Corruption, Corporatism, and Failed Critiques: An Analysis of Cyberpunk 2077


Cyberpunk 2077 has arrived and, as has already been covered by a wide variety of outlets, it’s not nearly as impressive as we’d all hoped. While the game does have some redeeming qualities, it’s largely not as impressive as one would hope from the game studio known for the incredible Witcher series.

This is not a review of Cyberpunk 2077, though (you can read that here). Right now, we’re interested in what the game is saying, what its messages, meanings, and themes are focused on, and how well it conveys those ideas. When examining it from that perspective, what we get is still a somewhat disappointing result: a critique of authority without much to say and an examination of humanity that lacks real depth.

A Tale of Two Legends

First off, as covered in our review of Cyberpunk 2077, the game is closer to a sci-fi action noir story than true cyberpunk. It features all the requisite aesthetics of a cyberpunk narrative, such as extensive body modification, a dystopian future controlled by corporations, and a contrast between advanced technology and extreme poverty, but doesn’t explore any of those elements very well. The story itself is singularly focused on two characters: the protagonist V and Johnny Silverhand.

V is an up-and-coming mercenary in Night City, game’s main setting. The prologue sees them taking a job to break into a high-end hotel and steal a biochip with a person’s consciousness encoded onto it. Things go wrong, naturally, and that biochip winds up jammed into V’s head, malfunctions, and starts overwriting their personality with that of Johnny Silverhand’s. Johnny is a character from the original tabletop RPGs, Cyberpunk 2013 and Cyberpunk 2020, a rockerboy who despises corporate power and wants to see them all burned to the ground. Together with V, the pair seeks out a means of saving their respective lives.

Fight the Power

Cyberpunk 2077 has three main story missions that lead into the final quest, each of which has you exploring different areas and organizations in the world. One asks you to work with a nomad clan on the outskirts of Night City, while another has you infiltrating a corporate-run festival, and the third sees you tracking down the person who ordered the initial job to steal the biochip. Each of them shows you a different part of this world you inhabit, be it the close, communal bonds of the nomad clans, the high life and sleek polish of corporate life, or the grunge and dirt forced upon the city’s underclasses.

Each these three missions hold much the same themes – individual people and the relationships between them are good, while the faceless megacorps that toss human life away thoughtlessly are bad. Combined with Johnny’s occasional rants about the soulless corpos and the necessity of rebellion. This would be a good base from which to build a strong anti-authority message – except the game goes and sabotages itself.

Corrupted Systems, Corrupted People

Even as the game tries to make a critique of the corporate mindset, it also shows us that individual people are responsible for the majority of the problems that V and Johnny face. Specifically, Yorinobu Arasaka, who murders his father Saburo and takes control of the Arasaka Corporation. One of the three main story missions is all about contacting his sister, Hanako, to convince her to oust him from power.

Characters associated with the Arasaka Corporation put great value on family, emphasizing the personal ties over the business ones. In this way, the blame is shifted away from the corporate structures and towards the individuals who hold power within those structures. A truly anti-corporate story might show us how this myth of the problem simply being the ‘wrong people’ holding authority is a lie and how it’s the corporation itself the forces people into dehumanizing situations. Cyberpunk 2077 never really does this as it is most concerned with the personal ties of the characters, not the ways they interact with these systems.

Respect the Law

This lack of self-awareness can be seen in other, finer aspects of the game as well. For example, it’s very odd for an anti-authority game to litter your map with missions from the Night City Police Department but none from the various gangs and criminal organizations present in the city. Whether you want it or not, V is a surprisingly law-abiding mercenary who dutifully avoids any serious dealings with the gangs and almost exclusively helps the police rather than working against them, as one might expect from one actually rebelling against authority.

The society of Night City is similarly hierarchical, with prostitutes and other sex workers pushed to the bottom and other, more ‘respectable’ professions given greater credence. This could be used to talk about the commodification of bodies and bodily autonomy, but Cyberpunk 2077 largely avoids any difficult discussions of that nature. Mostly, the low lifestyle of Night City residents is used mostly to establish a gritty backdrop for the very individualistic story of V and Johnny.

The Corps Always Win

In conclusion, Cyberpunk 2077 is an anti-authority, anti-corporate story without fangs or claws. It rails against the system without actually showing how systemic injustices are perpetrated and perpetuated. Body modification and other hallmarks of the cyberpunk genre are relegated to set dressing more than anything else.

It’s not necessarily a bad story. The dynamic between V and Johnny is interesting and the idea of what it might be like to have two consciousness struggling over a single body is intriguing – it just isn’t explored as well as it could be. The marketing surrounding this release promised a ground-breaking new world to explore. What was delivered was, disappointingly, a mediocre criticism of corporate culture that doesn’t go nearly as far as it should.

