Review | Cyberpunk 2077

It's hard not to dwell on the beautiful images that Cyberpunk 2077 constantly presents you. Night City, the city where most of the game takes place, feels alive and very real. The architecture, the horizon: it looks like a city with a history. A city where buildings and streets are built on the remains of previous constructions, and where roads and alleys wind organically around existing structures.

The way the story is propelled, whether in the main mission or in the many, many optional side missions, is fantastic. Conversations give you information organically, and during those conversations you make choices that actually affect later events and even the end of the game. The choice of your life path as the mercenary V , Corpo, street rascal or Nomad, at the start of the game not only determines how the game starts for you, but also gives you dialogue options that suit your background.

Just like in most modern RPGs, completing a mission consists of several stages, in which you have to make all kinds of choices. Many missions consist of “heists”, complicated infiltrations where you stealthily, fight or hack to reach a goal. You decide how to tackle a problem at any time. For example, it is often possible to complete missions without firing a shot, which is not only blood-curdling, but also very satisfying. You use your common sense instead of your weapons. However, if you just want to knock things over, you can of course do as you please.

Finally, hacking is primarily a useful tool that adds an interesting puzzle element to confrontations with enemies. The hacking itself is not very challenging, it’s in fact nothing more than a kind of maze that you have to solve by selecting letter-number combinations before the time runs out. Once something or someone is hacked, on the other hand, new doors open to deal with a situation.

Somewhere early in the game, a gigantic, heavily armed cyborg, for example, seemed almost impossible to defeat. But by hacking him before the fight, there was suddenly the option of either blinding him, making his giant arm cannon a lot less effective, or knocking out half of his life meter with a powershortage.

Fighting as well as sneaking are not without problems. Well, “problems” may be a bit heavily phrased, but Cyberpunk 2077 is pretty forgiving on that front. When an enemy spots V, you have a few seconds to move out of sight again. Which is remarkable, given that the vast majority of opponents have cybernetically enhanced eyes.

The same is true to some extent for gunfights. You can do a lot of damage even in the beginning of the game and it is by no means always necessary to move tactically from cover to cover to win a fight. In fact, when an enemy is hiding behind a pillar, it’s a lot more effective to run up to it and shoot a shotgun in the face a few times.

Fortunately, that tactic doesn’t always work, and when there are many enemies in the area, it’s certainly possible to quickly go “flatline”, Cyberpunk 2077’s version of a game over-screen. Which also immediately causes another minor annoyance: checkpoints do not always make sense. For example, in a given mission, the game saves before a long dialogue scene, which is followed by a spirited firefight. So it is not possible to manually save the game during a battle or a dialogue. Having to go through the same scene with interactive options multiple times therefore diminishes its emotional impact.

Fortunately, there is a feeling of excitement and fun during most of the game. Especially when the first act is over and you meet Johnny Silverhand, the virtual rock star who is suddenly implanted in your brain due to circumstances. Johnny acts as your side kick in the same way that The Joker was in Batman: Arkham Knight. He shows up to comment on you and the situation and usually acts like an amusing bastard.

It’s also thanks to Johnny that Cyberpunk 2077 elevates itself to a game that truly belongs in the cyberpunk genre. Because to be “real” cyberpunk, it is not enough to create a technological city with implants and virtual reality. The great strength of the genre is that this dystopian vision of the future poses interesting questions about what it means to be a human, and about life and death. And especially by adding alienating elements. The character Johnny, played brilliantly by Keanu Reeves, is the epitome of those traits. From the moment Johnny gets into “your” head, Cyberpunk 2077 transforms from “a game of cyberpunk decoration” to something with a strong identity of its own.

Cyberpunk 2077 is basically a standard role-playing game with stats, levels, skill upgrade points and a quest log full of missions that you collect along the way.

Missions are classified by “danger level”, which basically shows if your level is high enough to survive them. There are extremely many of these side missions to be found. Of course, there are a lot of trivial activities, such as taking out criminals for their bounties or collecting objects, but many of the “real” side missions are just as extensive and full of surprises as the main story. In that respect, we again see the philosophy of the studio that brought us The Witcher 3: side missions are actually the reason to play. The main story itself is not very long. It is possible to complete it in twenty hours by ignoring most of the side paths.

Although there is a certain routine in tackling missions (sneak, fight, hack your way through a location) the game isn’t predictable. In addition to the fact that later upgrades change your playing style substantially, there are also all kinds of trips that refresh things considerably. Trips such as an underwater mission and various “brain dances”, where you step into a memory and play a kind of mini adventure game to collect clues, provide plenty of unpredictability. Most missions also have certain surprises, where you suddenly have to solve a puzzle unique to that mission.

