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Friday, June 14, 2024

Cyberpunk 2077’s truly awful sex scenes undercut its great relationships

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Cyberpunk 2077 was always billed as being a mature game with ‘adult’ themes, which, let’s be real, could mean anything in videogames. In execution, Cyberpunk does actually feel adult much of the time, and without much of the edginess the marketing would suggest. If you can look past all the bugs and the beautiful shell of a city, Cyberpunk 2077 is a series of grounded human stories. Judy Alvarez wants to find something to live for again, Panam wants the respect of her peers, River wants to find justice in a system that stifles it, and V doesn’t want to die. 

And some of them also want to have sex. I get it. Intimacy goes a long way in a capitalist hellworld that alienates and isolates on the daily. The treatment of these characters is much stronger than Bioware’s ‘insert compliment for sideboob’ approach, though. You may want a relationship, but you are not entitled to one, and you don’t get sex just for choosing the sexy answers.

But I kinda wish I’d never boned down in Cyberpunk 2077 at all, because the sex was horrifying. 

Spoiler warning! If you don’t want to know about some big character beats, turn back now!

Some context: As a male V, I crushed pretty hard on Panam during my playthrough. And Panam gets flirty, sure, but she draws a line in the sand when it comes to sex that doesn’t go away until you two establish trust. While it still feels like you’re getting the cliffnotes on a relationship that would normally take much longer to build, the most important bullet points are there. Panam doesn’t know how to trust and how to be vulnerable, especially after gunning for respect and responsibility for so long. She feels like she has to put up a big front to gain social ground, and with V appearing out of nowhere looking for snuggles, she’s feeling disoriented and needs time to get there, if she does at all. It’s a gradual, realistic process. Even wiseguy V shows off an awkward, vulnerable side. It’s nice!

It’s just that if you do eventually get after it together, it isn’t the old-fashioned skin and sheets game. You have a first-person three-way with a tank. 

See, to pilot this thing you two need to jack in at the same time, and doing that gives each pilot some sensory overlap. Put simply, V can see and feel what Panam feels, which means V won’t just be feeling Panam, but he’ll be feeling Panam feeling V feeling Panam feeling V, and so on into infinity. As you can imagine, busting in this scenario is gonna be A Lot. Too much, probably. But whatever, it’s a cute sci-fi setup. What screws up the scene is that we actually watch it go down in a goofy montage that is anything but intimate or sexy. 

3D game characters are still too stiff (sorry) to pose and animate for sex scenes. Going for it requires some amount of subtlety, which Cyberpunk 2077 enthusiastically rejects from the start. A porny lo-fi beat kicks in, peppered with reverberating moans and, horrifically, mouth sounds shuffled way too high in the mix.

At one point the scene cuts to Panam’s perspective, my V’s cold, dead eyes illuminated in the soft green glow of night vision, mouth slightly agape, thrusting all the while. Another montage plays out in my mind, one revisiting every found footage horror movie I’ve seen. 

The overall vibe is early ’00s late night Showtime channel softcore, with V and Panam springing into action like they’d been rehearsing for months. I can see how the idea might’ve sounded fun in storyboard format, but unless videogame sex scenes get the cinematic World of Warcraft trailer treatment, they’re still going to feel off. Cyberpunk 2077’s dedication to the first-person perspective at all times puts it in a tough spot here. With only a few angles to work with, broadened a touch by the cameras in the tank, most shots are in your face and terrifying. 

Take The Witcher 3’s beloved unicorn sex scene, which focuses on the relationship between Geralt and Yennefer, cushioned (literally) by the characterization and comic relief the stuffed unicorn prop provides. The camera doesn’t needlessly linger, balancing the frame with Geralt and Yennefer as they flirt and reminisce before panning down and cutting to black. We learn about their history and kinks without a wacky montage or any bizarre deadeyed closeups. 

Meanwhile, Johnny Silverhand’s flashback sex scene carries the torch forward for through-the-jeans dry-humpers everywhere. Even with Johnny and Alt flipping and thrusting right in front of me to chunky guitar riffs, all I could picture was Keanu Reeves on take 20 of grunting with pleasure into a studio mic. It’s a lopsided affair too, with Silverhand’s jeans staying on the whole time while Alt spins around nude in every which way in front of the guy. Were the camera to zoom out we’d see Keanu Reeves dressed up like a biker slamming a wall of denim into Alt’s ass. It reads like aliens reenacting the human mating ritual with nothing but cave paintings and the back pages of your mom’s Shape magazines circa 1995 as reference. 

I mean, I don’t need to see digital Keanu’s genitals. But why the awkward half-measure? Play some provocative music, give the characters a flirty line or two, make some eyes, then cut to black. We open again on the two laying down, having just very clearly had sex, smoking or whatever, the illusion complete and nothing lost even without the preteen fantasy stage performance. 

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I’m laughing, sure. It’s fun, picking apart these sex scenes, even knowing how difficult it must be to choreograph such an intimate thing in first-person using two clumsy 3D models. But honestly, I wish CD Projekt Red had skipped out on these dumb montages in favor of shorter implied scenes. Skip the awkward thrusting and moaning and—*shiver*—first-person kissing next time, please. Watching two crash dummies rub up against each other is too overtly a horndog player reward, and one that simultaneously cheapens the work put into making these relationships feel so lived in.

Because these scenes are very much not sexual or remotely believable. They’re ghoulish, cartoonish puppet shows that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. 

We don’t need it. We don’t need to see the elusive nipple or the endangered butt or to watch my two new sleep paralysis monsters bounce and moan to understand that, indeed, sex was had. Getting my rocks off to two wooden mimes enacting a technical manual’s instructions for a long, hard hug has never been the point. The point is what intimacy means for the people involved. Cyberpunk 2077 gets back on track quickly, but it’s a bummer that Cyberpunk at its most ‘adult’ is also Cyberpunk at its least believable.  

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