At E3 2019, CD Projekt Red, the highly respected company that published The Witcher franchise, pulled the veil back even more on their highly anticipated video game Cyberpunk 2077. Revealed back in 2013, we’ve steadily been getting more information about the game over the past year. This year, we learned that Keanu Reeves himself would feature prominently in the game. But just who is Johnny Silverhand?
At the end of the E3 cinematic trailer for Cyberpunk 2077, the main character, V, finds himself (or herself-depending on player choice), down on the ground, emerging from unconsciousness. V is then confronted by a being, who appears to actually glitch out for a moment. Is V dreaming? The character tells you to “wake the f*ck up Samurai, we have a city to burn.” The being is portrayed by none other than Keanu Reeves, a man seemingly at the height of his career presently thanks to the success of the John Wick films, his standout worthy role in Toy Story 4 and the revival of Bill and Ted in 2020.
Keanu was tapped to play Johnny Silverhand in July 2018, fairly late in a video game development cycle when you consider its April 2020 release date [update: this game is now scheduled to released in November 2020). His involvement with The Matrix films and Johnny Mnemonic were a huge draw in bringing Reeves on board with the project. Keanu just didn’t lend his voice and likeness to the role either; he also did the motion capture for Johnny and got to play around with his mannerisms and behaviours. And Keanu isn’t playing a random cameo or anything either in 2077. Johnny sounds like he’ll be around for a good chunk of the day, being the actor with the 2nd most amount of dialogue in the whole entire game and I would imagine he’s the Cortana of this particular game-Cortana being the AI companion of the Master Chief in the Halo franchise. But even though he’s around you so much, that doesn’t mean Johnny’s alive and well. I say that because Johnny Silverhand is actually dead in the world of Cyberpunk. a dystopian future where mega-corporations rule and crime is blatant at every level. So how is Johnny able to help V?
Despite being a brand new game for CD Projekt Red, Cyberpunk isn’t a new IP, as it was a tabletop RPG game created by Mike Pondsmith. Being a role-playing game, there is a lot of lore and history in this universe and that’s where we first got introduced to Johnny in Cyberpunk 2013, which is, as you can see, decades prior to the events of the video game. In this universe, Johnny is a Rockerboy, a subset faction made up of musicians who are inspired by the punk rock movement who fight against authority and corporate sellouts. Johnny was the frontman of a band called Samurai, a “chrome rock” band. V wears a Samurai jacket in all of the promotional material for 2077 at this point in time, suggesting he/she is a fan of the music.
Then in Firestorm Stormfront, which is a sourcebook and adventure book for Cyberpunk 2020, Johnny attacks the Arasaka HQ with the hope of ending the Fourth Corporate War. Johnny is then seemingly killed during the attack, but no one ever found his body, likely due to it being possibly vaporized after a nuke was detonated. This is the reason why we see graffiti that reads “Where’s Johnny?” during the brief, E3 gameplay footage shown after Keanu Reeves revealed the release date for the game at the Microsoft panel, which can be seen in the video embedded below from Kotaku.
But it looks like while Johnny’s body has passed, his digital self seemingly has lived on. Perhaps he downloaded a copy of himself, perhaps he glitched out during the assault, but it seems that only V can see him thanks to information from the E3 demo behind closed doors, which features Johnny showing up in the world but going unnoticed by other NPCs. This can be seen briefly in the gameplay tease at 2:53 of the video above, where Johnny’s gone full Tyler Durden-and if you don’t get that reference, you need to watch Fight Club. Considering the plot of the game involves a chip that could be the key to immortality, per the item descriptions online, it seems that Johnny’s involvement ties directly to that chip we saw in the E3 trailer.
Are you excited for 2077? Or do you feel a bit out of your depth when it comes to the cyberpunk genre? If so, why not check out our breakdown on the genre, see how Night City stacks against other cyberpunk cities, as well as our thoughts and reactions to the gameplay demo from E3 2018.