Monday, December 18, 2017

NieR: Automata Review

With the amount of attention 2B has gotten, you’d think NieR: Automata is some kind of hentai game. It is, in fact, not a hentai game. It’s not even as risque as Bayonetta. 2B is a prim and proper lady compared to her. NieR: Automata is an action adventure RPG developed by Platinum Games and published by SquareEnix. It does deal with some mature subjects, but boobs and butts are not among them.

NieR: Automata takes place in a world where long ago, aliens attacked Earth, and humans fled to the Moon. Earth was trashed by the alien’s machines, and humans sent androids to fight them on Earth. The war between the androids and machines has been waging ever since. You play as 2B and 9S, who are android members of YorHa, which is basically the android army. Their base of operations is on a space station orbiting Earth, called the Bunker. There are also more androids living on Earth who are fighting the machines, but are not part of YorHa. They are the resistance.

The game is split up into 3 acts. In the first act, you play as 2B with 9S following you around. The second act is a retelling of the first act from 9S’ point of view. It’s a lot like the first, since 2B and 9S work as a team, and are together most of the time, but there are new scenes that expand on the machines’ motives, and all of your non-story progress carries over, so it goes by quicker. The third act is the epilogue, and also lets you play as A2, that other android on the cover. I enjoyed every act, but I don’t think playing through most of the first act again as 9S was really necessary. It would have been perfectly fine if I just played from 9S’ perspective sometimes. 9S’ playthrough just isn’t different enough to warrant a nearly full playthrough of the first act. I bet a lot of people just stopped playing it there, because it just seems like a new game +. If the game wasn’t rolling the credits every chance it got, it wouldn’t seem so much like a new game +. There are 26 “endings” in the game, but they’re not really endings, it’s just a credits roll. The story is not actually over. The game is nearly 60 hours long.

This is open world game, but it’s not exactly Breath of the Wild or Grand Theft Auto. It reminds me more of Ocarina of Time. You have a big area connecting everything in the middle, and new areas open up around it as the game progresses. You’re not opening the way to new areas with items or skills here, though. The environment will change and open up as the story progresses. For example, at one point, some buildings are destroyed, opening the way to a new area through the exposed sewer tunnels.

I really like the world of NieR: Automata, but the actual storytelling is just OK. It takes a long time for it to really get going. I spent a lot of the game wondering what the purpose of me being here was, besides killing machines. Or was the point to make me ponder my own existence? I wonder. I spent most of the game running errands for YorHa and the resistance, just waiting for the machines to do something for me to react to. A lot of the game is really just MMORPG style fetch and delivery quests.

What I really loved about this world was the disturbing things the machines did, and the way the androids reacted towards them. Androids are just robots that look like humans, yet they treated the machines like inferior things that could not feel or think for themselves. When machines started doing things, like caring for babies, and talking about love and family, the androids denied that they could actually feel and think for themselves, and chalked it up to them imitating humans. The game is full of this kind of stuff.

The combat in NieR: Automata is sort of like Bayonetta on easy mode. You have your quick and strong attacks, guns, and your dodge and jump moves, but there are no complex combos, or strict timing required to do different attacks, like in Bayonetta. You just kind of mash buttons. You can even hold the attack buttons down to do automatic combos. I’m fine with the combat not being as deep as in other Platinum games, because this is an RPG, and the main focus is the story.

But NieR: Automata is more than just a Non-stop Climax Action game. This is also a 2D shoot 'em up, a side scrolling action platformer, and a twin stick shooter. The game switches between all of these modes often. The shoot 'em up sections have you flying on a YorHa flight unit, which looks like something straight out of Macross, and they play like a lost Treasure game from the Dreamcast days. The twin stick shooter sections are the game’s hacking minigame, which is 9S’ specialty, so you’ll be playing a lot of those in Acts 2 and 3. I’m not a big fan of twin stick shooters, like Geometry Wars, but it beats most game’s hacking minigames, and they usually aren't too annoyingly difficult.

I appreciate the amount of options and workarounds the game gives you to customize your game. You can change the difficulty on the fly, customize the buttons, and change a lot of things about how the camera behaves. There’s also the Plug-in Chips, which are a way to customize your gameplay. You can equip chips that regen your HP while not taking damage, chips that increase your damage, your run speed, HP, give you new moves, like a counter, and a bunch of other things. There’s even a chip that slows down time after successfully dodging an attack, like Bayonetta’s Witch Time. There’s also chips to customize your HUD. It’s a pretty cool system, but may be a little confusing, since the UI for it kind of looks like the HDD defragging UI in Windows.

There’s a few confusing and annoying things about the UI, like the Plug-in Chip interface and the map. The entire UI actually has an in-game explanation. It’s the android’s operating system. That’s why it looks like a computer. The map is supposed to be satellite data from the Bunker. That's why it only maps the surface. There’s actually a guy in the game that gives you excuses for these things. The developers must have known that reviewers would have issues with some of this stuff. Having in-game explanations is neat and all, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with as a player. The map is especially hard to deal with, because since it’s only mapping the surface, it’s completely useless for anything underground, or simply in-doors.

This game is no technical marvel. It doesn't look like it had a big budget. There are a lot of reused models and textures all over the game, making some areas look a little bland. The game definitely has style, though. The environments are cool looking, even if the textures aren't great. I love the whole theme of nature reclaiming the ruined city and machines living in nature. I also loved the color palette used in the environments. The game uses very muted colors, which remind me of the Ico games. The design of the machines can be both cute and scary, and the 3 playable androids have very distinct and cosplayable designs.

The music in this game is outstanding. I’m not surprised it won best music at the Game Awards. It has a very mellow, haunting soundtrack, with both electronic and acoustic themes. All the music also has a retro video game version, which will play when you go into 9S’ hacking minigame. The English voice acting is also spot on. 2B sounds like a very restrained woman, 9S like a naive teenager, and A2 like a jaded veteran who has seen through the world’s lies. The Japanese voices sound good, but it’s really hard to read subtitles while playing an action game.

I thought I might like this game, since I’m a big fan of Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising, but I was apprehensive, because all the attention focused on 2B’s ass. But this game isn’t perverted at all! It’s a serious action RPG with a unique style. If you like the sound of a Platinum action game with a big open world, a thought provoking story, and RPG elements, then you’ll probably love this game.