Review: NieR: Automata (PlayStation 4)
- Release Date (NA): March 7, 2017
- Release Date (EU): March 10, 2017
- Release Date (JP): February 23, 2017
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Platinum Games
- Genres: Action RPG
- ESRB Rating: Mature
- PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
- Also For: Computer
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
A World Ruled by Machines
Thousands of years ago unidentified alien life forms entered the solar system. First Contact was anything but peaceful - the aliens had hostile intent and deployed an army of machine life forms, a self-replicating attack force bent on extinguishing the flame of humanity. It is the year 11,945 AD, the world is embroiled in conflict called the 14th Machine War. The remaining human survivors escaped the planet and found safe harbor on the moon, which became humanity's sanctuary. From there, the human leaders send orders to warriors of their own - the androids, defenders of Earth, built in their own image. You are 2B, the latest and greatest in battle android technology. Your mission? Destroy any machine foolish enough to cross your path and support the Resistance on the ground with the help of your faithful scanner companion, 9S. Glory to Mankind!
Trapped in a Never-ending Spiral of Life and Death
NieR: Automata's plot seems cliché just from reading the synopsis - it's the typical alien invasion affair, right? So it would seem, until you grab a controller and play the game for yourself. As I dug deeper into the game's lore I've discovered something quite unusual, so I figured I'd get it out of the way before getting into the meat of the review. Some of our readers might be familiar with the Drakengard series, also known as Drag-On Dragoon in Japan. The NieR series is, in an out of itself, one giant Easter Egg, as it follows Drakengard's fifth non-canon ending which was put into the game as a joke. It's almost as if the UFO endings of Silent Hill got their own spin-off, which sounds ridiculous until you try it. In true Japanese storytelling fashion it's a little confusing to follow the line of thought that leads from a dragon being magically teleported to present day Tokyo through an alien invasion to finally arrive at a war between androids and machines, but for some reason it just works in NieR: Automata. As you can see, the game has quite a lineage to live up to, even if the relation is only by proxy.
Since the events of NieR humanity was forced to escape Earth. Facing extinction, our species retreated the moon, but never lost hope that one day they could reclaim their homeworld from the clutches of the alien-controlled machine life forms. This desire was precisely why YoRHa was established - an elite task force of androids with its headquarters on an orbital station called "The Bunker". The YoRHa androids are completely autonomous, and with humanity's guidance, they continue the war effort against the machines. For centuries the androids and the machines were locked in a stalemate, and it's your job as a player to turn the tides of the war to humanity's advantage.
The plot revolves around the adventures of two YoRHa androids, 2B and 9S. Although initially sent to the planet's surface to complete one specific objective, their mission unexpectedly went south, forcing a rapid change of priorities. The two are tasked with supporting the android resistance movement on Earth instead, and through a series of missions they develop a bond, exploring a number of themes you wouldn't expect from a primarily action-oriented game. The androids experience emotions, which is strictly prohibited by the YoRHa rules of conduct, they learn about friendship, loss and grief as they grow closer together, learning the true meaning of what it even means to be human and that they can forge their destinies against their own nature. As far as the story is concerned, NieR: Automata delivers a thoroughly compelling experience that's well-worth the player's time.
The Platinum Touch
For the longest time games by Platinum have been treated as a gold standard of Japanese-style action, and for good reason. Games like Metal Gear Rising or Bayonetta show that when it comes to swordplay, Platinum Games is a studio in a league of its own, and Square Enix' decision to outsource NieR: Automata's development was the best decision they've ever made. In terms of gameplay NieR: Automata nails its own genre and goes beyond, achieving something I rarely get to see in gaming - a seamless blend of completely unrelated genres.
It's hard to describe NieR: Automata's genre as the game combines mechanics spanning the genre spectrum. At its core, NieR: Automata is an action RPG, except it's actually a "2.5D/3D platforming side-scrolling top-down SHUMP thrid-person shooter role-playing game", if that makes any sense, and how that arrangement works is beyond me. In this game it's not unusual to drop into a mission via a 2.5D SHUMP section, getting to your objective via 2.5D side-scrolling platformer level, suddenly switching to a full 3D, 360 degrees action-heavy hack 'n' slash with intense gunplay before facing a massive enemy straight out of a Souls-style game - that's just the way it plays, and the transitions between different gameplay styles are so organic that you barely even notice them. It's a very original and unique blend, and the fact that each of the elements is well-executed goes to show that the developers cared about the quality of the product rather than just jamming in odd-shaped puzzle pieces at random hoping to get an image out of them.
With all that said, you'll spend most of your time adventuring in a traditional third-person arrangement which "feels" very Platinum. Your character uses two weapons at a time which can be selected out of a variety of swords, great swords, spears and combat bracers collectible and upgradeable throughout the game, and can link attacks into combo chains. Finding suitable combination of weapons is a part of the experience and adds to the wealth of customisation available to the player. In addition to your main and sidearm, the androids are also equipped with Pods - robots that continuously follow them and assist using weapon modules of their own, ranging from offensive modules such as gatling guns or lasers to more defensive ones like shields.