The game did not crash with us, but there are some small bugs. The day one patch should fix a lot, and given the extensive support for The Witcher 3, it’s not unreasonable to expect Cyberpunk 2077 to be near bug-free in a few months. Which makes it feel like it might be a bit of a shame to play the game right now. But yes, the hype and all that. This is such a game that many people look forward to and want to get into as soon as possible.

Hype is a bad counselor. Looking forward to a game for eight years will give that game a mythical status that it can never live up to. That doesn’t mean it is bad. Cyberpunk 2077 is a really, really good RPG in a great world.

Score:

9,0

+ Lots of variety
+ Lots of good story missions
+ Great graphics

– Unnecessary bugs


Review | Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Spider-Man has always been with the themes as a formula. This is no different in this spin-off, which revolves around Miles Morales, a young man whose mother fights in politics against corrupt politicians and rogue companies. The central theme is electricity. You notice it in the story, but also in Miles Morales himself, electricity is what distinguishes him most from Peter Parker.

Miles can energize his body with “venom”, a kind of orange lightning. With venom, he can hurl enemies through rooms, make them immobile, or simply provide them with an electric shock. He also uses electricity in puzzles. Miles needs, for example, to charge generators or connect electricity networks to venom.

Electricity also plays a major role thematically. A new energy company, Roxxon, appears to have a very big say in New York City’s work. Roxxon’s motives therefore seem double. Miles’s mother, who still has to recover from the loss of her husband in the first part, therefore turns to politics.

There is therefore a lot, um, tension (see what i did there :p ) between the family members. And then there is Miles’s best friend, who, together with her brother and Miles herself, is closely involved in the development of new technology. They are working on a new form of energy that could replace electricity: NuForm.

The story in Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a bit silly, but the game gets away with that because even the somewhat silly narrative brackets remain entirely within the acceptable comic book spectrum. This game contains some strong and genuinely emotional narrative moments. Developer Insomniac Games does that very well. Miles Morales goes through bizarre things, but feels more human than superhero.

Peter Parker doesn’t play a big role in this story, if you think that after the trailers. He is going on vacation with his now well-known girlfriend, and so Miles,  for the first time, has to take over from him for a week or two.
This part was therefore completed much earlier than the original. You’ll be through it within twelve hours, but it feels much faster. The pacing is very high and exciting turns follow each other in rapid succession. It is therefore difficult to put the controller down. Compared to the original Marvel’s Spider-Man, Miles Morales feels trim. After completing the game, you can still play the friendly neighborhood hero. Miles has his own app that residents can use to call on him. It is an ingenious alternative to a quest system.

Also interesting are the special powers that Miles has. The normal combat, against normal enemies, was a bit more aggressive in the previous part, given Miles has invisibility and Peter Parker had some strong area-of-attack attacks. Perhaps the subtlest difference between the two games is the music. Miles Morales leans a little more towards hip hop. Beats are mixed through the symphonic orchestral music, which you hear well during fights, among other things, a subtle but appropriate addition.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales will be released on the PlayStation 4, but also on the new PlayStation 5. This game is very nice on the PlayStation 5, partly thanks to ray tracing. You play at 30 fps. Without ray tracing, the game runs at 60 fps.

There is a time when ray tracing almost perfectly is on display . You then enter an enemy base under supervision. The hallway is infused with purple lighting and flashing monitors with an Outrun-esque aesthetic. In this shot, the lighting reflects on the shiny coats, but especially on the floors.

Ray tracing also gets the literal opportunity to shine on the windows of flats and in the well-placed rain puddles. Whether all of that justifies the loss of 60 fps is personal. I don’t think so. That high frame rate is really nice, especially during the hectic fights. But you have to make that decision yourself.

In the game you don’t notice much of the new adaptive triggers, although they do make sure that you have to press “harder” while spinning through the city,  a great effect. The haptic feedback is not very impressive either. You only really notice when very heavy enemies thunder through the image, such as an enemy of rhino-like proportions.

Whether you play this game on the previous or the new PlayStation, Miles Morales is very rewarding. It tells a concise yet intense story, introduces some really entertaining twists, and there’s a lot to collect, solve and battle out in New York.

Score:

9,0

+ Very entertaining storyline
+ Beautifull and vivid game world
+ Ray tracing showcases beautifully

– Faster finished than hoped


Review | Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Can a game be too big? Ask anyone who played Assassin's Creed Odyssey and the answer is probably yes. Not only the game world was immense, the game itself was bursting at the seams with the amount of weapons, gear, skills, upgrades for your boat, mercenaries and cultists. Fortunately, Ubisoft has pulled out the trimmer for Assassin's Creed Valhalla, in a good way.

