NieR: Automata is what every sequel should aim to be. NieR itself, while a compelling story, lacked a degree of polish and was not favoured well. NieR: Automata makes you forgive all that and more. The game never settles for what you expect of it. Mixing RPG with Platinum Games trademark fighting with strange inserts of 2D shooter thrown in for good measure, Automata is one of those experiences that you just need to play.
Seriously, just go buy it now.
The story of Automata takes place far in the distant future. Aliens have attacked Earth with an army of machines and humans have been forced to retreat to the moon and leave androids to fight off the invaders for them. You play as 2B, an android built by humans and dressed like a gothic maid whose sole goal is to eradicate aliens and their machines and reclaim the earth. After a brutal tutorial (more on that later) you are destroyed and put in a new body and paired with 9S to monitor your recovery, a male android dressed like a depressed Victorian child though possessing far more personality than said child or 2B from the outset. Together you attempt to reclaim the planet for humanity, whether by negotiation or by force.
I’m under no obligation to reveal any ‘spoiler content’ of the game. But suffice to say what I have told you is only surface level. Your adventure will contain a plethora of twists and turns which don’t stop at the end, or the end after, or even the one after that. Like NieR, the game extends into multiple endings and you will know when you have reached the ends, all 26 of them according to the internet; the endings you get are dependent on the choices you make, and the side quests you do. Yoko Taro’s reputation as a storyteller is repeated well in this sequel. You are taken on a grand story exploring human essentialism through the new eyes of machine life and poignant questions are presented to the player about what exactly humanity is.
The bulk of your game is in control of 2B, who is a well-versed fighter and the games straight man. You’ll be running around the open world, completing main quests or side quests and turning any machine you see into scrap. Platinum Games fighting appears full force here. Fighting is broken down into light and heavy attacks, with the ability to attach a weapon to each type. Naturally, these attacks can be chained together, and if you figure it out you can get pretty long combos going. Enemy attacks are telegraphed well thanks to their glowing eyes, and a correct dodge can allow you to throw the enemy into the air and get a flurry of free hits in, usually enough to kill the squishy enemies. You’ll feel similarities to Bayonetta and Transformers Devastation, with stylish attacks and well-timed dodges and counters being easy to learn and visually fluid. Over time you will go through the traditional process of learning to play the game the mastering the game, abusing every little niche that is present to give yourself an advantage on higher difficulty levels.
Being an android, upgrading is done by the installing of ‘chips.’ Chips provide a variety of bonuses, such as more powerful attacks and passive healing, as well as cover the staples of many games. Do you want that extra-fancy bonus chip? Well best decide whether your health bar or your enemies’ health bar is more important as all that is in chips. You even has a chip for your operating system, though be warned removing this will just kill your character. You have presets as well for on-the-fly changing, giving you the chance to try out a variety of typesets without too much manual labour.
The world itself is a wonderful dystopia, much akin to Horizon: Zero Dawn. You will travel between industrial zones, destroyed cities, deserts and even at one point an amusement park, with habitation of them suitable inserted. Enemies are dotted usually in the large open areas, which makes them easy enough to find. Traversing the world is a bit of a grind and while fast travelling is an option you will need to unlock fast travel points within each area. The game map is also deliberately awful, and they break the fourth wall to tell you just so you know it is truly deliberate.
The game jumps a lot. From slow to fast, from 2D to 3D, from fighting game to Galaga-esque shooter, all at a moment’s notice. If all of this seems a bit too much for you, easy mode provides Auto-Chips which do pretty much everything after you point 2B at the enemy. You get a surprisingly complex tier system of depth for every type of player, from the story lover to the true fighting experts. Plenty has also been fixed from NieR: The inventory system particularly has been made much simpler, however playing NieR at all is not needed for this game.
One thing that doesn’t jump in this game is how it looks. NieR: Automata has a very polished look to it despite the minimalist stylings of the UI. Colours burst out, flora and fauna adding colour to a drab concrete environment. A Certain area, such as the bunker, remove colour altogether, creating a clean clinical feel. A phenomenal soundtrack backs all this up; ebbing, flowing and fading across without your noticing to keep you moving forward. While there are some moments where the graphics feel more serviceable than stellar and the framerate dives, these are few and far between, and never where it matters.
However, like its predecessors NieR: Automata tends to present you with a phenomenal story but take it off in various directions with no regard for your time to process this information. You will need to be paying a lot of attention to keep up with the story, all 30 plus hours of it. It doesn’t help that it is difficult to invest in 2B. Their personal drama takes a good 20 hours to unfold, and by that point, you have had several emotional moments forced upon you. Don’t get me wrong, though, difficulty investing does not mean I did not enjoy the game, though a 40-minute introduction mission where you know none of the characters and failure means restarting the whole damn thing will do so.
The gameplay hitches rarely as well. Later introduction of a hacking minigame, while not bad on its own, dragged after the first few times. Automata also continue the depressing trend of indirect multiplayer elements by introducing corpse retrieval. With this, you find your own or other players bodies littered through the world, with the option of either collecting the upgrade chips or repairing them for a short-term NPC. Additions like these feel frivolous and detract from the stronger points of Automata’s gameplay.
NieR: Automata has been built to tell a story, and every force is pulling together to try and tell you it. The story holds a cinematic prowess, much akin to Metal Gear Solid, and I did spend most of this game in reminiscence of Zone of the Enders, from which the games share a similar menu aesthetic. It is a unique experience, insane and unashamed of the fact, and unwilling to keep you comfortable for long. While the difficulty to invest in the characters and some questionable gameplay choices put it closer to the recent competition than they would like, it still manages to shine through as a 9/10 must have if you own a PS4 or a PC.