TWIN MIRROR REVIEW

With Twin Mirror, Dontnod has left time travel, telekinesis and mind-reading behind, stepping away from the supernatural themes of its previous games and switching it up for grounded psychological drama. A story of mystery and conspiracy is well within the Dontnod’s wheelhouse, but the studio’s first self-published game is unfortunately a little underwhelming. It starts out as a great detective mystery, but its unwillingness to explore difficult topics with any depth is a big issue.  

Twin Mirror follows former investigative journalist Sam Higgs as he returns to his hometown, Basswood, in West Virginia. After being MIA for two years, Sam’s visit is far from a celebratory event. He’s been informed that his best friend and fellow reporter Nick Waldron has passed away, so he drops by to pay his respects at the funeral. As Sam begins to explore his childhood home, he gets caught up in a bigger conspiracy involving his friend’s death and the mining town’s community and decides to follow the case until the end. The town isn’t Sam’s biggest fan. Before he bailed, he wrote an article exposing the lack of safety measures in the local mine, which led to it being shut down, leaving many people jobless and angry.

From Twin Mirror’s opening hour, it’s pretty clear that Dontnod has perfected the technique of laying out the foundations of a mystery. Before you attend the wake, Nick’s daughter, and Sam’s goddaughter, confides in him that she thinks something about her father’s death feels off. Shortly after, you’re introduced to the Basswood townsfolk, and with the idea of a conspiracy already worming its way into your brain, your investigation cap is firmly on as you begin to chat with the locals. It’s a great set-up, the stage is set and you’ve met all the players, so it immediately starts your mind racing about who could be involved and why.

For the first hour or two, I was genuinely excited to solve this small-town mystery. I love the aesthetic of Basswood too, the mining town has an unglamorous West Virginian charm that makes everywhere a joy to explore. Its dingy dive bars, mountain viewpoints, and cheap hotel rooms are packed with information about Basswood’s residents and the tough times they’ve been through. It paints the perfect portrait of a struggling town where community matters.

Detective work plays out similarly to exploration in Dontnod’s previous games. You’re dropped into a new area and need to walk around examining objects and finding clues. This mechanic works particularly well when you’re getting to know the town, examining posters and looking at photos hung on the walls of bars, but when gathering evidence for your investigation it’s far from streamlined. You always have to find evidence in a certain order, meaning that you’ll be doing multiple laps of the same scene until you discover things at the right time.

After gathering up enough evidence, Sam will enter his mind palace (which involves closing his eyes and thinking really hard) and these sequences are a highlight of the game. The mind palace is where is a place where Sam can put his analytical brain to the test and can use the evidence gathered to reconstruct several possible sequences of events. Examining the different timelines that Sam has visualised, you need to decide which one is the truth and pick the one that plays out exactly how events went down. This can be anything from how a bar fight developed over the course of a ten-minute spat or the reason why a car inexplicably swerved off the road. Versions of this mechanic have been used in plenty of detective games before, but Twin Mirror’s take on it, where you build scenes from shattered glass, stands out.

Head scratcher

Even though the evidence gathering is flakey, I went into the rest of the game excited to uncover the secrets of the sleepy town of Basswood. Unfortunately, the investigation never really cranks up—it barely gets going at all. There’s no sense of crescendo or eureka moment where you crack the case—the investigation just fizzles out. There are plenty of story threads flying around, but none of them land. Sam never really addresses his guilt for destroying the town’s main livelihood, for instance. Even after he’s confronted several times by angry townsfolk who are suffering because of his decision, he never really engages with it head-on. Was it right to publish the truth at the cost of people losing their jobs? It’s a tough question that the game sidesteps.

Never exploring these themes beyond the surface pretty much sums up Twin Mirror. There are moments inside Sam’s mind palace where he shows guilt and compassion for the characters he’s hurt, but they’re in the form of vapid minigames, like running through empty doorways that say ‘breathe’ on them or trying to find your twin in a crowd of people.  

Speaking of our mystery man, Sam’s twin accompanies him throughout the game, but he exists solely in Sam’s mind, piping up to provide another perspective on a situation. He’s different from Sam in that he’s more socially conscious, trying to keep his fleshy counterpart out of trouble and helping him navigate tricky conversations. He appears in key moments, where the player’s decision is meant to impact the rest of the game. After trying different paths, however, I didn’t notice much difference.  

Many of the fears that I voiced in my Twin Mirror preview were about the representation of this character. Although the double is, thankfully, not part of a Jekyll and Hyde situation, Dontnod is deliberately coy when addressing what exactly Sam’s double is. Throughout the game, Sam walks the line between trying to be his authentic self, and acting in a way that is ‘socially acceptable.’ His other half tries to stop Sam acting how he likes, voicing his disapproval when his bluntness rubs people up the wrong way.

