Nier: Automata PS4 Review

After a few stumbles with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Fox Zero, it seems joining up with Square Enix and the eccentric director Yoko Taro (Nier, Drakengard series) has ignited a return to form for Platinum Games. Their visually stylish combat has been blended with the wacky story and world building of Yoko Taro, which makes Nier: Automata that little bit special. It’s a sequel to a game that no one saw coming, since Nier is a niche title not played by many, but people who did enjoyed its refreshing and unique way of delivering a tale that wasn’t the typical Japanese RPG narrative. Now those highlights of Nier are backed up with a reworked combat system by the best in the business, removing any complaints found in Nier: Automata’s predecessor and delivering a fine mixture of action and role playing.

Even though the game has Nier in its title, the story has been written without the need for anyone to have played the previous game to understand what is going on. Nier: Automata is so far into the future from its predecessor that removing a direct connection makes perfect sense. For dedicated fans who have been following this tale since Drakengard, then you people can get the feels from the relation. If that game doesn’t mean anything to you, then I’ll drop a quick explanation. Drakengard had multiple endings, and one of those endings was a base used for Nier, a world where infection had causes major problems for Earth, wiping out a lot of the population to the point humans decided to create clones to phase souls from infected bodies to clean healthy replicants. That game also featured multiple endings, and one of them (Ending D) leads into the future where Nier: Automata starts with Earth overrun by alien invaders, called machines. The small surviving humans now live on the Moon to hopefully one day reclaim Earth back by sending down androids to scout and fight. Yep, it’s a cool and crazy connection, but doesn’t impact your understanding  of Nier: Automata’s tale.

Nier: Automata‘s story is one to be discovered, and its told in a way that might be different for newcomers, but familiar with fans of Yoko Taro. The game begins with players taking the role of main protagonist 2B, an android who has been sent to Earth by YoRHa to tackle a Goliath class machine, which can only be described as a Transformer built from industrial mining equipment. 2B meets 9S during the early boss fight, and from then on, 9S comes along as 2B’s partner as players begin to help a local resistance on Earth fight against the machines (sounds like The Matrix? But no pill could make things this bizarre). The plot soon has the player going deeper into the world to discover bizarre revelations and a story that is full-on weird. It begins as normal as a story about androids fighting transformer-like machines can be, but then it turns into something more outlandish, but it’s strange in a good way, one filled with curiosity and flat out “what in the hell is happening?!

A first playthrough will last around 12-15 hours depending on how many side quests completed, but after hitting the ending, a message appears from Square Enix PR that explains the story isn’t over. This is true, there is a lot more to discover in Nier Automata that goes well beyond what the game calls “Route A,” and while being able to see the story from a different perspective with new scenes and discoveries in “Route B,” it’s not until “Route C” where the game truly starts upping the madness to new levels and is worth sticking around for. In total, the game will last around 30 hours, give or take a few for delving into side content, but with five main endings and 21 additional endings, there is a lot here for completists to dig into to extend that time past the five major endings.

Having two androids as the leading characters could have made the downtime between epic set pieces feel mundane and lifeless, but in fact, androids, especially 2B and 9S, have emotions embedded in them. This allows the game to keep dialogue engrossing between 2B’s more “follow the rules” attitude, where she willingly forces her emotions back compared to 9S’ open personality of being intrigued with everything that’s happening around him and asking questions, that and he just wants his new working partner to call him “Nines,” poor chap. The two attitudes bounce off each other well, and is built upon constantly throughout their interactions to make them two likable characters until the end of the game.

They are also pretty good at fighting with a flamboyant sword style, something Platinum Games can present exceptionally well. While the mechanics in place for the combat aren’t as deep as pure action games, say Platinum Games’ own Bayonetta 2 or Ninja Theory’s DmC: Devil May Cry, there’s much improvement here over Nier, and there is no question that the experience from Platinum Games has helped to make the combat engaging.

The combat is responsive, but more streamlined and simplistic, with heavy and light sword attacks making up a few combos. Seeing such stylish actions performed on screen makes it look like you are doing more than the few presses your fingers are performing, as the heroine dances and spins herself and blade like an attached limb. Along for the ride is a Pod that acts as 2B’s or 9S’s guns, allowing to constantly bombard the enemy with bullets or other long range attacks depending on the type of Pod synced to the character. Add in the addition of a dodge that enables 2B to slide around at speed or split herself into three on a well-time evasion to lead to countering means there is a lot going on to keep your fingers engaged in every encounter, fitting the action part of action RPG tremendously.

