All posts by Alexander V Woods

Cyberpunk 2020: A Year in Review for Cyberpunk

 

A Time to Look Back

We are lucky that the end of the year brings us two weeks of holidays, for Christmas and New Year’s, where we can sit down and take a minute to reflect on what the year has brought us. My last Year in Review, for 2019, described the many things that we got to enjoy in the year, along with looking ahead to the future of what 2020 was meant to have in store for us (boy, were we in for a BIG SURPRISE with that one!) While different from 2019 in many ways, 2020 has been a great year for the genre of Cyberpunk in general. On the first few days of 2020 I wrote the following:

“So what does the future hold for Cyberpunk? Something very exciting indeed. Just look at all the great content, announcements and surprises we got from 2019! So while it’s impossible to say what surprise announcements or content we will get, what we can do is predict things that are already in the pipeline and have been announced:

1. Altered Carbon: Season 2 should arrive to Netflix in February 2020, which will start off our year right

2. Cyberpunk 2077 will be released in April, which should really kick the Cyberpunk genre into front and center of pop culture, especially considering it’s in the name of the game itself.

3. Matrix 4 isn’t expected until 2021, but 2020 will bring with it more and more production and casting updates, as well as hopefully story clues, so the production of Matrix 4 will be very fun to watch. Production should begin in February as well.

4. While not exactly Cyberpunk, Denis Villeneuve did an excellent job with Cyberpunk 2049, so his adaption of the science-fiction classic DUNE will be very exciting to see. There may be some cyberpunk elements present, but it should be a mostly science fiction tale.”

Well, Altered Carbon: Season 2 was good, but it didn’t live up to the first season sadly, and then the series itself was cancelled.

Cyberpunk 2077 wasn’t released in April, or September, or November, but finally in December, and while it did well on the PC and next-gen consoles, it had so many game-breaking bugs in the old-gen consoles many gamers demanded refunds and others considered the release a monumental failure.

Matrix 4 is still set for 2021, but instead of a May release date, or an April 2022 release date due to covid, its newest release date is for December 22nd, 2021.

As for Dune, its release was pushed back from December 18th, 2020 to October 1st, 2021. We were able to get a glimpse of the trailer, which looks amazing, but it’s still a long way away.

Meanwhile, we got a lot of other Cyberpunk media in 2020. So come join me, won’t you, as we take a walk down memory lane and look at all the Cyberpunk media that came out in 2020.

February 27th: Altered Carbon Season 2

Cyberpunk in 2020 started off the year with Altered Carbon Season 2, releasing February 27th on Netflix. Compared to Season 1, I noted how the second season felt very toned down, with less torture, violence, and gore. Unlike the source material (Broken angels and Woken Furies, books 2 and 3 in the Takeshi Kovacs Trilogy, respectively) the Netflix series decided to pursue a love story between Takeshi and Quell, for better or for worse. There’s also a lot less gratuitous sex than in the books, a stronger focus on family ties, and generally a lot of missed opportunities with the changes they chose compared to the books. The result is a more wholesome, safe season that probably had a smaller budget but also didn’t wow the audience in any way, and as a result led to the unfortunate cancelling of the series (partly also because of how darn expensive the series was).

February and March: Matrix 4 begins shooting, and the lockdowns begin

Project Ice Cream, AKA Matrix 4, began shooting in February and we were treated to some incredible stunt scenes over skyscrapers and explosions along the city streets in Alameda and San Francisco, California, which I reported in my Matrix 4: 2020 updates post in March. Fortunately, Matrix 4 was able to wrap up all of its primary US shooting before March rolled around. The team were later able to continue shooting in Babelsberg, Germany, although under significantly different conditions

A medical staff member sprays disinfectant at a residential area in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on March 11, 2020. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The end of February was the final normal month as we knew it. We had no idea at the time, but we were about to be hit by the world-changing pandemic known as COVID-19, which would affect media releases, travel, result in thousands of deaths and billions of people affected and forced to rethink their daily habits. The entire world, almost every country, had to learn how to confine, lockdown, or quarantine, an event I discussed in my April post on how dystopian it felt in real time.

March: Altered Carbon: Resleeved and Bloodshot

After Altered Carbon Season 2 came out, we were treated to a Netflix animated film called Altered Carbon: Resleeved. Released on March 19th, the story had fairly good voice actors and story, if you could get past the unusual animation style. It was only 1 hour 14 minutes in duration, so it was pretty short, but had some awesome ninja action scenes. More on our review of Altered Carbon: Resleeved can be found here.

Meanwhile, Bloodshot was meant to be released in theaters, (and maybe it was in some places) but due to the pandemic it was mostly moved to pay on demand. I just recently posted my review and thoughts of this recent quasi-cyberpunk film with Vin Diesel here.

April: The first podcast and the beginning of our Is This Cyberpunk? Series

In April we had our first podcast of the year, an exciting hour-long talk with friend to the blog Lazarus over at NeoMatrixology. In it we discuss the Cyberpunk genre, our first impressions viewing the Matrix for the first time, and many other things.