It’s not only Sam’s bluntness that is at odds with his double; he also has problems reading people, occasionally places the truth ahead of characters’ feelings, and struggles with the invisible social etiquette of conversations. Together with his analytical mind, this makes it seem like Twin Mirror is suggesting that Sam’s on the autistic spectrum, and his struggles with staying true to who he is and social conformity run throughout the game. Although Dontnod’s portrayal of Sam avoids the condescending and grossly misinformed tropes found in a lot of media, there are certain story decisions that make Sam feel like a ghost of that representation. Dontnod doesn’t commit to this idea, only alluding to these topics instead of exploring them with insight and understanding.   

There are some interesting ideas in Twin Mirror, but the game doesn’t spend any time digging into its challenging topics. There’s a foundation of a story about how we relate to others and the conflict of being authentic over being accepted, but ultimately it’s all hollow.

Twin Mirror feels like a string of scenes sewn together with thin narrative threads, and is ultimately a game that says nothing, lacking any sort of commitment to subjects that it coyly alludes to. For a studio whose voice is celebrated for being loud and clear about improving representation in games, Twin Mirror a misstep for Dontnod.  

PER ASPERA REVIEW

Here on Earth, they tell me we have too much carbon in the atmosphere. So, as I work to terraform Mars in Per Aspera, I figure that keeping CO2 levels up shouldn’t be big concern. I’ve got a lot of it, and I need it to be oxygen, so I just start seeding the surface with genetically engineered lichen. The lichen turns carbon dioxide to oxygen, everybody wins. I assume it’ll keep itself in check well enough. 

It was about when the atmospheric oxygen percentage hit 50—dwarfing our 20 percent here on Earth—that I realized that I was very, very wrong. Spontaneous fires started to break out in every factory and mine across the planet because even the slightest spark could ignite the air. 

Perhaps the science of terraforming Mars is more complex than I’d thought. 

That’s the premise of Per Aspera, a novel combination of planetary science simulator, hardcore management game, and dynamic narrative experience. You play as a newly awakened artificial consciousness, AMI, whose job is to establish an autonomous colony on Mars in order to prepare it for a permanent human presence, and ultimately terraform the planet into one suitable for “Earthian” life. AMI’s story plays out in audio transmissions voiced by a star-studded cast (Troy Baker, Phil LaMarr, Laila Berzins, Yong Yea, Lynsey Murrell, and Nneka Okoye). It’s a series of branching moral choices—some simple, some complex, all rife with uncertainty—that runs alongside what would otherwise be a very pretty, if standard, city-building management game. Those choices lead through a variety of small stories, a larger central mystery, and several different game endings.

Do as AI do

Most of Per Aspera is about panning around a beautifully rendered topographical globe of Mars and listening to a pretty nice chill ambient and upbeat techno soundtrack. Your view is AMI’s, a stylized vector interface with lots of soft edges and sans-serif fonts. It worked great for me, but those with low vision might need to disable the depth-of-field effects and shadows.

You survey for minerals and establish mines to retrieve resources like aluminum, carbon, silicon, or buried water. You also build factories to transform these resources into finished materials like electronic components or mechanical parts, and then into further buildings and equipment like worker or repair drones. Sometimes you zoom way out and assign resources to a big project in space, like reflective mirrors or asteroid capture. Resources are finite, though, so you constantly need to expand and explore Mars’ surface to renew your supply. Build in the wrong order? That might well be game over. Scarcity is concern number one in Per Aspera.https://gfycat.com/ifr/lamesorebrant

You might realize that you’ve only got a few dozen tons of aluminum, and a mere 700 still in the ground. To get more you need to expand your base. That means adding new electrical grid elements, new maintenance hubs, and worker control stations reaching towards and encompassing a deposit. It’s a sometimes-tedious process. The terrain might get in your way, but AMI automatically maps out optimal road paths with a slick animation.

Per Aspera is a ‘blink and it’s 3 am’ game.

It’s one of the most demanding strategy management games I’ve played in a long time, not just in its complexity but for the moment-to-moment action. Playing, my fingers constantly slid between WASD to pan the camera, the numbers for game speed, and the function keys to activate overlays for power, maintenance, drone traffic, and survey results. Per Aspera is a ‘blink and it’s 3 am’ game. (Worth noting: You can’t remap keys at launch. The developers have promised that in an update.)

You’re constantly planning what’s next, managing your stockpiles of goods, looking at your reserved resources, setting up expansions, and trying to futureproof your choices. You’re also catering to your colonists—who are very fickle, choosy, and frustratingly unpredictable. All it takes is a day of missed supply deliveries and a few thousand of them will pack up and head back to Earth, presumably waving at their replacements on the way through the spaceport. 

Did I mention there’s combat, too? It’s a bit of light real-time strategy combat where you build and employ drone swarms against defensive towers as the enemy does the same. It’s alright, but there’s not much challenge or complexity to it, and it’s not demanding at all on the normal difficulty. It really just serves as a story element—and one more layer of management to keep up with.

AI caramba!

Careful pruning of unneeded buildings is a constant task, as is planning for new endeavors. It can be hard at first, with the potential for resource-scarcity death spirals that require you to either abandon large swathes of progress or restart. For example, I abandoned a game due to a lack of electronics production: Not enough electronics to build repair drones quickly, no repair drones to keep the electronics factories running, no electronics factories to fuel expansion. It adds a bit of tension to the early parts, but once you’ve got a sprawling network of multiple bases, those supply bottlenecks just slow down an already pretty slow endgame.

