Cyberpunk has always been a genre fraught with contrasts, between the mega rich and the ultra poor, the hyper sleek corpos and the rough-and-ready street kids, and the high rise buildings and dark alleys. It’s fitting then that Cyberpunk 2077 is also full of contrasts, although not all of them are intentional. As well as the typical contrasts of the genre, it’s also a game with dazzling visuals and devastating bugs. A runaway commercial success that tanked the company’s share price. A game verberating with angry, punk energy where the best way to make some cash is to help out the local police department. Perhaps the most interesting contrast, though, is found in the game’s presentation of its characters: the ones who get the least screen time tend to be the best.
Us Cracks, the three piece J-Pop band you encounter late on, get hardly any time at all, yet manage to stand out as the game’s best characters. Yes, really. And I’m tired of pretending they’re not.
First though, let’s examine the game’s contrast around characters, since that’s less controversial. Our protagonist, V, is given a range of responses to each situation, but these responses rarely differ in tone or in outcome. V appears to have a slightly dry sense of humour and favours sarcasm, but aside from that, we don’t get much of their character. I don’t think even the biggest Cyberpunk fan would argue that V was on the same level as someone like Arthur Morgan, Kratos, or Cloud Strife. Next up, there’s Johnny Silverhand, except he’s not Johnny Silverhand – he’s Keanu Reeves with a silver hand. It’s a decent performance by the Matrix star, with some nuance in places, but he’s Keanu Reeves. That’s all he is. Every time I see him it pulls me out of the game’s reality.
I know he looks like Keanu Reeves when he’s John Wick, but I can fully buy into the reality of the movie. It’s something about it being a video game, I guess. No matter how real the graphics are, it’s weird that this rockstar-terrorist-ghost looks like A-list actor and all-round nice guy Keanu Reeves. It’s just odd, and the fact some of Silverhand’s edges have been sanded down, either by the writers or by Reeves’ acting, really tanks Johnny’s chances of being a stellar character.
With those flaws with our two leads, there’s ample room for many of the supporting cast to outshine them. I think Kerry misses his chance to do this; he’s introduced too late for me to care, and the game can never decide if he’s a sellout, a die hard rocker, a kid with talent who got lucky, a kid without talent who got lucky, or a musical genius trapped by his own success. I’ll dig into Kerry more when I get onto Us Cracks, but for now, I’ll just say I think he’s bad.
Then there’s Judy, Panam, River, and the rest. To be honest, I don’t quite see the fascination with Judy. I like her well enough, and it’s great to see a more realistic Latina in games after hero shooters have constantly cast them as perpetually spicy fireballs with no personality beneath the quips, but I never really cared about Judy. Panam, I’ll grant you, is amazing. She’s the closest contender to Us Cracks in my view, although she does come from a fairly similar feisty-sidekick archetype we’ve seen in games many times before. River is okay too, but he’s a bit one note, isn’t he? Just a decent guy, basically. His story has some drama, but he doesn’t.
There’s a load of others you could mention; Misty, Jackie, Rogue. All good, none as good as Purple Force, Red Menace, and Blue Moon together. Now, let’s finally get to the true heroes of Cyberpunk 2077: Us Cracks.
In case you don’t even know who they are, Us Cracks are a J-Pop trio made up of the aforementioned Purple Force, Blue Moon, and Red Menace. Their catchy synthesized pop tunes can be heard on Night City’s radio stations, and depending on choices made during Kerry Eurodyne’s storyline, they can feature in a few smaller side quests too. From looks to personalities to quests, Us Cracks represent the best of Cyberpunk 2077.
They don’t get a huge amount of space to tell their story, but they grab hold of every opportunity with both hands. The three idols, Purple Force especially, give the game the visual flair and character variation so many of us were expecting, but which Cyberpunk 2077 ultimately failed to deliver. They’re enigmatic and loud and colourful in a game so set on being dreary and dark. Cyberpunk is about contrasts, remember, and Us Cracks are one of the few characters able to provide it.
The reaction when they find out about Kerry blowing up their touring gear is odd, but I’m blaming Kerry for infecting those scenes with his strange, undefinable Kerry-ness, and giving Us Cracks a pass for it. Free of Kerry, they offer one of the most intimately interesting side quests in the game, helping track down Blue Moon’s stalker in the rain soaked moonlight. I wish more quests had these tightly knit, personal stories, instead of sprawling across Night City only to eventually reference a Vine meme from five years ago. Part of my love for Us Cracks comes from the fact they’re basically the only characters to offer the aesthetic I feel like Cyberpunk promised me, but mostly it’s because they represent the forgotten characters in Night City.
No one ever really talks about Us Cracks in the same way no one ever really talks about the group of kids messing around trying to fix the roller coaster in Pacifica. Or the latex-skinned bodyguard outside of Lizzie’s Bar, or Brendan the vending machine. Cyberpunk is peppered with characters who never quite get enough screen time, and sometimes feels weighed down by others getting too much.
Us Cracks are visually the most exciting characters in the game, and in the few spots they get the chance to shine narratively, they kick it with the best of them. If the game gave them more screen time, I think the fans would give them a lot more love. Certainly, if they had more quests like Blue Moon’s stalker hunt, Us Cracks would oust Panam and Judy as Cyberpunk 2077’s breakout stars. Maybe you didn’t really pay attention to them, maybe you gave up on Kerry’s quest before you met them; I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you did. But trust me, they really are the best characters in the game, and I will no longer pretend otherwise.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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