Nier: Automata Review
These robots have feelings
Brooding, dark and silly are the three words I launch at Nier: Automata, the sort-of-sequel to cult classic, Nier. A game that tries to do almost everything it possibly wants, Automata doesn’t exactly fail at what it sets out to do, but is hampered by technical issues.
A joint production between Platinum Games and Yoko Taro, director of Nier and Drakengard, Automata is a massive step up from the quality of his previous titles, mostly thanks to Platinum placing their staple character action at the heart of the game. But just because Platinum’s penchant for massive boss fights and hyperactive combat are right here in the sequel to the rather quaint Nier, doesn’t mean that Taro’s need to cram in as grim of a story and humour is lost.
The game follows 2B and 9S, two androids sent down to Earth to seek a way to stop a mechanical menace that has wiped out most of humankind and get rid of some big baddies along the way. As they soon discover, the threat isn’t all that it seems and the pair wind up down the long spiralling path of a good ol’ mystery.
Nier: Automata doesn’t even try to be subtle about the themes the previous game touched on, with traditional weapon sellers questioning if they’re bringing their friends closer to death or the main characters coming to grips with their function as war machines. It sometimes reaches far into the depths of its own arse, but as the game progresses forward and starts to take on its own ideas within the context of the world it is presenting, the story gradually finds its ground in itself.
2B’s attitude to the world starts to wear thin after a while, but the small glimpses into a softer side of her as you make your way through the game and 9S’ infectious curiosity start to take a hold of her outlook on the world, it’d just be nice to see this closer to the middle of the game rather than the blatant flip-flop from the start of the game.
For as grim of a world as it tries to make out, the game adores being daft. NPC names are oddly specific, while a travelling merchant claims to have the best stuff and winds up having nothing but junk. The skill bar is far too realistic, with space dedicated to vital in game functions, like 2B’s operating system, that if removed to make space for other stuff, ends the game. They even have excuses for the lacklustre map, it’s that type of game.
It’s the little touches in Nier: Automata that make it what it is. 2B will trip if you run into bushes and certain quest givers will take you on a trip you weren’t particularly expecting. You can fish in any body of water, to which 2B will create a virtual stool to sit on while she does so and it’s all completely unnecessary, but from reading interviews — especially Edge’s from a couple months ago — with Taro, with the addition of how he even presents himself in public spaces, makes it blatantly obvious as to how he feels about these tiny touches that any other Platinum game or in fact, any modern game at all would just disregard.
Nier: Automata, like mentioned before, is still a Platinum game. The fluid combat and fantastic encounters with boss fights are some of the very best, but for some reason, it doesn’t feel as tight.
Dodging, for example, has traits of Bayonetta in it. Performing a perfect dodge will land you the ability to warp out of danger and if the right upgrade is used, you can totally just use Witch Time from Bayonetta to score yourself a couple seconds of slowed down time to avoid any incoming dangers. But sometimes, I’d execute a dodge and end up warping into something that locks me in for a hefty chunk of damage. Or at least it felt that way.
Whereas with games like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and the aforementioned Bayonetta, where it’s on you if you haven’t learnt the timings to perform dodges or parries. But Automata’s fluctuating frame rate, need to swarm you with enemies in tight spaces and less than tight controls, can make for a sometimes frustrating experience.
Though, all of this said and done, Nier: Automata is still stellar in the combat department. Sifting through hordes of enemies and battering them with massive axes or a lead pipe you happened to fish out of the water, then instantly switching over to another set of weapons that are two giant swords and all the while your little companion pod is firing bullets or missiles to increase damage output.
Automata seems to incorporate everything that either Platinum likes or what Taro thought was cool at the time. Inspiration from From Software’s Souls series can be seen, as dead corpses of other players with messages can be either retrieved for a small bonus or revived for an extra buddy to take along with you. The game doesn’t even start out with the primary combat, opting to take you through Automata’s love of bullet hell instead from the perspective of an old school 2D space shooter or suddenly switch you into a dual stick shooter, both of which I wish there was far more of because they surprisingly, play the best out the whole game.
I love that Nier: Automata has the gall to do whatever the hell it wants, when it wants and in the gameplay of all things. It’s incredibly similar to Metal Gear Rising of all things, in that it has a goal to reach and does so in the only way it sees and with very little influence from others in the genre.
One of my favourite aspects is when the game will shift the camera to a 2D perspective during on foot combat sequences. There’s one where you infiltrate a rather barren castle. Rather than filling it with intricate detail for the sake of padding gameplay, it cuts all the fat and gives you the absolute direct core of what the whole section would aim for in 3D, but in 2D. Combat stays the same and the ensuing fights are some of the best as you mow or slice down countless robots running towards you. It’s these sequences that Nier: Automata’s rather drab visuals produce something that’s outstanding and could only be produced through this method, giving you amazing backdrops to fight against.
Although, this does play at odds with the overworld hub that leads you into the different areas of the game. While the individual sections will either be maze like forests or interconnecting factories, the hub is incredibly bland to run through and mostly serves as a constant reminder that this world you’re exploring is now mostly dead. It doesn’t look especially pretty either, not even in a dead way and until you unlock the fast travel about half way into the main story, it’s a chore to get through or navigate at times.
Combine this with a fairly bizarre, if not very appropriate backing track to go with almost everything that happens, Nier: Automata’s style isn’t really found anywhere else.
Nier: Automata is certainly not a ‘normal’ Platinum game. Taro’s eccentric nature thrives through the semi-polished touch of the developer, resulting in a game that doesn’t feel like it should be coming out of Square Enix. It doesn’t seem like a game that should even be printed to disc, but one that you’d hear through Twitter or something similar. It’s very much the game that Taro wanted to make and it shows, especially when the game ends, only to tell you there’s like another whole load of endings to find.
Automata is special, not because it’s a great game, but because it’s proof that these types of games can still exist. The ones that feel like they shouldn’t exist on such a grand stage of coming out of a huge publisher. While there’s issues with the game itself and the story does tend to feel like it need another set of eyes to look over it at times, I’m excited to jump back in and get all 26 endings.