All of that city-building occurs on top of the terraforming layer, which has you balance elements in Mars’ atmosphere and terrain in order to get specific effects. Don’t add too much oxygen or you’ll get frequent fires, as I found out to my dismay. Don’t raise temperatures too quickly or you’ll bring on the liquid water, flooding deposits of valuable resources and/or your base underneath new oceans. I drowned a base when I underestimated just how far the sea level would rise after I crashed an asteroid of pure ice into the surface.

Terraforming is fun, if dangerous—like with resource management, you can easily get yourself into untenable situations. There’s a potpourri of ways to go about it, with all manner of weird proposals from sci-fi and real-world scientists. Having already finished the campaign, and despite the late-game dragging on a bit, I’m actually excited to try more ways in the non-combat, non-narrative sandbox mode. And that’s after spending 30 hours playing it already.

Between the resource management’s automated pathfinding and the simulation of a planet’s changing atmosphere there’s a lot going on under the hood, technically speaking. There are definitely some odd bugs with pathfinding, colonist movement, and order priority. Per Aspera never strained my hardware, but once I had a thousand buildings on Mars there was a real performance hit—most noticeable when switching game speeds, panning quickly, or zooming out to orbit. It’s a genre staple, but expect some dropped frames and a bit of chug as you push the limits of what one PC can simulate.

Extraplanetary experiments

Per Aspera isn’t only a detailed strategic simulation, but also a sweeping sci-fi tale. It isn’t entirely successful as a narrative, but the best parts of the story elevate the management game beneath it. I won’t spoil it, so suffice it to say that it’s got technothriller intrigue, but it also takes big idea sci-fi seriously, grappling with concepts like the nature of artificial consciousness and the ethics of terraforming a new world.

The story is made by the voice talent, who wring a lot of pathos out of a pretty simple script. Laila Berzins absolutely nails AMI’s journey from infantile and newborn confusion into complex brilliance. Troy Baker crushes his performance as AMI’s creator Dr. Foster, displaying an emotional range in a way rarely seen outside of the best audio drama. I could go on: Phil LaMarr as a focused military officer, Yong Yea as a devious businessman, Lynsey Murell—a name you’re going to be hearing more of if this performance is anything to go by—as the Martian colony leader.

It’s similar to the pace that made Hades so beloved this year, though with its own twists and not nearly so lengthy.

The shock and delight of seeing a dynamic narrative in a strategy game can’t be overstated. It’s an imperfect story, the writing is at times campy or obtuse, but it’s a genuine experiment. Bits of the narrative are nonlinear too—they can happen in different orders or not at all in each player’s game—but that comes at the cost of some feeling misplaced or disjointed. I had two events that were back-to-back, but the second was definitely supposed to happen before the first. Still, the base of what’s here is good enough that even if the bugs I saw never get fixed I’d still recommend it.

In between the bite-size chunks of story and moral decision-making you’re thrust back into city-building. Back into the intensity of choices and strategy action until someone bothers to call up the orbiting, ultra-intelligent AI consciousness for a consult again. It’s similar to the pace that made Hades so beloved this year, though with its own twists and not nearly so lengthy. 

Per Aspera’s novel adaptation of nonlinear narrative to fit a strategy game goes over surprisingly well. Combined with a novel terraforming mechanic, slick aesthetics, hard science chops, and classic genre gameplay, this one is definitely worth the time.

CYBERPUNK 2077 REVIEW

I’m on an aimless walking tour of Night City. Somehow I’ve ended up in the Japantown neighborhood’s Arasaka-financed streets, where animated billboards for “Sweet Clean Speed” and pornographic braindances climb the flanks of utilitarian skyscrapers, blotting out the stars with a rainbow of neon. I pass a ramen shop, a hot dog stand, and a man selling spice, piles of garbage tucked beneath the offramp behind him. 

A mob of Christians gather at a nearby intersection, waving signs and screaming “Blasphemers!” at the cops. A voice makes booming proclamations in Japanese from loudspeakers overhead, flying cars crisscrossing the invisible roads between buildings. The sky glows with light pollution, but the moon is full and clear. It’s a beautiful night. 

I just left Judy Alvarez’s place. My friend’s been through a lot lately. Someone close to her has been victim to a string of horrors including sexual assault, physical trauma, and suicidal tendencies. We had a big heart-to-heart about it, undermined by the presence of elaborate arm-knife crosshairs fixed on her forehead even though I put my arm-knives away earlier (I’m polite like that). There was also the notification from that fancy sniper rifle I picked up 20 minutes ago, still notifying me that I picked up a sniper rifle. Duly noted, notification.CLOSECyberpunk 2077 | PC Gamer ReviewVolume 0%PLAY SOUND

But hey, Judy’s not perfect either. I’ve seen her clip through chairs and float across the room while confessing something deeply personal. And yet, I am duty bound to stick through the bugs for my friend. I genuinely care about her. 