We also had the first of what would be many different posts in a series called Is This Cyberpunk? where I look at media that could be considered Cyberpunk and offer my thoughts of why or why not they would be considered in the genre. This year we looked at the following movies: The Wolverine, Big Hero 6, Batman Beyond, and Tomorrowland.

April: Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045

Also coming out in April was the next animated Cyberpunk work on Netflix, Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045. Released April 23rd, it comprised 12 20-minute episodes to create a fast-paced, interesting series that decidedly does not finish at the end of its run, suggesting a season 2 was always in the works. Although great parts action and cyber-sleuthing, I noted that it might take a minute to get past the unusual 3D CG animation. Check out my full review of the series here.

June: The beginning of Night City Wire episodes

Night City Wire was a series of what would become 5 promotional short videos to advertise the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077, This provided a great opportunity for fans of Cyberpunk to get excited together about what would be available to do in the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 title. When we got it in June it was supposed to come out in September, before it eventually got delayed to November and then finally to December 10th. I personally had a lot of fun tuning into my favorite Cyberpunk content creator on YouTube and seeing their reactions and joining in the chat as thousands of similar fans all watched the wires drop simultaneously. You can check out my breakdown of wire 1, wire 2wire 3 and wires 4-5 plus the special on the blog.

October: World Cyberpunk Day

October 10th, 2020 (or 10.10.2020) was World Cyberpunk Day. Designed to be a free fun #hashtag celebration of all things cyberpunk, it was also meant to promote lesser known Cyberpunk content creators. For my own post of World Cyberpunk Day, I took the opportunity to celebrate all my favorite Cyberpunk media, including both well-known and lesser known content. You can check out all my favorite Cyberpunk picks in all the different categories here.

November: Ready Player Two

On November 24th, Ready Player Two, the sequel to the acclaimed Ready Player Novel, was published By Ernest Cline. After loving the first novel and going to see the film adaptation by Steven Spielberg last year, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book. It was a fast-paced page-turner and I finished it in about a week or two, and I highly recommend it. You can check out my full review for the book here.

December: Cyberpunk 2077 finally releases

On December 10th, the fateful day finally arrived. I remember waiting until 2am to download the game, waiting an hour using my slow internet to download the game, and then finally being able to create my character and playing the first 20 minutes of the game (the introduction) before crashing. Unfortunately, despite having downloaded the game previously when I pre-ordered the game, I like thousands of others around the world like me took a really long time in downloading the final pieces in order to make the game playable.

Once I finally was able to play the game…I wish I could say it went swimmingly. Unfortunately, I had a couple bugs that really bothered me during the introduction (like bushes appearing in frames when they were supposed to be outside far away but otherwise, I didn’t have any problems playing the game (although I played on the lowest graphics settings due to the old nature of my gaming laptop). Others, however, weren’t so forgiving with the game, and had much worse bugs. So bad, in fact, that Sony pulled it from their online store, and CD Projekt Red lost millions when they had to offer refunds for the game, sparking disgruntled developers pushing back on management claiming their timelines to get the game out were unrealistic, and even resulting in lawsuits from investors. Nonetheless, I had a great time playing Cyberpunk 2077. I have since finished one of the game’s main storylines, but I still have much more to play. I published an initial review of the game with my first impressions as one of my last posts of 2020 here.

Interviewing the Cyberpunk Community at Cyberpunk Matrix:

Finally, throughout the year, I was able to interview all kinds of great Cyberpunk content creators and see how they got into the genre, as well as what they love about Cyberpunk. Starting with Bradley B, founder of the incredible Cyberpunk website http://www.cyberpunks.com, I later was able to interview all four most popular YouTube Cyberpunk content creators: Madqueen, The Neon Arcade, Last Known Meal, and Triple S League. They also have a mutual community podcast which I often joined on occasion every other Sunday during 2020 as we all mutually waited for Cyberpunk 2077 to release and shared the latest info and hopes for the game.

Cyberpunk Media to Look out for in 2021

Dune

While not exactly cyberpunk, Frank Herbert’s Dune is a science fiction classic and a lot of sci-fi has drawn inspiration from his spice world of Arrakis and the fear-inspiring worms that live there. Considering how great Denis Villeneuve did with Blade Runner 2049, I’m really excited to see this come out next year. It’s also starring a great ensemble cast like  Timothée ChalametRebecca FergusonOscar IsaacJosh BrolinStellan SkarsgårdDave Bautista, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem.

Matrix 4

Obviously  what we are most excited for here at Cyberpunk Matrix, and indeed a lot of the inspiration why I created this website in the first place, is the return to the world of The Matrix with Matrix 4. Now that Lana Wachowski and the production team was able to wrap in Germany, it seems like the biggest work in producing Matrix 4 is done. Now comes the step of adding the music, edits, and all the other post production work, before marketing and getting Matrix 4 ready for their release date of December 22nd, 2021. Hopefully that release date won’t be pushed back yet again.

Edgerunners

While all we know about this standalone series from Netflix set in Night City is that it will come out in 2022, hopefully there may be some news about its production to come out in 2021. Similarly, I am looking forward to any and all Cyberpunk 2077 DLC that comes out in 2021 that adds to the already very rich world that CD Projekt Red has created.

