Cyberpunk 2077’s Jackie Deserved Better

Cyberpunk 2077’s Jackie Deserved Better
Image: Twitter

Cyberpunk 2077‘s performance is apparently fine and it’s back on the PlayStation Store. Which is great, because it means that CD Projekt Red might be able to start correcting some of the game’s most criminal oversights.

My biggest issue with Cyberpunk 2077, aside from all the bugs, AI quirks and crashes, was never the performance. Even on next-gen consoles before the upgrades, Cyberpunk ran relatively well.

But we can’t talk about that issue without a clear warning. So, heads up people. Do not read ahead if you have not played Cyberpunk 2077, or if you don’t want any significant spoilers. I figure a few months after-release is probably a safe time to talk about some of these major story beats, but given everything that’s happened, you can never be too sure.

This post has been retimed following the re-launch of Cyberpunk 2077 on PS4 and PS5 and surrounding discussion.

kotaku spoiler warning
cyberpunk 2077 pc
Image: Dead End Thrills (Twitter)

So, let’s talk about Cyberpunk 2077‘s story.

There are a lot of games that aren’t served well by the traditional review cycle. Prey, recently revitalised with a 60 FPS patch on Xbox consoles this week, is a great example. It was a brilliant game, and when everyone eventually got around to it Prey‘s genius was properly recognised. But Bethesda still had a policy then of only giving out review codes a day before release, and so Prey never had the same hype and appreciation at launch that it arguably deserved.

Cyberpunk 2077 dug a similar hole for itself. The game was so hot off the press that blitzing through the plot, at least in the way the game presents it to you, was the only way to evaluate the game in time. And the structure was a deliberate choice on CD Projekt Red’s part: too many players never finished The Witcher 3, so Cyberpunk‘s “main” campaign was cut down to alleviate that.

It’s the kind of analytics-driven decision that misses the forest for the trees. People have spent thousands of hours in The Witcher 3 without technically “finishing” it. Analytics would dictate that players like those, or others who racked up 50, 60, 70 or more hours without seeing the final cut scenes, would fall on the negative side of this binary equation.

Does that mean they enjoyed the game any less? Of course not. And while there’s a degree of logic in wanting every player possible to see the end of a story — would you say you enjoyed any movie that you walked out on halfway? — it skips over the real objective: building a world that draws you in, a world you never want to leave.

Which is how we get to Jackie.

cyberpunk 2077 jackie
Image: Kotaku Australia

Jackie is the unavoidable glue of everyone’s Cyberpunk 2077 experience, no matter how you play. You either meet him as a release valve of the political maelstrom engulfing Arasaka; a partner smuggling contraband across the Night City border; or outside the back of a bar, sitting in trash moments after Jackie was pointing a gun in your face.

Either way, you immediately head straight into the montage, the apartment of Jackie’s mother (although you never do get to eat that chilli), and the eventual adventure that dictates the first 6 hours.

Jackie isn’t exactly your ticket to Night City, but he is your connection to its heart. He epitomises everything you’d want in a good friend: a quietly humorous rebellious streak without being overbearing or preachy, like Johnny Silverhand is; loyal to a fault; always willing to step into a scrap, but wise enough to not relentlessly start one; and honest about his emotions and the things he needs in life. He’s clear about his ambitions from the off — and while you might not have started on good terms with Jackie depending on your life path, once you’ve resolved a matter, it’s resolved. Dwelling on the past serves no-one in Night City, Jackie least of all.

cyberpunk jackie
A shot from your first trip to Afterlife, the bar that becomes the true hub of Cyberpunk activity.

You only really get a few main chances to spend time with Jackie, the way Cyberpunk is currently laid out. Most of your missions and interactions take place without him: visiting Lizzies nightclub to learn about braindances and Evelyn, meeting Wakako and collecting a free dermal imprint, meeting Viktor (since Jackie spends his time talking to Misty while you’re down there), talking to Dexter Deshawn.

When it comes down to it, you’re really only given three major moments with Jackie: the prologue, your first main mission, and the Heist at the end where everything goes all wrong. The city’s also in lockdown at the beginning of the game, so you can’t even engage in that many side quests without resorting to some monorail hijinks. (If you do want to bail out of Watson as soon as possible, however, there’s a neat video below.)

