In our Nier Automata Review, I hope I’ll be able to convey just how special this game is. Its gameplay is familiar yet fresh. A third-person action game . The story is told in a compelling manner by Platinum Games. It treats the player like a person capable of having their own thoughts rather than dragging them around on a leash.
It has a couple of problems, but for the most part, Nier: Automata is a fantastic standalone product that’s as fantastic as it is strange.
What did you think of this one? Let me know in the Disqus Comments at the end of the article.
Look and Feel
There’s a desolate beauty to Nier: Automata art. It has a simple colour palette with an emphasis on white and black tones amidst the subtle touches of green and yellow which makes the appearance of blood-red in the 18-rated game that much more impactful.
The way the perspective shifts from side-scrolling, top-down and standard third-person open world so seamlessly is great. Certain areas feature all three perspectives whereas some focus more on one style. I love what they do with those ideas.
“The Copied City” is a stellar example of what can be done with so very little. The less-is-more approach. That said, the post-apocalyptic Earth and YorHa Bunker all have their perks. It feels as if a great deal of care went in to everything in this game.
Whilst games like Horizon: Zero Dawn are masterful works of fidelity, I feel Nier: Automata is an impressive example of art direction. There’s a clear, deliberate intent with the aesthetic and it succeeds from my perspective.
It’s not without its flaws. The camera sometimes gets lost in the action and frames can dip from time to time (playing on the Playstation 4 Pro). There’s nothing too bothersome about it but that default camera can be incredibly frustrating when trying to keep a read on incoming enemies during combat.
Special Shout-out to the Sound Design / Music
In a game that gets a lot of things right, it’s hard to pin down some specifics beyond glowing praise. In this case, however, it’s easy. The music and sound design in Nier Automata is incredible. I realised how much I loved it when I did my first hacking mini game. The game’s music continues throughout the mini-game but transforms in to a chip-tune-like version of the original track. Without missing a beat. Even as it transitions back out in to the normal music, it’s as if nothing had changed. Something so simple left such a lasting impression on me that I felt the need to call it out here.
Following a war against the Machines, the remaining humans of Earth have fled to the Moon. In order to protect the survivors and recover their home planet, Project YorHa has been issued. The android members of YorHa scout the Earth to identify and eliminate machine threats.
On one such mission, Android 2B loses her entire squad on the approach and goes alone to finish the job. Android 9S, a support and maintenance unit, is assigned to assist 2B and joins her to combat the threat.
Following that mission, the androids are poised to uncover the secrets of Earth, Project YorHa, the Council of Humanity and whether or not these “machines” are as cold-hearted as they’d always believed.
Nier: Automata’s story-telling is fascinating. It demands multiple completions and offers a different perspective each time. There’s a great deal of flavour text to engage with, but the core story itself is more than worth your time. Not since Metal Gear Solid 3 has a game piqued my interest in the style of its story-telling. There’s an ending for each letter of the alphabet, ranging from heart-breaking to hilarious, and it’s rewarding in itself to try and find them all. They’re not all proper endings (mostly in-jokes) but the five main endings are what you’re shooting for, and they’re not difficult to uncover.
There’s an acquired taste to Nier Automata’s gameplay. It’s a amalgamation of multiple styles. Primarily, it’s a third-person action game with emphasis on evading, countering and hitting enemies with combination attacks (think Devil May Cry / Bayonetta). What’s unique about it is the addition of the shooting mechanics at the same time. Your “Pod” is equipped with a gatling gun (and other Pods have other guns) that shoots at the same time as your typical third-person combat, so you’re aiming a gun whilst pulling off combos with a sword and evading incoming attacks. In all honesty, it can be tough to manage the shooting and evasion controls simultaneously, but that aside, it’s awesome.
The game shifts from top-down bullet-hell moments, auto-scrolling flight shooters, third-person standard action and side-scrolling beat ’em up moments. You never know when they’re coming, and Nier: Automata might be one of the only games to have a “Hacking” mini-game that’s actually fun to perform.
