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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.

Is Tomorrowland the Opposite of Cyberpunk? Exploring the Duality of Dystopia and Utopia

What does Tomorrowland have to do with Cyberpunk? A lot, in fact.

What is Cyberpunk, anyways?

High Tech. Low Life. Such is the TL:DR definition of what Cyberpunk is. While many may argue and debate on what exactly Cyberpunk is (for more of such fun, contentious discussions, check out my “Is This Cyberpunk?” series), most would agree that a major theme in a proper Cyberpunk film is an element of a dystopian society that the medium is set in.

Ghost in the Shell. Blade Runner. Alita: Battle Angel. The Matrix. All of these classics have dystopian societies or worlds in one way or another, some more than others.

So if Cyberpunk is dystopian, what would the opposite be, and would having a clear example of the opposite of Cyberpunk help us in our journey of figuring out what Cyberpunk means once and for all?

While dystopia describes the low life aspect, futuristic technology describes the high tech aspect.

So what does Cyberpunk have to do with Tomorrowland?

And this is what brings me to a little film produced by Disney called Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland was a 2015 film directed and co-written by Brad Bird,  inspired by the futuristic-themed Tomorrowland found in Disneyland, as well as the progressive cultural movements of the Space Age. EPCOT in Disneyworld, along with Walt Disney’s conceptual visions of a planned future community, were also a major inspiration for the film.

The result was a high production value, visually beautiful film that is a lot deeper after a closer look, but also a film that was woefully underappreciated in the box office and garnered what I found to be very critical reviews.

Coming Back to Why Cyberpunk is Important

Here at Cyberpunk Matrix I am of the belief that Cyberpunk is a genre that we need in the present, to make sense of new exciting but dangerous technology being developed now and how it could be misused without the proper moral considerations in the future, especially on a societal level.

While Cyberpunk is always reminding how technology could be misused, there is a lot of good that technology could bring if it is actually used correctly.

Tomorrowland is one of the clearest examples of what technology could build for us as a society, if applied correctly. Tomorrowland is an aspiration that paints a beautiful picture of what could be. That’s important to keep in mind when it’s easy to be constantly in fear, especially nowadays, of what bad could be as well. And this duality, of utopia and dystopia, of warning and vision, is important to take notice of.

Tomorrowland: Optimism vs. Pessimism

Also if you look at Tomorrowland, it isn’t all a fancy happy utopia where everything is good. You might think it would be that, and certainly the video presents it as such with the main character Casey touching the Tomorrowland Pin and getting a vision of another utopian future society. But once she meets Frank Walker, the disillusioned, sarcastic ex-inventor, she gets a cold dose of reality that the audience (at least, the adults in the audience) is all too familiar with. His cynicism even goes so far as to affect her, as well, despite her original optimism (something she points out in the beginning of the film).

What is interesting is the story itself, and the message it delivers underneath.

Warning: spoilers.

Unfortunately, to properly unpack the importance of Tomorrowland as viewed through the lens of Cyberpunk, I’m going to have to reveal some major spoilers. As spoiling as you can get, really. So if you haven’t watched this film, and want to, please do before you read the rest of this. This is your last chance to turn back. You’ve been warned!

Tomorrowland and Armageddon: Self-Fulfilling Prophesies Depending on Perspective

Casey is crushed when she learns that their current predicted future is not the utopian world she saw through the pin, but rather that the world will end soon through nuclear holocaust.

But what is the cause of this doomsday end? A self-fulfilling prophecy.

The film explains that they not only discovered a new particle called tachyons, but that once they were able to harness this particle to observe near past and future, they were able to glimpse their doomed future. But the simple act of observing their future created a negativity loop that in effect created a self-fulfilling prophecy. By having a collective world believe that the world would end soon, it changed their actions due to their negative mindsets, and what they feared thus was becoming reality.

We can see some effect that observing particles has on what the particle does itself with experiments already conducted in physics in science, such as with Schrodinger or Wheeler. So while obviously tachyons as represented in the film is fiction, Is the general idea of affecting our future by observing it really so far fetched?

With this reasoning in mind, their solution to the problem then does not seem so far-fetched either. By creating a compelling enough vision of the future, and sharing it with enough people, they were effectively able to create a new future for themselves by injecting positivity of thought, which in turn affects their actual actions.

The Importance of Positivity, Negativity, Warnings and Dreams

Walt Disney had a dream: What the world could be like. It’s why he created EPCOT: The Experimental People Community of Tomorrow. He goes into length explaining his vision of what it would be like before he passed away in this video below. It’s also great to see the source material this film is derived from.

Despite what many may say about Disney and its monopolistic, conglomerate interests, I think Walt had something here. What’s to keep the dystopian dark futures at bay, when we have so many of them warning us how our world could one day become if we’re not ruined? That’s why Cyberpunk is so important, to give us those clear examples of how we don’t want our future to turn up as (although obviously some aspects, like neon lights, flying cars and cyber-enhancements, would be pretty cool).

Balancing Act: How Yin Yang Promotes Harmony and Balance ‹ Pepperdine Graphic

Cyberpunk and Tomorrowland: A Yin and Yang of Light and Dark

But what’s the counterpoint to Cyberpunk, to those dystopian dark futures? I believe that we need a light to complement the dark, a yin and yang, if we are to truly navigate our future effectively, And Walt Disney tried to create that optimistic, positive vision of the future. That’s also why I think Tomorrowland is so brilliant. If you go beyond the glossy special effects and feel-good kid-focused story that Disney loves to sell us, we see the values that are implicitly important to us–or at least should be.