It’s not just Jackie that suffers from this structural flaw, either. In the months leading up to Cyberpunk 2077‘s release, one of the major elements advertised was the jobs you’d receive from the city’s fixers. Dexter was a big part of that, and CD Projekt gave him proper billing in the various trailers, streams and pre-release footage.

And it made sense! Dexter DeShawn was a great character, voiced well, and he was introduced in-game with the proper level of gravitas. You actually spend just as much time talking or sitting alongside/across from Dexter as you do Jackie. And that’s great, because Dexter was a great character.

My problem is, like Jackie, Cyberpunk didn’t do enough with two of its stars before they were summarily executed.

Cyberpunk 2077 Keanu Reeves
Image: CD Projekt Red

It’s hard not to look back at that decision to crimp Cyberpunk‘s campaign as good intentions gone wrong. In its purest essence, cyberpunk is the epitome of a world fucked up. It is a societal mistake. It is symbolism for exploitation: do nothing, and this is the grim future you can look forward to.

So principally, Johnny Silverhand’s dickish behaviour, his proselytising and constant negging is something we should all be behind. Everyone should want to burn every inch and corner of Night City down, and it’s not the job of V, Silverhand, Rogue, or anyone else, to work out what comes next. The problem is not the impacts of whatever solution replaces the endless corruption, abuse of workers or the defunct societal systems within Night City. The problem is the city.

But the rushed nature of the campaign — or at least its rushed design — doesn’t equip you with the requisite anger before you’re forced to make those choices. Most of Johnny’s more humanising elements, and most of Cyberpunk‘s best writing, is all shoehorned into side gigs. At the time of writing, these are still organised in your quest log in a haphazard mess, leaving you no indication of their true value to the city, main characters, or even their worth in unlocking future endings. (I can certainly understand why developers might not mark something so consequential, but if you’ve reached the point where the game explicitly says, Hey, you might want to finish your other quests before doing this one, then surely it might be OK to provide some list of priorities to the player.)

Restructuring Cyberpunk‘s main campaign — which would effectively lengthen the game’s second act at least, if not also the third — could make all of these emotional beats land a lot better. Giving you more time with increasingly complex versions of characters like Johnny Silverhand also means any future decisions are going to have more weight. It’s weird that Johnny is far more likeable in side gigs than he is the “main” plot, so that nuance — especially his side quest with Rogue — should be mandatory, too.

This applies to Jackie too. It already feels weird to have such a close partner in-game, only to spend so few of your first hours of Night City with them. It was already weird given the montage that plays before that first mission. Jackie has glimpses of all this history, backstory, this impact on the character, but most of it is missing. Losing Jackie already hits hard. But it could have hit a lot harder if you’d had more interactions and time to solidify that connection — and consequently, you’d be left with a lot more rage once all of that is ripped away.

cyberpunk 2077
Image: Cyberpunk 2077

So how do you fix Cyberpunk 2077′s Jackie problem?

Firstly, it wouldn’t hurt for there to be more interaction with Dexter DeShawn than two main missions. Most of the first act’s side gigs or random encounters is literally just doing the cops’ dirty work. Apart from the weirdness of that if you’re a street rat or a nomad — why V travel to Night City only to work for the police with their history? — it also just undercuts the character that Cyberpunk 2077 is trying to sell.

Giving V more work through Dexter alleviates that a little. It might also help, at least tangentially, if the lockdown was lifted once you’re able to leave V’s apartment. If someone wants to bugger off to the Nomads at level 3, or they want to start doing quests in Pacifico, they should be able to do so.

It’s obvious why Night City is locked down: tons of open-world games limit the full size of the map so you can get accustomed to the game. But there’s not really a whole lot that gets introduced beyond more of what you already have. If the player wants to run into higher level warehouses, it seems logical that Night City would let them. If you wanted to run gigs for the Padre, as Jackie and V did during the montage, you should have that choice.

If at all possible, CD Projekt Red should look at expanding Jackie’s role somehow. Maybe it’s not through retrofitting or a restructure of the campaign but prequel DLC missions. Honestly, anything that gives you more time with Jackie and the Welles family would be a massive win. But maybe it’s something as simple as a tweak to AI so Jackie can join you on more side missions in that first act.

Whatever the solution, Jackie deserves better. He’s one of the few parts of Cyberpunk 2077 that has survived completely unscathed. It’s just a shame he’s not around for long enough. And in this age where no game is ever complete, it’s not an impossible task to consider how Jackie’s role could grow. Death, as Cyberpunk showed, isn’t always the end.

