Focus - Cyberpunk 2077 - To live and die in Night City : Why the FPS view is obvious

Cyberpunk 2077 – To live and die in Night City : Why the FPS view is obvious

This text is part of a series of articles dedicated to Cyberpunk 2077. Each article will aim to help you understand the game’s game design choices and mechanics, as well as grasping its essence through analysis of the overflowing symbolism exploited by the scriptwriters and developers. For this first entry in the project entitled “To Live and Die in Night City”, we invite you to try and grasp the essence of the subjective view, or FPS. These dissections of the game are based on version 2.0.

Please note that this text assumes you have finished Cyberpunk 2077 and its Phantom Liberty expansion.

By anchoring its point of view to the ground, Cyberpunk 2077's FPS camera perpetually offers a low-angle view of the surrounding monuments.
By anchoring its point of view to the ground, Cyberpunk 2077’s FPS camera perpetually offers a low-angle view of the surrounding monuments.

In 2018, CD Projekt Red shares a decision that’s about to make the studio’s community of loyalists jump to their feet: Cyberpunk 2077 will abandon the third-person camera that accompanied the escapades of Geralt de Riv (The Witcher saga), in favor of subjective vision, also known as first-person view (or FPS). Despite protests from fans, the developer is sticking to its guns, justifying this choice by a narrative entirely articulated around this perspective. Quest Designer Patrick Mills confides to the DualSHOCKERS website that he understands the complaints, which are often justified (the FPS view causes unpleasant physical effects for some of the public, such as nausea), but confirms the studio’s determination to make no compromises (as in games such as the fifth installments of The Elder Scrolls and Grand Theft Auto sagas, each of which alternates between the two camera types, accessible at the touch of a button). Cyberpunk 2077 will be first-person or it won’t be.

En abandonnant un outil que les développeurs maîtrisaient sur leur œuvre précédente (The Witcher III : Wild Hunt), le studio sortait volontairement de sa zone de confort, brutalisant sa manière de raconter des histoires. Toutefois, ce choix ne cède pas seulement aux sirènes du marketing (les FPS sont parmi l’un des genres vidéoludiques les plus vendeurs), puisqu’il entre en symbiose avec les mécanismes narratifs minutieusement préparés par les artistes du studio polonais à l’origine de Cyberpunk 2077. Ce choix peut cependant paraître paradoxal, voire incompréhensible, étant donné le soin apporté à l’esthétique générale et vestimentaire du jeu, ainsi qu’aux modifications corporelles dont peuvent se parer les êtres humains de 2077. Pourquoi Diable privilégier l’utilisation d’une caméra fixée au niveau du regard de notre avatar, et de ce fait ne pas pouvoir profiter en permanence des différentes tenues équipées par ce dernier tout au long de l’aventure ? Pour répondre à cette interrogation, légitime, ainsi qu’aux doutes des fans les plus médusés qui vivent désormais ce choix comme une trahison, les développeurs apportent un ensemble de réponses en adéquation avec la direction empruntée par le projet.

As far as purely aesthetic considerations are concerned, i.e. the impossibility of seeing one’s character during the game, Cyberpunk 2077 offers a direct answer in the form of an accomplished and permissive photo mode, making it easy to immortalize the most memorable moments of players’ urban epic. On the other hand, almost the entire adventure unfolds through the eyes of V, the highly customizable main character. By keeping the camera as close as possible to the protagonist, the game is a constant reminder of the mercenary’s place in the sprawling megalopolis that is Night City, a metal monster that remorselessly engulfs the souls that stray into it. After the introduction, which involved rescuing a victim from a clan of boners, V’s first real contact with Night City crystallizes in the form of a late-night car ride with the faithful Jackie Welles, a kind-hearted Hispanic mercenary and V’s comrade-in-arms. The sequence places players in the passenger seat, a clear indication of the scene’s intentions: to soak up the city, its metallic breath, and immerse oneself in the universe. Violence rages in the streets, with players confronted first passively (as they watch the MaxTac do its job of eliminating a few villains), then actively (during a chase with the notoriously vengeful boners).

The urban environment, while having no real viability as such, does make Night City the central character of this story.
The urban environment, while having no real viability as such, does make Night City the central character of this story.