She’s on my mind while I continue my walk through Night City. Ahead, a streetlamp floats in the air, its base failing to load. A busker plays an invisible guitar. The facade of a skyscraper flickers briefly. Something ain’t right, so I call my car and it arrives in classic Roach style, driving through a concrete barrier, screeching to a halt. As I approach, a van spawns in the same space and the two vehicles fight to exist before my taxi spurts out and knocks me to the ground. Should I call Judy, see if she’s hanging in there?

It’s just another day in Cyberpunk 2077, a pretty good RPG in an amazing setting absolutely sick with bugs. 

Life in the city

There won’t be another open world like this for a long, long time. 

I love wandering the mountains of trash on the outskirts of town, cutting pretty silhouettes from a distance. Up close, well, it’s trash. And sometimes the smog gets so thick around the old Arasaka memorial downtown you can’t see the tops of buildings, everything washed in dirty orange light. I watched traffic here for a while, employees of the corporate world hurrying to and fro all around me. 

NEED TO KNOW

What is it? An open world action RPG set in the near future.
Expect to pay: $60/£50
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Reviewed on: i9-9900k, RTX 2080, 16GB RAM, installed on SSD
Multiplayer? No, planned in far flung future
Link: www.cyberpunk.net 
Release date: Here’s when Cyberpunk 2077 unlocks by timezone

Then there’s the Biotechnica farm: A city of tents stretching into the horizon, swarms of transport vehicles buzzing to and fro tending to their synthetic protein flowers. From here, Night City looks as small as a city in a snow globe. And you can just walk there. The scale and density is mind boggling, every area clearly touched by countless artists and neatly embedded into the history and logistics of Night City. 

Take a microscope to it and you’ll see the seams instantly. NPCs are aimless automatons or carefully posed puppets. I’ve seen the same guy, at least his shape, splayed out on a couch playing guitar all over the city. I made the mistake of stopping to inspect a roadside rave in the Badlands, only to realize there were three sets of triplets in attendance. Sometimes far off textures load in a touch too late, or the five o’clock rush hour snaps into existence in front of your eyes. Night City is a stage, not a simulation. 

But if you stay moving and keep your eyes trained ahead, every frame is a striking, lively scene. Night City is nearly unparalleled at middle to long distances, joining the best of PC gaming’s open worlds, which include Red Dead Redemption 2’s American west and Grand Theft Auto 5’s Los Santos. Rockstar’s been matched. I’d pay full price just to walk around and take photos forever, my senses perpetually drunk. 

It’s an incredible work that the stories within never quite measure up to. 

John Prick

FACES OF NIGHT CITY

The variety of citizens in Night City is remarkable, with outrageous future fashions, wild hairstyles, and elaborate cyber implants. You’ll see rodeo cowboys with mechanical legs, tattooed yakuza, faces crisscrossed with cyberware, ’80s metalheads sporting wraparound neon visors, and people so heavily augmented you’ll wonder if there’s any human left. There’s a real sense of this being a teeming, vibrant metropolis with layers of history and culture. And everyone just looks cool as hell.

Cyberpunk’s main quest storyline is full of interesting ideas, but marred by inconsistent characterization and focus. Johnny Sliverhand, played by a grumpy Keanu Reeves, and you, a merc for hire and fully-voiced character named V, are centerstage. As V, you’re an accidental witness to a top level corporate assassination and forced to work with Johnny, not only to expose the truth, but to save V’s life. Early on, due to a series of unfortunate events, a backup of Johnny Silverhand’s consciousness ends up in V’s head and begins to slowly take over his mind, effectively overwriting V. 

The effect Johnny has on V, and the equal and potentially opposite or compounding effect V has on Johnny is the heart of the RPG decision-making here. Johnny is a repulsive, crude, misogynist. And you can change that, assuming he doesn’t swing you his way first, nevermind all the fixers, friends, and corporations pulling you every other direction. 

I had no clue whether to take my special pills to suppress the maniac in my head or to try and change him, the ambiguous and agonizing choice I want in an RPG. The blinders are on the whole time and nearly every decision is a leap of faith that hangs on your ideals, or at least the ideas of the character you’re roleplaying. 

I just wish Johnny’s characterization were more consistent. While I’d make major progressions in our relationship in the main quest, he’d regularly revert to the same old dickhead Johnny in a sidequest or the odd commentary impressively scattered throughout the entirety of Night City. 

I became friends with a sentient, autonomous taxicab operation—like, a whole-ass business.

Too often what he has to say in these optional interactions is one note: Rockerboy trash talk, ego and narcissistic idealism personified, like an anarchy tag on an interstate Starbucks come to life. Keanu’s mad, monotone performance doesn’t help highlight the nuance either. While I loved where our relationship eventually ended up, I felt like Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t really show me the work it took to get there. 

As a basic, adaptable foil for V, Johnny is a nice engine for introspection. Capitalism is bad, for sure, but Cyberpunk isn’t interested in solving that problem. Cyberpunk instead asks why we choose to live within such a monstrous system, and I deeply appreciate the spotlight on V, the people in his life, and how they persist (or don’t) in the muck. 

