Nier: Automata is the spiritual successor to Nier, a divisive action RPG that came out in 2010. Despite some imperfect visuals and eclectic ideas, Nier appears to have garnered enough of a following to warrant a follow-up. Not only that, this time the developer is none other than the kings of cult followings themselves, Platinum Games. I got to spend a couple of hours with Nier: Automata earlier this month and walked away utterly perplexed but hungry for more.
You play as a female android called 2B, a warrior made by humans to fight the machines that have taken over Earth. The combat is as Platinum as it gets, channelling the likes of Bayonetta and Devil May Cry. There’s a fluidity to the movement that makes fighting in this game an absolute joy. At any time you can pull a trigger button to fire rapid shots from your trusty robot, which allows for certain enemy encounters to resemble a bullet-hell game. Rounding out the Platinum staples, boss fights are as bizarre as they are overwhelming, in my demo I fought what was essential a gigantic oil rig-Transformer and later an incredibly unsettling dolled-up machine that kept screaming incoherently.
While great, these elements fit snugly into what I’d expect from an action game developed by Platinum. So what does Nier: Automata do that makes it stand out? Well, I can only say so much, but here are a few things that took me by surprise. First, even from my brief session, I can tell this game is going to go Kojima as hell on everyone. By the time the credits roll the fourth wall won’t just be broken, you won’t even be sure it ever existed in the first place.
Second, this game is way more open than I realised. In just a few short hours, I saw an abandoned factory, an android space station, a ruined city dotted with machines and wildlife, a desert complete with sand dune surfing and finally a god damn amusement park. If they maintain the pace set in the opening few hours then this game will be incredible.
Finally, you can ride animals. It’s as simple as buying some bait from a merchant, finding some boar or moose, winning them over with the bait, then jumping on their back and taking off.
There is some cause for concern, however. While the art design is phenomenal, some of the environments are quite ugly. The ruined city, in particular, is an eyesore, essentially amounting to a huge mass of dull grey with a few spots of green vegetation. I was playing on a regular PS4 and while the performance was fairly solid, the aliasing was rampant and very distracting at times. Hopefully, the Pro version will improve things.
While certain story elements were immediately intriguing, I am worried the writing and voice acting may become an annoyance in the full game. Thankfully the rapid pace at which Nier: Automata throws surprising and fun environments and combat encounters at you offsets the lacklustre storytelling.
It’s been a great few months for Japanese games and Nier: Automata appears happy to continue this trend, while also offering to scratch an entirely different itch to the likes of Yakuza 0, Resident Evil: VII or The Last Guardian. I may have my concerns, but rest assured that Nier: Automata is a title determined to stand out amongst the plethora of games, Japanese or otherwise, already vying for your attention in Q1 2017.