|System: PS4, PC|
|Dev: Platinum Games|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Initial Release: March 7, 2017|
|PC Release: March 17, 2017|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, partial nudity, strong language, violence|
by Garrett Glass
If you start NieR: Automata before it finishes installing, you'll encounter a seemingly innocuous loading screen with a multiple-choice question: “From where does our will come?” From there, it asks you more questions depending on your answer. None of them are satisfying, so it's inevitable you'll start over again and again unless you choose the option "I don't have time for this." That's deep for a loading screen, but it only scratches the surface of this brilliant and existentialist game.
In the distant future, humans have abandoned their home planet due to an alien invasion. In the meantime, humans built androids like 2B and 9S, the game’s protagonists, to combat the alien’s machines on Earth. NieR: Automata's philosophy is rooted in existentialism, and to see it explored in humanoid, mechanical characters in an age where automation and the singularity are just around the corner makes the tale more fascinating. For instance, something has happened within the aliens' machines that have caused them to split off into factions, each with different ideas on how best to live their lives Meanwhile, the androids struggle to suppress their humanity for the sole purpose of fighting for "the glory of mankind." You, who control these androids, also face your own dilemmas as you play. Do you follow your orders and dispatch all machines indiscriminately, or do you start to trust some of them? And when you die and retrieve (or fail to) your body, are you still the same android as you were before?
Another theme of NieR: Automata is nature vs. technology. Vegetation grows on the sides of buildings and waterfalls divide fallen apartment complexes. Even in the mostly metallic structures, such as the abandoned factory, you find a bit of shrubbery along the catwalks. But we’ve seen this kind of setting before, and the textures leave a little to be desired. What sets this world apart is the scope and scale of its structures and goliaths. One such monster is part of the abandoned factory, and you must climb the entire thing before you can bring it down. NieR: Automata runs at a smooth 60 FPS, and loading screens are absent as you travel between areas, although there are some rather lengthy loading times should you choose to fast-travel.
On its surface, NieR: Automata is a standard action-RPG. You have designated buttons for heavy and light attacks, projectiles, and dashing. You can equip multiple melee weapons to create devastating combos, and you can also buy, fuse, and upgrade chips that enhance your combat prowess. Pods float by 2B's and 9S's sides, and fire light or heavy ammunition – the latter of which requires cool down before you can fire again – by holding one of the shoulder buttons. While you're hacking and slashing, you can at any time aim with the right analog stick and shoot away as if you're suddenly playing a shooter. Take note, because these core mechanics help explain why this genre-bending adventure works.
At any given point, NieR: Automata can morph from action RPG into a side-scrolling platformer like Contra, a bullet-hell like Super Stardust, or a shoot ‘em up like Gladius, to name a few genres. Although I initially worried that this would be another case of a video game experiencing an identity crisis, I assure you that this is not the case. NieR: Automata blends these genres seamlessly, and it's all thanks to its dynamic camera. It also helps that, whether you’re exploring the open world or piloting your mech suit from a bird’s eye view, the controls are consistent throughout. I was also particularly impressed when I fought one bullet-hell enemy in the open-world, giving me a chance to see what the ammunition looked like from a 3D perspective. The constant shift in genre and perspective adds much-needed flavor to the standard, albeit solid, combat system.
Billing itself as open world, NieR: Automata competes with other recent releases like Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Whether it can sway consumers from the others is doubtful, but thankfully this game adds its own flavor to exploration. Remember, NieR: Automata switches between a 2D platformer and a 3D action-RPG via the capricious whims of the camera, and this rings true when simply exploring the landscape. When you have full control of the camera, you're free to explore the various landscapes, including a desert, abandoned factory, and city, to your whim. But when you make it to your destination, the camera takes a life of its own, revealing platforming levels created with an architect’s eye for detail. Other games, like inFAMOUS and Assassin’s Creed, also have some platforming, but it involves climbing the same buildings sluggishly. In NieR: Automata, however, no such sluggishness exists; you can simply walk up a tree branch like a ramp or double jump between roller coasters with ease.