The first act of Cyberpunk 2077 concerns the story of a heist gone wrong. While that’s bad for the characters, it’s good for us in the audience. The setbacks and twists in the heist are what kick off the rest of this excellent story. But what if everything had gone to plan? What would happen to the characters next?
I originally wanted to make this article about how CR Projekt RED bungled the development and release of Cyberpunk 2077. Like, people criticize the company for releasing the game “too early”, which makes it sound like the leadership just made one mistake. But the reality is far worse than that. I could spend a few thousand words cataloging all of the foolish mistakes that management made long before they decided to release the game.
But the truth is that I’m just not feeling it. Maybe in a future article, but I’ve been raging at corporate foolishness for a long time now and I’m in the mood to do something fun. And by “fun” I mean speculative fan-wank story analysis.
I guess I should mention that we’re going to spoil the entire first half of the game here. I think that’s pretty obvious from the premise of the video but I just wanted to make that extra clear.
Anyway. The heist…
What if it Worked?
Now, in terms of story structure this wouldn’t make sense because the heist is the first act of the story so of course it has to go wrong. But let’s forget about that and just see what would happen.
To start with, I think we need to recap what happens in the game. I know some of you will be reading this without playing the game first. Also, the situation is pretty confusing from within the game because a lot of the backstory is presented out-of-order and you have to piece it together after the fact. Anyway, feel free to skip this next section if you think you’ve got a handle on what happened.
The Setup Goes Like This…
There’s this gang of reclusive and mysterious people called the Voodoo Boys. Their leader is this spooky lady named Brigitte. For reasons that aren’t worth getting into, she needs to steal this microchip that contains the personality construct of Johnny SilverhandImportant detail: This is the character played by Keanu Reeves.. This chip was developed by the Arasaka Corporation. Normally this thing would be stored in a supermax vault and guarded by an army of cyber-ninjas somewhere in Japan. However, Yorinobu Arasaka recently stole the chip from his father and brought it here to Night City where the game takes place.
Yorinobu is close to sex worker Evelyn Parker. It’s not totally clear if she’s his girlfriend or just his favorite prostitute, but I don’t think it matters. Yorinobu isn’t really the romantic type. When he comes to Night City, she’s the one that keeps him company.
So Brigitte hires Evelyn to gather information on Yorinobu, hoping to find out where the chip is kept.
Because Evelyn is a sex worker, the people around her tend to underestimate her. Everyone thinks she’s just a dumb piece of meat, but she’s actually ambitious, resourceful, and perceptive. She figures out what Brigitte is after. So Evelyn figures it would be a lot smarter to set up a heist and obtain the chip herself, and then sell it to Brigitte. The game never puts a firm price on the chip, but from the way people talk I think Evelyn expects to get a few million for it.
Evelyn is smart, but she doesn’t have the skills or professional contacts to set up a heist herself. So she calls up the fixer Dexter DeShawn. A fixer is like an agent for mercenaries. Dexter knows this job is incredibly dangerous. Rather than hiring someone experienced and expensive, he prefers to hire someone that’s young and cheap and not yet smart enough to realize when a job is too big for them. He hires Jackie Welles, a brute with a heart of gold, and Jackie’s best friend V, the player character. V can be male or female in this game. I’ve tried both. They’re both cool, but I’m going to assume male V from here on rather than switching pronouns.
Also Dexter hires T-Bug to do the hacking stuff, but T-Bug is dumb and pointless and we don’t care about her.
So now we have our ill-fated crew. Jackie and V will steal the chip, T-Bug will hack stuff for them, Evelyn will sell the chip when the job is over, and while that’s going on Dexter will sit around taking credit for everyone else’s hard work and personal risk.
V and Jackie infiltrate Konpeki Plaza, the hotel where Yourinobu is staying. They get by security and T-Bug hacks some stuff very very slowly.