In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla you take on the role of Eivor and choose whether you play as  a male, female or let the Animus decide for you. A completely cosmetic choice that does not change the course of the game. But because I played as a male Eivor, I refer to “him” in this review. Eivor is one of the many Vikings who left Scandinavia at the end of the ninth century and tries to settle in England.

Medieval England relied more on its natural beauty than its prominent landmarks, for even London at the time was little more than a peasant settlement built on Roman ruins. Despite its primitiveness, England at that time was a powder keg that was about to explode. The country is divided into four different kingdoms. Foreign invaders, such as Eivor, are increasing tensions. Of course The Order of the Ancients appears to be pulling all kinds of strings in the background. Before Eivor knows it, he is involved in a plot that is much bigger than his own ambition to build a settlement.

That sounds like run-of-the-mill Assassin’s Creed material, but Valhalla does a number of things significantly differently from its predecessors. Take, for example, the way the story is divided. Valhalla consists of clear Arcs, which are also presented as such. Each story arc has a clear beginning and end and always focuses on a specific area. In one story arc you have to help a local king stay in power and you fight in great battles in which you storm a castle in stages. Another storyline takes more inspiration from the classic Assassin’s Creed and relies on detective work and assassinations with the Hidden Blade.

Story missions follow each other relatively quickly within such a story arc, without the player being distracted all the time. Side missions and activities are still plentiful and you are free to undertake them whenever you feel like it, but it feels more natural to explore the land in between those story arcs. In addition, side missions no longer “pollute” your quest list: they are really meant to be done immediately and quickly in between. This creates a nice balance of playing missions, exploring the landscape and undertaking side activities.

Even during missions, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is more reserved with its icons and clues. An example, at one point I run into two Normans who want to plunder a house. However, they do not have a torch and therefore cannot set anything on fire. And what’s looting without a bright bonfire? Instead of immediately showing what you need to do, the game leaves it to your own imagination that you can light the thatched roof with a torch.

In another mission, I must uncover a traitor. It is possible to immediately point out a culprit, but you can also interrogate people in the village or follow a whole trail into the swamp. Instead of knowing exactly how many hints you still have to collect, you now have to rely more on your own instinct.

Having to think for yourself is often a lot more fun than just running to the next arrow on the map, but unfortunately Assassin’s Creed is not always suitable for this. “Traditionally” it sometimes happens that you suddenly cannot address a character or that a required object does not want to load. Previously you had realized that it was better to reload a checkpoint, but now you regularly remain in the dark, am I doing something wrong, or is the game broken?

The slight suspicion that something is technically not going quite right is certainly not unfounded. Valhalla has the necessary rough edges. Think of hard transitions between videos and gameplay, missing sound effects or spontaneous, spastic animations. But also at gates and doors that remain closed after respawning, so that part of the men remains behind during a castle storm.

The animations during fighting don’t always look smooth either. There is a strange contrast between how flashy fast Eivor can evade and how slow he throws a flail around. With special attacks, the animations often do not quite match each other, causing Eivor to either fall into the air, or make a very strange jump.

That said, fighting in Valhalla feels very satisfying once you get the hang of the combat system. It is no longer necessary to equip Eivor with new weapons on the assembly line and therefore does not always have to get used to other properties. You will find new weapons with different characteristics, but they are not necessarily better or worse than the one you already have. If you want, you can finish the entire game with the same axe.

The axe, the hammer, The Flail. Each weapon feels different, but each one gives you a sense of unadulterated brutality befitting the Vikings. Flying limbs and decapitations are therefore the order of the day. Valhalla takes some getting used to after the fairly light-hearted Odyssey, but fortunately there was also room for a humorous note in the Middle Ages.

Especially “Flyting” regularly causes a big grin on the face. In these Viking “Rap” Battles you always have to choose a phrase that not only rhymes with what your opponent just said, but also something that fits in rhythm. Eivor does not hesitate to talk about someone’s physical characteristics or mother, but finding the right diss is easier said than done. Perhaps the best side activity is the tactical dice game Orlog. The rules of the game are simple enough that you get it after one time, but complicated enough to keep you fascinated again and again.

That is actually the common thread of all of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Compared to its predecessor, Valhalla is a lot easier to understand, with fewer game mechanics, stats and distractions. At the same time, the content that remains is structured in such a way that you as a player are drawn even more into the game world.

Score:

8,5

+ Suitable and cool Viking weapons
+ Pleasant balance between main and side missions
+ Original and fun activities such as flyting and Orlog
+ Missions are less layed out before you

– Several bugs and technical flaws at launch
– Missions sometimes unclear