NieR: Automata review for PS4, PC

Platform: PS4
Also On: PC
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Platinum Games
Medium: Digital/Blu-ray Disc
Players: 1
Online: Some features

And roll credits. A regular scene in NieR: Automata’s universe, as players will whizz through a fake credit sequence on any death they hit, they’re reminded that this is just a game. And yet it’s one of the least traditional examples of what constitutes “just a game” in today’s market.

NieR: Automata is a continuation of 2010’s NieR universe, this time putting players in the middle of a battle between machine and android for the greater benefit of mankind. Playing as android 2B, with the aid of companion android 9S, the open-world game sets players on a quest to save humanity in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by adorable killer robots.

Right off the bat, Automata is immediately more fun to play than Cavia’s NieR from seven years ago. Credit is mostly due to developer PlatinumGames for putting their best efforts into the genre they do best, third-person action. Navigating the world is a treat, and the smooth controls of the android characters gives a feeling more akin to floating across the surface than the full-on sprint they exhibit.

Combat is akin to Bayonetta in some ways, with a fair amount of dodging (and eventually the ability to slow time on perfect dodges) and melee. This is accompanied by floating pods which each android is equipped, adding ranged combat in the form of bullets, and other projectiles throughout the game. Players are also given the ability to modify their character builds with chip upgrades, slotted into one of three available configurations. These chips are found throughout the world, and allow for the configuration of anything from HUD elements, buffs to combat, various healing abilities, and even the function of running an android’s OS (this one resulting in a Game Over if removed). There’s even a little Dark Souls influence in how the game handles player death, as any equipped chips must be recovered from where players met their fate, or else those upgrades are lost forever.

Those who played NieR will find themselves in similar gameplay scenarios, mixing genres as Automata’s predecessor was comfortable doing. Luckily, whether if be a Metroidvania recreation, bullet hell or twin-stick shooter, or beyond, these elements are introduced with smooth transition and wonderful execution. They may not be as varied as what NieR featured, but they’re much more refined in their execution. In fact, the dream-team combo of PlatinumGames with NieR’s universe turned out to be as much of a hit as anyone could’ve hoped.

Wrapped up in a well-built game is a story of melancholy and existentialism, as was par for the course of NieR’s bittersweet world. The initial play through will last around 16 hours, with a substantial story of two androids fighting a war waged by their creators, ultimately raising more questions than it answers. In similar fashion to NieR, the end is in many ways the beginning. This will be expected for anyone familiar with NieR’s multiple endings, but this time Square Enix ensures that players dig deeper with a message prompting continuation into New Game+.

What those players end up with is a 30-50 hour action RPG depending on their persistence. This is in many ways “there the real game begins,” but all the same it’s just a continuation of the game’s ideas from the first playthrough.

What everyone is treated to, however, is a satisfactory game that looks incredible in motion, is a joy to play, and features one of the best soundtracks in years. The localization efforts are also as masterful, with Alan Averill returning to the helm as editor, characterizing the unique cast and ideas reflected in NieR: Automata’s story. This played a crucial role in Oier’s success, and the amount of returning talent in Automat’s production helps sustain the bar of quality set back on the series’ PlayStation 3 debut.

NieR: Automata is an easy recommendation, it’s an open-world RPG with combat from an action game that plays like a dream. With solid art direction and a thoughtful story, it regularly turns genre conventions on their head in a way that few games ever manage to achieve. It’s worth checking out if you’ve been looking for a substantial single-player experience that gives you as much to kill as it does to think about.

Grade: A