Nier: Automata is an unusual game from a lot of perspectives, whether it’s with the cheekiness to its character design and camera angle when sprinting, the knowing nods and winks to those fans of the first Nier and of PlatinumGames’ output, or even just its unlikely development history. More unusual is that, for fear of spoilers, I’m forbidden from talking about many of the reasons why I think this game could be good. I’ll do my best anyway.
It takes a little while to really see it, but there’s a few little glimmers of something special in Nier: Automata. Certainly, first impressions are rather mixed, with the first level – the one seen in the demo at the end of last year – giving way to an open world structure that’s unusual for PlatinumGames. The problem is that it just feels empty.
Certainly, that’s the point. This is a vision of Earth that has seen humanity banished to orbital stations, while machines and robots rule the surface. The vast majority of humanity lives up on the Moon, occasionally striking back by sending YoRHa androids, such as the female protagonist 2B and her teenage boy sidekick 9S, to fight their war for them.
There are, however, small pockets of resistance on Earth still, hiding away in cities that have been reclaimed by nature. It’s a familiar look, with decaying buildings falling apart, grass breaking through the concrete streets and plants overgrown. It can look pretty, but it’s a long distance from getting the most out of modern consoles.
Even as it depicts desolation, I’d expect more life, for want of a better term. The shells of buildings are completely vacant, the number of times you wander through a doorway only to find a bare box depressing, and that’s when you’re allowed through a doorway. Trying to explore this city, the path I wanted to take was mostly blocked by invisible walls, and doorways I thought I could fit through. My favourite instance of this had a doorway that would surely have been impossible to pass through blocked from me by an invisible wall. Despite the fact I could see a clear and easy path to an adjacent area, I was forced to go around. It’s design befitting of the last generation, not this.
The actual combat, however, feels like quintessential Platinum. Taking control of 2B with 9S accompanying and backing her up, both with floating gun drones hovering nearby, it’s fast and it’s fluid. It’s also rather accessible but has enjoyable depths to discover, as you get to grips with the timing of dodging and start to find the combo attacks and how your equipped weapons can interact with one another. It’s here, as you battle against the handfuls of fairly basic robots that you encounter in little pockets around the city, that you see that first little glimmer of something special.
Those robots are kind of adorable, with their rusty cylindrical bodies, domed heads and little arms that they spin around like The Simpsons kids having a fight. There’s smaller ones and bigger ones wielding weapons in the city, but as you venture forth, they become more varied, whether they’re simply the basic robots made taller, reminiscent of the Super Mario cacti, or that some of them are wearing clothes. They’ve even started talking, though I’m not at liberty to disclose what they’re actually begun to say. Let it just be said that it is unusual, weird and completely unexpected. Another little glimmer.
The problem is that I can’t tell you what it is, as a spoiler that Square Enix have deemed off limits. It shows off the game’s individuality and quirkiness, though dramatically downplays just how barmy the story is shaping up to be. I’m not even allowed to tell you about certain twists in the gameplay that break out from the standard action-heavy combat and exploration. I can, however, tell you that there’s fishing and moose riding, the latter of which is as brilliant as it sounds.
So, I came away from playing Nier: Automata with mixed feelings, to say the least. Some parts of it feel archaic and uninspiring, others potentially give it that little spark that could make you overlook its failings, and yet I can’t really give you those reasons why, despite feeling that it needs that push to get people beyond Nier and PlatinumGames fans to really pay attention.
- Publisher:Square Enix
- Release Date:10/03/17