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The Misery List (Part 2)
I had originally written this to include a few more entries, but I am going to start where I mentally have arrived right now.
It seems cliché to continue to bag on the game that everyone bags on, but having just completed it, I want to really specifically address how bad this game is. Mechanically it comes up with some interesting ideas that it fails to carry to half-complete - Street Cred, for example, is a secondary experience pool you get that allegedly does something but really only allows you to buy more things and unlock certain perks.
But what really sucks is the narrative, the story, the supposed core of this grand narrative-driven game. What was promised, and frankly hyped up by some in the media, was a swirling narrative of militarized corporations and the people they have under their thumb, all pulled together with the acting talents of Keanu Reeves as a chip in your head.
Please note - I am going to spoil elements of the story. If you care. You shouldn’t care as the story sucks extremely badly. I know there are multiple endings, I’ve seen them all now, they all stink to high heaven.
Nothing happens in this story. The characters aren’t just paper thin, they’re propped up and described in terms that suggest that they are going to be in-depth, they are given backstories with no actual stories, and are just thrown into scenes, saying stuff that you’re meant to understand in the hopes that you’ll say “damn, what a vivid and magical world” instead of asking reasonable questions like “who are these people and why do I care.”
Keanu Reeves is fucking awful - he sucks, he’s terrible, he is wooden, every line is awfully written and awfully directed, he has no position in the story even though he’s part of it. Johnny Silverhand has a problem with the Arasaka corporation for reasons I cannot remember, and lives in your head, and chides you when you remove him from your head for not being true to yourself (?) and remembering who you were. You have a problem to fix with Arasaka, and you go to their tower to fix it, but there is very little explanation as to what Yorinobu Arasaka’s actual plan was beyond “take over.” He says “if planting bombs isn’t enough, become the bomb,” and that’s one of the last things he says (not a spoiler, his dialogue stops about there) and that’s it, the whole reason you’re in this mess. Nobody explains anything, nothing matters, nobody is given depth, despite this game being about 40 hours long there is no weight to any decision and, indeed, no dramatic reaction to anything.
It’s the kind of writing that has become extremely common after movies like Inception and shows like Lost - leaving big swiss cheese holes in the sides of plots for people to interpret and read around because writers are too lazy to actually commit to anything. But Cyberpunk builds on this shitty tradition by doing absolutely no heavy lifting to force the player to build relationships with characters or explaining why things matter or giving any depth to anything. Nobody is truly established, no depth is given to any one character, everything feels cobbled together in a way that shows a real loathing for the player. It’s Joker Meme level philosophy - phrases that you post on Instagram in the hopes that other people will think “damn that’s deep,” except it’s a $60 game and a story you’ve invested time in.
I add that there is a secret ending with Johnny where you have to do some stuff that sounds fine. But still a stupid ending, and it requires you to have done a bunch of specific stuff early on. No way to go back and correct it. The point of no return is not when you make the decision that avoids the ending either.
If I have stopped you wanting to buy the game, good. It sucks. It’s one of the rare cases where I genuinely want people not to play it. And just to be clear patches will not fix this. The story is, at its core, a mess - a failure as a dystopian fiction, a failure as an open world game, a failure as a story - it’s just bad, through and through, and to think of the hours that went into creating it is makes my head hurt. It isn’t just a case of executives pushing it through - there is a rot here in the writing team alone that makes it truly obscene. I didn’t play the Witcher 3, so no need to ask me that.
The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X Launches
I was lucky enough to get a preorder for both of these consoles, but ended up getting a PS5 for three friends who aren’t as extremely online as me.
If you weren’t trying to get one, it was near impossible. On and around launch days, consoles would pop up on, say, Walmart, and then disappear in seconds, but the most frustrating element would be being able to get one in your cart and then be unable to complete checkout. There are dueling theories around why this was - whether it was bots that were built for scalpers to use to sell a $500 console for $900+ or that there was simply not enough supply to meet demand - but the crucial point lots of people seem to be avoiding is that none of these corporations seemed to give much of a shit.
Now, I realize asking for a multi-billion corporation to give a shit is a lot, but when you’re Walmart, a $77 billion conglomerate that employs 1.5 million people, I’d expect that you would A) be able to actually keep your website up without it crashing/showing an error and B) work out a way in which people can buy a console fairly. This was the case with Amazon, Target, Newegg and many others too - but Walmart sucks the most, because they somehow believed that popping up a twee error would do anything other than make people want to tear their hair out.
Seriously, if you use these kinds of errors, you’re an asshole. They don’t help.
Anyway, these companies don’t seem to want to create any equitable system through which someone would get a console - say, if you get one in your cart you can’t buy another one, and your IP is saved so that you can’t send one to another address, I don’t know, these feel obvious to me - mostly because they realize that anyone buying one is likely not a lifetime customer, and pissing them off won’t lose them any real money. And to that extent they’re right - but they are also missing the opportunity to get a future happy customer that actually likes them. Either way, I cannot think of a launch of anything that has been more poorly handled than the PS5 or Xbox Series X, except perhaps Cyberpunk 2077, which is a game you may have heard of.
The Things I’ve Already Hated On
Lovin’ Mr. Shrek
I’m not going to rehash things I’ve already written, but I can’t forget the Woman Who Fell In Love With Martin Shrek, Pharmacy Executive story, possibly the worst-written and worst-edited popular piece of the year. The piece feels as if it was written based on one long interview, and has been eaten up by people desperate for gossip, but is hollow and empty, lacking even the basic editorial standards you’d expect - like following up with people that are mentioned in the story. Elle posted an embarrassing “24 hours later” piece that treated the subject like she is a celebrity, and is nakedly gunning for a book deal. The New York Times effectively summarized the piece for no reason, and I see a lot of people acting as if this is a huge story in and of itself, without actually researching Smythe’s previous coverage. It’s a hollow story, poorly written, and people are farming it for clicks. I guess that includes me, but this is my Substack, I don’t get anything for this!
Spider-man: Miles Morales
In light of how much I hated Cyberpunk, my ire for Miles Morales is nowhere near as bad as I thought it was, but thinking about it again does make me mad. It’s a game that people have projected a great deal upon - a game written by a group of predominantly white writers about a person of color, with the vaguest references to cultures that they are not part of, with anti-capitalist threads that are never completed, signifiers to make people like it without the effort to actually say or do something. It’s a weakly-told story that people are desperate to see something in that isn’t there, but there are bigger things to get mad about and care about in the world.
I will next week write the antithesis of this list - the things I loved in 2020, a year that was immensely challenging and brutal to everybody, and I want to make sure I don’t end the year on a negative note, as much as that is the way my brain works. I hope you all have a lovely holiday season and enjoyed my substack.