Yeah, the story is wrapped up in espionage, sabotage, and conspiracy at the highest order with a heaping side of corporate satire. But it’s driven by V’s basic human motivations. He doesn’t want to die (I played as a man), he doesn’t want to lose his consciousness to Johnny, and he wants to make something of himself. Those are the stakes V begins with, and depending on who you meet, what you learn about Johnny’s past as a rockstar terrorist, and who you want to roleplay, the stakes change in major ways. 

Me? I fell in love with a nomad and took on the personal mission to become a reformed Corpo dorko, dreams of getting out of the city and living a simpler life. Permaculture is easy when your arms are knives. And, to my surprise, Cyberpunk supported an eerily appropriate arc for me, not one-to-one, but a testament to the sprawling narrative choices laid out under the skin. 

I know there are at least three endings (I chose mine after 10 minutes of staring at the screen, frozen), and that there are definitely more depending on who you befriend and/or romance. These aren’t poorly compressed slideshow epilogues either, but hour-long endeavors, the kind of resplendent, explosive, dramatic stuff most big studios struggle to make one of. 

And I wouldn’t have seen any of it if I’d skipped out on the side missions, a few of which are still left unfinished at the end of my 50-hour playthrough. While entirely optional, seeing through every side character’s story to the end can fundamentally change how the larger story wraps. I spent a long time with Panam, a perky, stubborn nomad vying for respect among her peers. She deserved a chance. I also spent days deeply investigating Johnny’s tragic past. I befriended a beat cop trying to stick to his morals in a clearly fixed game, hunting down a serial killer using surreal, invasive means in what might be my favorite quest of them all. Through a delightful series of misadventures I became friends with a sentient, autonomous taxicab operation—like, a whole-ass business. 

The deeper sidequests are infrequent, too difficult to separate from the endless warehouse infiltration Gigs, but they’re all good to great, and some are up there with CD Projekt’s best, even if there’s no clear Bloody Baron standout. 

Glitch in the matrix

Too bad almost every serious dramatic beat was undercut by some kind of bug, ranging from a UI crowded by notifications and crosshairs failing to disappear, to full-on scripting errors halting otherwise rad action scenes. What should’ve been my favorite main quest venture, a thrilling infiltration mission set in a crowded public event, was ruined by two broken elevators. I had to reload a few times to get them working.

The most absurd bug might’ve been when some children spawned in front of a timed shooting contest I entered with a friendly nomad. I couldn’t shoot anywhere near the children because my weapon automatically raised, so I just sat there and let the timer run out as my buddy talked shit.

More often the bugs are audiovisual tics, like the sound of a car loudly peeling out wailing on during a long drive as passenger with an NPC, a character passing through solid elevator doors, or a copy of Johnny’s cigarette hanging in the air in front of me while he smokes another and goes on about what a coward I am. They’re the kind of thing I can squint through here and there, but there wasn’t a single quest in which something wacky didn’t happen. 

Even the final scene in the closing moments of my ending featured cars spawning in the direct path of an NPC-driven vehicle. A nice, poignant drive and conversation seasoned with a head-on collision visible only to me. Even after installing the Day 0 patch, Night City still feels like it’s barely holding together at times. The good news is that all this stuff can be fixed, but it also means the ideal Cyberpunk 2077 is delayed again, in spirit. 

Fallout: New Vegas was a mess at launch too, and smoothed out over time. Red Dead Redemption 2 was plagued by unforeseen issues with certain GPU and CPU combinations at the start. All good now. Bugs are a guarantee in games this big, but after 8 years in development and multiple delays, I hoped Cyberpunk 2077 would go down much smoother than this. 

Decked out

With so many clothes to choose from, fashion (and buying cars) basically becomes the Cyberpunk endgame. Just be prepared to give up some armor and stat bonuses to wear what you like. 

The action holds together well enough, an FPS charcuterie board featuring some familiar Deus Ex stealth and hacking systems alongside the snappy ADS gunplay Call of Duty made standard. Weapons and armor have unique stats, though it’s all pretty easily reduced to how much damage you can do and withstand versus the level of the enemies you’re facing—the rest, including fashion, is left to preference. It’s exciting stuff in the early hours, all those stats and weapons laid out before you, but the bottom drops out pretty quickly. 

Night City is stuffed with warehouses, armories, and secret labs to sneak into, most often via jobs a neighborhood fixer sets you up with. Infiltrate and kill a guy, rescue a prisoner, steal some data—the objectives bleed together quickly because the means tend to repeat too, at least if you’re locked into a playstyle. I wanted to be a cyber ninja at first, using quickhacks to turn off cameras, destroy turrets, and blind my enemies before moving in with my katana and hacking them to bits. 

Things went well for a while, but pouring all my experience and perk points into blades made me nearly unkillable and my enemies as soft as Vienna sausage within a few hours. I like that my armor increases when I sprint, and that perfectly timed dodges initiate a short bout of slow-motion. I just don’t think that beheading 10 men a minute should ever feel so simple and carefree. 

