When I started reading CD Projekt Red’s 7/10 NFT Cyberpunk 2077 Screensaver, I realized you could climb the clotheslines.
I’m a real sucker for verticality, so normally I’d immediately try to see how high I could climb, but after tentatively resizing a few floors, I decided to give the urgent main quest the benefit of the doubt. There would probably just be a disappointing invisible wall anyway. I went back down and did my best to engage in the expensive cutscenes filled with proper actors. 50 hours of mediocre Strange Days references later, I had most of the game under my belt and was ready to go in search of something more substantial – to try and find some real cyberpunk in this retrowave moodboard . I set out to push Cyberpunk 2077 to the vertical limit.
There’s no denying that Night City itself is the game’s greatest force, a sprawling mess of the all-new crashing violently against the old. I couldn’t have dragged myself through the countryside without the dangling possibility of wandering into another disgusting but oddly comfortable cyberhovel. There’s also no denying that it’s the most surprisingly contrived and sterile video game town since LA Noire. You can practically see the tracks that the goldfish-brained NPCs are attached to. It’s just a hub to fill with Far Cry-style micro-missions to stretch things out for another 30 hours. If there’s anything real to be found here, it’ll be as far from the game itself as possible.
So I quickly travel to a bridge market, suspended between skyscrapers. I vaguely remember being taken here at one point, in the background of another cursory gunfight. It’s three o’clock in the morning and I’m sleep deprived but the first steps are easy, deliberately placed ladders and catwalks allow me to move a dozen floors at a time. I have better legs than when I started – robot legs that allow a double jump. Perfect for redirecting in impossible ways. I turn V into a gravity-defying platformer mascot, bouncing off parallel walls and around tricky parkour sections.
There comes a point in the climb where the ambient audio abruptly stops, traffic noises and the howl of commercials suddenly die out as if the game realizes how over it all I am now. Nothing replaces it. No whistling wind, no birds. Market details beneath me become less defined, barely rendered. Cyberpunk 2077 is clearly not interested in what I’m doing at this altitude. There is no game waiting for me here.
The cornices narrow, the interstices widen. It takes longer and longer to find holds to climb desperately. When progress happens it is fleeting and I gained a few feet when I climbed floors at a time. I can’t help feeling that the open-world action-RPG Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t happy with me, like it’s trying to convince me to go back to where all the content is. The War of Attrition lasts for an hour, and countless abandoned instances of V litter the streets below as I smash it against every tiny geographical advance I can find, ascending the megastructure. 4am turns into 5am and my relationship with Cyberpunk 2077 is now entirely adversarial – it’s a tangible, malevolent force actively trying to pull me away from something.
I can’t help feeling that the open-world RPG Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t happy with me, like it’s trying to convince me to go back to where all the content is.
I win, of course. I’m an elite pro-gamer. I had been playing these things since before I knew how to multiply. I can feel when a corner can be cut, when a tiny artifact can be stunted. There’s a language somewhere deep in my brain that intuitively knows how these worlds work, what they feel like, and how to break them. I hit some form of unknowable height limit, land the wrong 1s and 0s, and reality changes. The game gives up. The roof I’m on decides to become invisible and I can see through the rest of the building, down to the streets below and the endless black void on which the world rests precariously. Of course I should throw V in it. Maybe there’s a way out there.
I throw V off the ledge, freezing time as she falls to pose for the camera while I fiddle with the exposure. After taking my photo, I dropped it. I watch through his eyes as the city rushes to meet him, details that have grown distant suddenly become so much clearer. As it contacts the pavement at terminal speed. I load up my last quicksave and she’s back on the ledge, like new and ready for another unintended death plunge in pursuit of art. If she has any objections to that, she doesn’t show it, growling and blundering through the air as I lock her into a rebirth loop. I’m losing count – at this point, V is trapped in a quantum superposition at the edge of the simulation, tossed around like a toy by a higher power she can’t perceive.
It was real cyberpunk, which was happening to me. It was Neo reaching out to touch a mirror and seeing it melt before his eyes. That piece in Dark City where a brick wall crumbles and reveals a sea of stars. Remember 1999 also ran The Thirteenth Floor? When your man drives to the outskirts of town and finds a wireframe of green computer lines, revealing the nature of his reality as a playground for a sociopath in a layer above his own? You don’t remember the Thirteenth Floor, but that’s how it is. It’s the cyberpunk protagonist who finally sees the gaps in the world that have been placed over his eyes, embarking on a journey of self-realization as he fights for a life beyond the margins of the artifice of the business.
Cyberpunk was here from the start, lurking on the outskirts of the $316 million power fantasy for Elon Musk fans. Where else would he hide? It was certainly never going to be found within the market research constraints of an open-world video game – but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing of value to be carved out of this bloated capitalist amusement park. .