Thoughts and Expectations for Cyberpunk in 2021

2020 has been a difficult year for most of humanity. Fortunately I never contracted the virus this year, but I know many friends and family members that did, and it certainly wasn’t easy. We changed out habits, lifestyles, values, perspective on life, because of the virus–it really was a pandemic that will change human history as we know it, developing in front of our eyes in real time. But with all these vaccines rolling out for 2021, the year looks very promising. And with the vaccines will hopefully come a new stability, a new normal that will allow travel and production on all our favorite media to resume again. After 8 long years, Cyberpunk 2077 finally was released, and although its release definitely wasn’t perfect, the stories in Cyberpunk 2077 will now be in the forefront of our modern culture’s mind, with society knowing exactly what a cyberpunk world looks like and what kind of cyberpunks they might encounter in such a world if they played the videogame. Ready Player Two will probably be coming out with Steven Spielberg producing at least, and I wouldn’t be surprised if CD Projekt Red learns from their mistakes and creates another Cyberpunk title, or at the very least more DLC to add to the night city, if what they’ve done with The Witcher 3 is any indication. So goodbye 2020, for all its challenges and change, and welcome 2021. As Panam says, cheers — here’s to what’s yet to come.

Review: Bloodshot

A Superhero Almost-Cyberpunk Film You Probably Missed Earlier this Year

Bloodshot is the latest quasi-Cyberpunk film based on the comic book superhero from the comic book series of the same name from Valiant Comics. Directed by  David S. F. Wilson in his directorial debut, it was produced by Neal Moritz and Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious). Bloodshot was meant to be the first installment in a series of films set in a Valiant Comics shared cinematic universe, but after the pandemic put everyone’s plans on hold it’s anybody’s guess whether this will be the first part of a series of films.

Bloodshot poster2

Plot

This is a slick action-focused flick starring Vin Diesel as Marine Raymond “Ray” Garrison who is reborn by a team of scientists with nanotechnology after he almost dies trying to prevent his wife from being murdered. The nanites allow him to become somewhat of a superhuman, with enhanced strength, senses, and healing factor. Originally amnesiac after the operation, his memories start to come back to him as he trains with fellow super-soldiers, until he breaks out of the R&D facility to find the man that killed his wife. Yet nothing is as it seems as he begins a journey to regain his memory and rediscover an unclear past.

Bloodshot pearce

Dr. Harting explaining to Ray about how Nanites are, like, the best thing ever.

Cast

In addition to Vin Diesel in the titular role, we have Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3) playing lead scientist Dr. Emil Harting in charge of bringing Ray back to life. As he did in Iron Man 3, Pearce delivers another excellent performance of being serious, intelligent, ambitious, and dangerous all at the same time. Apparently Jared Leto had been considered for the role, which would have been another Cyberpunk film for him to star in (Blade Runner 2049), but ultimately the role went to Diesel as I guess they wanted the film to be more action-focused.

Bloodshot drinks

KT and Ray bonding over some shots.

Also cast are Sam Heughan (Outlander) as a fellow enhanced soldier and rival, Eida Gonzalez as KT, another fellow enhanced soldier sympathetic to Ray, Talulah Riley (Pride & Prejudice, Inception) as Ray’s wife, Lamorne Morris (New Girl) as computer programmer Wilfred Wigans, and Toby Kebbell (Fantasic 4, Black Mirror) as one of the villains.

Bloodshot wilfred

Of all the members of the cast, the only other cast member that stood out for me in his performance was Morris’ character Wigans. We only meet him halfway through the film but he provides such a fun refreshing dose of comedic relief that it really lightens up an otherwise incredibly somber movie that, up until that point, felt like it took itself too seriously.

A Slow Beginning

The beginning is pretty lacklust at first–we have the soldier hero with his stunning wife (Gina, played by Talulah Riley, providing pretty clear exposition for what’s to come). This eventually leads to a emotionally intense torture scene that really sets into motion the entire film.

Bloodshot facility

High-Tech Elements

This film has a smattering of high-tech elements. Noteworthy are Guy Pearce’s Cybernetic hand, along with the other slightly augmented super-soldiers. One has bionic legs, which is pretty common to see, but another has a bionic chestplate that serves as his eyes and yet another has a bionic breathing apparatus that that was a novel idea for me to see. Dr. Harting calls it laryngotrachyal reconstruction with a clavical-mounted respirator (which means she can breathe through her chest). Other later tech includes bionical arms and portable drones with cameras that create live 3D video feed delivered straight inside a soldier’s helmet to create a bird’s eye view on the go.

The tech that gives Bloodshot his superpower is the nanites that course through his bloodstream, giving him super strength and health regeneration. What I wasn’t expecting is that as an additional bonus they gave him the ability to both access the internet and be accessed by the internet at the same time. This allowed him to download skills and schematics much like Neo did to learn Kung Fu or Trinity did to learn how to fly a helicopter. It also allowed him to access information on the internet much like RoboCop might do to access outstanding warrants for arrest or where people are located.

