In the sci-fi role-playing game “Cyberpunk 2077,” you are the star. You can customize your character, a mercenary known as V, however you want. But as you explore the seedy underbelly of the fictional Night City, you’ll have a famous friend along for the ride, too: Keanu Reeves.
At E3 2019, developer CD Projekt Red revealed that the beloved action star will be in the game as the mythic figure Johnny Silverhand, with Reeves lending both his voice and likeness to the character. While Silverhand was only teased in the new trailer, an extended E3 demo revealed that at some point in the story, he’ll be implanted in V’s mind — CD Projekt Red referred to him as a “digital ghost” that only you can see and talk to.
Silverhand popped up at different times in the hands-off demo, usually standing in a corner or leaning against a wall to smoke (sort of like how the Joker’s ghost hung around in Batman’s head in “Batman: Arkham Knight”). He’d comment on the player’s actions and encourage them to push through if they were having a difficult time.
According to quest director Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, Reeves was the perfect person to play Johnny Silverhand. The character comes from the original pen-and-paper version of “Cyberpunk” from Mike Pondsmith (who serves as a consultant on the video game). Silverhand is a Rockerboy — the game’s term for a rebellious musician — who turned into a hero after he fought against Arasaka, one of the biggest and most malicious corporations in “Cyberpunk” lore.
Silverhand went as far as planting a thermonuclear bomb at Arasaka’s main offices. However, his whereabouts after that incident became a mystery. No one really knows what happened to him, and his name became part of Night City legend. You’ll see “Where’s Johnny?” graffiti peppered throughout the sprawling metropolis. And one of your goals in “Cyberpunk 2077” is to find out what happened to Silverhand after he disappeared over 50 years ago.
“Johnny is a person who stands for something, that the way the corporations have organized this specific society is wrong,” Tomaszkiewicz told Variety. “He doesn’t like what they’re doing with the world. … And Keanu has a long history of playing characters who do exactly this. They stand for an idea. So we believed that he’d be the right pick for the character.”
Once Reeves joined the project, the studio scanned his face and had him do motion capture sessions for the game’s cutscenes. During voice recording, the veteran actor would offer feedback to the writers and designers about how he saw the character. He had a lot of recording to do: Tomaszkiewicz described Silverhand as a “supporting protagonist,” a companion who’ll be with you for most of the game.
“You build a relationship with him as you progress through the story,” Tomaszkiewicz added.
Casting Reeves is a fascinating move for CD Projekt Red because the studio isn’t known for having celebrities in its games. Its last hit, “The Witcher III: Wild Hunt”, was a critical and commercial success because it was a strong RPG with a memorable story. While we won’t know how well “Cyberpunk 2077” comes together until it releases next April, the developer is confident that Reeves won’t be too much of a distraction from the game.
If anything, the team reasoned, his role only adds more weight and excitement to the story.
“We believe that [Keanu Reeves] complements the game pretty well. He fits the character. He’s not someone we grabbed just for attention. … We believe the game is very good and that it stands on its own,” said Tomaszkiewicz.