Mithical Rating Gameplay Story Graphics Music/Voice Acting Replayability
Not too long ago I dove into the NieR: Automata (or Automata) demo to showcase the gameplay and universe. At the time I was already very excited for its release, but after experimenting with the frenzied gameplay I found myself looking forward to it even more. It finally arrived on my doorstep a few days ago and, despite my commitment to my journey in Horizon Zero Dawn, I stepped away from Aloy’s adventures to venture into a very different post-apocalyptic world.
Automata tells the story of a post-apocalyptic Earth that was overrun by robotic lifeforms from “beyond the stars” thousands of years ago. Humankind was nearly eradicated, with survivors fleeing to the moon to rebuild society and attempt to launch a counterattack. Thousands of years have passed and mankind have now effectively pushed the robots to a stalemate with the assistance of the precise and deadly android units known as the Yorha Squadron. One such member is 2B, one of the central protagonists and the character you control at the start of the game. By exploring the vast ruins of Earth, you work to uncover the mysteries of this alien race, as well as helping to determine mankind’s ultimate fate.
I found myself comparing this game to Horizon Zero Dawn a lot while playing through, only because it’s the other game I’ve been playing a lot right now. While there are certainly some elements that rhyme – robots taking over the world, a glimpse into the far future following the decline of mankind…the themes that these games are exploring are very different. While Horizon Zero Dawn leans heavily on the tension and drama that emerges from the various surviving tribes of humans, Automata is more focused on the concept of what makes something alive in the first place. You control androids. You fight robots. Where does consciousness come into play? Can robots feel emotion? How about androids? Where’s the line that distinguishes the two? The journey becomes a much more philosophical one as a result, evoking memories of Ghost in the Shell and the more recent Psycho Pass as you navigate murky ethical waters.
While Automata certainly doesn’t shy away from intellectual elements within its plot, I did find it getting a bit over the top from time to time. With fantastic voice acting and a surprisingly impressive score, some of the plot twists were unnecessarily dramatic. Other times it simply got too wrapped up in its own philosophical musings to take the time to make sure the player understood, you know, what the heck was going on.
A major element of Automata that drastically improves the replayability are the numerous endings players can achieve through multiple playthroughs. After a mis-timed dodge caused my unfortunate end in the opening level, I unwittingly caught a glimpse into what I’m sure is the “worst” ending. There are major forks in the storyline that will further flesh out the story and build upon this otherwise mysterious world you find yourself stumbling through.
The biggest reason you’ll keep coming back to Automata isn’t necessarily in its story, however.
Since the early gameplay videos started appearing, particularly the boss battle video that was shown at E3 2016, people have been eager to get their hands on this title and dive into the fast and furious battles that Automata has to offer. You have a standard (square) and strong (triangle) attack, as well as a dodge you can trigger with R2. By holding R1 you can have your robotic accomplice known as a “Pod” provide you with supplementary firepower. This Pod can be upgraded with powerful attacks down the road that can help you manage the hordes of robots that you will ultimately face. Timely dodges open the opportunity for an air combo as you will occasionally launch enemies into the air to follow up with a flurry of attacks. Timing is essential throughout Automata, and as you grow more familiar with the ebb and flow of battle you will soon find yourself dancing through battles; a beautiful tornado of destruction without equal.
The main gripe I have regarding the combat is that the lock-on ability can be a bit wonky. Once a target is destroyed the lock on disengages, rather than moving to the next applicable target. This sometimes resulted in less-than-graceful dodge spamming to get clear of enemies rather than being able to re-center the camera and engage them in rapid succession. Still, considering the scale and speed of the battles in general, this frustration is admittedly minor compared to the overall fun I found myself having in regular combat.
As an Action-RPG, you do accrue experience through your battles and can level up, opening up additional chip slots for enhancements to your HUD. These chips offer a variety of benefits: determining enemy level/HP, automatically using a healing item below a certain % of health and counterattacks are just a few of the early boons you can unlock.
You also have a variety of options when it comes to your weaponry. You start out with a short-sword, but you can also pick up spears, fist weapons and other deadly tools along the way. You can set various “sets” and swap them with ease, making the already fast-paced action even more dynamic and interesting.
Weapons can be upgraded over time by collecting raw components and turning them into vendors. These upgrades provide sizable boosts to combo-strings and attack power, and also unlock “Weapon Stories” that you can review in your menu later.
Automata’s combat is a thrilling experience, and definitely scratches a very different itch than Horizon, Bloodborne or Nioh. Fans of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta will be delighted, I’m sure. Between the fast and fluid gameplay, the customization system and weapon leveling, there’s plenty of work to be done to make 2B the most badass robot-slaughtering Android this side of the Moon.
Put simply, Automata is a gorgeous game through and through. The ruinous landscapes are sprawling and detailed, running the gamut between lush wetlands, rusting warehouses and vast deserts. With the recent arrival of the PS4 Pro, more and more titles have been finding reasons to push to higher levels of graphical splendor, and Automata certainly benefits from the High Dynamic Range to depict even more vibrant color.
Perhaps even more striking than the graphics, however, is the voice acting and soundtrack. The score is as varied as Automata’s environments: from light and ethereal to industrial and processed; whether you’re in the thick of a frenzied battle or exploring the ruined countryside for components for your latest upgrade, the soundtrack and sound effects do well to build up this fascinating universe.
It’s been a busy couple weeks for gamers – between the Nintendo Switch, Horizon Zero Dawn, and now NieR: Automata, I have to imagine most gamers’ tax refund checks are long gone by now! Automata is certainly a great buy: with fantastic graphics, lightning-fast and immensely satisfying gameplay and a plot that makes just enough deviations from the norm to keep you guessing, it’s a great addition for fans of action-RPGs.