NieR: Automata first released last year to much fanfare and, as strange as it may seem in retrospect, it’s a miracle it came out at all.
The original NieR, which itself was an offshoot of the already niche Drakengard games, was a flawed albeit beloved game from the eccentric Yoko Taro that unfortunately failed to find a large audience. It’s strange, then, that its sequel, released seven years after the original game, was able to hit with such impact. Yet, it’s inarguable at this point. NieR: Automata is one of the greats. Now, it finds itself on the Xbox One for the first time in the Become As Gods Edition. Boasting Xbox One X-ready improvements and all the game’s downloadable content already included, there’s no more excuses. You should play NieR: Automata.
Glory to mankind
Although NieR: Automata is officially a sequel to the original Nier, the connections between the two are mostly tangential. While there are plenty of tips of the hat for returning fans, NieR: Automata is a mostly standalone experience, so don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with the original game. Taking place in the distant future on a post-apocalyptic Earth, the game begins with the planet having been invaded by an unknown race of mindless machines. All of humanity have since fled to the moon in exile as players take the role of 2B, a member of YoRHa, a group of androids who have been tasked with reclaiming the Earth from the machines.
The story of NieR: Automata is a dark, nihilistic mystery.This isn’t just a game about robots and androids – this is a game about the existentialism of its characters. As the clearly defined lines of war slowly unravel at the seams, secrets continue to reveal themselves until even the most basic of truths within this world become questioned. At its core, this mystery is the driving force of NieR: Automata’s narrative. While its central cast may feel one-note, it’s through these world-shaking revelations that they become more than just deadpan androids, but characters struggling with their own existences. Its their interactions that pull the game’s story together, as characters like 2B and 9S become memorable staples in their own right. With so many twists and turns along the way, no doubt you’ll be left guessing until its true finale in its fifth ending.
Although, for those who find the prospect of multiple endings a bit daunting, these endings are less complete playthroughs and more chapters of a single story. All in all, completing NieR: Automata to the very end, much like Yoko Taro’s previous works, is a necessity to understand its entire story. Doing so, however, will take around sixty hours, which is comparable to most other JRPGs out there.
Slice and dice
The lengthy playtime is alleviated mostly thanks to NieR: Automata’s stylish combat and controls, a now expected quality of any Platinum Games-developed title. Like the original NieR, often the game will bounce between varying genres. It’s impressive, going from a bullet-hell to a twin-stick shooter before the game levels out into its central action RPG conceit – only to then become a side-scrolling platformer. It’s even more impressive how well each of these portions feel on their own, even if the transitions between them might feel a bit jarring and unexpected; sometimes you expect to simply jump onto a platform, only to have the camera suddenly pull back and widen out as you transition into a different gameplay style.
Yet at its core, NieR: Automata is an action/adventure game through and through. Roaming the open world in third person, fighting enemies in its action combat system, this is what you’ll be doing for the majority of the game. Thanks to Platinum signature aesthetic, this core interaction feels as good as ever. Although it can’t compare to their more prestigious character action games like Bayonetta or Vanquish, NieR: Automata plays as smooth as silk. Control feels tight, characters are responsive, and action is blisteringly fast-paced. Seamlessly switching between weapons on the fly, dodging out of the way of enemy attacks at the last minute – you’ll be slashing, smashing, and shooting your way through machines in no time.
Where NieR: Automata differs from Platinum’s core action roots, however, is in it’ chip customisation system. Able to swap out Plug-In chips on the fly, you’ll be able to change your character’s stats whenever necessary. One chip might offer bonuses towards your heavy attack stats while leaving you vulnerable, taking more damage while another might only offer bonuses towards light attacks but increases your defence to balance things back out. It gives enough of a reason to plan before heading out into that next swarm of enemies beyond simply checking to see if you have the most powerful weapons equipped. These chips are also left on your dead bodies, should you ever die in battle, which you can either retrieve outright or reprogram and revive to fight alongside you.
2B or not 2B
As far as ports go, NieR: Automata Become As Gods Edition goes just as far as you’d expect. As stated before, it includes all the downloadable content already available for the game as well as an enhanced resolution and HDR support if you’re playing on an Xbox One X. Yet rather disappointingly, most of the original release’s visual hiccups carry over to the Become As Gods Edition as well. Playing on a standard Xbox One, frame rate drops during visually intensive moments are a constant occurrence and there was a moment early on in my playthrough where the game crashed completely, forcing me to restart from the beginning. It’s hard to tell if the problem was my own console or the game, but it’s not something I would have expected from a re-release of a game already a whole year old.
Yet at the end of the day, NieR: Automata was never defined by its technical issues. Instead, it’s a game that feels uniquely stylised by those that made it. In the same way that an Ingmar Bergman film feels unmistakably his, or how a Hideo Kojima game is filled with small, recognisable touchstones, NieR: Automata is a product of auteur game making at its finest. A sombre meditation on the essence of existence, it’s also a weirdly hilarious adventure that will have you hacking and slashing your way through mountains of robots often with a smile on your face. A miracle that it exists at all, the fact that Xbox One players can finally see it for themselves is even more so. There’s no more excuses. You should play NieR: Automata.