Cyberpunk 2077 world premiere: 50 minutes of William Gibson-level insanity

Every E3 conference has that one behind-closed-doors gameplay reveal. The one that combines holy-cow gameplay, how’d-they-do-that visual trickery, and the mystique of hiding behind an “industry-only” shield. The one that sets tongues wagging.

This year, CD Projekt RED’s long-awaited Cyberpunk 2077 has arguably claimed that buzzy throne. After a wild, brief tease in 2013, the William Gibson-inspired, near-future RPG went into hiding, but it has emerged at this year’s E3 to answer many questions—and to inspire another zillion.

One thing is for sure: this ambitious game, which currently has no release window, doesn’t resemble CDPR’s famous work on the Witcher franchise in the slightest.

Brace yourself: This is first-person

I can’t emphasize that point enough. The same developer behind Geralt’s brooding, sword-and-magic adventures has now emerged with a first-person, shotgun-crazy, branching-narrative, hack-the-world, exploding-limbs dive into the criminal underbelly of near-future Los Angeles. We already assumed, based on the franchise and earlier teasers, how different the setting and stakes would be compared to The Witcher, but that difference feels many times larger after the demo.

The 50-minute demo’s sales pitch is as follows: you star as V, an augmented, cyberspace-savvy, gun-wielding mercenary in an alternate-reality version of LA. (Our version of V was a woman, but players can pick either gender.) The demo starts with V in the middle of a work-for-hire gig to rescue a kidnapped VIP, then has her walk through a city, pick up some upgrades and missions, and drive to a fortified compound to take on a high-level mission. Structurally, you’ve seen this kind of futuristic RPG before… as in, Deus Ex.

Cyberpunk 2077 diverges from that series in a few major ways, and the first is with brutal high-speed gunplay. This is a first-person shooter, full-stop, as played through the lens of bio-enhancements and high-tech, black-market weaponry. In one brutally impressive example of the C2077 difference—an answer-in-execution of why the Witcher team swapped to twitchier first-person combat—V pulled up a heat-scan interface, saw a foe through a wall, and used her high-tech HUD to map the trajectory of her buckshot’s ricochet. Our demo’s host pulled the trigger, and our shot bounced perfectly off a corner and filled our foe with lead.