Further Reading

Cyberpunk 2077’s Politics Should Be as Powerful as Its Aesthetics | Paste

Cyberpunk 2077 is dad rock, not new wave | Polygon

Killing the Past, Looking to the Future: Hitman 3 Review

Io Interactive’s most recent three Hitman games have all been outstanding in their own ways. The first, released way back in 2016, introduced us to the games’ more episodic format and elusive targets. Hitman 2 fleshed out the mechanics and design of its predecessor while boasting more intricate, dynamic levels. Finally, Hitman 3 stands as the capstone of what Io has been calling the “World of Assassination” trilogy.

While not without issues (including launch week server problems, Epic Games Store exclusivity, and the Hitman 2 import controversy), Hitman 3 has largely had a strong initial showing. The missions are elegantly designed and the settings are each evocative in their own ways. That’s not even mentioning one of the most interesting elements of the game – it’s surprisingly engaging story. Without further ado, let’s get into what makes Hitman 3 the perfect finale to Agent 47’s adventure.

Gameplay: 4/5

There won’t be many surprises here for seasoned Hitman fans, even if your first experience to the series was the soft reboot in 2016. Io’s signature level design is back, making for intricately crafted levels that wind around on themselves in mazes that are a delight to unravel. Making exploration even more interesting is the presence of unlockable shortcuts – paths through levels that are initially locked from one side until you open them, after which they remain accessible in each subsequent playthrough.

Aside from the shortcuts and a few extra features like a camera that lets you scan intel items and keycode locks, Hitman 3 plays a lot like its predecessors – which is by no means a bad thing. Hitman and Hitman 2 were a blast to play and the third installment is just as fun. While it’s not going to be everyone’s jam, for those who enjoy the feeling of unwinding a puzzle box of a map one step at a time, there’s really nothing better.

Originality: 3/5

Hitman 3 doesn’t make too many changes to the main mechanics from its previous titles, which is probably a smart move. The few new mechanics introduced are little iffy if we’re being honest, with the camera often feeling a little unnecessary while the keycode locks can easily send players to the internet looking for quick answers. They’re interesting ideas on paper, but neither of them are explored to their fullest extent here.

What does work quite well is the shortcut mechanic. Hitman games love their complex maps, often with hidden paths through them to allow experienced players efficient passage from one side of the level to the other. However, players may never find these hidden paths, or may stumble upon them very early, before really seeing the full extent of what the mission has to offer. Shortcuts provide an answer to that problem – you won’t just happen across one because it’ll be locked when you first encounter it, and once you do open it, the location will be cemented in memory because you actually had to take action to open it. It’s a very nice addition that neatly complements Hitman 3’s exploratory gameplay.

Accessibility: 2/5

For a game released in early 2021, it’s a little surprising to see the lack of accessibility options in Hitman 3. This is especially notable as 2020 was a banner year for accessibility in gaming, but Io seems to have dropped the ball a bit in this area. There are all the baseline accessibility features – subtitles, control remapping, and difficulty modes – but the absences speak much, much louder here.

There doesn’t seem to be any colorblind mode in Hitman 3’s settings, nor can certain quicktime sequences where you need to button mash or hit buttons in quick succession be turned off. The subtitles also consist of large blocks of text that may be difficult to read quickly. These issues could always be fixed in future patches as Io has been known to release monthly updates for previous Hitman games, but it remains to be seen if accessibility options will be a part of them.

Look: 5/5

If we’re being honest, Hitman 3 is not the most graphically impressive game of all time. That being said, I think you’d be hard pressed to say that it doesn’t just look good. From the opening level in Dubai where the sun streams in onto gold gilt to the splendor of the vineyard in Mendoza, it’s all very pretty and shows that Io’s art department knows what they’re doing.

The level that stood out in particular to me personally was Chongqing, a Chinese city that houses a secret facility below and a makeshift laboratory above. Something about the rain-soaked, neon-lit streets just stood out as especially beautiful, giving the level a sort of gritty noir feel that made one of the most visually interesting places in the game.

Story: 4/5

Hitman and Hitman 2 certainly had stories, but not like Hitman 3. The previous two titles centered on the power cabal known as Providence, and the conclusion finally tasks you with dismantling it once and for all. It’s a story that goes to some very grim places, ones that I didn’t personally expect. The game raises a series of questions, such as to what degree is 47 responsible for his actions, how strong is his relationship with his handler, Diana, and most importantly – what happens when the job is done?

It’s not The Last of Us, but it’s really quite good for what it is. There were a few twists I didn’t see coming, some moments that made me consider the ethical implications of 47’s actions, and a conclusion that made for a satisfying end to the trilogy. All in all, it was an impactful narrative that made a fascinating game that much more rewarding.

In Conclusion

The last chapter in Agent 47’s story is a thrill to play and a delight to experience. It covers unexpected narrative beats, provides closure to the series, and lets you blow targets up with explosive rubber ducks. While it’s accessibility could be better, it remains a strong game overall and one that I can absolutely recommend.

Final Tally: 18/25