Note that is is a guest post by Ben Murden who joined me to cover the TGS2019. You can follow him on Twitter.
CD Projekt Red had a seemingly large presence at this year’s show, and even Keanu Reeves showed up the day before opening to pose on a bike. However, it looked like this was the same gameplay demo given at E3, just localized for Japan. Almost the entire booth was home to the theater in which a representative of the Japanese localization team, and a member of CDPR lead us through a vertical slice of gameplay that featured two play styles – a Netrunner, and a Strong Solo. The demo switched between the two styles in a manner I presume will not be in the shipping game, and provided the audience with a chance to see how the given scenario may differ with these two opposing play styles.
The opening moments saw us following the Netrunner as they worked their way into Pacifica, one of the game’s districts, and met with The Voodoo Boys, a gang in control of that region. As the player walks around, they may hear some Patois that will be translated in real-time in AR style subtitles with a cool text-replacement effect. In fact, there’s rather a lot of chatter and detail to the environments, which combine bright neon with the crushing reality of the lives of people living there, that gives life to the world. With the time, resources, and people being thrown at this game, I’d expect nothing less.
As the demo goes on we see dialogue choices that are affected by the background chosen in the character creator, and eventually we spill out onto the streets and head off to do a real mission. Getting there involved a ride on a motorcycle that seemed to mostly serve as a way to take in scenery, since almost the entire journey was along highways. There’s room here for the journey to lead to some kind of serendipity, but as it stands it seems like just a method of getting to the waypoint. Once arriving at our destination, in which we are to infiltrate a rival gang, we see the Netrunner take the stealthy approach, hacking into door systems, gym equipment, and anything else that will either silently eliminate gang members in the way, or create distractions. There’s even a hacking minigame in which the player is matching hexadecimal pairs. It reminded me a lot of immersive sim games like Deus Ex, in which much of the combat can be avoided or circumvented if a character is built a certain way.
We then switch to the Strong Solo, who, instead of going through the gang’s gym and experiencing all those custom animations and scripted events, just passed a strength check on a couple of doors, then proceeded to the combat arena. At least when they got there, the Strong Solo demonstrated that combat has the potential to feel dynamic and weighty, grabbing a dude to use as a body shield to approach a heavy turret, before proceeding to rip the turret gun from its frame and use it for themselves to mop up the rest of the 3 or 4 types of gang members. All this stood in stark contrast with the Netrunner, until they demonstrated that the Netrunner can also use a nano wire to whip around and chop off limbs, as well as use quick hacking abilities that cause enemies to either explode or shoot themselves. From seeing that combat is kind of on the table for any build, I really hope there’s more in the game for a Strong Solo character to do during traversal and infiltration, else it seems like the Netrunner is probably the more interesting of the two. That being said, perhaps the Strong Solo fits a player type who would rather avoid stealth and environment puzzles, and prefer to just get straight to the action. How they would end up landing on this RPG instead of the next Call of Duty, I’m not sure, but it seems CDPR are going for a broader range of possible play styles here. Again, much like an immersive sim.
The rest of the demo was fairly ho-hum, with a fairly rote boss fight involving sidestepping to avoid incoming attacks and shooting the glowy bits on their back. Really. Complete with a “Do you let them live” player choice moment which felt straight out of 2010. Roll right into another choice wherein the player encounters a cyber cop trying to prevent AIs from taking over the world, and the player is put right in the center of a decision to either carry out their mission, or help keep the AIs in check. In this demonstration they made the choice to free the AIs and that goes about as well as you might expect.
Throughout the cutscenes you’re also graced with the star power of Keanu Reeves in the form of Johnny Silverhands, who appears to you as a cyber ghost, which makes you the chosen one, I guess. He occasionally interjects during cutscenes, and appears to interact with the cop’s computer while you’re recovering from your cyber coma. There’s an element of uncertainty here leaving you to wonder if he’s really on your side, which, while conceptually cliche, wasn’t expanded upon enough in the demo to know if its execution will save it.
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