PS4 (reviewed), PC - Square Enix - £40.00

Few games do such a representative job in their first thirty minutes as Nier: Automata. This genre-skipping RPG opens its story with a whistle-stop tour through several play styles, from vertical shoot em up, third person action, 2D platformer, horizontal blaster, top-down twin-stick shooter and some others I’ve probably forgotten, before setting you up to fight a giant mechanised oil rig. Forget the Automata suffix, this game should probably be called Nier: WTF?.

Nier: Automata is actually a sequel to last generation’s Nier, itself a spin-off from the Drakengard series, but don’t worry about any of that. You don’t need any prior knowledge of what’s gone before, especially when Nier: Automata’s story takes place a couple of thousand years after the first game. The plot revolves around an alien invasion that has seen the last of humanity escape to the moon, while earth has been taken over by robots. Rather put out by this, humans have been sending androids back to earth to battle these interlopers, including your character, 2B.

Most of the time, Nier: Automata is an action RPG. You’ll take on enemies in melee combat, similar to games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, with gravity defying moves and big combos. You’re also aided by robotic drones, Pods, which can shoot enemies from a distance, allowing you to chip off some health before you get too close. Combat is satisfying, and there’s a huge variety of enhancements that you can use to bolster 2B and adapt her to your preferred play style. The game doesn’t do a great job explaining this system, so it’s worth checking an online guide to get the most out of it. 

The game borrows its death mechanic from the critical darling that is the Dark Souls series, in that if you die, you have the chance to return to your corpse to collect any items you were carrying at the time. Die again, and they’re lost forever. You can even leave messages for others when you die too. You’ll find the bodies of other players as you progress, and you can resurrect them to fight alongside you. 

 

A word about the endings. There are a lot of them. I don’t mean a good one or a bad one, we’re talking many, many different possibilities depending on the actions you take during your playthrough, from the side missions you complete (of which there are plenty) to how you interact with other characters. If you’re a completionist, seeing all these endings will probably be an enticing prospect, as well as a sign that your social life is about to take a massive dive.

The genre-hopping is seamless and keeps things unquestionably fresh. It’s best employed in the epic boss fights, which usually see you taking on enormous mechanical enemies while the perspective flips around and you have to adjust your style on the fly. One gripe is that at times this can work against the player, as the camera gets lost in the madness onscreen, and it’s difficult to spot just what it is you’re supposed to be attacking.

While we’re on the negatives, the graphics couldn’t really be described as anything more than serviceable. They’re fine for the most part, but they can’t compete with big name titles released in 2017, and if you look too closely you’ll notice there’s a lot of repetition of textures. Running past a derelict building is like watching a chase scene in an old Hanna Barbera cartoon, you’ll see the same door and window fly by several times. Performance wise, the frame rate is patchy, and the draw distance can be pretty severe in large areas, with items suddenly appearing up ahead. 

It’s unfortunate that Nier has landed so close to two blockbuster titles in Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Zero Dawn. While these two games ooze polish and budget out of every digital pore, Nier has got them beat on sheer originality, charm and sheer surprise. With those two games, you more or less know what to expect around the corner, but Nier takes your expectations, blindfolds them, spins them around several times and then chucks them into the sea for good measure. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on the game, it prises your fingers off and chucks more madness your way.

It’s not a game for everyone - the graphics don’t wow, the multiple endings might be overkill for some, and it doesn’t do a great job of explaining the facets of its upgrade system, but for those who want to lose themselves in a ridiculous and unabashed videogame, and are prepared to take the time to get to grips with it, Nier: Automata is a joy.

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