People who are not particular great at combat in games can switch it to easy difficulty, where pods can be equipped with auto chips that will automatically perform a function. For example, dropping in the auto shoot chip will make the Pod shoot any close targets. Add a auto dodge chip and the game will perform dodges for the player in an instance, mostly always being successful. There are other automatic features too, and while some hardcore fans might scoff at this, I feel it helps people who can’t quite get the hang of the combat timings. It also tremendously helps people with disabilities, allowing them to perform what they can and letting the game handle the rest. It’s something combat-based games don’t always have the best implementation to help people with such handicaps.

Chips are a necessity for any difficulty, as they are not only for automatic actions, but can buff the main character with increased strength, give additional experience and increased defence, etc. Chips go as far as to customise the user inference, allowing visual indications, such as mini map, enemy health, experience bars and a host of other cool things to be on or off. No matter what type of chip is applied to the Pod, they will require a space in a coloured partition, meaning you cannot simply pile on all the good buffs without a decision. It’s smart to add these features through a game mechanic/story point. In fact, the game in general does a fun job introducing key features and ideas through its mechanics and dialogue with NPCs, going as far as making jokes at the expense of the game or the player.

One fault I did have with the combat was with enemy variety. There’s a lot of brown mechanical machines that need their ass kicking, and yeah, it’s because the story’s theme is based around this premise that you don’t get much else, but I just wish that the types of enemies encountered was higher. After only a few hours, you will have an idea on how to deal with most enemy encounters that are not bosses, but it does manage to always stay fun, entertaining and intense after the initial enemy surprises have worn out.

That’s where the surprising shoot ’em up sections fit in to break up the extended bouts of physical combat. Nier Automata includes a few scenes where the two androids are required to travel to a location or defeat an insanely large boss that they take to the skies to partake in some arcade shooting action. These particular moments mix gameplay elements from games like Capcom’s 1942, then switch from automatic scrolling to 3D movement of a game like Asteroids. These shoot ’em up sections don’t require any mastery, they are straightforward aim and hold a trigger while dodging energy balls – not quite bullet hell, but short fun nonetheless.

One of Nier: Automata‘s strengths is that it loves to mix things up. Not only is there shoot ’em up sections, but playing as 9S  brings a hacking mini game that involves moving a triangle around obstacles and blasting black orbs to successful hack enemies, doors and chests. These can become more wild as the game progresses, but they are never challenging. This is an open world game, offering players the chance to explore where they like, finding vending machine-like terminals that will act as save points, transportation to other save points and also revealing that small section of the map. The map being small means it’s easy to get across to key places. It’s contradictory to what we’ve seen in other games that talk about being open world and tell us details on how big the world is. In Nier: Automata, it feels tiny in comparison, but the content is diverse, from torn down city skylines, to dense forests growing on the outskirts to even an amusement park with an active roller coaster.

The compact nature means no space is wasteful, no quest is stretched out to extend time, and some of the side quests offer a deeper look into the world. There are fetch quests included (which open world doesn’t put them in?), but they are joined with meaningful side content. The game also throws in camera views that switch it from free 3D movement to 2D side scrolling in some distorted take on Contra and scrolling beat ’em ups. Yoko Taro obviously has some love for these genres, and the situational use of these viewpoints presents visual nostalgia in a world that could have been another boring post apocalyptic setting was it for not the exciting locations and reinvigorating camera angles.

Visuals first appear to be devoured of colour, being brown and grey for the most part, but more colour splashes on as more locations are introduced. It never seems to remove the desaturated presentation, making it appear washed out. Black and white is used often to present health near death or visiting the home base in space. Performance sadly taints the presentation, with the game dropping frames on PS4 Pro while running at 1080p60fps, but performing under the desired target when advanced effects appear on screen, such as fog or sparks. The forest section hammers performance when the camera zooms in. On the other hand, audio is fantastic, with the game featuring a versatile soundtrack with some amazing music and lyrics. Fans of the original Nier soundtrack will be happy to know that Keiichi Okabe returns for the game, and it’s just as good, if not better. Voice acting keeps the quality high, with great work from the main characters making their relationship work between each other and the rest of the game’s cast.

Nier: Automata is a brilliant, slick action RPG pumped with so many cool and distinct features, and a story that that I could keep talking about all day, but let’s not spoil what should be experienced, nor bore everyone with mechanics and finish up the review with a final statement. Nier: Automata is a thrilling piece of entertainment, one that sticks out for being unique, for being refreshing, and that little bit bonkers. With so many quality games released so far in 2017, Nier: Automata‘s brave approach to bring something outlandish makes it a worthwhile investment. By combining the madness of Yoko Taro’s stories with Platinum Games expertise in adrenaline action, it has enabled it to deliver an exceptional and solid paced video game, with both teams complimenting each other in this sequel that improves on everything wrong with Nier, while blowing your freaking mind after reaching its full conclusion.

9 out of 10
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