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Who is Keanu Reeves playing in Cyberpunk 2077?

Meet Johnny Silverhand, rockstar turned vigilante

Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077 CD Projekt Red
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

CD Projekt Red dropped a bomb on fans today, introducing actor Keanu Reeves as a non-playable character in Cyberpunk 2077. A press release issued today confirms Reeves isn’t just playing some mook; he’s Johnny Silverhand, an iconic character from the original Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop role-playing game by Mike Pondsmith.

In the trailer shown today during the Xbox E3 2019 press conference, a deal involving the player character goes bad. After getting brutalized inside an apartment, they’re dumped in a junkyard outside the city limits. That’s when Silverhand shows up, reboots the player, and invites them to burn the city down at his side.

As he takes off his shades, he’s clearly sporting a shiny silver arm, Silverhand’s trademark cybernetic augmentation.

The scenario is eerily similar to the opening moments of Never Fade Away, the short, introductory module that shipped with the original Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop game in 1988, which also stars Silverhand.

Silverhand is a Rockerboy, a very specific character class in the world of Cyberpunk 2020. Imagine Dungeons & Dragons’ bard class mixed with a counterculture iconoclast, someone with both a message and a trusted connection to the massive audience that needs to hear it.

Here’s part of the class description from the original text:

Rockerboys are the street poets, social consciences and rebels of the 2000’s. With the advent of digital porta-studios and garage laser disk mastering, every Rocker with a message can take it to the street; put it in the record stores, bounce it off the comsats.

Sometimes, this message isn’t something the Corporations or the Government wants to hear. Sometimes what you say is going to get right in the faces of the powerful people who really run this world. But you don’t care, because as a Rockerboy, you know it’s your place to challenge authority, whether in straight-out protest songs that tell it like it is, or just by playing kick-ass rock n’ roll to get the people away from the TV sets and into the Streets. You have a proud history as a Rockerboy — Dylan, Springsteen, Who, Elvis, the Stones — the legions of hardrock heroes who told the truth with screaming guitars and gut-honest lyrics.

The flavor text that begins the Never Fade Away module involves Silverhand getting shot up, and his girlfriend Alt being captured by gang members in the encounter. In fact, the scene where the player-character wakes up in today’s trailer feels like it came straight from Pondsmith’s text.

Another excerpt from the book:

Johnny Silverhand, circa 1988, from the Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop role-playing game.
R. Talsorian Games

Johnny comes to, There’s something like broken glass in his guts. Red fire blots out the cool blue neon. He rolls over in a pool of something greasy. Blood. His. [...]

Behind his eyelids, red digitals feebly clock out his remaining moments. Bio-clock running down. Cars whispering past on the filthy, rain-wet street beyond. A Trauma Team ambulance in the distance, siren screaming. But not for him. He’s checking out. [...]

He balls the Hand that is his trademark into a chromed fist, servos clicking in one by one. He thrusts it into the gaping belly wound, gasping at the shocking pain. Somehow, he gets to his feet; staggers to the alleyway. He leans his feverish face against the cool, wet bricks. He makes a decision. He’s not going to die. They’re going to die. Closing his eyes, he pitches forward into the streak of passing traffic blur.

Something stops him. Hands firmly grapple him, holding him up. Silverhand has just enough strength to open his eyes. There’s a face looking intently at him, thin, bearded. “Lord Almighty”, the face says. “They re­ally did you, didn’t they?”

The look of Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk 2077 couldn’t be more different. One is stuck in the 1980s, while the other seems pitch perfect to our modern vision of what a dystopian future could be. CD Projekt is clearly digging deep into the original game’s lore and, by the end of this year’s E3, we’ll likely know much more about how the game plans to implement it.

For its part, the team at Cyberpunk 2020 publisher R. Talsorian Games is thrilled to see Reeves playing one of its most iconic characters

“There aren’t words to describe seeing someone of Mr. Reeves talent and legacy picking up a character Mike first introduced over thirty years ago and bringing him to life,” a representative told Polygon via email. “As a musician and someone who believes in making an impact in the word, someone who has known fame and the way it can lift and cut, its clear Mr. Reeves can understand Johnny in a way few people can. We’re beyond excited.”

Cyberpunk 2077 has a release date. Expect it April 16, 2020 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

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