Video Games Review: NieR: Automata (PS4, 2017) is a violent, gorgeous cut above the rest

NieR: Automata is immediately recognisable as a special game, which thrives on its world, characters, mechanics and ultimately the questions it raises and how they are posed to the player. While remaining engaging and thought provoking, platinum games brings back the combat mechanics seen in their previous titles such as Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, presenting a wonderfully deep and diverse combat system, and that’s just the beginning. Top it off with a stirring soundtrack and an engaging protagonist, NieR: Automata builds upon these roots to deliver a top tier experience.

Being set on Earth, players initially take control of female Android 2B, who is tasked with returning to Earth to wipe the Earth of hostile robots who had since taken over. The conflict began hundreds of years ago, when humans were overrun and ultimately exiled to the moon. Joining 2B on most of her missions is 9S, a male android who lacks in combat finesse and ability, but makes up for in interesting hacking abilities, which continuously prove to come in handy. Although their journey begins as strangers, the relationship they form over the course of the narrative is quite engaging and interesting to see evolve. After all, who said androids had no emotions?

As Earth is completely overrun by machines, it may seem an impossible task at first. But have no fear, your story on takes place within the confines of what can be likened to a medium sized city. This city shines in parts, but lacks due to its colour scheme. I understand fully that a destroyed earth won’t contain a wonderfully diverse colour palette compared to the likes of Rayman Legends, but hey, look at The Last of Us. Using lots of greys and sandy yellows, nothing in the environment seemed to pop or catch my attention. Add this to the fact that when you are low on health, the colour from the world vanishes completely. While this is a mechanic to let you know you are low on health, why drain the colour completely when there wasn much to begin with? The game looks fine, but it could definitely use a brighter selection of tones in parts.

A small issue is that the game encourages exploration, and though nothing in particular is to blame, once you’ve backtracked a couple times, it’s hard to lose your way. However, most of the back tracking comes from side missions which are not always essential. Consisting of small errands and killing targets, these missions are not necessarily exciting, but allow for a sense of world building. With the addition of fast travel and the riding of animals such as moose or deer, you don’t quite feel like you’ve had enough of this world too soon.

What shines the brightest in this game however is the combat itself, and this is thanks to platinum games and their previous titles such as Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The combat in NieR: Automata takes on the mechanics and experience of past titles quite well, and even manages to eclipse those examples on some occasions. Combat is fast and brutal, while remaining crisp and balanced, like a violent dance of swords. Button mashing is always possible but never encouraged as combos successfully strung together create beautifully looking moves with devastating results. Pairing this with dodging and holding attack buttons and it’s safe to say that combat options are not lacking here. To compensate for your lack of range, you are equipped with a floating pod, similar to Grimoire Weiss, the floating book from the first NieR. While providing a ranged attack during combat, the pod’s efficiency really shines when it’s used in conjunction with your own attacks. After a while, it becomes second nature, and the ability to customise the pod itself adds to the depth of the combat mechanics. Upgrade it to shoot missiles or lasers once it locks on targets, or use it to heal you automatically when your health gets low. It’s all up to you and it works a charm.

9S also aids you in combat, and while he isn’t as deadly with a sword as 2B, he can definitely hold his own. The ability to not only interact with him at any point in the game but adjust his fighting style is also a welcome addition. Is he getting in your way? Change his style to ranged combat only and let him back you up from afar. While there are a ton of options I found myself content using his balanced setting as the AI mechanics do a pretty good job by default. Customisation is the name of the game here, and it shines in generally all areas, from 2B’s weapon and combat style customisation, to the customisation of your pod, to the customisation of your team mates fighting style, I just could not believe any  more depth could be added to the already stellar combat.

Last but not least is the narrative itself. Although the narrative seems straightforward, its true nature shines through its multiple endings. Without going into spoilers, each ending is not so much a true ending, but a platform in which to play through again from a different perspective, using what you’ve learnt from your previous play-through and applying it to your new one.  I found this to be a spectacularly fun surprise as the story itself unravels even more only after you’ve completed it, which is an unconventional yet superb choice. However it does encourage players to stick by the story its subsequent play-throughs rely solely on your curiosity to find out how things pan out from a different perspective. While I was grossly engaged in playing on, I can understand why some players would let this go after their first play-through, even though they may have enjoyed what they played.

Overall, NieR: Automata remains as arguably Platinum Games’ finest title to date. Blending an engaging characters and narrative with a fantastic customisable combat system, there’s no denying that this is a powerhouse experience. While small issues such as the side missions and colour pallet are present, they don’t take away enough to downgrade this experience overall. While its predecessor is a cult hit, this transcends cult status into something of its own. If you haven’t played NieR: Automata yet, jump in. Earth needs your help.

Score: 9.0 out of 10
Highlights: Excellent story, combat system
Lowlights: Dull side missions and colour scheme
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Microsoft PC

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.