However, the story doesn’t really get underway until the following day, in a rather classic manner reminiscent of traditional video game openings: like Serge (Chrono Cross), Link (The Legend of Zelda) or Squall (Final Fantasy VIII), V begins his odyssey in bed. In addition to the fact that the story begins in the morning, simply by opening one’s eyes (a direct reference to the use of subjective camera), this starting point within the protagonist’s apartment allows us to approach the immense bay window occupying an entire wall of the living room, and overlooking the city of dreams. Through this delicate homage to a whole range of cyberpunk imagery (such as Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell), the panorama takes on fundamental implications. It’s at this point that players can contemplate Night City, and feel overwhelmed by the abundance of buildings invading the horizon and field of vision. The decadent city presents itself as a terrain to be conquered, the field of all possibilities. Moreover, facing the city from the other side of an impossible-to-open window reinforces the separation between the character and the city itself. Here, Night City establishes itself as a character in its own right, indeed as the most important protagonist in the fateful epic about to be played out.

Thanks to the use of a first-person view, players can feel the overwhelming presence of the megalopolis, whereas a third-person view would have tended to include the character in his environment (and thus erect a thematic divide between form and content). Game screens are no longer tableaux on which characters struggle, no, they become a doorway to the internal universe of Cyberpunk 2077. Looking up to contemplate the city’s proud peaks is no longer a simple gameplay tool, but a reflection of V’s impossible dreams and ambition.

V, in fact, begins his journey physically not far from this climax (his apartment is located not far from the top of the building he lives in), but paradoxically cut off from it (by the unbreakable bay window), as if to better reflect the difficulty (or impossibility) of the undertaking ahead. When the character finally gains free access to the arteries of the city, he remains clinging to the ground, condemned to only be able to look up at the few pieces of sky encircled by the megastructures that surround and enclose him. Players don’t watch their characters make their environment their own, like a Geralt whose armor is caressed by Velen’s twilight light; on the contrary, they feel lost (the city is quite a labyrinth) and trapped, attached to the concrete, a situation the game will only break on precious, skilfully orchestrated occasions. V thus becomes, of course, the anchor point for players, reminding them throughout the adventure of the objective that sets the protagonist ablaze. It’s no coincidence, then, to see so many references to the sky, peaks and heights throughout the game. The various storylines reflect this unquenchable obsession, from the CLOUDS club (literally “clouds”), to the Arasaka parade (located in the air, and whose various factions of the megacorporation have bird names), to the attack on the Kang Tao shuttle (a quest to bring down an indi

In this sequence, the panorama is reminiscent of the one seen through the bay window at the start of the game, an obvious parallel to the initial ambitions, now evaporated and replaced by this twilight sign extolling the benefits of Relic, the technology that is gradually erasing V. Finally, let’s not forget the epilogues in which our avatar transcends his earthly status and flies off into space, or, in another life, lies down before losing his gaze in the myriad stars that dot a sky as black as ink.
(Phantom Liberty note: the best ending for Songbird, a distorted reflection of V, in this extension, is to send her into space too).

Cyberpunk 2077 tells a different kind of story. Here, the player’s avatar is neither a hero, nor a chosen one, nor even a unique being gifted with extraordinary abilities. In this sense, the game is like Final Fantasy XII, in which the main character, Vaan, is merely a witness to the upheavals in the world. The adventure offers only a glimpse of plots, places and characters that are inaccessible, either because they have already taken place (the fall of the Arasaka Tower, the explosion of the Net, the imprisonment of artificial intelligences, etc.), or because the circles concerned remain beyond V’s reach (the plots that drive the corporations, the actions of NetWatch, etc.). The Fourth Corporate War now exists only in the distant past and in Silverhand’s foggy memories, while the workings of the world spiral out of control in strata that function only as abstract concepts for V. He will perceive only a tiny fragment of this narrative canvas, stretched to the four corners of a world that remains impossible for him to contemplate in its entirety. V is merely a witness to the ambitions of a city whose heart beats without a care in the world. For these reasons, the first-person view keeps players close to V, and lets them share in his own insignificance.