Reality Construction Using Altered Memories

At 46 minutes in we are given the twist that was perhaps somewhat ruined in the trailer, which, if you haven’t seen yet, I won’t spoil for you. What I will mention about this is I really liked the virtual spaces that feature briefly in the film, as well as the questioning-reality moments from questioning if memories or real or not that was so well covered in movies like Total Recall elsewhere in the Cyberpunk genre. “It’s like what you think is real sometimes ain’t” explains a very colloquial Wigans.

Slow-Motion Over-The-Top Action scenes

One of the first action sequences we are offered is a scene in a tunnel with a flour truck that has spilled all its flour on the ground, and a convoy with military henchmen are using flares to defend themselves against an oncoming Bloodshot. Later action sequences involve more augmented soldiers in a Parkour-style chase scene including drones, a facility breakout scene, and later an epic battle near the end of the film (which is pretty much always to be expected for any major action film).

Beatdown Bloodshot 2

Heavy-Handed CGI use

There are moments when the use of CGI felt a big heavy-handed, almost like the movie had suddenly turned into a video game cut scene. I’m not sure if it was their intention to do this or they just really wanted super-cool action scenes, but for me it took me out of the moment in the movie a bit.

General Thoughts

Bloodshot takes old familiar concepts and repackages them with some nice updated special effects, making for a good action film, but the lack of compelling characters, lackluster plot, and absence of any deep new ideas work against this film. Although I enjoyed the film, if I had to pinpoint where exactly this film miss-stepped, it would be lack of connection between the audience and the main character Ray. The entire film is based on the premise that we, the audience, should connect with him on a certain level and certainly care if he dies or not. It’s almost an assumption that we should based on how everyone else acts around Ray, but it simply didn’t deliver. Vin Diesel is a great action actor, but his strengths aren’t in conveying emotion, and unfortunately that was the missing element in this film.

Final Verdict: 7/10

If you’re looking for characters to connect with or a really interesting story, this movie might not fit the bill.  But if you’re looking for an action film with a bit of a Cyberpunk twist, then this is a pretty good film. So if you want to spend a few hours with some fun action sequences and a high-production value, then Bloodshot is a film not to be missed!

Note: a version of this post has already been published on http://www.cyberpunks.com

Review: Cyberpunk 2077 — First Impressions

As of writing this, I have played just about 30 hours of Cyberpunk 2077. It’s enough so far to get a bit of a first impression, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on Cyberpunk 2077 (Note: I have not finished the main campaign yet).

Additional note: I preordered Cyberpunk 2077 through Steam and downloaded it when it first became available on December 10th onto my laptop. I have a Dell Inspiron gaming laptop with Nvidia Geforce GTX, which is pretty old at this point so I run Cyberpunk 2077 on the lowest settings possible. As a result the graphics are pretty bad, but good enough for my purposes, and in general the gameplay is fast and smooth. Regarding bugs, I’ve experienced a very minimal amount of bugs in the game thus far that haven’t ruined my experience yet. Small things like bushes appearing inside when they should be outside buildings out in the distance (which was fixed with the first day patch, an update of my Nvidia drivers, and when I arrived in Night City), NPCs walking around when/where they shouldn’t be (like one notable NPC that was walking in the air above me like it was nothing), and music sometimes playing on a loop when it wasn’t supposed to be while other music was playing and clashing with it (I saved and reloaded and that took care of it). All in all minimal bug experiences.

Cyberpunk 2077: First Impressions

When I first started playing Cyberpunk 2077, I had some expectations on how the story would play out, specifically with Jackie Welles. I thought I knew what would happen, and while the broad strokes were mostly correct, there was also a whole lot that I didn’t expect that was never spoiled in the trailers or the gameplay videos we saw.

I also hadn’t thought about tutorials. While the game does give you some basic tutorials on how to shoot, melee, dodge, sneak, and hack, I wish they had given several tutorial-style missions to explain how exactly the world works. There were a couple of these–like with Brain Dance, which we saw in one of the Night City Wires, and there’s also a bit of a mission early on to explain how to buy body augmentations. After that, though, that’s about it, and it’s up to you to figure out how to maximize your experience playing the game, and also how you want to play the game in general. Once I finish this game, I think I’ll finally understand well enough how to play it, in order to maximize my experience during the second playthrough. Because, just like the Witcher 3 was before it, this game is definitely complex and confusing.

Storylines

There’s the main storyline, of course, and then side storylines to follow. After getting what I felt might be halfway through the main storyline, I intentionally stopped to be able to focus on all the side quests that I had been neglecting.

Main Storyline

Regarding the main storyline, the beginning feels slow, until a big event happens (your heist with Jackie Welles) that introduces you to Johnny Silverhand and sets the rest of the main storyline in motion. In this regard, I felt like the introduction wasn’t nearly as gripping as I would have liked. As V you arrive to Night City in some capacity (depending on which backstory you chose) and start picking up gigs with your buddy Jackie. There was no driving event to make me feverishly search for relevant missions or to play. Take Fallout 4, for example. Right at the very beginning of the game, something shocking and tragic happens–a terrible wrong is committed–that you have to right. You feel compelled to fix what was broken. There is no similar feeling here in Cyberpunk 2077. Sure, once you meet Silverhand and the climactic event happens, there is a clear goal that you’re working to achieve. But the goal feels a little hollow, a bit as if I know what will probably happen in the end of the game, which is why I’m not too worried about resolving the problem that is presented in this game. A secondary goal that is hinted at several times is “to become a legend in Night City”. But what if you don’t care about becoming a legend, like me? What if you simply want to take on the impossible task of cleaning up Night City instead? I personally couldn’t care less if I become “a legend” in night city, although that does run against the “street cred” feature of the game.

