Wednesday, 5 August 2020

The World of Cyberpunk 2077 by Marcin Batylda

Night City, California, 2077. A city of netrunners, megacorps, edgerunners, gangs and outcasts. Nearly destroyed in the Fourth Corporate War of 2023 (when a tactical nuke went off deep inside the Arasaka Towers), the city has survived flood, famine and war to emerge stronger and more influential than ever before. Now an independent city-state free of outside governmental control, Night City is attracting more people than ever before.

The World of Cyberpunk 2077 is, as the title implies, a background setting book for CD Projekt Red's forthcoming roleplaying video game, Cyberpunk 2077 (due for release in November). It's also set in the same world as Mike Pondsmith's Cyberpunk pen-and-paper roleplaying game (best-known for its Cyberpunk 2013 and Cyberpunk 2020 editions), which makes this book doubly worthwhile, not just as scene-setting for the video game but also as a lorebook for those interested in trying out the pen-and-paper game. Semi-coincidentally, the latest edition of that roleplaying game, Cyberpunk Red, should be hitting shelves in the next couple of months.

The book is 192 pages long, full colour, with every page combining text exploring the world of Night City with art from the video game. Some of this is concept art, some are video game screenshots and some are fake (and often RoboCop levels of subversive) adverts for in-universe products. How about some Real Water®? Only 99E$ per gallon!

The book is presented as a series of articles from the Night City Inquirer, an anarchic news and press organisation determined to get the real truth out there (with the implication that maybe you shouldn't take everything in the book as being 100% reliable).

The first section focuses on history, mostly alternate history since the Cyberpunk universe deviated from our own in the 1980s. The devastating impact of climate change, resource conflicts, declining nation-states, growing international digital supercorps, a new Dustbowl and three corporate wars fought in the 1990s and 2000s are detailed, along with the founding of Night City on Morro Bay. The devastation of the Fourth Corporate War gets a spotlight, followed by the lengthy rebuilding process for both Night City and the Free State of Northern California.

Once that is covered, there's a lengthy section on the technology of the setting: cyberware, weapons, vehicles, braindance (a potent VR experience where people can go for rides in other people's lives, experiences and hallucinations) and netrunning. The implications of cybernetic technology are covered and the dangers, such as cyberpsychosis, whilst the moral question of how much of yourself you can replace whilst still being considered human is briefly pondered (although not in too much detail).

The longest section details Night City itself, its districts and neighbourhoods. This is fairly bare bones - which given its length is a surprise - since a lot of the detail of the setting will be found in the game itself. It does provide an overview of what districts to avoid after dark (unless you want to get jumped by gangs), where the most exclusive bars are and where might be the best place to procure some shady items. Further chapters look at the the society of Night City, from the rich megacorp regional directors down to the homeless, and at the city's forces of both law and disorder: the police, the gangs and the Nomad tribes who live beyond the city limits. The book ends with an interview with Rogue, an infamous operative of the 2020s who's now in semi-retirement but unofficially still working as a "fixer."

As these kind of companion books go, The World of Cyberpunk 2077 is pretty good. The artwork is excellent, as you might expect given that the book is able to draw on seven years' worth of concept art, finalised design work and renders. The production value of the book is very high and the writing is surprisingly engaging. Lore fluff for video games can be hit or miss, but the immense amount of background material developed previously for the pen-and-paper game means there's a ton of information available on the factions, politics and tech of the setting that goes far beyond what you'd normally expect from this kind of tie-in. There's enough meat here to help run a pen-and-paper game in 2077 Night City as well as prepping for the video game.

In terms of flaws, there's not too many. The book seems to assume knowledge on the reader's part about certain characters like Johnny Silverhand and Morgan Blackhand which the overwhelming majority won't have. There's also a distinct lack of deep context on some things, like the gangs. Some of the gangs are based on fairly obvious cliches (the Haitian gang is called the Voodoo Boys, because obviously that's the only thing anyone knows about Haiti; both the Japanese Arasaka Corporation and the Tyger Claws yakuza gang are about honour and face in public, whilst being corrupt behind the scenes), but without the context of the video game it's hard to know if they get more development than that. The book's maps of Night City are also a bit odd, omitting the shoreline, so it's hard to tell at a glance which is an inland district of the city and which is a coastal one.

Beyond that, The World of Cyberpunk 2077 (****) is a readable and solid worldbuilding guidebook, and it does several jobs of providing background for the game, acting as an advertisement for it and providing context for the new Cyberpunk Red pen-and-paper game. It is available in the UK and USA now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"the Haitian gang is called the Voodoo Boys, because obviously that's the only thing anyone knows about Haiti"

I think this is an import from Gibson. His Sprawl Trilogy had AIs in the Matrix referred to as loa. Maybe that's all he knew about Haiti way back then, or maybe there's another reason. I haven't followed that up. But at any rate, I think that would be the origin.