Even if I take it slow, and I did for around 10 hours, enemy AI is disappointingly rote. Stealth is a game of vision cones and patrol routes, with nearly no meaningful distinctions between gangs and corporations. I got so bored of sneaking around that I specced into more aggressive quickhacks, including one that set off a poisonous chain reaction between nearby goons, and rolled some pistols into my regimine. Now I slide into the room in slow motion, activating my favorite pistol ability, and headshot a few grunts before I even come to a stop. I clean up those that haven’t choked on gas with my arm knives, snipping limbs off like paper dolls. It’s rad as hell, but I’m just showing off for the sake of it, not because Cyberpunk is encouraging me to use every tool in the box.

Combat and infiltration sadly depend too much on player showmanship, never pressing you to make tactical decisions in the thick of it, and worse, never prodding you to make meaningful decisions about where to pour your points. There’s a ton of variety with potential for creative hybrid builds, from a barefisted gorilla hacker V to a loud gun-toting pacifist that walks and talks like Rambo but installs non-lethal mods on every weapon. 

I’m taken by how relentlessly hopeful Cyberpunk is.

The gunplay feels great too: each gun treated with extravagant viewmodels, and adorned slick firing, idle, and reload animations. Heads pop and limbs dissolve, shotguns knock enemies on their cyberbutts—CD Projekt knows what bullets do, and it shows. For the quieter players looking for some Deus Ex, there’s always a cleverly hidden sewer grate or balcony door to discover. But without any meaningful variations on enemy or level design after the first few hours, Cyberpunk is missing the incentive to experiment with it all. 

Luckily, most of my time in Cyberpunk has been at a languid pace, spent chatting with friends and criminals, outlaws and AIs, or going on impromptu walking tours around a neighborhood I somehow missed 40 hours in. It’s so, so nice to look at, and besides the bugs, Cyberpunk 2077 runs pretty well, though I worry about how much I’m leaning on Nvidia’s DLSS feature to keep my framerates high. 

With an RTX 2080, i9-9900K, and installed on a SATA SSD, with DLSS enabled on Quality mode on the High graphics preset (no ray-tracing), I maintain a variable 60-80 fps at 2560×1440, dipping lowest when driving through particularly reflection-heavy parts of town. With DLSS off, the frame window drops to 40-50 fps. Ray-tracing options are particularly resource intensive, so I just kept them off. The framerate hit wasn’t worth the fancy lighting, nice as it looks on a rainy day or in a neon-lit club especially. Someday. Either way, a newer card will go a long way in Cyberpunk 2077, though players still hanging in at 1080p should do fine with older hardware. 

It’s the kind of game I’d upgrade for though, because Cyberpunk is a technical stunner and seeing your friends in high definition is worth the ask. Sure, The Witcher 3 was funnier, more clever and subversive, with better dialogue on the whole, but I’m taken by how relentlessly hopeful Cyberpunk is. Its exploration of a technocapitalist future relies heavily on genre tropes, with everyone from punks to dirty cops playing the part established way back in William Gibson’s Neuromancer. But Cyberpunk 2077 remains a loving, faithful treatment of the genre, and one that constantly urged me to look for the silver lining in every shit-soaked gutter.

Even if you can nosedive V into a life of crime and greed, the repercussions highlight what’s possible in the relief of what you reject in favor of power and money. Cyberpunk 2077 is a game about close relationships, or if you’re roleplaying a more coldhearted type, seeing what life is like at the top without them. 

I found it moving and life-affirming in the final moments, even in the face of near certain death and a relentless onslaught of bugs. I suppose it’s an appropriate thematic throughline though: Cyberpunk 2077 is a game about V coming apart at the seams, in a city coming apart at the seams, in a game coming apart at the seams. Play it in a few months.

GhostWire: Tokyo will apparently release in October

GhostWire: Tokyo, the next game from Shinji Mikami and Tango Gameworks, will likely release in October. At least, that’s the word from Sony’s CES 2021 presentation, which CNET has archived on YouTube (you can also watch it on Sony’s site). At about 10:39 in the video, the blue screen above lists release months for several upcoming PlayStation 5 games, including GhostWire: Tokyo, which we know will also release on PC.

We’re not 100 percent certain that the October release month is accurate or that it applies to the PC version, as Bethesda hasn’t made an official statement. Just because the fine print appeared in an official Sony presentation doesn’t make it a sure thing: The company has made errors before.

That said, we knew the plan was to release GhostWire: Tokyo in 2021, and an October release date wouldn’t be surprising. The two other games made by Tango Gameworks, The Evil Within and The Evil Within 2, also released in October.

If the year 2020 fogged up your memory of the years prior to it, GhostWire: Tokyo was announced at E3 2019, and was received joyfully both for its spookiness and for creative director Ikumi Nakamura’s enthusiastic presentation (she has since left the project, though)

Microsoft recently bought Bethesda’s parent company, so it might seem weird that Sony has the scoop on a Bethesda-published game, but GhostWire was announced as a timed PS5 console exclusive and a PC release, and Microsoft is honoring that agreement. It’s an odd situation, because PC obviously means Windows, so Microsoft is releasing the game on its competitor’s console and on its OS, but not its own console for now. It doesn’t make a different to us, but it is a funny consequence of a landmark acquisition. 