At least the main storyline is better than the Witcher 3, which simply involved, more or less, finding Ciri. Again, like the Witcher 3, it’s the side quests where the game really shines. (Disclaimer: I never finished The Witcher 3).

Side Quests

The way that side quests work in Cyberpunk 2077, as far as I can tell thus far, is the following: you are either introduced, recommended, or stumble upon a new character who needs your help or services. After you help them out with an initial quest, they will then wait “a day or two” before calling you back with another problem or issue they want your help with again. Do enough of these, and you will eventually complete that character’s storyline arc.

Romancing Characters

One clear example of this is with characters like Panam, whom you can romance. Apparently there are only 4 characters you can romance and have a proper relationship with: Panam Palmer, Judy Alvarez, River Ward, and Kerry Eurodyne. Whether the option to romance them is even open to you depends on your V body type and voice type. Since I chose a male V body type with a masculine voice, Panam was the only character I was able to romance thus far (I haven’t met Kerry yet).

I was able to play to the end of the character arc with Panam already, and I can say that I thought the dialogue, character development, and missions were all excellent. I really enjoyed playing them and developing V’s relationship with Panam. Since I was playing with the Nomad life path, this opened up a few additional dialogue options for me, and also made it feel like a great fit to my character. Which makes me wonder if street kid or corpo backstories have similar character arcs that the player can similarly bond with as well.

Gameplay

How you play this game depends on your playstyle. Do you like playing an RPG where you read every scrap of information you can find, and complete all the quests religiously, or, do you stick to main and big side quests and ignore all that other noise? Also, are you a more direct, guns-blazing kind of player, or do you prefer living and breathing stealth? Yet another type of gameplay style would be a hacker, who hacks everything they can to get their hands on for the money, upgrades, and any other benefits they can glean.

First Person Shooter

Personally, I’m a First Person Shooter gamer all the way. Halo and Borderlands are some of my favorite video game franchises. As a result, I keep my stealth to a minimum, in order to simply optimize my first couple shots in my guns-blazing approach. So while I can’t speak too much to the stealth elements of this game (which are always an option, and seemed good in my view) what I can speak about is the First Person Shooting element of this game. And that part really depends on what type of gun you’re using.

Gun Stats

Compared to Borderlands, for instance, I felt myself a little frustrated by the stats given for each gun. There’s a DPS number, then a damage per shot range, the name of the gun, the type of the gun, and then a little flavor text. There’s no accuracy number, nor is there a reload time number. There is, however, a shots per second number to indicate how fast the gun fires. In this regard, I felt the stats considerably inferior to those of Borderlands guns. I often found myself wondering which gun was better, and when elements like accuracy and reload speed are important, it would have been nice to have that information for each weapon.

Nonetheless, some guns feel great to have in your hands. The sound they make when they fire, the reload process…it all depends on which gun you have. I tended to favor conventional guns to tech or smart guns myself. I don’t like charging a gun to fire, although I will from time to time. I also don’t like the idea of a smart gun doing the aiming for me. Being able to shoot in any direction simply isn’t appealing to me, because it takes the fun out of constantly improving my accuracy with each gun I wield.

Each gun can also be upgraded, to make it even stronger. You can also craft guns using certain components you find lying around. In general, however, finding the right components and remembering to craft guns can be complicated and onerous. Simply not having enough of the right components can discourage you from doing so. After 30 hours of playing, I’ve never crafted my own gun, simply because of how many guns I encounter already, and the only guns I can really craft are ones I already own.

Adult Content

So in addition to sexually charged scenes with romances among certain specific characters, there are also some sex scenes you can have with secondary characters, and then of course there are the joytoys on jig jig street. I’ve never hired one of these myself in the Cyberpunk 2077 red light district, but I hear it’s possible. As a result, this game is very much an adult game, and it doesn’t shy away from it. Cursing, violence, sex, and drugs too are available. I haven’t tried any specific in-game drugs yet either, but my character has raised plenty of glasses with his fellow NPCs, and every time you have a drink the screen sways a little to mimic the effect of the alcohol affecting you. And no, I didn’t try getting drunk either and seeing what would happen. I imagine passing out?

Music (and Radio)

The music in this game is absolutely phenomenal–that is, the natural soundtrack when things are happening, and even when they aren’t. It’s partly electronic, partly rock, partly orchestral, and blends so well into the setting of Night City that you hardly notice it’s there, while getting you revved up in all the right intense moments.

