It is a sunny day in Night City, and my phone is blowing up. Not in a fun way, like V hacking a cell phone and making it explode, but in that I am inundated every moment with new calls and texts.
Alongside the main story campaign, Cyberpunk 2077's Night City is filled with different side quests and gigs to complete for rewards. You're usually notified of these through V's phone, either via a quick text message to your inbox with some details and a location, or a voice call, where a talking head relays some exposition to you—sometimes a small branching dialogue—before it gets added to your to-do list in the journal.
Cyberpunk 2077 is hardly the first game to employ social apps and messaging as a second quest journal. It's been quite a few years since Grand Theft Auto 4, but I can still hear Roman asking me to go bowling in my subconscious. Conversely, some games like Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE have turned it into a really neat, in-universe tie-in (that can also be a way to use that pesky secondary Wii U screen).
As I've been working my way through Cyberpunk 2077's story and, more notably, its side content, the constant calls haven't been so endearing. In fact, they've mostly had the opposite effect: I wish people in Cyberpunk 2077 would stop calling me so dang much.
Characters in Night City have two ways of getting in touch with V without talking face-to-face: either shooting him a text message, or just ringing him up. Both happen frequently, often overlapping with each other. At the outset, the hierarchy is pretty straightforward: calls contain more pertinent, immediate information, while texts are check-ins or additional info.
But there comes a point where the communication bombardment starts to threaten the thermal integrity of your phone's processor. I'll be on one call and two texts will come in, all while I'm barrelling down the streets of Night City. Frequently there are multiple messages coming in at one time, meaning I need to open my messages tab and sort out which one I need to follow up or reply to.
Yesterday, I was pursuing one sidequest, only to have another phoned in while I was on my way there; halfway through, the dialogue cut off, leaving me with half the exposition. In another, I was in the middle of a main story quest when the local AI-controlled taxi cab company, Delamain, rang me up. A rogue cab was nearby, and they wanted me to check up on it. The reminder was fine, except it then auto-started the quest, rolling dialogue on a character I couldn't see. I had to go into my journal and reset my intended destination, and when I returned later to finish chasing down the runaway cab, it picked up where it was before—as if I hadn't just disappeared for three hours and then returned.
It might seem like just a nuisance at first; an extra layer of menus to organize and keep up-to-date in a game replete with them. But what the cellular bombardment really does is wear down any sense of time or drama. I'm always aware that people are calling and texting, even though their needs can be attended whenever it suits V best. Knowing that Delamain's cabs aren't a time-sensitive issue just makes their calls all the more grating. I finished the quest line not just to see what was next for the AI and its modest cab company, but so he would stop calling me all the time.
It's enough that I'm now extremely aware of when my phone isn't blowing up, and can finally savor a good moment. During the climax of Act 1, an intense chase scene through the streets of Night City, as I was fending off a legion of drones with my modest arsenal of guns, a local quest-giver called me about a situation that could use my attention. I wish I could've just hung up. Consequently, when Panam and I found a night's solace from a storm in an abandoned farm, I was able to treasure the precious moments where I got to talk to a character face-to-face, without any buzzing text messages chiming in.
The side quests and characters in Cyberpunk 2077 are some of the game's clear highlights. I've found the main story serviceable, but the ventures you find on the fringe—from deep companion quests to side jobs for people you helped out earlier in the story—are what's kept me coming back. Turning those notifications into phone pips that pop up at inopportune moments when I'm trying to do something else doesn't help endear me to them.
I'd like Cyberpunk 2077 to be more discerning in how it delivers these tidbits, or at least slim down the clutter. I don't need constant reminders that there are cars to buy, gigs to undertake, and nearby NCPD events to engage with; or at least, I'd rather be able to opt into them than have chucked at me. At the very least, V's phone could really use an airplane mode.
Cyberpunk 2077 is out now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Expect our full review soon.