NieR, far, wherever you are.
NieR: Automata is a weird game. There is no dancing around that fact. The original NieR game was weird, but it was also memorable. Director Yoko Taro has a knack for creating gaming experiences unlike any other. Automata blends character action with bullet-hell shooters and even text adventures, and weaves it into an interesting narrative exploring the idea of robots with emotions. There are also robot clowns, because of course there are.
The story behind NieR: Automata is an interesting one. Humans have fled Earth after an alien invasion. They are fighting back using androids to try and reclaim their world. Robots have sex. Yes it is a weird narrative, and one impossible to explain. It is one of those ‘you have to experience it for yourself’ types of moments. The story also explores emotions in androids, which is a neat, and underused, plot in sci-fi lately. There are 26 endings, but most of them are simply contextual and not imperative to the main plot.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC
Price I’d Pay: $59.99
Upon finishing the game players can create a save that lets them carry over into the next storyline, so when the credits roll, it is far from over. Fear not though, all chips and levels carry over, and seeing the story unfold from different angles is truly interesting. There are really five main plotlines, all worth seeing, and the game will run most players anywhere from 25-30 hours to see it all.
Being a Platinum game, much is expected of the combat, and it delivers. What I liked most is that the game offers up plenty of wiggle room when it comes to difficulty. The combat system is deep and finely tuned, but players wanting a narrative-only experience are also in luck. There are auto chips in the game that allow for brainless combat, as well as the harder difficulties that will push even the most skilled player. I like games that give access to players of all skill levels.
The upgrade system is one of the coolest I have seen in a while. Being an android, players can socket chips into their character. This does everything from HUD items such as EXP bars and the mini-map, to more detailed abilities such as faster movement speed and stronger attacks. There are multiple loadouts to customize, or I could opt to just automate everything on the easy difficulty. Again, giving players the choice to dig as deep as they want is much appreciated.
NieR: Automata is an open world game, which seems to be the theme of 2017. It is also one of my biggest problems with it. The open world can be beautiful, the theme park is one example, but for the most part it feels empty and pointless. There are large stretches of the world that are empty and serve only to force the player to traverse to the next empty area. Once I unlocked the true fast travel system, I never ventured across it again. There are a few animals scattered throughout, but like the world itself, they feel shoehorned and pointless.
Another sticking point for me is the enemy variety, or lack thereof. The combat is great, but when I am fighting the same four robots over and over, it becomes tedious. The boss battles on the other hand are fantastic. They are all unique in design, although towards the end of the main story, it was a lot of the same human-type enemies over and over. Still, the bosses all fight differently, again showcasing how deep and involved the combat really is.
Playing on the harder difficulties also forces players to retrieve their dead bodies, a corpse run if you will. This means when I died, I had to recover my body and all of my goodies, and if I died on the way there, it was tough luck. Thankfully combat is satisfying, and there are plenty of sidequests to perform along the way to make money for more upgrades and chips. It is also worth noting that the game holds nothing back. No stamina meter here and swapping weapons is as easy as a button press, which makes the core of the game much more enjoyable.
Visually the game goes from 0-60 then back to zero. Some of the environments are superb, really showcasing the great design Platinum is known for. Others are just bland, empty locales that serve no purpose other than to force traversal. There is one area that I simply adored, but it ended up only lasting about ten minutes before I was back to the same bland dystopian city. Frame rate aims for 60 and it hits it the majority of the time, but there are bouts of frame drops, which with combat as buttery smooth as what we get here, really stands out. Side note – when I enabled Boost Mode in the new PS4 firmware it seemed to make it worse, so I disabled it and all seemed fine.
NieR: Automata is unlike anything I have ever played. This being my first full playthrough of a Yoko Taro game, makes me want to check out his other work even more. This game takes the medium and spins it on its head in a way only video games can do, and it is a marvel to experience. Go into it without spoilers, read everything and pay attention to what it says. Tropes disappear in this game, and mechanics take on a whole new meaning. NieR: Automata is an experience, and one gamers should definitely take.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.