Steeped in a robotically, fierce and dense fatigued looking world, the environment laid out in front of you is nothing short of a hellacious, ruined and tired looking retirement home for old androids. A struggle between the next generation of robots and those seemingly cute, charming robots that came before litter the landscape in a vast, complex open world that somehow mirrors the perception of being large, but in reality it’s refined and compact marriage between the game’s direction and the player.
Nier: Automata is the cinematic epilog of what can go wrong with machines.
The idea that we can somehow agree a long term relationship with machines in the future is portrayed here with the zest for action and chaos that has given Platinum Games a degree in how to combine action and storytelling with engrossing and immersive gameplay. Put all this together with a combat system that is as compelling and as well formed as the rest of the game, then well, not much can go wrong.
Setting out into this world of destruction and robots is 2B, a female artificial android that has been given an instruction to destroy the earths robot inhabitants and the race of aliens that control them. The world has been at war with the machines for a what seems a long time, not that you are given any timescale to judge this, but the remainder of human existence have been forced into exile on the moon of all places.
2B is under instruction from YoRHa, a team of other artificial soldiers with the same mission as our heroine 2B. However, whilst 2B may be seem to be stranded on the now robot planet that is earth, 2B is not alone. Sent to aid her is 9S, also an android, but male. Whilst it appears the two protagonists don’t know each other, elements of great narrative combustive story telling merge the couple together greatly through the campaign. 9S doesn’t have the prowess weaponry that 2B controls, but has the vital tech hacking skills that aids the journey further down the line.
2B has an attitude that transmits throughout this game. Forgetting what 2B is wearing, forgetting what 2B looks like, and not placing an agenda on her looks is key here. It’s simply design. It’s the way in which 2B carry’s the game that it is important. Obviously, that’s not to say that her looks are what drives the main characteristics of the concept, her looks add to the complexity of an already ‘over the top’ world, a non-homogenous, non-linear world in which the main residents represent more than just robots, they live here. This is now their home. To place a burden of misconception on a characters looks and design, especially 2B, wouldn’t tie in with the game.
The game is indeed slightly outrageous, slightly unbelievable. So what 2B is wearing actually fits the manifesto of the experience. Whilst obvious care has been taken to not over indulge 2B in cockiness, she comes across rather pleasant, but with an honest and likeable twist. She’s an android yes, but the human compassion that’s missing in so many games these days shines through 2B brilliantly, though technically not human, she has not been categorised in a way that would make playing as a robot ‘inhuman’. The connection is there.
With the swagger and confidence of 2B and her ability to launch scathing attacks and combo’s at the dash of a button wearing those high heels, the upbeat premise of the game is defined by the lyrically, pop enhanced vocalised soundtrack. Anything short of a soundtrack like this wouldn’t do the game any justice. Whilst the areas you first cover are limited to walkways, rooms and the odd venture on a rusty, creaky industrial platform in the sea, the game soon opens up into the grey, more or less damaged world that dominates the journey. The soundtrack only adds to the atmosphere and has been expertly crafted, created with the confidence to match the exciting, over exuberant level design and all with a hint of craziness, lore and all the hallmarks and origins that one would expect from the mind of Yoko Taro.
Automata’s world is not big. Although on paper, the whole planet is a playground of giant hack and slash proportions, the world is a neat, compact entity that thrives on what is in it, rather than how much of it there is. Whilst the backdrops of run down skyscrapers and factories stretch into the distance, these elements of design add to the perspective of being in a huge environment but with the compromise of not feeling too ‘lost’ in the games wilderness.
The idea that we still need bland, time filling side quest’s within such a game as Nier: Automata hasn’t gone unnoticed. It’s still the rhetoric to meet and aid fellow ‘good guys’ in the game by performing long, bland and un-meaningful tasks to gather intelligence information on weapons and gold locale. It’s just the way it is. However, getting around isn’t too much of a trek out into the unknown either. The un-meaningful, run of the mill tasks within these side quests soon become some what ‘lesser the you get on with it, more get on and have some meaningless fun’ all thanks to the games visual and mostly breathtaking splendour.
Whilst journeying and exploration is encouraged, fast travel to destinations of recent interest will aid the quest. Don’t want to walk or fast travel? Then explore the abandoned stretches of open plains on nothing less than a Moose. Yes. A Moose. Getting fed up of your Moose? Well, park the big horned fellow up and take on a spot of fishing, whilst capturing and taking in those ruined, dystopian looking backdrops, or a ruined city street now covered in a flux of greenery. Fishing in a vast, open lake with the destruction and haze of the industrial ruins of war is a great way to gather gold for the journey. Items of interest that will help 2B and 9S on their way to succeeding their ultimate goal.