By allowing the avatar to move freely around the NPCs, Cyberpunk 2077 offers the freedom of staging essential to creating intense immersion through the exclusive use of the FPS view.
By allowing the avatar to move freely around the NPCs, Cyberpunk 2077 offers the freedom of staging essential to creating intense immersion through the exclusive use of the FPS view.

In addition to this essential narrative justification, the camera deploys its full potential through a plethora of immersion-enhancing sequences. First and foremost, the first-person view provides an intradiegetic justification for displaying the UI (User Interface), i.e. the data required for the gameplay to function properly, through the exchange of information between the game, its universe and the players (protagonist’s hit points, remaining ammunition, effects applied, etc.). The very theme of the game itself makes the use of this artifice much easier: the presence of ocular implants justifies the display of such data in front of V’s eyes, and by extension on the screen. Other games have to redouble their inventiveness to be able to integrate their UI directly into the display: this is the case, for example, of Hogwart’s Legacy, which advocates the use of a spell to highlight the path leading to the various objectives, or Ghost of Tsushima, which poetically exploits the breath of the wind. The UI also incorporates a variation on the wizard’s sense present in Wild Hunt, in the form of an optical scanner that extracts information from the scenery and NPCs (Non-Player Characters).

Aside from this focus on the universe through the eyes and the UI, the game offers a host of sequences making the most of the first-person view to promote immersion and emotion. There’s of course the very first shot in the game, regardless of the prologue selected by players, which reveals V observing himself in a mirror, in order to formalize the character’s receptacle nature. Other passages obviously emphasize subjective immersion, starting with the operation performed by the charcudoc Viktor Vector at the start of the game, but also the various multiplayer dialogue scenes, with the response choices highlighted by the interface varying according to which character the player is looking at. Sometimes, complete action scenes are woven around the subjective point of view, such as the escape with Goro after the heist, or the assault on the power plant with Panam. There are also contemplative and introspective passages, such as the orchestrated celebration at the water tower with River, or the diving session with Judy.

In addition to this emphasis on the connection between V and his friends, the game’s main use of the first-person view is the near-constant presence of Johnny Silverhand. An invasive twin to the main character, Silverhand is an engram haunting the immortality chip V has inserted in his skull. The result is the incessant appearances of this old anarchist rocker in the form of hallucinations that only V can see and hear (it’s actually more complex than simple mirages, but we’ll come back to that in another text). The choice of a camera that simulates the gaze of the main character, unable to rid himself of this digital intruder, takes on its full meaning. Johnny’s appearances, scripted (i.e. planned by the game) and numerous (the silver arm commenting on each of V’s decisions), form one of the core elements of the Cyberpunk 2077 experience.

Materializing and disappearing at will, Johnny invades and gangrenes the environmental setting, but only through the mind of V. He’s a deliciously cyberpunk version of that consciousness once represented by a little angel and a little demon materialized on a character’s shoulders. Except this time, only the demon remains. Each of his disappearances is also correlated to the player’s field of vision: the quantum rocker disappears when he is not being observed, a specificity that could not have been implemented naturally through the use of an omniscient camera without breaking immersion. Immersion, precisely, the word that has haunted these lines for several paragraphs now, has always been favored by the use of the FPS view, as demonstrated by the incredible productions of Arkane Studios (Dishonored, Prey, Deathloop) or games that are modest in name only, such as Outer Wilds, Inscryption, The Witness, What Remains of Edith Finch, etc…

Dictated by the way in which CD Projekt Red wishes to tell its story, rather than by the desire to create a pure shooter, the direction chosen by the studio comes with a number of challenges, the first of which is the experience of the developers, who are thus abandoning part of the game design instilled in The Witcher saga. The Witcher saga offered a clear distinction between exploration and combat, as well as dialogue. In Cyberpunk 2077, these different sections flow naturally, with the UI adapting to V’s actions rather than events. A wandering phase can lead to a dialogue sequence sprinkled with different lines of response, then suddenly ignite the fuse for a physical confrontation (see the negotiations with Royce).

