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I’m Sick Of Helping Cops In Cyberpunk 2077

If you'd told me back in December 2020 that not only would Cyberpunk 2077 completely capitulate on arrival, but I would still be talking about it 15 months later, I'd… well, I'd probably say if you're going to make predictions about my life, can you try the lottery numbers instead of being so dull, but the long and the short of it is I'm surprised that the game sunk so rapidly in public perceptions yet has never wandered far from my mind. I've beaten Horizon Forbidden West and have not vibed with Elden Ring (so now find myself bracing for the next ten years of open world games), and that has led me, like a broken Avenger, back to Cyberpunk. Despite all of its flaws, there's something strangely welcoming about Night City. But why am I still helping out the cops?

One of the most compelling parts of Cyberpunk 2077, as a thing to write about if not necessarily to play, is the many contradictions at the heart of it. It broke sales records while tanking stock prices. It was a technical marvel that couldn't run for five minutes without a hard crash. It promoted a transgender character creator, then offered up an extremely and explicitly binary world for us to wander in. It was the greatest game of all time, and a buggy broken mess. Then there's the cops: Cyberpunk's punkness goes beyond just the name and the genre it operates in, but through its musicality, focus on Johnny Silverhand, and clear anti-corporation messaging, it speaks with a tribal punk scream. But it also asks you to help out the cops everywhere you can, and I'm sick of it.

I will admit there are some jobs for the police you do in Cyberpunk 2077 that add to the experience. Taking down the Cyberpsychos offered some of the best one-off moments in the game – the squid woman who reassembles herself from dismembered body parts is my strongest single memory of Night City, the macabre spectacle seared into my brain. Then there's the cop with depression, for whom the violence, corruption, and cruelty of Night City has gotten too much. That quest was criticised at the time for a lack of trigger warning, but taken as a piece of art (as opposed to an event in a game designed ultimately for you to enjoy it) it makes a powerful statement on how we ignore and dismiss those most in need, especially if they become an inconvenience.

Unfortunately, most of the police we encounter during the game neither act as a backdrop for fantastic gameplay nor do they come with layered quests. They're just a bunch of do-nothing filler. Even River isn't really worth it. His quest unfolds in unexpected ways, and is probably the closest Cyberpunk 2077 gets to the noirish roots of the genre it takes its name from, but mostly River is just an average cop doing things his own way because that gets results. He's not quite your Luther/Gene Hunt/McGarnagle loose cannon, but he's not a Serpico-style good cop ready to fight corruption. That he's a cop is just background for the missions he takes you on. It's never explored, criticised, or in any way made relevant.

At least with River though there is something of a reason for him being a cop. Police, in one way or another, are a cornerstone of the cyberpunk genre. It makes some sense that there would be a detective story in there. But why is there so much busy work just doing odd jobs for cops? Most of them just involve fighting with rival gangs, but why does it need a cop story to hold it all together? Why does it have to make V a snitch, even as Johnny takes over their brain? What's the point in any of this? It's the one area of Cyberpunk 2077 I haven't fully swept up (I'm also never buying all of those cars, but I don't count that as gameplay), and I probably never will. Not only is it incredibly repetitive and mind-numbing, I can't even play through for the story or even conduct some sort of headcanon for it. V takes on the Cyberpsychos not to help the cops, but because she wants to test herself. At least, that's what I tell her. When I'm ratting people out to John Law, I have no excuse.

Despite all my reservations in the run-up to its launch, and despite how hard Cyberpunk cratered on landing, I can't ever seem to quit it. Just… cops. Why did it have to be cops?

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