Despite living in a world of constant sequels and remakes, I never truly believed the original NieR would get any kind of follow-up. But, here we are, with NieR Automata sitting proudly amongst the collective works of Yoko Taro.
To me, the original game was the very definition of a hidden gem, and it was a divisive one at that. For all those who were enamoured by its charm, there were others who rounded on its failings and used them as a stick to beat it with.
And that’s the weird thing about the original NieR. There were some parts of the game that can only be classified as stellar, like the narrative, with its unique style of delivery, and the soundtrack, which was heralded as score of the year by specialist video game music publications. But then there were the other parts, like the gameplay and the disjointed concepts through which the gameplay was delivered, which weighed heavy.
It’s why when they announced NieR Automata at E3 2015, I was rather pleased that it was done so alongside PlatinumGames, a company who through releases such as Vanquish and Bayonetta, have shown that they are more than capable of creating games with solid gameplay.
For NieR Automata, instead of choosing to go down the route of direct sequel, the decision was instead taken to have the game act more as a spiritual successor. So while it takes place in the same universe, it does so during a very different time. And this therefore sees the emergence of a new protagonist, 2B, a battle-class Android who is taking part in a war between the Aliens, who use Robots as their offensive weaponry and the Humans, who’re based on the Moon and are represented by Androids.
Along with her companion 9S, 2B embarks on a seemingly routine mission to Earth, where they are to support the Resistance movement. But it turns out to be anything but routine, as 2B encounters things that she was not expecting and along with 9S, they start to realise that not everything adds up the way it should.
In what should now be classified as typical Yoko Taro style, the story has a strong angle towards questioning your morality, and this is present all the way through the narrative. However, due to the way the narrative is told, it does take a little while to get going and I could see this being something of a deterrent. Much of the first half of your experience will be set laying the groundwork and seeing things from a slightly different perspective - the fact there is a big message from Square Enix telling you to continue playing kind of says something. But if you do push through after laying down the groundwork you will get to experience the stories of characters such as Devola and Popola, A2 and Pascal - it makes for something quite special. In truth, it’s perhaps not as profound as the original game, but it’s still a worthwhile experience nonetheless.
By the time things have come to a head, you will be left with a powerful feeling and that’s not something that happens very often in video games, or at least it hasn’t happened very often to me.
As I mentioned before, PlatinumGames were brought on board to oversee the gameplay fundamentals, but as they were fans of the original, they chose to keep the same core and amp it up instead of starting from scratch.
NieR Automata therefore sees you being able to perform normal and heavy melee attacks, while performing evades (akin to Bayonetta), but all with the added twist that you can perform ranged attacks at the same time thanks to your pod. Pod also allows you to perform some special attacks, such as a creating a shield or smashing your foes with a hammer.
It makes for well-rounded experience that thanks to the addition of PlatinumGames, makes for a fluid and rewarding experience.
Outside of the core combat, there are also some other more unorthodox gameplay elements, similar to what we saw in the original NieR. However, these have also been given the same level of care. Whether it’s the top-down shooter stages or the hacking missions, they play well and positively influence the game.
There are also times when these elements all intersect through a piece of narrative that sees the action-adventure gameplay take place in the hacking environment. It makes for an interesting blend and it’s also pleasing to see that the art-style works suitably well in these instances.
On that note, the decision to utilise the skills of Akihiko Yoshida paid off in a big way. Each of the characters are instantly recognisable due to their designs, but also their unique traits, such as the military visor that obscures their eyes. Bringing back key musical staff to work on NieR Automata was also a smart move. Keiichi Okabe and supporting composers from Monaca, as well as Emi Evans and the other vocalists, deliver another strong soundtrack. Again, like the story, it didn’t quite resonate with me as well as the original did, but it’s still a very impressive soundtrack.
NieR Automata is not without fault, but it does represent a huge improvement on its predecessor in the areas that mattered most. There is a strong story, with again, an interesting system of delivery, the gameplay is fluid and rewarding and the soundtrack is again of the top draw. If you’re looking for a new action adventure game to sink your teeth into, then NieR Automata should be at the top of your list. Just make sure you don’t stop playing and follow it through to the end.NieR Automata was reviewed using a physical PS4 copy provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Story delivery is again very inventive|
|Gameplay is a real stand-out part of NieR Automata|
|Cast of characters is strong|
|Pacing is quite slow|
|Story, music don't quite hit the same highs as the previous game|