Your sidekick, POD, a hovering automated robot with the attributes of a fairy that Link would be proud of, will prompt you on locations of interest such places to fish, nearby places to investigate and so fourth. The POD can receive ‘Programs’ that will enable to assist you in various situations, like attack a giant mechanised fork lift, or something along those lines. You van actually ‘pet’ your POD to show appreciation and sympathy.
POD can also be used as miniature hand glider to reach unattainable places in the levels design. It’s small, delicate touches like this that Automata that manages act with charm and personality. POD is ever reliable in a scrap too, spewing out a vast array bullets into the enemy whilst 2B heralds in the destruction with her twin blades is an great addition to the combat system. Some enemies, however, are indeed ‘bullet proof’ and this determines the actions of 2B and 9S, causing the player to bare witness to some absolutely breathtaking animation with deflecting bullets, like a miniature light show in your own home.
The combat system in short, is nothing more than a breathtaking roller coaster that rhymes and dances it’s way through a fight with ease, showcasing some absolutely insane choreographed moves that would put such games like The Shadow of Mordor to shame.
The combat in Automata stretches further than most. This is where the game set’s itself apart from the rest in the confused and sometimes tedious genre. Dependent on weapon and combination, 2B can produce a variety of stinging offences that are reactionary to the cause, leading to a splendour of lethal blows, spinning cartwheels and slide effective dodge techniques that are countered with a ferocious blow to an enemy AI with jaw dropping visuals and seamless animation.
But 2B isn’t alone in this factor. The depth and characteristics of what Platinum Games are enduring to achieve here are shown quite rhetorically with the introduction of secondary AI and fellow android protagonist 9S, who aids 2B in a way that confides in 2B’s weaknesses. Not to say that 2B is a weak character, but some of the battles that lay ahead in a fifty plus hour game will need the secondary abilities and attributes that 9S can and will bring to the battle. This only aids to spectacular battle sequences, although a sharp eye is needed when engaging with the robust enemy, simply because 2B and 9S together makes for some frantic, hectic and sometimes confusing, yet satisfying, battle sequences.
The flow of the combat isn’t without it’s flaws, however.
The camera is well timed and trimmed to focus, yet some of the views that are optimised by the camera aren’t necessarily the most delicate touches that Platinum Games have come up with. An over compensation on scenic viewing and the size of area design will inevitably see a wide zoom, far reached camera shot on 2B or 9S, or both together in the same shot. A view from the perspective of a side on platformer looks the part, although it releases a notion that you could be very well playing an inept, well designed indie game, lacks the clout that is very much so the best part of the action and exploring sequences that lay in the third person perspective view.
This, while still working and looking great, can lead to a slow down in perception on what is going on in the game. None so more is this evident than from the top down view perspective of the camera where 2B & 9S – and the enemy AI are clambered into a basic square room with no real sense of scale or sense for approaching enemies from another area or direction. This can make for some confusing action sequences and gives a sense of 2B and 9S being lost on screen amongst the beautiful, but sometimes over cumbersome gameplay.
There’s much ado about nothing in Automata’s design and approach to telling a story. You don’t, in any particular way or form, pick up any rendering or logical reprise of a back story of such. The design of the game is enough to strive the player forward without asking the obvious about our adolescent character’s sense of non-conformative dress sense.
But that’s the design of the game.
That’s what makes the game intriguing and as astute to how Yoko Taro wants to tell his story. The in-depth adventuring and the way the game is laid out in front of you will inevitably make you want to track down these answers for yourself. The game will execute an array of established ways to progress forward with the story whilst giving you answers for the parts of the story you have already completed later on in the game. It will, and yes, it will, drag you to furthest corners of the explorative areas of the map and make you want to find the answers for yourself without the game giving you the answers for nothing. It makes you work for it. With multiple endings, no spoilers here, there’s enough to find out for yourself. There’s probably more to find out than meets the eye eventually, but that is Yoko Taro’s way.
Nier: Automata isn’t a far fetched sci-fi hack and slash with no direction. It’s more of a sub-narrative take on the RPG genre, with taken elements and rebuffed directions. The direction is here, however, in plain sight. There’s no doubt that Platinum Games have used, tinkered and progressed all of what is good from previous games, including the original Nier and made a near perfect game with some minor, forgivable flaws. Learning the ways of non-button smashing combat will always take a while, what ever degree of skill you have. It’s the rewards of pulling off these combinations during a battle that Nier: Automata want’s you to experience. The game has a way of making you want to find out more, making you explore more and making you want to achieve the goals set out before you. If this is the future that Square Enix and Platinum Games have set up for each other, then there undoubtedly will be some exciting games ahead.
It is truly excellent.