I'm guilty of thinking that Nier: Automata is just another case of Platinum Games – action without much substance, style without context. Don't get me wrong, things here too get hugely over the top and many design choices might have you scratching your head, but once you get into the game, you'll hardly be able to imagine it any other way.
If you but take a glance at the promotional material, you also might be trapped into thinking that this game is a glorified hentai action without much story sense akin to Bayonetta. Not to say that Bayonetta is bad, but we can all agree that Bayonetta's story is one of the games silly and weak points. You might think that the color palette adopted by the game and the fact that the main characters are androids means that there is no color or emotion in this game. Read on to find out why you would be insanely wrong.
Nier: Automata is available for purchase on the KeenShop.
Wow, where to begin? Nier: Automata has a simple enough of a premise as the intro of the game explains. The humanity has retreated to the moon following an invasion of aliens who used machines do conquer and destroy the Earth, leaving behind a force of humanoid androids to defeat the invading force and make the world safe for humanity once more. It seems simple, straightforward and a good excuse to hack and slash some robots. But as you guessed it from the introduction, it is anything but simple. Once you play a couple of first hours of the game you will realize that you just fell down a rabbit hole, and I'm here to tell you that you will keep falling until you finish the game. And then finish it again. And again. And again.
I will avoid spoiling anything about the story itself besides that, as with the previous Nier game, this one features a whole lot of different endings, 26 of them to be exact. Some 5 of them progress the story even further when you begin the game again, some of them are bad, and some are a complete joke on the player. Sometimes the game can end midway through the story because you rather went fishing than fighting building sized boss who wrecked the place. I personally haven't played any of the previous titles, be it Nier or Drakengard and I was completely sidelined by every bad ending and every literal mindf*** that the game threw at me, and it threw a lot of them. After each positive, or semi-positive ending, the story throws you a curveball, switches your perspective and grants you an opportunity to play events that you already witnessed with another character in a way that doesn't feel like padding for length. It's a well thought out system and the story benefits greatly from it.
The topics tackled here can get pretty deep with questions about the very essence of what means it to be an emotion feeling android with a tone that feels melancholic and desperate at times. The main characters carry the story pretty well and every adventure they go through, be it the main story or side missions feels meaningful in the overarching context and philosophy of the story. All in all, expect to do some epic things and find the game world much different from the beginning once the final credits roll. I went into Automata not knowing anything and I was completely and utterly blown away.
The boots on the ground gameplay of Nier: Automata reminded me a lot of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, even with the whole robotic aesthetic. It stylish, it's flashy with a simple to use, hard to master system. It involves hacking and slashing with two different weapons of your choice in a series of light and heavy attacks which you can weave into impressive combos. Timed dodges and parrying enable you to do a quick and damage heavy counterattack, and it is imperative to use if you want to make it through the game, especially on higher difficulties. You also have a small robotic companion that is used for low damage/high firing rate ranged attacks. What came to me as a positive surprise is how varied the gameplay itself is. It caught me off guard when the first interactive gameplay began with a bullet hell shoot-em-up segment. But even in the standard combat, the game can often switch perspectives on you to side scrolling or top down and it keeps the game from getting stale.
The RPG elements in Automata are not particularly deep. There is not much in the way of choice when leveling up. The game just up's some of your stats. What makes more of a difference are upgrade chips. Chip space is limited, and they, besides improving stats also provide the segments of the UI. So you can remove your mini-map to install a chip that improves HP regeneration for example. Despite these options, the focus is still mostly on your skills in combat. To this end, I would definitely recommend playing with a controller as it is much easier and less clunky to control.
Enemies in the game are mostly robotic, or humanoid robots. They lack variety in terms of how they look but more than make up for it in the variety of size, armor, weapons they use, and the pattern of their attacks. They will keep you on your toes and even the smallest enemies can catch you off guard to take a chunk of your HP if you are not careful. Another recommendation is to play the game at higher difficulties cause it makes the combat feel that much more rewarding and satisfying.
Sure, playing autopilot at easy can be super flashy, but it gets boring pretty quick. Boss battles deserve a quick mention as there is a certain amount of tradeoff when they are concerned. Huge bosses feel epic but not that exciting as they can often be out of your reach and feel disconnected from the area where your character is moving. Smaller bosses feel less epic but I found them to be more challenging and fun.
The game takes place in a world with a few open areas, as well as other areas which are mostly corridor-ish with only giving the appearance of being bigger than they really are, akin to Darksiders. Don't get me wrong, I didn't mind the relatively small size of the world as it is in complete service to the characters and the story which are pretty amazing and reminds you just how a more linear world can be used to tell a better story. Despite the relatively linear areas, the navigation can still be confusing thanks to the mini-map which could display the difference between traversable and unreachable areas a bit better.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
As previously mentioned, the game adopts an almost sepia gray brownish washed out colors which make the world feel hopeless and melancholic. It fits well considering the premise and the post-apocalyptic nature of the world. I played the game on both the PC and the PS4, and PC version benefits greatly from higher resolutions, good optimization, and a steady framerate. PS4 version, although aiming at 60fps struggles to maintain it when more enemies populate the screen.
What I found weird, even on the PC is that cutscenes are choppy and locked to 30fps. The drop can be especially jarring when a seamless transition from gameplay to cutscene occurs. The locations are creative and the game is stylish across the board but I did notice some washed out and low-quality textures here and there. I sometimes also struggled with the camera in the more closed spaces and once or twice it cost me the game. It took me a while to get used to the way it works and once I did, that eliminated most of my woes.
All the visual style and the tone is superbly complemented by the amazing soundtrack. It's a mix of vocals and orchestral epic music that changes depending on what you are doing. From heart pounding aggressive orchestral notes when fighting bosses to vocal masterpieces with minimal music when just exploring. It manages to exude epicness and tragedy at the same time and it greatly contributes to the overall feel and key story moments as well.
Nier: Automata is a big ball of a surprise that keeps on giving. I went into it with no expectations and found myself amazed with it. It is a really wild and beautiful game that shouldn't pass under anyone's radar. The fun gameplay coupled with the fantastic story and the soundtrack makes this a complete package and I'm hesitating to call it an action game cause that would be a disservice to the emotional impact it had on me. I'm sure it will have the same effect on a lot of you if you give it a chance. You most certainly should.
|+ Fast and fun gameplay||– Some technical problems|
|+ Amazing story||– Camera issues|
|+ Beautiful soundtrack|