The radio in the car, on the other hand…could have been better. The few channels I sampled, I didn’t hear much radio talk the way you might hear someone talking between songs in Fallout 4. Some of the radio channel options are shown above, and as you can see, there’s no real description for each one. You just have to listen to them and see for yourself. I was looking for something a la Synthwave, in the order of my fav synth bands like Carpenter Brut, or at least Kavinsky’s Night Drive, but could not find a channel that fit the bill. It could be it is there, and in some of the rides with NPCs, they have the radio on tuned to certain stations already, which felt like a subtle way to get to know the character by seeing what music they listen to. Speaking of rides with NPCs…

Riding With Characters: A New In-Game Feature

So riding with characters is actually a new in-game feature that I really enjoyed, at least new to me (does this happen in any other games?) The idea is that once an NPC gives you a mission and a place to get to, since they’re going too, they offer you a ride in their car. If you accept, you get to ride shotgun and look out the window of their car as they drive you to your mutual destination. The result is much like when someone’s driving you around in a new city when you’re on vacation. You get to talk to the driver, briefly, while also having full control to look outside the windows and watch the different cars drive by, people walking, and the myriad neon signs and billboards. Sometimes it’s by day, other times it’s by night, sometimes it’s clear skies and other times it’s raining and you get to watch the rain gently fall down your windows. It’s quite a calming experience, in fact–Except for the occasional hilarious bugging moments when your driver runs over another NPC (who is never harmed) or smashes into another car and keeps on driving like nothing happened.

Johnny Silverhand

Because Johnny Silverhand is a digitized consciousness hanging out on the data chip in your brain, only you can see or hear him, and he only appears at certain moments in the game, when you go to certain places, doing certain things. However, he appears A LOT all over the place. Sometimes he just won’t shut up! As a big Keanu Reeves fan, I personally loved hearing his voice and having him give his two cents at random moments I can never predict throughout the game. Sometimes I heeded his advice, other times I ignored him. Sometimes Silverhand loves or hates certain characters, and you might feel the same way or completely different. He definitely encourages you to bail on people or commit violence regularly, staying true to form as the punk rebel rocker Johnny Silverhand.

Cars and Driving

Driving in the game took a bit of practice at first. While playing on the PC, I prefer to use third person (you can alternate between 1st person and third person) and every touch left and right can send your car or motorbike veering off in the direction you tapped, which makes small turns and adjustments to your trajectory rather challenging. Nonetheless, after a while I started getting the hang of it. I only occasionally run over innocent bystanders now or crash into the traffic around me. One thing I had to learn that was never explained in the game is that once you acquire new vehicles that are given to you from completing quests, it’s available to you in your garage and you can summon those vehicles too. Instead of just pressing V and summoning your default black brick of a car, you can also press and hold V to see what vehicles are in your garage, and then choose the car or motorbike you want at that specific moment. So far I haven’t bought any cars yet (they’re very expensive and it’s hard to find one I like) but I’ve acquired 2 motorbikes in addition to the black car you start off with (which wasn’t hard, I just had to complete certain side quests to their entirety).

Endless Missions

One Truism about Role Playing Games is that you always have a ton of missions at any one time. Instead of getting a mission upon talking to someone, most of the time, a new mission would text my phone (yes, you can receive and reply to text messages) or call me directly and offer it to me then and there. Sometimes when I was very busy doing other missions at the same time. While acquiring new missions through no effort of my own was great at first,  it quickly resulted in a huge pile of missions that were more or less open at the same time, resulting in me getting anxious at leaving so many unfinished (a huge portion of these are all the cars the AI construct Delamain wants you to fetch for him). You just have to choose the right time to pause your main mission (s) in order to start working on these side missions. Each mission stored in your journal also has a risk indicator (from low risk to very high risk) which helps you organize your missions, going with the lower risk missions first and saving the higher risk missions until your level is higher and you have better gear.

Overall Verdict: 9/10

As a first person shooter, the gameplay feels like it’s lacking something, although it’s unclear what to me exactly. As a role playing game, however, it’s excellent. The dialogues that can be discovered throughout this game are truly incredible, and have quickly become my favorite part of playing the game–simply listening to the characters talking about their hopes, dreams, fears, worries, and having deep discussions with them as we all try to make sense of living in this dark, dystopian cyberpunk world. At the beginning of the game, for instance, I took the elevator up to my apartment but ended up staying in the elevator several minutes after I arrived at my floor because the TV inside the elevator was showing a debate on a talk show between a religious anti-augmenting zealot and a human augmentation spokesperson. The age-old debate on whether or not we should augment our bodies, in particular what being able to digitize our consciousness and live forever would mean to religion and spirituality, was something that was very interesting. And it all happened randomly, passively while I was riding the elevator. That’s the magic of Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City.

So for the fun, decent shooting action, the incredible dialogues, quests, and stories, the soundtrack and the detail-filled beautiful city, I give Cyberpunk 2077 top marks. My only complaints would be about the occasional bugs, better information about the guns you can pick up, better tutorials on more details of how to play the game (like quick hacks, body augmentations, weapon crafting and disassembling, selling weapons, buying cars, etc.), and better game play in general. The pace always slows down in any RPG when you have so many different things you can do in an open world you can explore. Games like Borderlands and Tomb Raider had smoother gameplay and better pacing, as well as a better balance in general. I also felt those other games had better hooks and compelling overall story plot for the main storylines.

