It takes quite a bit to stir me to a review, something has to be pretty damn good or pretty damn awful. I tend to express myself better when I'm not liking something, hate and annoyance brings out the eloqence in me better.
I wanted to like the new Cyberpunk. I wanted to like it so much it hurt.
But it's a massive disappointment.
Alright, so this review is of the PDF, but unless the artwork is different, unless the rules have been re-edited and unless something has been done to push the book back towards a more genuinely cyberpunk and neo-cyberpunk feel, unless the missing 14 pages contain something utterly wonderful, there's no difference.
And if the print version is that different then the PDF purchasers have been ripped off.
There have been some great developments in cyberpunk(ish) literature since CP2020 came out. Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and Diamond Age, Neal Asher's work, John Courtney Grimwood's books, Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan is definately a new type of cyberpunk. There's a whole world of new fiction and thought in and around the cyberpunk ideas.
All of which CP3.0 completely fails to pick up on apart from 'magical' nanotech.
Instead we're presented with a cartoonish and more anime-styled RPG which derives, somehow, from the original Cyberpunk 2020 setup, through the events of the last Corporate War leading to a low-grade apocalypse which destroys the status quo as we knew it. It is ironic really as the anime Ghost in the Shell does Cyberpunk better.
Strangely, I think my chief criticism of Cyberpunk 3.0 is the opposite of the one I levelled at the nWOD. The nWOD suffers for sacrificing its ongoing and developing gameworld and replacing it with a watered down imitation. Cyberpunk suffers from stamping all over its old setting and concepts and would have done better to sacrifice or rewrite its old world and assumptions and start afresh - especially after such a long break.
In this post apocalyptic world there is no government to speak of, no overarching authority and the corporations are somewhat downscaled and have fused with organised crime to survive. Your edgerunners on the other hand have divided into neocultural 'tribes' varying from the former Cyberpunks to the Nomads, to Arcology dwellers and even, wait for it, fish men. The different cultures resemble 'splats' in other games, providing an overall point of reference and set of default attitudes, as well as proprietary technology, that these cultures use.
That's a problem right there, Cyberpunks get what they need regardless. Dividing things up arbitrarily might give characters an individual niche or 'flavour' but it doesn't make sense in the context of 'Cyberpunk'. But then, I don't think CP3.0 really falls under the umbrella of Cyberpunk any longer, save in the loosest sense.
Mechanically CP3.0 is an unholy blend of the Cyberpunk Interlock system and Fuzion. While the two systems were - and remain - closely related the combination here is supposed to be something of a simplification but poor editing, repeated text and contradictions in the text make what could have been a reasonable simplification into a more complex process. I still haven't taken it all in due to this confusion.
There are some great ideas in there though, most especially a sort of 'Meta Character' used to describe things such as a tribe, or a corporation/mob. These are wonderful for keeping track of such organisations and from what I've been able to gather should work really well.
Combat appears to remain quite deadly and straightforward, though old Interlock fans will miss the wound tracker and body tests, and the rest of the system should be about a five minute pick up to anyone with any experience, the problem just comes in deciding which interpretation (or version) of a rule you're going to use.
Presentation wise, the book is fucking awful. Horrible cheesy borders that look like a low-budget d20 Modern book, greenscreen effects that were outmoded when 2020 was written, let alone now, poor choice in fonts making some sections all but unreadable (this should improve with a physical book) and the doll pictures.
Yes, doll pictures. The rumours are true, the book is filled with action/barbie dolls dressed up in Cyberpunk gear. The full borg is particularly awful. It is a bold artistic move, it is something different and interesting, but it looks bloody awful and makes the book three times harder to read than it should be because it is so glaringly ugly. The dolls are also incongruous with the setting - which comes across as a gonzo anime mish-mash, so more anime styled art would have fitted the book better I think. Dolls are cheap though, perhaps that is the explanation.
Maximum Mike's aim was to create something more pick-up and play, taking lessons learned from his work in computer games, but I don't think he has succeeded. The book is dense, hard to read, the character templates may work but the usability is downgraded because of all the other problems and the presentation simply isn't what the market (or computer game players for that matter) are used to now. I don't think anyone actually demands full colour on every page and a hardback binding now, but good art and clear layout are needed.
In summary then, an ugly book that could use some extra editing. There are some good ideas but they get lost in the morass and mix. While the game derives from the CP2020 world you won't recognise much past a few name-droppings and some equipment. The system is potentially good, it needs some clarification and tidying but really, nothing was wrong with CP2020's system, a little cleaning up and modernising and it would have been fine. If you were expecting a continutation of Cyberpunk or some incorporation of new near-future SF ideas (in anything other than the most superficial of ways) then you're going to be disappointed.
Style: 1 (Though allegedly there is going to be a translated European edition with better art. CP2020 had an edition with art from the Spanish version brought back and released in the UK and US. If this happens again it could raise the style score as high as 2-4 again)
Substance: 3 (Muddy, but there's the core of some good ideas and system in there, would rise to 4 with some decent editing).
Overall: 2 (Disappointing)