NieR Automata is the kind of videogame project that a dream team salvaged from a pending doom. Determined to offer the series a sequel exceeding all the expectations of its fans, the experience is coupled with a solid gameplay capable of attracting the attention of newcomers and people who never even heard of NieR or even Drakengard. With creator Yoko Taro at the directing reign, the vision of producer Yosuke Saito (known form Dragon Quest) and the musical genius of composers Keiichi Okabe and Keigo Hoashi, all of them returning in their respective roles, this NieR: Automata already ticked the boxes for fans. If the original NieR of 2010 recieved mixed reviews, this sequel is led mainly by PlatinumGames (Bayonetta, Vanquish, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, etc.), and input from the original team mentioned above as well as Square Enix’s Akihiko Yoshida to handle character design (Final Fantasy). With all these Japanese talents, you would expect that they’ll bring all the needed ingredients to cook a really good game, am I right? Let’s find out in this extensive review.
The story of NieR Automata takes place on post-apocalyptic Earth thousands of years after the events of the first NieR game. Driven from the surface of the earth by an army of machines sent by a mysterious alien race, humanity has found refuge on the Moon. All hopes of regaining the planet are in the hands of YoRHa, led from an orbital base that sends battalions of androids to lead the front against the invader.
Nier: Automata puts you into the role of YoRHa Android 2B, sent on a mission to take back some strategic spots on Earth from the machines alongside the 9S reconnaissance unit. From the first minutes, 2B is exactly what you’d expect from a heroine (or hero as they are supposedly genderless): strong, assured and entirely dedicated to its task. The highly sexualized look and design of 2B, combined with the grace of its animations creates a successful contrast even with the lack of facial expressions (it’s an android after all). On the other hand, the more adolescent appearance of 9S fit its more enthusiastic and curious character, and helps solidify the relationship within this duo, with many dialogues and conversation which are sometimes humorous, but often philosophical on the origin of the machines. Despite the thick headband tied around their eyes, both 2B and 9S manage to show emotions and a sense of rare humanity in which I assume Yoko Taro enjoyed adding his touch. Plus on top of all, like its predecessor, NieR Automata is not a game to be stored away once you see the end credits, as the game has different storylines you can play as later on.
As soon as the game launch, you’re embarked in its constant identity crisis. If it looks like an action-RPG, NieR Automata does not deprive itself of becoming a Shoot them Up, a platformer or even a Twin Stick Shooter on many occasions. These variations of gameplay are achieved through camera angle with an absolute natural transition. From the variation of the game styles to the choreography of the combat and clashes, everything is incredibly fluid in the NieR: Automata experience, full of PlatinumGames’ know-how in terms tension and suspense. The Japanese studio manages to create a balance between a relatively simple handling and technical enough for lovers of the genre. Two buttons to attack, yet many combos to pull off, alternating between the two weapons of the characters, while managing the distance in terms of shooting, a gameplay that is a big part of the undeniable success of this game without being as demanding as of a certain Bayonetta in advanced difficulty.
Influenced by From Software’s productions, the death of your characters is handled by the transfer of his “robotic consciousness” to another body that is identical to the previous one. However, you will have to retrieve your chips left on your inanimate automaton or transform your empty carcass into an ally capable of fighting at your side for a short time. If you play online, it will even be possible to land in the “shoes” of other player’s corpse and help them out. Note that there’s many other references and ideas from Dark Souls as well, including the fact that you can send messages with predefined words to the game servers, for people to find when they see one of your corpse in their game.
While NieR Automata at first sight and impression makes you believe it’s an action game, the title slowly shows off its other RPG elements, including exploration of an open world filled with NPCs, quests, merchants and secrets to be found under the rubble of an earth with no human life. Once the introductory chapter ends, you will make your way to a small resistance camp stashed between two buildings in ruins in the middle of a city invaded by robots and mother nature. It is here that 2B and 9S pick up their first missions and come back regularly enough to stock up on consumables or improve their weapons with the different materials and loot collected around the world (and let me tell you that there will be a lot of stuff to pick up). Since everything refreshes during zone transitions in NieR: Automata, the game is perfect for loot-hungry players, in order to farm enemies, to find the best drops and materials, or just boost your experience and level up your weapons and abilities.