I’ve emailed Bethesda to see if I can confirm an October release window for the PC version.

TheGrefg shatters Twitch record with more than 2 million viewers during Fortnite skin reveal

Spanish streamer TheGrefg has gone and shattered a Twitch record for concurrent viewers, reaching the lofty heights of more than 2 million viewers for his Fortnite skin reveal stream.

As of 1:18 pm PST, David “TheGrefg” Martinez has reached a total of 2,390,000 concurrent viewers. Funny enough, Martinez reached that goal before even showing his Fortnite skin, saying he was waiting for some image assets from Epic Games. TheGrefg is getting his own Fortnite skin as part of the Fortnite Icon Series, which has allowed some of the internet’s biggest streamers and personalities to be immortalized in the battle royale world.

Ninja, the blue-haired Fortnite wunderkind himself, previously held Twitch’s record at 667,000 viewers. U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently came close with a peak of 420,000 viewers during her Among Us stream in October. Martinez’s new record also easily breaks esports league ELEAGUE TV’s previous record of 1.1 million total viewers.

Riot changes Valorant’s ranking system to be ‘much easier to understand, more fair’

Sweeping changes to Valorant’s ranked system should make it easier to see where you stack up when Episode 2 (aka season 2) kicks off tomorrow. This week’s release introduces a new battle pass and hero Yoru—a tricksy Japanese duellist designed to dominate 1v1 face-offs. But Riot has also been doing some tinkering under Valorant’s hood, making dozens of minor changes to Ranked play in an effort to make everything fairer and easier to understand.

Most of these changes are minor, but hope to add a little more clarity to where you stand. Progression arrows have been ditched in favour of a progress bar showing how close you are to ranking up. Rank Rating (RR) values have also been tweaked, and a demotion protection system will now give you one last chance to salvage your rank at 0RR before crashing down a stage.

“Our current rank system doesn’t give you a great picture of where you stand in between ranks, how much you should generally expect to gain match to match, and why you are moving,” Riot writes in the patch notes. “With these changes we hope the rank system is much easier to understand, more fair, and it’s harder to quickly lose ranks for those days when your game is off.”

Valorant will also be getting regional leaderboards for the top 500 “Radiant” players, as well as “Immortal” players—the three previous Immortal ranks now compressed into one rank representing the top 1% of players in each region. You’ll need at least 50 competitive games to qualify for a spot, while those already on the leaderboards will need to play at least one game a week to keep their place.

Rank rewards have also been added for Episode 1, giving out increasingly-shiny Gun Buddies based on your highest rank attained over the past episode. Episode 2 will feature similar goodies, and a revamped info page will now show you a peek at what you can expect from any given rank.

Episode 1 ends tonight at 11pm for all regions. Should all go to plan, Episode 2 will begin with patch 2.0 sometime tomorrow. Valorant was our favourite multiplayer game of 2020, and this week’s rollover should set the shooter up for another strong year.

Jane Austin’s MMO for socialites shuts down

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great remorse that I must announce that high-society MMORPG Ever, Jane sadly shut its doors for good this year.

Kickstarted back in 2013 for $100k, 3 Turn Productions’ digital facsimile of regency England was a curious twist on the genre—one that ditched swords and sorcery for an equally cut-throat world of gossip, mingling, and social ladder-climbing pulled from the works of Jane Austen. Following various closed and public betas, the developer hoped to see a full release in late 2020.

Unfortunately, it looks like the coffers ran dry for Ever, Jane. In August, 3 Turn explained that a rough year had forced it to postpone the game’s launch. Hopes to drum up subscriptions to cover the game’s monthly server costs didn’t pan out, and in December, the team announced that Ever, Jane would close the estate by the end of the year. 

Ever, Jane was never a pretty game, and I do reckon 3 Turn were perhaps a little out of their depth. But I have a great deal of respect for what the developer was gunning for with an entirely social-driven MMO. The game’s promise even shone through on occasion, with one player telling The Guardian about their scandalous alter-egos—from a travelling vicar to a gay barrister moonlighting as an opera singer.

“My characters have experienced sweet and tender poetic courtships, hot seductions, shame and subtle triumphs,” they wrote. “They’ve loved in secret, made calculating connections and stupid mistakes in the name of friendship.”

3 Turn’s final post ended with the hope that some rich benefactor might ride in to buy the game. But until that happens, Ever, Jane will remain as lost to history as the era it adored so much.

World of Warcraft director Duncan Jones wrote an entire script for a Full Throttle movie, and you can read it here

Now someone just needs to make it.

When I get writer’s block I stare hopelessly at a blank page desperately hoping something, anything will come out. Not film director Duncan Jones, though. After a recent creative slump, the director of Moon, Source Code, and the World of Warcraft movie wrote an entire script for a movie based on Tim Schafer’s badass biker adventure game Full Throttle.

