Developed by Platinum Games Published by Square Enix Reviewed on PlayStation 4
It’s not many times in your life you see a lightning bolt strike in open air, but that kind of miracle is exactly the circumstance that brings NieR:Automata to life. Through a joined effort between Square Enix and Platinum Games, a fantastic game is born, dashing, shooting, and slashing its way onto the main stage.
Your first five minutes teases you with a Space Invaders and Gradius style side scrolling shoot-em-up experience before finally setting its feet on solid ground for some great hack-n-slash action…and like any good tease, leaves you wanting more. You very soon find yourself embroiled in a war between humans versus aliens, fought proxy-battle via androids and machines. The “What, When, How” slowly trickle into the screen as you fight more complex and interesting battles, culminating in a final boss fight very early on.
Combat consists of a mix of four main styles: aerial combat, hack-n-slash with bullet dodging and shooting mechanics, hacking minigames to stealthily destroy or control enemy robots, and a combination of any of the three above – an overhead camera shoot-em-up with hack n slash, a hacking hack n slash section, shooting in a hack n slash. As you may imagine, this turns even the most limited encounters into serious multitask efforts, like shooting at one enemy while slashing at another. This combat is what by far separates NieR: Automata from its peers, and differentiates one boss battle from the next, as battles may shift to the skies in a shooter gallery, or knock an enemy to the ground and start to dice them up, all executed well with tight, seamless camera work and a dedication to 60fps.
Where a game would normally end after the final boss, this game just starts. All the writing, in both the main story and the sidequests, paint a very bleak future for planet Earth, one where animals, plants, and conflict thrive. To experience the full story, your second and consecutive playthroughs will feature alternate characters, new points of view, and even entirely different areas. Throughout the 26(!) endings, the side stories, and the character interactions, one question is asked: What is [Humanity]?
From the time humanity left Earth until the time you land on it, the world has continued to grow and prosper regardless, and nowhere is it more evident than the in landscape of NieR: Automata. From monolithic concrete buildings breaking under the molasses tide of vines and moss to parkways collapsing into the ocean, there is constant reminder that modern life is crumbling away. It’s a perfect set-piece for hack-and slash action, bullet dodging, and exploring, but also for telling the story of the evaporation of the human footprint.
Every part of the world, every battle, and every cutscene is punctuated by breathtaking music. Composer Keiichi Okabe, whose pedigree includes the soundtracks for NieR, Tekken 3, and Drakengard 3. As the situation permits, music grows as solemn and hollow or as booming and furious as needed, punctuating an empty campground or a heartpounding drag-out brawl with a machination five times your size. Hacking minigames churn the background music into 8-bit chunks, giving a music box to someone who lost; it then replaces the soundtrack with a quaint music box version of the music normally present. These remixes are glorious and plentiful.
While NieR:Automata is great in many aspects, it also falters in a few. Frame-rate has these little hiccups when loading new areas as part of a commitment to a 0 loading screen, open-world game, which can be slightly annoying but ultimately not very noticeable. Due to the incredibly deep stack of endings and sidequests, the open world itself isn’t very large, leaving sidequests often treading similar ground.
As a fan of the series, but more importantly a fan of fun action games, I find this game to be a stellar example of Platinum Games and Yoko Taro’s best works. This game is definitely setting the bar high for 2017’s action games.