Seriously, even though you obtain complete details on the security systems, and even though you do this quest to obtain a super hacking robot that you use to neutralize the building security, T-Bug still manages to run into security systems that she couldn’t see coming, and it takes her three and a half hours to hack through.
Anyway, Jackie and V eventually get into Yorinobu’s penthouse suite. They find the chip and then…
Things Go Wrong
So let’s imagine you’re doing a classic Ocean’s Eleven style heist. Like, maybe you snuck inside a casino after hours and you’re now trying to drill open the vault or whatever. And while you’re doing that, the President of the United States shows up for a visit you didn’t know about, and now the entire building is surrounded by the secret service. And then a couple of minutes after that, someone assassinates him. So now you’re doing this tricky robbery and you suddenly find yourself in the middle of the highest security crime scene on planet Earth.
That’s basically what happens in Cyberpunk 2077.
Yorinobu’s dad shows up, and he’s one of the most famous and powerful people on the planet. He’s mad at Yorinobu for stealing his chip with a copy of Johnny Mnemonic on it.
T-Bug sucks, so she loses track of Yorinobu and you almost get caught when he suddenly returns to his room for this meeting with his dad. The two men argue for a bit while you hide in the closet and T-Bug uses her super hacker skills to do absolutely nothing.
So Yorinobu kills his dad and then he puts the hotel on lockdown and tells everyone there’s an assassin on the loose. And this is where everything falls apart.
T-Bug gets discovered and killed like, right away.
V and Jackie shoot their way out of the hotel, but Jackie gets wounded along the way. He bleeds out in the getaway vehicle before you can get him help.
V makes it back to Dexter DeShawn, who’s gone into full-on backstabbing coward mode.
Dexter doesn’t want this mess traced back to him, so he decides to kill V.
During the escape, V had to plug the stolen microchip into his own cyberware. The chip somehow brings him back to life and he’s saved by the digital engram of Johnny Utah.
In the meantime, Arasaka catches up with Dexter anyway and kills him.
V needs to spend a couple of weeks recovering from his wounds. During that time, Brigitte hears about the heist and realizes that Evelyn was trying to steal the chip first. So Brigitte has the Voodoo boys brain-fry Evelyn. It would take too long to explain everything that happens to poor Evelyn and just how shitty everyone treats her, but the short version is that she suffers a fate worse than death, and then ends up dead later anyway. It’s gut-wrenching.
So yeah. This was definitely a…
Job Gone Wrong
Once the heist is over, four of the five conspirators are dead. The only person still standing is V, who is now being kept alive and yet slowly killed by the personality construct of Johnny Harker.
I think we can conclude that this wasn’t the most brilliant heist ever put together. Nobody had any allowances for things going wrong. Nobody knew about the upcoming visit from Daddy Arasaka. Sure, that was a secret, but nobody on the team even knew where Yorinobu was going to be at any given time. There were no alternate escape routes, fallback disguises, or contingency plans. The team just walked in the front door under the assumption that everything would go perfectly, and when it didn’t your only option was to shoot your way out.
Having said that, this all makes sense from a character standpoint. Dexter likes to act like he’s some kind of chessmaster, but he’s basically all style and no substance. The heist seems reasonable when you first play through it, and it’s not until you meet resourceful badasses like Rogue and Panam later in the game that you realize just how weak and unprepared your original crew was.
Having said that, the heist very nearly worked anyway.
So What if it Had Worked?
T-Bug spent more than three hours hacking the building security while V and Jackie sat around doing nothing. If T-Bug had finished just five minutes faster, then V and Jackie would have been able to grab the chip and make it out of the building before Yorinobu returned to his room. They were so close.
If V and Jackie had been able to walk out the front door, then the containment suitcase that held the chip wouldn’t have been damaged. Which means nobody would have needed to stick the ghost of Johnny Constantine into their head.
This means that V and Jackie could have delivered the chip to Dexter without incident, and Dexter could have passed it on to Evelyn. Or maybe you could have delivered the chip to Evelyn directly and cut Dexter out of the deal like she originally wanted. Either way, that’s mission accomplished.