It’s pretty faithful to the game, with a lot of Schafer’s brilliant dialogue left intact. It also, surprisingly, sticks closely to the structure of the game, including Ben’s adventures in the dingy town of Melonweed to locate tools, parts, and gas so Mo can repair his bike.

It’s a little weird seeing the ‘collect 3 items’ point-and-click adventure game trope in the form of a movie screenplay, but it kinda works. Alas, this isn’t a script that’s being put into production—just a fan project by Jones. But it did attract the attention (and approval) of Schafer. “I did wish hard for this year to be better than last year,” he said on Twitter. “But I did not expect  [Jones] to spontaneously bang out a complete script for a Full Throttle movie!”

This Cyberpunk 2077 mod makes Night City’s weather appropriately crap

Say goodbye to sunshine and hello to toxic fog.

When Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City was first shown off, a lot of people seemed to be surprised about just how sunny it was. Bright blue skies is not what the mind immediately conjures up when you think of dystopian cyberpunk cities, even if they are in the California desert. If you never quite got over this, there is of course a mod for what ails you.

Cyberpunk 2077’s modding scene is still in its infancy, but we’ve picked out a few of the best from the early selection. Check out the best Cyberpunk 2077 mods. 

I think there’s room for more sunshine in cyberpunk, but I’m also Scottish, which means I just freak out at the sight of all that open space up there—where the heck are all the clouds? It’s unnatural. Essenthy’s Climate Change mod means I can escape the terror of the great blue void by replacing it with something a bit gloomier.

Instead of sunshine, you can enjoy fog, pollution, toxic fog, clouds, overcast and the most cyberpunk of them all: plain rain. All of this foul weather appears normally without the mod, but picking one will make it the default, replacing sunny weather entirely. You’ll still see other kinds of weather, so you won’t be stuck with your choice, but that will become the most common type.

Creator Essenthy notes that the mod doesn’t work in North Side, for some reason, and can be spotty in the Badlands. They hope to find a solution once more advanced modding tools become available.

The oppressive basic and toxic fog settings are my personal favourites, calling to mind Blade Runner 2049. That’s when Night City looks as malevolent as it really is. Perfect weather for crime.

Riot and Bungie team up to sue cheat maker

The lawsuit claims GatorCheats cost the makers of Destiny 2 and Valorant ‘millions of dollars,’ and now it’s payback time.

It’s not uncommon for makers of cheat software to be sued, sooner or later, by the companies whose games they’re messing with. Activision dropped a lawsuit on a Call of Duty: Warzone cheat maker in August 2020, for instance, and in 2019 Ubisoft sued a Rainbow Six Siege hacker who decided it would be a good idea to appear on the BBC. 

It think is unusual, however—I certainly don’t recall it ever happening previously—for two major game studios to team up on a cheat maker in a single lawsuit. But it’s happened now: Valorant developer Riot Games and Destiny 2 studio Bungie have filed a joint lawsuit against a hack-maker called GatorCheats.

The lawsuit, available in full at Polygon, notes that both Destiny 2 and Valorant are free, and that Bungie and Riot earn thus money through the sale of virtual items in their games. The success of that system relies on attracting and maintaining large audiences willing to invest money in order to “enhance their experience,” and claims that the presence of cheats actually works against that. 

“A vital part of the player experience is the fairness and integrity of the Games, and thus Plaintiffs invest an enormous amount of time and money to ensure that all players stand on equal footing and have a fair chance of progressing in the Games,” the lawsuit states. 

“If players perceive that others are cheating or have an unfair advantage, they will grow frustrated with the Games and stop playing. That, in turn, could disrupt and/or destroy the Games’ player communities and severely harm Plaintiffs’ ability to generate revenue and to maintain, improve, and expand the Games.”

Interestingly, the suit says Bungie served GatorCheats owner Cameron Santos with a cease-and-desist order in November 2020, at which time Santos agreed to remove the Destiny 2 cheats from his site. Shortly after that, however, he promised his customers that he would continue to support previously sold copies of GatorCheat; furthermore, Bungie believes that even though he took down the Destiny 2 cheat software from the publicly-accessible areas of the GatorCheats website, he’s continuing to offer it privately.

Bungie and Riot are seeking an injunction against the distribution of Valorant and Destiny 2 cheats and the end of support for any existing GatorCheats software, a full accounting of all GatorCheats sales in the US, all proceeds earned from all GatorCheats sales, and various sorts of damages and attorney fees. Numbers aren’t being mentioned at this point, but the lawsuit claims the two studios lost “millions of dollars in revenue,” while also noting that GatorCheats charged exorbitant fees for its services: Valorant cheats went for $90 per month, $250 for three months, or $500 for a lifetime subscription, while Destiny 2 cheats went for $100 for three months, or $200 lifetime.

“Riot is wholly committed to upholding these values for its players, so when we become aware of a cheat maker, you bet we’re going to go after them,” a Riot rep told Polygon. The lawsuit was filed on January 8 and is still a long way from a court, but it’s already having an impact: The GatorCheats website and store have been almost completely stripped of content, and are now listed as “under construction.”