So because of all these, I’d give it a 9/10. I still haven’t finished the entire game and will be posting a full review, possibly with some spoilers, at a later date. There are even features I haven’t even talked about here, like the photo mode. But I’d highly recommend getting this game and playing it on a PC on the highest settings, if possible, and if not to get a next-gen console and play it there. Until next time, Choomba!

Cyberpunk Review: Ready Player Two

Ready Player Two: A solid sequel to Ready Player One

CUTSCENE

Thus is titled the first chapter of Ready Player Two, and aptly put. Ernest Cline’s second book and sequel to Ready Player One (which was also adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg), Ready Player Two continues the first book with almost no time passing. We find Parzival (Wade Watts) catching us up on what happened immediately after the events of the first novel, and the novel takes its time to get going before a critical event happens that sets the rest of the novel in motion (which happens about a third of the way in).

Ready Player One – Phase9 Entertainment

A Very Fast Read

If you liked the fast-paced nature of Cline’s writing style, then you certainly won’t be disappointed with Ready Player Two. And I think it’s telling that it took me only a week to finish this novel. Although it’s actually 10 pages longer than the previous book (384 pages compared to its original 374 pages), it felt like a much faster read.

Ready Player One»: le grand huit de Steven Spielberg | Télécâble Sat Hebdo

More of the Same Special Sauce

Some people may criticize this novel by saying it’s too much of a repeat of the first novel, or that it’s not different enough. And while I can see those complaints, I personally really enjoyed this novel. After you finally get to the chapter called Level Five and you  finally discover the conflict that needs to be resolved in this book, the entire book speeds up very quickly in a race against time that is even more intense than the previous novel was. That’s perhaps why the novel felt slower than the previous one for the first third, and then much faster for the other two thirds. We find all of the same original characters, like Shoto and Art3mis, are back.

Every Easter Egg in 'Ready Player One'

Another Quest, Another Easter Egg Hunt

This time the quest, which is very similar to the first novel, is the following:

Seek the Seven Shards of the Siren’s Soul…to once again make the Siren Whole.

The seven shards of the siren’s soul is yet another easter egg hunt left posthumously by one of the Gregarious Games’ co-founders, James Halliday. The difference between this one and the 3 keys hunt, however, is that there is no clear prize for obtaining the seven shards. What, or who, is the Siren’s Soul? What happens when someone makes them Siren whole again? This is the original premise of the novel until the aforementioned villian appears and kickstarts the book into high gear with a very short, very urgent, countdown.

For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t add any more than that. Simply remember that if you feel the novel isn’t going anywhere, continue reading until page 134.

I enjoyed this easter egg quest, but not as much as the previous book’s quest, probably because this time around it’s a little less video game-focused, favoring other pop culture references instead. This book focuses a lot on the female character Kira Morrow as well, which was a welcome change of pace.

New Thought-Provoking Technology

For Ready Player One, I talked briefly in this blog post a couple years ago about the educational significance that Ready Player One’s utopian vision of teaching could have on our future education systems. At the time that Ernest Cline published Ready Player One back in 2011, I felt that the technology he described of virtual reality with haptic rigs in the OASIS was pretty futuristic, along with that educational system that went with it. Is the OASIS an improvement for humanity, as people can escape their stark surroundings and live in a happier world, a kinder and less hostile world, as Wade did growing up poor in the stacks? Or is the OASIS a dangerous fantasy world that results in greater isolation of humans and makes them lose touch with what’s important–the real world, and reality in general?

Just like his first novel, Cline describes a new technology that changes the world, for better or for worse, and then describes a utopian vision of what this technology could be used for. This new technology, if you can believe it, makes the VR haptic rig systems look downright Neanderthal by comparison. Cline also takes a much more heavy-handed look at whether this new technology should be used, by having the main characters begin to argue amongst themselves about this issue (it becomes a major point in the story). Unfortunately, Cline more or less answers that question for the reader by the end of the novel, which…I wish he would have left it a little more open-ended, but ultimately I’m not complaining about the ending, which I thought otherwise was great. It’s still epic, and in that way similar to the previous novel.

The new technology also, however, invites further questions about the nature of humanity and that age-old, cyberpunk trope of how human artificial intelligence is, and what rights and considerations (if any) they deserve. While only invitations to questions are presented in the book (Cline decides to just briefly comment on this new tech, saying it’s a new age but deciding not to go any deeper than that) it’s a situation well worth considering. After some time has elapsed I may later post a spoiler-filled post where I can go into these topics in a bit more detail, but I won’t be doing so here as it would understandably completely spoil the novel for those who have yet to read it.

Overall Verdict: 8.5/10

I really enjoyed this novel. To say it was a page-turner would be an understatement. With fun dialogue, relatable characters, loads of references, an interesting story, and thought-provoking technology when its implications are considered, there’s a lot to love. However, there were parts of the novel where it dragged, and others where I felt myself losing interest (especially in parts of the quests) where I either wasn’t familiar with the material, or the quest felt trivial when framed against the backdrop of what was at stake, and the urgency of their quest with the clock running out. I also felt like the characters themselves didn’t grow much and could have had a bit more development–one character’s actions and motivations in particular. Finally, if you really like John Hughes movies, Prince, and the Lord of the Rings universe, you will particularly like this book.