Comments

  • Of all the things that pissed me off about CP2077, Jackie not being a main character for the whole game had to be the most egregious offense. His VA’s performance shat all over poor Keanu and Jackie was the superior character as far as writing was concerned as well. It was a waste. Maybe they could readd him as post game content, or the next best thing, someone stealing his archetype and cranking out a game that gives us the rags to riches story that Jackie and V should’ve had before the wheels fell off the writing team.

  • 100% agreed. 200+ hrs into Cyberpunk and I love it to bits, but it has big-ass flaws around its campaign structure, and just some storytelling overall. You can very clearly tell that a lot was cut, and they had to sew all the lost threads back together into something that was still coherent, or where they couldn’t, just ditch any and all related material altogether. I hope they stick with their original ambitions long enough to fully realize them down the track, instead of hiding away in ‘our first major fuckup’ PSTD that makes only token remedy then chalks the whole thing up to a learning experience.

    Also, everyone needs to make sure they send Jackie’s body back to his family, or CDPR needs to unlock the mission ‘Heroes’ to be available to everyone regardless of where you told Delamain to send him, because that mission hits hard in the feels and gives Jackie more of the time that he deserved.

    • You don’t get the mission if you send it elsewhere? Darn. I instinctively went with that since I felt it was the decent thing to do.

      I do have to disagree with the thrust of the article regarding making sidequests that impact the ending mandatory. If people choose to not follow them, thats on their head. They can have the streamlined experience.

      Even then, you progress in Johnny’s Sidestory ‘Tapeworm’ after you finish each of the main story missions so it is mandatory up to a point. Its a large chunk of the way through the game before the last few portions are optional, and thats on you for not choosing to follow through with him.

      I actually missed Kerry’s sidestories post Johnny’s since I’d done everything in the game prior to that (besides grinding money for cars) and so I wasn’t even aware that there was more to come.

      Dexter being gunned down after being built up falls under the delicious twist category. Here’s Dexter. He’s a big deal. Nahhhhh.

      Pacifica feels super unfinished, as it has the least missions of any kind there. Also the only time that I loaded an earlier savegame to completely change the trajectory of the story I was playing with the character. Cuz fuck the Voodoo Boys.

        • Maybe when I do another playthrough in a decade or so! I have nooooo inclination of doing it for a long time. That almost 300 hours sucked away the entirety of my christmas vacation.

        • Was it here that there was an article that Jackie’s VA would be happy to return for DLC. Could have some ‘filling in the gaps’ story stuff if CDPR ever recovers.

          • The DLC should be the playing out of that montage skip at the start of the game. More Jackie, no need for the post game to be altered.

  • Totally agree with this article, and above comments. I admittedly rushed through the game in the new year once most of the more serious bugs were sorted for PC and have a newborn at home so gaming time was limited and I really wanted to see how things played out. Was bummed at the demise of Jackie and would have loved to have spent more game time with him

  • I find it quite odd the way you youngens get so wrapped up in the story and need an emotional drive from a game. I find the story in most games to be as boring as shit, and cant click through dialogue fast enough. If I want story I will watch a movie or some TV, I play games to do shit, not sit on my fat arse and click a button having a chat with some arsehole. I do agree though Alex that Jackie deserved better. That whole montage shit annoyed the fuck out of me, that is all the shit I wanted to do in the game.

  • I was really hoping that Jackie using the shard initially would have meant there was a whisper or fragment of him still in the shard when you use it, something that would play back later, traces of Jackies will pushing both V and Jhonny to be better in small ways.

    100%’d the normal difficulty, literally everything, never popped up. Guess I saw more of a checkovs gun in that transaction and hoped for a silver lining. Perhaps they planned more but it got cut somewhere.

    More from a gameplay point, I put off going to Jackies wake for a long time, and since I lost my car immediately afterwards spent a lot of the early game on foot. That sucked

  • I’ll agree that that Jackie wasn’t given enough time.But I never liked him anyway, he was under-utilised.When he dies,I ‘ve never cared.He was annoying,as are many main characters.(Panam chucks a tantrum like a child when she hears NO,Judy Is angry at something?)I’m playing it again,6th or 7th playthrough with build variety.(tech/hacking makes superior gameplay Imo) and the game remains fantastic when it works,but as for JW?Kerry is a better companion/bro.

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