Just like a typical japanese RPG, NieR has plenty of quests to offer and large, expansive areas for you to explore, and with each step you learn that there's much more to the shallow premise than meets the eye. Time after time, NieR takes you for a spin on the plot twist train and keeps you engaged. You'd think that a never-ending battle between androids and machines, two emotionless "things" would eventually get boring, but centuries into it the world still has plenty of things to surprise the player with. It's been many centuries since the apocalypse hit Earth like a baseball bat and it would seem that the planet has finally began to recover. Previously industrial and urban areas are now meshed with lush forests and green meadows which are quite spectacular both to look at and to explore. Despite the on-going conflict, life seems to grow anew on the planet, however weak it may seem at this stage. You'll definitely have fun exploring the world of NieR: Automata - there's a lot to see, from overgrown cities to a decrepit amusement park.
An Acquired Taste
Naturally it's not all roses and fairy dust, the game isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. The gameplay is spot-on, sure, but the post-apocalyptic world presented in NieR: Automata left me with an odd feeling of sameness and emptiness. The maps are not really well-populated, which is to be expected in a post-apocalyptic setting, but the NPC's you do meet seem to be in arbitrary positions - they have no good reason to be where they are and it gives off an impression that they're only there to give you a quest to complete. Moreover, the aesthetics of Nier: Automata are definitely an acquired taste. I fully understand that the machine life forms all follow the same blueprint simply because they're machines - they're meant to be utilitarian, cold and calculating, but in the long run the distinct lack of variety wore me down as a player.
Moreover, the ecosystem in the game seems odd - it appears that the only creatures that survived the apocalypse are birds, fish, boars and moose. It seems a little off, and once again, I fully understand that the world was almost completely destroyed, but it could really use some polish. The game, despite attempting to implement colourful locations, seems almost grey as a result, which very well might be intentional, but it's still very noticeable. This might be arbitrary nit-picking, but the game could really benefit from environments that feel more "alive". Naturally this could very well be a deliberate choice made by the developers that's supposed to coincide with the theme of synthetic life, but it's these little things that make a great game truly special - NieR: Automata is trying hard to nail them, but narrowly misses the mark. But hey, on the bright side, you can ride the boars and the moose, and there's a certain charm in charging into battle on a majestic animal like a knight of the future.
A Current Gen JRPG Classic
Although it's definitely not a 10/10, NieR: Automata is a modern JRPG classic. It's a return to a classic IP, and one made in style. The gameplay is thoroughly enjoyable, the story, although seemingly textbook, is engaging and full of twists and turns, the combat mechanics are spot-on and there's a lot of questing to be done that'll keep you coming back to the title over and over, in more ways than you can expect. In fact, it takes at least three game completions to fully take in what the game has to offer. I won't spoil the reason why, but what I will tell you is that you'll definitely want to find that out for yourself.
I enjoyed my time with NieR: Automata thoroughly. Rarely do you get to play such a seamless blend of so many different genres that just "works", and with the PlatinumGames seal of quality you know you're in for a good time. The only thing left to say is to wish you good luck as you embark on your mission to save humanity... and learn a thing or two about life on the way. Glory to Mankind!
+ Fast-paced gameplay that keeps you on the edge of your seat
+ Excellent integration of multiple genres into one sleek package
+ Extensive customisation options allowing you to adapt your character to your specific gaming style
+ Multiple endings guarantee the longevity of the title
- Enemy design, although intentionally following the same blueprint, becomes repetitive over time
- NPC's seem to be placed on the map at random, as if they existed only to meet you
- Although the game offers extensive customisation options, vanity items are few and far between
- The environments are breath-taking, but they don't quite feel "alive"
- Very limited fauna seems a little off
The environments presented in NieR: Automata, as well as the voice acting and the sound are high quality. It's very clear that they were all designed with great care and play well with the overall premise of the story. Unfortunately, the post-apocalyptic world of NieR: Automata seems a little grey and almost devoid of life, which is a shame. With the gameplay being so spot-on, the blemishes in presentation are a bit of a shame - the game needed a little bit more polish to make the world seem "lived in".
NieR: Automata offers tense and lightning fast combat PlatinumGames is famous for, blended with a unique JRPG stats system with extensive upgrades, buckets of quests to complete and a story that keeps on surprising the player time after time. Anything less than a 10 in this category would be selling the game short - as far as the gameplay is concerned, the game's worth every penny.
With a long list of quests to complete, multiple endings and tons of loot to collect and upgrade, NieR: Automata is a title you'll definitely keep coming back to. The game has to be completed at least three times to learn the full extent of the plot, and that alone scores highly on the Lasting Appeal score card. Each subsequent playthrough brings new insights and new quests, so you'll want to finish the title from cover to cover, hence a 10 is well-deserved and justified.
out of 10
(not an average)
NieR: Automata is not a perfect game, but it's damn near close to perfection. I've enjoyed every moment of it, and although the post-apocalyptic Earth felt a little synthetic, perhaps that was the point. Missing out on NieR: Automata would be missing out on one of the better JRPG's I've played in a long time. The game explored interesting themes through the means of multiple genres, all executed to the highest of standards, and it deserves credit for that. If you're a fan of "the PlatinumGames touch", be sure to grab NieR: Automata - you won't regret it.