According to the original briefing, you were going to lay low for a couple of weeks while Evelyn took the chip to her unknown buyer to get paid.
Sadly, here is where the plan breaks down, and why I think the heist was always doomed from the start. For one, I don’t think the Voodoo boys value the chip as highly as Evelyn suspects. The profits from this job were going to be split five ways. Not evenly, mind you. This is Night City after all. Still, everyone thought that this heist was The Big One and they were going to get to retire afterwards. This job was supposedly going to make enough for five people to retire. But then when you finally catch up with Brigitte she says…
“If it is functional, we offer you good price for it.”
From her line delivery, it doesn’t sound like she’s thrilled and offering you a life-changing fortune for the chip. It sounds like she’s offering “used car money”, not “mansion money”. But hey, maybe she’s just being a tough negotiator?
The second problem is that I don’t think the Voodoo boys HAVE millions of eurodollars. In fact, the only transaction we see anyone make is when Placide pays someone with a dead chicken, and they act like he’s giving them too much because everyone else is doing so much worse. These people come off as destitute, and I don’t see how this community could have the kind of money Evelyn is hoping to get for the chip.
The third problem is that even if the Voodoo boys are more wealthy than they let on, I don’t think they have access to spendable cash. Their community is very insular and they don’t seem to value Eurodollars the way the rest of Night City does. Most of their transactions seem to be the “favor for a favor” variety. At one point Mr. Hands even tells you:
“You want to sell something to the VDBs? Forget it. They don’t want it, they don’t need it. They’re isolated, insulted, got their own contracts, tech, networks.”
So they wouldn’t pay that much for the chip. And even if they were willing, they don’t HAVE that much. And even if they did, they wouldn’t have it in cash.
Sure, you could argue that with their legendary netrunning skills they could probably steal a bunch of money if they decided they needed some, but that brings me to the most serious flaw with Evelyn’s plan, which is that the Voodoo boys are bastards.
As we see in the game, they deal ruthlessly with Evelyn the moment they realize she’s betrayed them. Then later V approaches the Voodoo Boys looking for answers, and Placide sets V up on a job that is 100% designed to kill him at the end. V did this dangerous job for the Voodoo Boys, and all he wanted in return was a five-minute conversation with Brigitte. If they’re willing to backstab and murder a hired mercenary rather than grant him a simple conversation, then there is no way they would have given millions of eurodollars to a common sex worker, even if they could afford it. They are too proud and too ruthless.
My guess is that Evelyn would have approached them and they would have brain-fried her, taken the chip, and thrown her to some scavs outside of Pacifica. In the end, she probably would have met the same fate we saw in the game.
We could imagine an alternate story where Evelyn is killed like this by the Voodoo Boys. After a couple weeks of silence, Dexter would assume she took the money and ran, so he’d probably send Jackie and V to track her down. And maybe they would eventually find their way to Pacifica and figure out what went down. That sounds like a fun story. On one hand you’d never get paid for the job. On the other hand you might avenge Evelyn’s death, you’d learn some life lessons about taking on risky jobs, and you’d still have your choom Jackie Welles.
Man, I wish I could play through this version of the story. I really love Jackie. I think he’s my favorite companion since… I dunno. Garrus? Alyx Vance? Ciri? It’s been a while since I enjoyed a side character this much.
There are a couple more possibilities I want to explore here. The first one is…
What if Jackie Kept the Chip?
In the game, Jackie takes the chip out of his head and gives it to V just a few moments before he dies. But what if he hadn’t done that? Based on what the game shows us, it’s reasonable to think that the chip would have activated the moment he flatlined. It would have brought him back to life, and then Jackie would be the one haunted by the ghost of Johnny Wick.