Values of being positive, and not letting our cynicism get the best of us, like it did with Frank when he had a device that showed him the apocalypse at 100% probability. How could he not lose hope in a situation like that? Until someone came along and changed that probability, changed that dark vision of the future by showing him, and as many people as possible eventually, what the future could look like.

Keeping our Compass True to Navigate a Dark Future

It’s also why that last scene in the end is so great. The pins represent hope. They represent a bright future, positivity, and inspiration for good. That idea can come from anywhere in the world–investors for good technology, technology that helps mankind instead of hurting it, could come from any source in any country.

So in conclusion, what I’m saying here is that we need Disney’s positivity. We need light, and hope, to balance out the dark and depressing warning signs that Cyberpunk provides us. Because only by having a balance of both signs can we keep our compass true for the best possible future for all of humanity.

 

 

Review: Dredd (2012)–Gritty Cyberpunk Action

Dredd

Dredd (2012): Gritty Cyberpunk Action

Judge Dredd is a Cyberpunk action film from 2012 that was written and produced by Alex Garland, and directed by Pete Travis. Based on the comic strip Judge Dredd, Karl Urban stars as a judge in the law enforcement system where police are judge, jury, and executioners all in one.

Set in a vast, dystopian metropolis called Mega-City One, Dredd and his apprentice partner Judge Anderson are called to a 200-story megabuilding to deal with its local drug ring and their leader, Ma-Ma. 

Setting the Cyberpunk scene for Dredd (2012)

The movie begins with a classic line from the wonderfully gruff voice by Urban:

“America is an irradiated wasteland. Within it lies a city. Outside the boundary walls, a desert. A cursed earth. Inside the walls, a cursed city, stretching from Boston to Washington D.C. An unbroken concrete landscape. 800 million people living in the ruin of the old world and the mega structures of the new one. Mega blocks. Mega highways. Mega City One. Convulsing. Choking. Breaking under its own weight. Citizens in fear of the street. The gun. The gang. Only one thing fighting for order in the chaos: the men and women of the Hall of Justice. Juries. Executioners. Judges.”

Generally I hate exposition like this at the beginning of a movie, but this one gets a pass from me just because Urban’s voice is that good. We are immediately afterwards treated to some classic cyberpunk scenes of the new normal of the future, megastructures with megablocks and giant mazes of superhighways. Unfortunately, this is all that we will see in the movie of the rest of the city.

Megacity one Dredd

A Cyberpunk Highway Chase in Dredd (2012)

Any great action Cyberpunk film has a high-speed motorway chase and Judge Dredd delivers right out of the gate. This was one of my favorite scenes, to see Dredd on his motorbike pursuing three felons in a van speeding along one of the highways. 

Dredd lawmaster bike

In a subsequent scene we see a criminal run away through a mall, with fresh bodies lying dead on the floor scattered throughout. This struck me as subtly communicating to the viewer how life here is very cheap indeed. This is reinforced when we later see in the same setting a few cleaning robots come out to clear the blood and mess  while a PDA cheerfully announces that “the mall will be reopened again in 30 minutes.” Commerce!

Dredd cleanup

Dredd (2012)’s main dystopian setting: Peach Trees

This introduction eventually leads the story to the mega-structure of “Peach Trees”, where the rest of the movie takes place. The main antagonist, Ma-Ma, is introduced early on when she has a couple rival gang members skinned alive and thrown over the railing. She controls the entire complex, and the inequality and desperation is visible.

homeless dredd

“Homeless junkie, will debase self for credits” shows the desperation of peach trees. The rookie reading the stats of the crime and unemployment levels in the building add to it.

Dredd (2012)’s Special Effects: Slow Motion

One aspect of this film that sets it apart from other Cyberpunk films in its genre is the incredible slow-motion scenes when people inhale a drug called Slo-Mo. It gives us a true impression of what it must be like to be on the drug, while at the same time giving it a distinctly artistic feel to the film. I personally loved it.

Slo-mo Dredd

It can be used either to enjoy the simple things, like a bubble bath…

Slow mo action Dredd

Or enhance action scenes from unsuspecting guards who also happened to be using the drug. Heh.

Positive Elements of Dredd (2012)

Another thing this movie did very well is sustain the suspense. There is a good balance between guns blazing and quiet moments where the audience waits. 

The music in this film is incredible. Hard rock, heavy hitting, it’s actually done by Paul Leonard-Morgan–one of his more electronic and industrial tracks I’ve heard from him.

Finally, Karl Urban’s gruff voice and cool attitude personifies Dredd perfectly. He was a great choice to be cast in this role and does an excellent job.

Negative Elements of Dredd (2012)

There was a small element of supernatural where the rookie has a psychic ability as a result of a certain mutant strain that she possesses. I felt that adding the “mutant” aspect to the movie really wasn’t necessary, but it also didn’t detract from the film itself either.

Upon first viewing I was disappointed that the film took place almost exclusively in Peach Trees, and that it seemed like more of an action Rambo-style cat and mouse movie than anything else. They had such great scenes in the mall, overviews of the megacity, there was a lot of potential here. Nonetheless, upon a second viewing, there’s a lot more here than meets the eye, and if you go into the film knowing that it all takes place within Peach Trees, you might not be disappointed as I was.

Dredd (2012) Final Verdict: 9/10

I thoroughly enjoyed Dredd, and it’s a film you can watch over and over again, for the characters, the music, the incredible set design and costumes, and the over-the-top action sequences. The end is somewhat predictable, but still very much badass, with some surprises that are sprinkled within. I also greatly enjoyed seeing how well the rookie was able to take care of herself–this isn’t another damsel in distress movie. Despite the fact that it all takes place in the same location, if you take this movie for what it is–a Cyberpunk action flick–you definitely won’t be disappointed. I highly recommend seeing Dredd if you haven’t already.