NieR: Automata is the latest game by PlatinumGames, a company well known in the industry for their intense action games, and developer of major titles such as Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising. Written and directed by Yoko Taro, famed creator of both the original NieR and the loosely related Drakengard series, it incorporates his distinctively dark and philosophical writing style and world building. With two greats of the games industry coming together, you’d expect that NieR: Automata would end up being something special. Almost 7 years after the release of the original game, it’s finally time to find out.
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Release Date: March 10th, 2017
To say much more would spoil the amazing story that Yoko has created, but just as in his past titles, there’s much more going on than meets the eye.
Set many thousands of years after the original game, NieR: Automata follows the story of a combat android called 2B, who works for an organisation known as YoRHa. YoRHa’s mission is to wipe out the army of machine life forms that were sent down to Earth by an invading alien race thousands of years ago. The human race was already in bad shape in the time of the original game, and the passing of time has not been kind, with the ruins of civilisation scattered across the Earth’s surface. Alongside a floating multi-purpose machine called a pod, which grants her the ability to shoot enemies at range, 2B tackles the hordes of machines that are seemingly intent on wiping out all remaining android and human life. To say much more would spoil the amazing story that Yoko has created, but just as in his past titles, there’s much more going on than meets the eye. You’re guaranteed to be surprised by the twists and turns of the narrative, as all the pieces of this massive puzzle slowly come together. Central to this process are Automata’s multiple endings, each of which brings players one step closer to seeing the final, true ending.
NieR: Automata takes the original game’s combat and improves on it considerably. PlatinumGames are arguably the best in the business when it comes to action games, and Automata benefits greatly from their expertise. The basics of the combat, the weapon types and on-the-fly switching, and the fast pace feel like they’re come straight out of one of Platinum’s other titles. That’s definitely not a bad thing. It’s an incredibly fluid experience, which still manages to incorporate the genre-combining weirdness of the original NieR. Like its predecessor, Automata is part action-RPG, part shoot ’em up. You’ll be slashing away at enemies with your melee weapons, only to find yourself suddenly being surrounded by a hail of large orb shaped bullets that you’ll need to dodge or cut your way through. You can also shoot back by using the customisable abilities of your faithful pod companion for longer ranged combat.
It’s a mix that sounds like it shouldn’t work on paper, but in action it feels incredibly natural and adds an enjoyable extra layer to the combat. It’s a unique twist on the action-RPG formula that we’ve seen in hundreds of other games, one that really makes Automata strand out from the crowd. Another returning feature from the original game is the seamless switching between the standard third person gameplay and a side-on view which makes the game look and play rather like a platformer with the combat being restricted to two dimensions. These switches in gameplay style really keep the experience feeling fresh, from hack and slash action, to shoot ’em up bullet dodging, to platforming segments and then back again. It’s a crazy ride. Automata also introduces to the series flying segments that are straight shoot ’em up, featuring a focus on pure bullet blasting mayhem as players blow enemies out of the sky or whittle down a boss’ health by targeting its weak points.
Something that really deserves a special mention is the game’s soundtrack. The original game featured a beautiful yet haunting soundtrack crafted by the talented Keiichi Okatabe, and he’s back again this time.
Something that really deserves a special mention is the game’s soundtrack. The original game featured a beautiful yet haunting soundtrack crafted by the talented Keiichi Okatabe, and he’s back again this time. NieR: Automata features an extensive soundtrack of carefully arranged tunes which always match up perfectly with what’s happening on-screen, whether it’s an emotional scene or a tense battle. There’s considerable use of quiet, soothing vocals across the game’s tracks, hinting at a kind of subtle beauty to be found amongst the ruins of civilisation. The game’s visual presentation is also top notch, with enemies going up in a satisfying explosion when defeated, showering the surrounding area with parts and items. Each of the game’s areas has a distinctive visual theme to it, and the transitions between gameplay and story cinematics are very smooth. The game does suffer from a couple of minor technical issues however, which show that Automata’s open world nature may have proven to be a challenge for PlatinumGames. The framerate can be a little inconsistent throughout the game, particularly on standard PS4 consoles, and loading between areas can be a bit jumpy. Fortunately, neither of these issues manage to bring down what is otherwise a very high quality production.
Yoko Taro’s past games, despite their inventive concepts and intricate stories, have tended to feature gameplay that felt a little clunky or unpolished. That legacy ends with NieR: Automata.
Yoko Taro’s past games, despite their inventive concepts and intricate stories, have tended to feature gameplay that felt a little clunky or unpolished. That legacy ends with NieR: Automata. PlatinumGames have worked incredibly well with Yoko to bring the world of NieR, as well as his deeply written dark story and characters, to life in a game that feels like the best of both worlds. The intricate story, supported by strong voice performances from the game’s cast, will draw players in and keep them engaged until the very end. Touching on themes such as existentialism, love, and even racism, the game’s story covers territory rarely seen in Japanese RPGs. Said story, combined with the fluid combat, memorable soundtrack and varied environments, comes together to form one of the most unique gaming experiences on the market right now. NieR: Automata is a must buy for PS4 owners, and a shining example of how games can be both a form of entertainment and art simultaneously.