Nevertheless, don’t count on roaming a universe as vast as those of Horizon: Zero Dawn or even The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (the first two mighty open world adventure of 2017). The world of NieR: Automata is only a handful of open zones spread out around a ruined city full of robots with sadly a lot of empty space. Very early on, the player unlocks the ability to fast travel from one point to another on the map, accentuating all the more the feeling of evolving in a universe cut in the manner of a giant theme park. Nevertheless each of the environments has its particular charm: a desert in which you can surf down its dunes like Journey, a vast forest with mood of a certain Ico game, and abandoned and rusted amusement park, and so much more to fully emphasize on this post-apocalyptic Earth setting.
It is enough, however, to play couple of main or secondary quests to really notice that this desolation is masked. The world of NieR: Automata is filled with an intelligent storyline, funny encounters and philosophical reflections on the nature and condition of machines. Prepare to laugh, get emotional, and to constantly question what you consider is right or wrong in this universe. If things are finally quite varied on the side missions side, you’ll still find some good old fetching quests that do are not necessarily the most interesting ones to play. On the other hand, the entire production shines much more during original activities more like urban races or even small puzzles to create variations in its rhythm of play.
In general, Yoko Taro and his team(s) deliver a real reflection of mechanical consciousness with these robotic figures capable of emotion, fear, and even love. Once the first storyline is finished in roughly 10 to 15 hours (depending on how much you want to accomplish), NieR: Automata invites the player to re-launch the game under the perspective of another protagonists. This is done throughout five different chapters full of surprises, with new variations of gameplay within a title that takes a delight to deconstruct itself. While not all of them are equal in terms of investment in character and gameplay, the one dedicated to 9S is a joy, and all in all rarely did an action oriented game made us think so much.
Now that the praise is over, it is now time to point the finger at some of the shortcomings of the title starting with its dated technical aspect. In general, it seems like PlatinumGames and Square Enix have made the choice to sacrifice many effects, shaders and other detailed resolutions of textures to aim for fluidity. Simply put, the game runs at 60 frames per second on both the classic PlayStation 4 and the Pro, but the difference will be noticed with a respective 900p and 1080p with a few extra effects. Even with that, NieR: Automata regularly seems to come straight from the PlayStation 3 era, with moderately poor quality settings, lower scale vegetation, elements popping in the distance, and much more. But on the pure technical side, the game succeeds in compensating for this weakness thanks to an artistic direction full of charm and originality, accentuating the strong sense of nostalgia for this world, which is certainly desolate, but also full of mystery and melancholy.
For those of you relying on modern days auto-saves in an Action RPG, you’re going to be let down. The game is quite traditional in that sense, with saving locations scattered all over the world, which can sometimes become frustrating when it comes to repeating an entire fight sequence that took you 20 minutes of play to finish. This is especially annoying as well when bugs arrive, with for example in my playthrough, some NPCs just wouldn’t continue on with their dialogue, forcing me to re-launch the game to remedy the problem and continue with the quest. The PC version of the game, confirmed for March 17, could refine certain technical angles but I don’t expect any sort of massive change in terms of quality.
What better way to conclude this review than evoking the thrill of pleasure felt when listening to the soundtrack of this NieR Automata. Already behind the magic of the themes of the first NieR and Drakengard 3, composers Keiichi Okabe and Keigo Aoshi gave use one of the most beautiful compositions of the modern video game. Borrowing classical music, lyrical fanfare supported by the soft tones of singer Emi Evans, the music is a massive player in terms of shaping the universe of the game. Sometimes soothing as the theme given to the resistance camp, it can become mechanical and brutal in other instances, reminding us of soundtracks from Ghost in the Shell, the first NieR and more.
Nier: Automata was reviewed using a PlayStation 4 digital code of the game provided by Square Enix. The game is planned to release on PC this year. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• A captivating story to be discovered from different angles
• The overall construction of the game
• Intense and technical fighting system
• Amazing characters
• Regularly reinvent itself in terms of gameplay
• The universe of the game
• A smooth game locked at 60FPS
• An immersive soundtrack and mood.
• An open world rather empty and poor in details
• No auto-save?
• Some rare collision and game-crashing bugs
• Slight lack of variety in some of the additional storylines