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It’s not often that the gaming world received multifaceted AAA titles. Nier: Automata is an open-world RPG from Square-Enix that tries to break the mold, telling its story through less conventional means. The question is, should you pick up this awkwardly named title, or leave it to wither at the bottom of some bargain bin?
What is Nier: Automata?
Nier: Automata is a sequel to 2010’s NieR, which was released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Though if you were in Japan, you would have played the alternatively named NieR Gestalt & NieR Replicant. The original game didn’t receive glowing reviews upon release, but slowly picked up a following over the years. This new entry is a rare example of a less than stellar game receiving a big-budget sequel years later.
The game takes place thousands of years in the future in a time where aliens invaded Earth, humans fled to the moon, and now both factions have a proxy war raging on the planet between machines and androids. The alien-created machines are viewed as cold, heartless creations that exist only to slaughter anything remotely humanoid in appearance. While the human androids are champions of justice, making the Earth safe for humans to return once more.
Players take on the roles of 2B and 9S, androids working for the YoRHa organisation, who are tasked with ridding Earth of the machine menace. Both of these characters are assigned a number of missions throughout the game, such as slaying foes or helping android resistance members.
On the surface, Nier: Automata is a cliched science fiction action story. It wears a number of the genre tropes with pride as it guides players through a fast-paced tale. The war between machine and android serves more as a backdrop to the game than the overarching narrative. Taking on subquests and reading different pieces of information scattered through the world yields a far more complex and intriguing war that isn’t as clear-cut as black and white. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that will have players regretting their own actions time and time again.
In order to tell its tale, Nier: Automata weaves in a number of character stories into its narrative, and not just those of 2B or 9S. It’s a game that also demands multiple playthroughs in order to reveal the entire tapestry of its story, characters and world. You won’t find another game this emotionally draining in 2017.
How does Nier: Automata play?
To describe it in the simplest terms possible, Nier: Automata is an action role-playing shoot-em-up video game, which seamlessly combines a number of genres into one. During one part of a stage you’ll be shooting enemy ships and dodging projectiles like a classic arcade game, while a few minutes later you’ll be hacking away at wave after wave of enemies in a third-person perspective.
Each gameplay type is smooth and fluid with easy controls. The game shines in its hack-and-slash department, where each mash of a button makes players feel like an expert in the genre. This is accentuated by experience gained from battles and equipping your character with new abilities. The game doesn’t really hold the player’s hand though, and you’ll be required to experiment with a range of different ways to kit out your character for battle.
The gameplay, while fast and furious, doesn’t lead players into any cheap deaths. You’ll die over and over again, which fits into the central theme of the game, but that’s because you aren’t good enough. It can take a bit of time to learn attack patterns while dodging a number of projectiles, but it’s possible and it’s what makes the combat so exhilarating as well.
The majority of fighting will take place within the game’s open-world environment. While it’s easy enough to go anywhere, it’s not a sprawling landscape to explore. The developers frequently re-use each and every location, but in a way that keeps the game fresh. Sure, you’ll be traversing to the desert zone for the umpteenth time, but there will be a clear and different reason for your journey.
How does it look?
Developer PlatinumGames opted for a smoother running game rather than a visually stunning one. That’s not to say that the game isn’t gorgeous with its landscapes, textures, and character details. Even with the game trying to achieve 60fps, there are some drawbacks, as the engine isn’t fully optimised. I often noticed the game stuttering in the open world, or when entering it from a confined environment. And while it’s not distracting, it is an annoyance.
There were also a few times where the game had to load all of the textures in a specific area. One of these was a massive open area in which the game paused and notified me that it was loading things in the game. This is not something that a fast-paced title like Nier: Automata should have within it, and it’s a pity it’s there.
Apart from the graphical flaws, a lot of detail has been put into each and every character in the game, from central characters, to gargantuan mechanic menaces. The extra details extend to the locations you’ll be visiting, from dilapidated buildings to lush forests.
How does it sound?
Absolutely perfect. It’s difficult not to gush about every single bit of music and sound within Nier: Automata. In fact, if this review was solely based on the music, it would receive a perfect 10 out of 10.
Every single scene in the game, whether it be a boss encounter, exploration, or some downtime in one of the safe zones, is accompanied by an absolutely perfect piece of music. These tunes, whether with vocals or just orchestrated, truly elevate the game over so many others that have been released this year. It’s an OST that every gamer should have in their collection.
Accompanying this is the game’s vocals and sounds effects. Everything is just right, and the English voice work brings all of the characters to life, accentuating the story in ways other titles just can’t. From the voice of 2B to the stone cold Operators and just some of the random robots you’ll encounter, it’s all just perfect in every way possible.
Release Date: 10 March 2017
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action role-playing
Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4 (review platform)
Review platform: PlayStation 4 (standard)
Launch Price (RRP): R999 (PlayStation 4)
Industry average score: 89/100 (PlayStation 4)
Verdict: Nier: Automata is a fantastic title that should satisfy almost every action fan. The game’s gripping tale and emotional music sets it apart from similar titles. It’s one of my nominations for game of the year.