Questioning Reality: Revisiting The Thirteenth Floor | Filmotomy

Final note: favorite Cyberpunk line in the book

My favorite Cyberpunk line by far in the book surprised me as early as page 4. It’s actually not just a line, but an entire paragraph. Here it is in its entirety below, and if you’re a Cyberpunk fan like I am, then it’s a great reference and also perhaps a reminder that, oh yea, I should probably watch those again.

“According to the interactive building directory on my phone, the thirteenth floor was where the GSS archives were located.

Of course Halliday had put them there. In one of his favorite TV shows, Mad Headroom, Network 23’s hidden research-and-development lab was located on the thirteenth floor.

And The Thirteenth Floor was also the title of an old sci-fi film about virtual reality, released in 1999, right on the heels of both The Matrix and eXistenZ.” –Wade Watts

 

Cyberpunk Review: Count Zero by William Gibson

Cyberpunk Review: Count Zero

Well, I finally finished it.

Count Zero by William Gibson is book two in the Sprawl trilogy, three loosely connected books sharing the same universe. Count Zero is a sequel to the titular Neuromancer and is followed by Mona Lisa Overdrive.

I felt like Count Zero went over my head a bit, but also, it felt like the kind of book that you really need to pay attention to in order to understand and consequently enjoy, and if you have a busy life or a short attention span like I do, then maybe it isn’t for you. The main difference between Count Zero and Neuromancer is that instead of following one main character, there are three separate main characters, with seemingly disconnected plotlines that eventually weave together at the very end (and I mean very end).

New Cyberpunk Characters

Bobby Newmark (Count Zero)

Bobby is a young aspiring console cowboy, wanting to prove his worth when he quickly finds himself in over his head when he’s given a biosoft chip to evaluate that almost kills him when he jacks into cyberspace. His story is a more standard Cyberpunk tale that we are perhaps more familiar with after Neuromancer.

Marly Krushkova

Marly is a has-been art gallery curator in Paris who suffered a small scandal when she unwittingly sold a very expensive piece of art that ended up being a fake. She ends up being hired by a wealthy arts patron to uncover the creator of “art-boxes”, and is given an unlimited line of credit to do so. Her story is more of an unraveling mystery, in a film-noir style.

Turner

Turner is an ex-mercenary who is brought back from retirement to help organize the defection of a high-value employee who wants to leave his current mega-corporation and join another. His story is more action-packed than the other two.

Story

And what is the book about? Well, these three characters and their own private missions and life paths, I guess. When the biosoft chip bobby is given almost kills him, he ends up on the run from those who want to take the chip for themselves, while trying to get the chip into the hands of whomever can make Bobby safe again.

As for Marly, she is given the opportunity of a lifetime–an almost no-strings attached unlimited credit line to help a wealthy benefactor find the creator of certain works of art-boxes. Unfortunately, this wealthy benefactor is also known for his egotistical, nefarious ways.

Finally, Turner’s multi-layered mission ends up going completely differently than planned, as an unexpected attack and surprise pieces come into play. We largely follow Turner as he adapts to the ever-changing conditions of his misson, as he tries to stay alive.

Cyberpunk Dialogues and Descriptions

Gibson once again showcases his brilliant skill at painting an image of these characters with his knack for dialogue. This time around I felt his descriptions were even better than before, with a little less dialogue compared to Neuromancer. The three settings are Japan, the US, and France, but the characters eventually move around a bit.

“And, for an instant, she stared directly into those soft blue eyes and knew, with an instinctive mammalian certainty, that the exceedingly rich were no longer even remotely human.”–Marly Krushkova

Critique

The problem I had with this novel is that Gibson likes writing as if we understand what he’s talking about (my same small issue with Neuromancer), and part of his appeal is figuring out what indeed he’s talking about and recognizing the puzzle pieces he carefully lays out for us. If you don’t get those puzzle pieces, or you simply don’t want to play the game, then you may lose interest in this novel, as I did. While Marly’s narrative had very few moving pieces and was very easy to follow, the other two, Turner and Bobby’s narratives, often had enough characters coming and going that I had a difficult time following what was going on. I also felt like I missed a lot of these references and allusions, which led me to being confused a lot of the time.

Lack of Connection

My biggest problem with the story, however, is that there is no clear goal that the three characters are working towards. It was easy for me to put this book down because at the end of the day, I simply didn’t care if these characters lived or died, and that’s usually a problem when reading a book. There was no connection built between me and these characters, and while they eventually do have a little character development by the end of the story to make them interesting, it wasn’t enough to keep me hooked.

Final Verdict: 6/10

Because of its great descriptions, dialogue, and the subtle hints that are very enjoyable to catch, this novel may delight some. However, for me, it was slow, confusing, and without any clear end goal to want me to keep reading and lacked a clear connection with the characters I was reading about. Nonetheless, as a second novel in the sprawl trilogy, and if you are a fan of William Gibson, I can definitely recommend this book.