I think this story wouldn’t be too far off from what we get in the shipped game. Instead of working alone, you’d be helping Jackie to reach Mikoshi in search of a cure. The story would be a little weird – and a lot less interesting – with Jackie constantly having side-conversations with a Johnny Silverhand that only he can see.
Based on the time we spend with Jackie, we can tell he’s kind of simple, optimistic, religious, and good-natured. He’s basically Night City’s version of Sam Gamgee. I imagine he would get along terribly with calculating, manipulative, cynical, callous, and nihilistic Johnny Silverhand. In the game proper, V and Johnny can become friends, but I can’t escape the notion that Jackie and Johnny would forever be at odds.
There’s one last possibility I want to explore before we wrap this up, which is…
What if Dexter Didn’t Betray You?
Let’s say the job goes wrong, but Dexter doesn’t try to murder you. Let’s say he decides to be a big boy and finish the job like a professional. What happens then?
At this point in the story, Jackie is dead and the containment case has been destroyed, which means you still wind up with the chip of Johnny Silverhand in your head. But since you haven’t flatlined, the chip hasn’t been activated. This presents an interesting situation where you have the chip in your head but it’s not doing anything and you’ve got no idea what it does or what it’s for.
I’m not totally sure if Arasaka would catch up with you here. The game isn’t totally clear on where Dexter went after murdering V. Did he try to leave town? Did he hide somewhere? How did Arasaka find him? From what we see in the game, you could sort of guess that he got caught after dumping V’s body in the landfill. Which suggests that if he hadn’t shot V, MAYBE he wouldn’t have gotten caught?
I don’t know. We don’t have enough information to work with here, so let’s just ignore the Arasaka angle for now and worry about what happens to the chip.
If we’re trying to finish the job, then the next step would be to take the chip back to Evelyn. However, I don’t think you’d want to keep passing it from person to person. During the heist, nobody wanted this thing in their head, so we have to assume that this attitude would continue. Which means that instead of approaching the Voodoo Boys alone, Evelyn would bring V with her because he’d be the one with the chip in his head.
This puts the Voodoo Boys in an interesting dilemma. They can’t kill Evelyn without starting a fight with V. And they don’t want to fight V because that might risk damaging the chip.
Maybe negotiations with the Voodoo Boys would turn into a standoff where they threaten to kill Evelyn if you don’t hand over the chip and the whole thing turns into a bloodbath. But maybe if Brigitte wants the chip bad enough, and if they actually have access to a lot of money, then V and Evelyn could get paid and get away. They’d probably need to flee Night City together, and they’d have the option of reconnecting with Dexter to give him his share if they want to be nice.
Which means this scenario is the best chance of having a successful heist. And the only reason things don’t work out this way is because Dexter tries to murder V. Despite everything else that went wrong, it was still maybe possible to get paid. Which means the weakest link in Dexter’s plan is Dexter himself.
While the technology in this game is a hot mess and we seem to be missing a lot of intended features, I love the care and attention to detail that went into the storytelling. You can’t do this kind of analysis on most videogame stories because usually characters don’t have enough of a personality or agenda for us to be able to extrapolate. Or they operate entirely on contrivances. Or the world itself is too nonsensical for analysis. Or the characters just make no damn sense.
But a well-written story is a story you can think about, and I love thinking about how the world of Cyberpunk works and what sorts of things could happen to V in his adventures. I just wish this sort of care and attention to detail could have been applied to the rest of the game.
 Important detail: This is the character played by Keanu Reeves.
The Loot Lottery
What makes the gameplay of Borderlands so addictive for some, and what does that have to do with slot machines?
A programming project where I set out to make a gigantic and complex world from simple data.
There's a wonderful way to balance difficulty in RPGs, and designers try to prevent it. For some reason.
Denuvo and the "Death" of Piracy
Denuvo videogame DRM didn't actually kill piracy, but it did stop it for several months. Here's what we learned from that.
Batman v. Superman Wasn't All Bad
It's not a good movie, but it was made with good intentions and if you look closely you can find a few interesting ideas.