t even buy it in the PlayStation Store because Sony pulled it from its digital shelves for being crap. It took a few years, several patches, and presumably a decent amount of Xanax, but now in 2023, developer CD Projekt RED made Cyberpunk 2077 not just playable but great. Like really, really, really great.
Its primary setting, Night City, is simultaneously thrilling, dirty, scary, gritty, industrial, and sexy. Its streets pack so much life – civilians, police, gangsters, shops, street vendors – that I’ve consistently thought to myself, hey, I could actually live here (setting aside the rampant crime for a moment). I’ve never gotten that vibe from other open-world games, even ones meticulously modeled after real-life metropolises.
It’s not just the denizens, either. You can’t find a busy sidewalk or out-of-the-way alleyway without a bright, slot-machine-like vending machine catching your eyes (cybernetically enhanced or otherwise), trying to get you to buy an energy drink, a burrito…or a handgun. Well-worn and traveled crosswalks are giant digital displays, with animated warnings telling residents when it’s safe to walk. Touches like these show a fully fleshed-out world with its own systems and ways of life.
And while Cyberpunk is just dense with neon signage, street steam, and shimmering billboards peddling the latest smut – you know, cyberpunky stuff – it weaves it all together in a believable way. You know how slick those light-up umbrellas were in the original Blade Runner film but mainly because they were just casually sprinkled into the scenes? Cyberpunk 2077 is sort of like that. The designers got it just right in this world: Not everyone is wearing dazzling see-through, light-up spring jackets or has rivers of exposed circuitry tattooed over their skin, but when you see them, they’re cool as hell. Even when thematic visual props take over your TV or monitor, it’s never too much. It all feels so real.
I haven’t even touched on all the amazing personalities in the game: soulful friends who mourn for lost loves (you can feel their pain), genuine dickheads you really wish were IRL just so you can actually kill them (or at the very least, call them out on social media), and so many more. These are characters I’ll remember long after I finally stop playing. (I still have random side gigs and the Phantom Liberty DLC to finish.)
And I haven’t mentioned the action. Get cybernetics installed, so you can slow time, double jump, dash through the air, and slice a goon’s head clean (well, not that clean) off his goon body with embedded blades that extend from your forearms. Or mod your submachine gun with bullets that will track and hone in on your targets and shoot away. Or do both!
I’m pretty sure my friends are sick of me raving about Cyberpunk, but I’m taking this invitation to write this to reach even more people. I know there’s a giant danger sign that eclipses Night City, telling gamers to stay away – 2020 through 2022 were not kind to 2077. But watch the latest videos. Read the updated reviews and articles about the game’s redemption arc. And treat your eyes and imagination with a stroll through Night City. It’s a preem experience and more than enough to call it one of 2023’s best. Even if that’s cheating.
- Dan “Shoe” Hsu, former editor of Electronic Gaming Monthly, 1UP, Gamers.com, and GamesBeat