Equipment and Leveling: Chips and Chops
In Nier Automata, you kill enemies and level up. Simple stuff really. Except the depth isn’t in that particular system. Sure; being a higher level balances out the noticeable differences in damage dealt and received, but the meat of the customisation comes from the weapons and “chips”.
The chips are, of course, computer chips. The controlled character has three chip sets to customise with limited slots. Each chip has a “cost” that fills up a certain amount of said slots. These chips can enhance ranged or melee damage, give health back from defeating or even simply attacking enemies alongside a variety of other, more unique benefits. Having the three chip sets allows you to easily switch between your offensive, defensive and utility builds. It’s useful to avoid having to mess around in those menus any more than you have to.
Add to that the unique weapon styles. Small swords, large swords, daggers and fist weapons all handle a little differently. When upgraded at a local weapon-smith, they obtain new abilities and increase their damage output. I didn’t find much of a need on the Normal difficulty to dabble too much with the different weapons, but I can see a use for them at higher difficulties to avoid being hit.
World Exploration: Ride that Moose Down the Rubble Road!
If you’ve purchased the pouch you can ride a moose or boar around the world. It’s an Earth worth exploring, even if the map of the world can be too obscure for its own good. There are so many nooks and crannies for you to investigate, usually resulting in one of many secret weapons of rare materials.
There are so many goods scattered across the world and enemies to challenge you that sometimes riding off the beaten path is the best way to do it. The world isn’t overwhelmingly large either, so it feels manageable in scope. Without a doubt, my favourite moment was riding a moose off of a cliff and gliding down with my Pod whilst the graceful animal crumpled on the ground. I’ve never met a moose, so perhaps I’m lacking perspective.
Progress carries over from playthrough to playthrough in Nier Automata, but it’s not your usual New Game Plus. Subsequent playthroughs (at least the first two) are direct follow-ups to where the story leaves off. It’s unusual but makes perfect sense in context. It’s hard to describe without spoiling the game, and I don’t intend to, but it’s just so very well done and more than worthy of your time.
Minor Gripes and Complaints:
Look; the game can be tough. At times, it can feel a bit unfair. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending an hour in the end-game content without a save point only to die from a surprisingly powerful attack and getting sent back to that save point. There is no auto-save. There’s an arrogance to the game at times. I’ve mentioned how the map system is fairly weak. Obscure to say the least. There’s an actual answer to this in the game that basically says “Get over it and learn to explore”. That’s not a defense of bad map design, that’s just a nuisance.
I can’t imagine playing this game on the hardest difficulty (one-hit kill). There’s so much coming at you and the camera isn’t good at keeping track of it that a simple hit of a stray bullet can happen when you least expect it. Given the stubborn save system, it’s hard to justify playing on that difficulty. I’m not going to tell you it’s impossible, I just don’t think it’d be a whole lot of fun given the issues.
Nier: Automata shines even in its darkest moments. And boy can it get dark. It provokes a great deal of thought without beating you over the head with clarifying information. The combat and customisation are both enjoyable and the implementation of a third-person shooter in that Bayonetta-like combat at the same time is a truly unique experience.
As glorious as it can be to take down a gargantuan boss, Nier Automata’s best bits are during its quiet, reflective periods. The aftermath of a grand battle. The deafening silence following a climactic clash. Nier Automata succeeds through its balance of chaos and harmony, and I legitimately want to keep playing despite the four playthroughs I’ve already done.
I’m sure I’ve missed many a point in my gushing about this game, but I do hope you’ve enjoyed reading the opinion. A final note: A2’s hip-wiggle is amazing and should definitely be considered for any and all 2017 Game of the Year awards.
About This Nier Automata Review
Developers & Publishers: Platinum Games, Square Enix
Gaming Platform: PC Games, PS4
Genre: Action RPG
Nier Automata Verdict
Look and Feel - 8.5/10
Story - 9/10
Gameplay - 9/10
Overall - 9/10