Cyberpunk. It’s a thing, and CD Projekt RED is doing it. Based on a pen & paper property—Cyberpunk 2020—originally conceived of by Mike Pondsmith, the fairly-recently-revealed Cyberpunk 2077 has Pondsmith on board. He’s also working on a new edition of the P&P RPG.
So, what is Cyberpunk?
Named for a genre of fiction that focuses on the future and its integration of technology into the human experience, Cyberpunk is slated to be a story-heavy, open world, non-linear RPG with a dark and mature feel. CD Projekt RED certainly knows how to do dark, seedy, and mature. They’re also well-acquainted with open world and fairly non-linear gameplay styles, via The Witcher games (those weren’t wholly non-linear, and their worlds weren’t entirely open, but they did offer a wealth of player freedom). This is the developer’s first venture outside of the fantasy realm, though, and they’re immediately jumping right into an incredibly distinct, far less structured property; while The Witcher had a fully formed protagonist and specific storyline laid out through the stories and novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, Cyberpunk is more an “idea” than an existing fiction.
That hasn’t stopped CD Projekt RED from releasing a stunning cinematic trailer, though. Cast in a time dilation so intense that it appears almost stationary, it begins with a pair of eyes slowly sliding open. We see a woman, stationary in the street, under fire from what appears to be a law enforcement squad. A bullet trails by in slow motion and shatters against her cheek, splitting into shards and leaving a scratch of gray on her otherwise rosy complexion. Camera cuts reveal, in slow-panning shots, holographic billboards and neon signage; an abandoned red stiletto lies on the street near a pool of blood. We see the city’s height, skyscrapers extending up to covered walkways and a sky we can’t actually make out.
As the camera makes its way down her body in a wider shot, we see that scythe-like blades have extended from her arms, coated in blood. She kneels among bodies in the street and continues to take fire, the bullets glancing off her with no obvious damage. A report informs us of the casualties from her rampage, flickering news footage, and then we cut back to the action, where a new individual has spontaneously appeared behind the woman with a long-barreled pistol or submachine gun trained on the back of her head. He wears a helmet that covers his eyes with a lens-bearing visor. Her eyes close and we see his finger gently squeeze the trigger.
After the title splash, we catch a quick glimpse of the same woman, identifiable only by the scratch on her cheek where the bullet hit her, head shaven, sitting in a vehicle across from the man with the visor. She lowers similar headgear over her eyes and the trailer ends. According to the trailer’s description, this is a teaser of “how the Psycho Squad might acquire a new member.”
“Psychos” are people who introduce implants and substance-based boosts into their systems to the point of excess, at which point their now more-machine-than-man bodies turn against the organic parts that remain, driving them to massacre the “inferior” organics around them. The MAX-TAC squad is called in when the most extreme of these “psychos” strike, their ranks composed of those same individuals who’ve been “reformed” to hunt what they had once become. Thus, the term “Psycho Squad” is both an indication of what they hunt and a derogatory moniker poking at their primary makeup.
This fits incredibly well with the themes inherent in cyberpunk media, which tends to focus not so much on the technology on display as the relationship that tech has with the people who use it. In literature, this is the basis for questioning the nature of our existence: what makes us human? At what point, given that we have replaced our vital organs with superior, synthetic substitutes and enhanced our cognition with ultra-fast brain and nervous system overhauls, are we still us? “The Ship of Theseus” is a classic rendition of this question: if you’ve replaced every single plank of wood and run of cloth used to construct a ship, even over decades, does it eventually stop being the original ship? Similarly, if we’ve replaced our organic bodies with synthetic substitutes and even made ourselves think faster, with a greater capacity to absorb knowledge and reason, are we still the same person?
Games set in cyberpunk universes have dealt with this in various ways. Shadowrun, another pen & paper system, has “essence.” As players replace parts of their character, or suffer from extreme substance abuse of some kind, this statistic drops by points and fractions of a point. If it reaches zero, the character generally dies. Cyberpunk’s “psycho” breakdown is their interpretation of a similar set of circumstances.
Just from what little the teaser and its description reveal, it appears that CD Projekt RED will be bringing along its famously “gray” morality from The Witcher, which, coupled with the company’s stellar writing, should provide not only an engaging cyberpunk-infused RPG experience, but an intriguing meditation on the nature of humanity, especially as it moves forward in its pursuit of technical advancement and superiority.
The game itself, according to a brief message flashed for only a second or so in the trailer, is tenuously aiming for release sometime in 2015, but the true philosophy is “when it’s ready.” If the quality of the game can at all live up to the potential of the franchise and the glory of the trailer, then CD Projekt RED is welcome to take all the time they need. Of further note, they’re still looking for talented individuals to help them craft the game. If you are such an individual, they’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bonus Note: That secret message also mentions “another project” that is likely to come out before Cyberpunk 2077. Further details since then, including an image posted by CD Projekt RED of a weapon handguard with three animalistic (almost wolf-like) faces on it, indicates that it’s likely the next Witcher game.
Date: January 28, 2013