The first-person view allows for continuity, once again serving the immersion sought by the developers (unlike, for example, the sequence shots of God of War and God of War: Ragnarok, which ultimately serve game design only on rare occasions). Quest Director Pawel Sasko admits that it was much more complicated to work on a game in this way, given that unlike Wild Hunt, which can approach a film in terms of its cinematic staging, it’s very hard to “cheat” with Cyberpunk 2077 and its FPS view. For example, it’s impossible to switch from one environment to another to reveal events taking place elsewhere, as the player’s point of view remains welded to that of V. On the other hand, the writing is skilfully handled, offering a multitude of documents and texts to describe the universe, its evolution, or simply to orient players on the various analytical and symbolic axes exploited by the scriptwriters. In the same way, it’s impossible for Cyberpunk 2077 to change the configuration of a scene or move a secondary character from one location to another immediately, behind the players’ backs: each of these movements likely to be observed has to be recorded, modeled, calibrated and incorporated into the sequences in progress. The developers are not working on this camera mode for the sake of comfort, far from it.

The player's point of view is linked to V's gaze for almost the entire adventure. Narration through the FPS view is one of the signatures of Cyberpunk 2077.
The player’s point of view is linked to V’s gaze for almost the entire adventure. Narration through the FPS view is one of the signatures of Cyberpunk 2077.

On a more meta scale, it’s quite funny that the players have the same kind of relationship with V that V has with Johnny Silverhand. In a way, players flood V’s receptacle with their own consciousness, through the actions and choices they make throughout the plot. Projected into the mercenary’s body, players experience the adventure through eyes that are not their own, and accompany a character made up of data (V is just a cluster of polygons, just as Silverhand is a construct). The first-person view materializes, through gameplay, one of the aims of the game (Silverhand himself admits in Phantom Liberty that he can’t observe what V’s gaze doesn’t cover). While retaining his own personality and character (apart from the drift operated by the chip, but that’s another subject), V becomes the player’s puppet, a subtle balance between a fully-fledged character (through his programmed responses, the presence of an imposed voice, etc.) and an avatar (thanks to aesthetic customization and skill development). The implications and questions this raises are colossal, given the game’s reflections on freedom, destiny, free will and the nature of the soul.

As it stands, Cyberpunk 2077’s structure is a striking mise en abyme, making players and their incarnation an essential vector for the transmission of its message, whether in terms of the themes explored by the adventure, or the game design axes that resonate with its purpose. The decision to use a first-person view is anything but trivial, with the development team doing their best to minimize the weaknesses of this orientation, while making the most of the resulting possibilities. For example, as more and more links are forged between V and the major secondary characters (Panam, River, Judy, etc.), the camera moves closer and closer to the faces of these protagonists, illustrating the closeness that gradually develops. This idea reaches its logical climax during the love scenes. V’s beloved characters gradually invade the screen, becoming a visual metaphor for what matters most to the protagonist at those very moments: these full-screen faces become Vincent’s or Valerie’s world. The same goes for the final sequences featuring Silverhand, from the scene in the middle of the oilfield maze to the inevitable farewell at the various conclusions. Every decision taken throughout the game’s development revolves around this work on the point of view, from the various gameplay systems and sub-systems, to the staging and level design, everything stems from this premise making V the gravitational center of this experience.

The absence of staging other than through the first-person view forces artists and developers to weave unique scenes with a strong identity, using limited tools.
The absence of staging other than through the first-person view forces artists and developers to weave unique scenes with a strong identity, using limited tools.

While Night City remains the main character of Cyberpunk 2077, it’s the story of V that we’re invited to experience. Whether it’s a question of burning down the city, or allowing ourselves to be swallowed up by it. For all these reasons (immersion, staging, symbolism), the developers absolutely had to anchor their camera as close as possible to V’s gaze.

And finally, from you to me, don’t we say that the eyes are the mirror of the soul?


Sources : 

Giuseppe Nelva. DualSHOCKERS. Cyberpunk 2077 — CD Projekt “Very Aware” that Many Don’t Like First-Person Perspective. [Parution le 28 août 2018] Disponible :

PC GAMER. Wes Fenlon. ‘We’re running at a f**king wall, and we’re gonna crash’—CD Projekt’s lead quest designer on big budget RPGs. [Parution le 22 avril 2023] Disponible :

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