Cyberpunk 2077 review addendum: we have to talk about console

Earlier this week, RPG Site posted its review of Cyberpunk 2077. We concluded that CD Projekt RED's hotly-anticipated new game didn't quite live up to the towering legacy of The Witcher 3 but was nevertheless an impressive achievement - though uneven, buggy, and often too immature for its own good.

As noted at the bottom of our review, RPG Site had early access to two copies of Cyberpunk 2077, both on the PC platform. We played it with two different specification machines for a combined play-time of well over 120 hours before putting pen to paper to write the review. We could not, however, test the console versions of the game. They were not made available to us.

Fast forward a couple of days and here we are, with access to the game on PlayStation and Xbox platforms. We did get our hands on these versions prior to release, but not until after the review embargo has lifted - and so it's important we check in on those versions of the game. Why so important, you ask? Well, because Cyberpunk 2077 on console may as well be a different game entirely.

Night City might be grand, but it looks nowhere near this nice on console.

On PC, we experienced bugs and issues ranging from minor hilarity around broken models and confused NPC scripting up to the more severe, like crashes to desktop and quest scripting bugs that'd leave some side quests locked from completion. Over the course of the review period, three patches were pushed to the game that drastically improved all of these issues, as well as performance. Quests un-froze, and the game generally became more reliable. We scored the PC version of the game confident that the issues that remained would be ironed out relatively quickly post-launch. 

The same cannot be said of the console release. In some cases it is fine - but in what appears to be the vast majority of cases, the performance and quality of the game is simply not up to scratch.

Exactly what you get out of Cyberpunk 2077 will vary greatly based on what model of last-generation console you find yourself using. On the base PlayStation 4 and original Xbox One, performance is shocking. Interestingly, we found the earliest phases of the game, during your life path origin story, to be generally more stable - but as soon as you hit the open streets of Night City at the onset of act 1, things get difficult.

We've seen frame rates dipping into the low twenties or even the high teens. The frame rate gets better within indoor environments, but head outside and hop into a car and you'll experience the sort of performance which you'd be forgiven for thinking was a thing of the past, left behind in the generally muddy and laggy Xbox 360 and PS3 generation.

Captured on Xbox Series X, which has the smoothest performance but still a visibly lower resolution.

This all happens, it has to be noted, at a dynamic resolution that consistently runs well below 1080p, and with a reduction of many things that make Night City feel alive on PC, like a lowered density of NPC characters and vehicles on the city streets. 

The sort of bugs that were an inconvenience on PC appear to be more common and often more severe, while texture pop-in and the like are rife. Characters pop in and out of existence. On PlayStation in particular, crashes seem common - in one instance, crashing to the console menu three times in five hours of play.

If you're lucky enough to be in the minority of users that instead have a souped-up console like a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X, things get a little better. You can stay closer to the upper limit of 30 frames-per-second more reliably, but they're still quite messy. In the open world in particular, there's clearly a CPU bottleneck at play that just cannot be handled by last-generation hardware. Eventually, the task of pulling together all the assets, streaming in the open world, and handling everything that comes with it forces thee older machines to buckle.

That leaves us to consider the new-generation machines that launched just last month; the PS5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S. These are better served, even though a true next-generation patch for Cyberpunk won't arrive until some time next year.

As it stands right now, running the PS4 version of Cyberpunk as a backwards compatible title on PS5 essentially seems to drop the 30fps cap that's present even on PS4 Pro, but keep the dynamic resolution and game graphics settings the same. This means you're not going to get a higher resolution output, but you will enjoy an experience on PS5 that is smooth, often even managing a relatively stable 60fps. While putting your pedal to the floor and traveling the city at top speed will still see drops, it's a much smoother and more pleasant experience.

Xbox Series X has a graphics toggle, despite the next-gen patch being a while out.

Over on Xbox, things are slightly more interesting. Unlike on PS, the Xbox version of the game actually appears to have a few more specific tweaks for both models - so on Series S you'll experience a lower resolution that generally speaking remains above 1080p, but there's also an increased level of detail in other areas. On Series X you'll actually have a choice between a performance or quality mode. The performance mode is similar to what you get from PS5, but the quality mode is for our money the more interesting of the two. It gives you more detail in exchange for basically locking the game to 30fps.

In PC settings terms, the Xbox version appears to have a few toggles flipped higher than the other console versions - so on the Series X quality mode and even to a degree on Series S, you'll have more cars and people on the city streets. Xbox is clearly the way to go, but equally, even if you have a Series X, it still might just be worth waiting out for that true next-generation patch to see how much better things can get. What exists now is a band-aid.

That's the point, really; there is a great game here, but on console it's straining to get past this enormous list of technical issues. In a sense, it's astonishing to think the game has released this way: on base PlayStation 4, the regularity of crashes makes one wonder how it passed Sony's certification process.

So major are the issues that other, more genuine problems with the console experience - chiefly a user interface and menu system that on PC is fine but just flat-out sucks on controller - are barely worth addressing. We have hopes around these problems, however - since CD Projekt completely overhauled The Witcher 3's menus months after release.

Ironically, if you don't have a decent-power gaming PC, the best place to play Cyberpunk currently may very well be Google Stadia. Stadia has been a punchline for a while now - but in this, it might have a killer app of sorts. 

Naturally, we will monitor CD Projekt RED's response to the performance of the console version of Cyberpunk 2077, keep testing, and update you as changes occur. Hopefully the console version of the game will get to a better place. Patches are coming thick and fast - indeed, as we returned to the Xbox version to take a few quick screenshots for this very article, another patch had just arrived - but there is much improvement needed yet.

We stand by our PC version review - on hardware that can run it Cyberpunk 2077 is a good, frequently great, if troubled, game. Its console performance is frequently unacceptable, though. So, for now: buyer beware.