Just a heads up guys; when I first got this, not only did I have to delete a few games (luckily I wasn’t playing them anymore and my brother, who has space on the PS4, generously allowed me to delete FIFA 16’s application), there was an error getting it to load onto my system. I had to reinsert the disc. Be warned that this might happen if you get the game; it isn’t broken, the update required to fix some really bad bugs in the game just interrupts the loading.
Okay, so NieR. This is actually the first I’ve heard of the series so I was intrigued when an email from my Playstation account appeared in my inbox several months ago about a demo of the game. In one of the most tense but adrenaline-fuelled hour and a half of my life, I was thoroughly persuaded to buy the full version when it came out March 10 of this year in the UK. I then started to read about it while it was finishing up in the development stages, finding myself wondering just what sort of game I would be letting myself in for from a developer that, to me, seemed to have a few loose screws in his head. In the end, the date of delivery came, and after pre-mentioned slight issue, I just allowed myself to go along with the flow of the game. And boy, what a game it is.
The first hour of the game was familiar ground; to anyone who has played the demo, you’d recognise it within moments of crash landing into the factory level and finally revealing main heroine 2B after a quick shooting sequence. With the exception of possibly a few more items dotted about, and that you start from Lvl.1, not much of the factory map has changed, though the boss Goliath is still as impressive on this map as it was in the demo version. I still got that buzz, and that little thrill, of dodging Goliath’s large flaming digger arms of death and then successfully letting off a stream of laser beams in retaliation. This does raise the point that clearly the developers were confident to use the entirety of their first hour of gameplay as an early access demo if it still gets the desired effect.
After this, the game slowdowns the pace, introducing two locales within the second hour of play; the satellite base that sort of acts like a hub-world -mainly, its the area where you can save your game manually to begin with rather than quick save, as well as a place of rest and shopping. Oh, and here some stuff that might surprise you happens as well (won’t spoil it for you guys)- and then quickly you’re put down back to Earth to a beautiful, ruined city that’s been reclaimed by nature. It’s here that you’re introduced to a few interesting mechanics in the game, some that surprises more than others.
My first surprise: if you’re connected to NieR’s network, and 2B meets her demise anywhere in the world map, you leave an online ‘corpse’ behind so to speak. For you, it means a chance to retrieve all of your items and equipment again but for other players there are some options. Unlike the Souls games and indeed Nioh, rather than fight against the android body left behind you can Pray for them (this revitalises players playing online), Receive items, albeit temporarily, from them, or Repair the android so that it can fight alongside you for a while. It’s a novel take on what is something predominately a Souls’ staple, especially as it concentrates mostly on aiding other players rather than hindering them. The most surprising part in all this is that this mechanic is in an open-world action role-playing game.
My second surprise was that robots that I thought were hostile, and I felt so cunning for beating them without them even realising that I was there, turned out to not be hostile at all. 9S, our AI partner, rather helpfully mentions that some robots were just standing around in this area staring into space. Whoops… its amazing how in a few minutes I’ve gone from feeling smug to actually feeling a little bad for not really giving the robots a sporting chance. I console myself in the knowledge that, even if they didn’t fight back, they did go out in style; the combat system of NieR just makes an event of every battle, as it should given it is developed by PlatinumGames. A game from Platinum (especially now since they’ve cancelled XboxOne exclusive Scalebound) is always something special – and this is even more apparent given that according to sources reviewing the previous Nier entry, the combat system was in need of improvement. While I can’t compare, I can say that it is an absolute joy being in the real-time combat situations, so mission accomplished there then.
And while it’s not groundbreaking, finding out that you can fish in game (with 2B’s Pod -a sort of robot assistant come Gatling gun that you can customise with Pod Programs- acting as your lure) did take me by surprise, introducing the idea that there are harvesting elements, thus leading me to a conclusion that there was probably some form of upgrading system for weapons. I was right, but it was still surprising that the game never tells you that. You just happen upon the idea organically.
It’s the same when you discover one of your first shops that deals with Chips – okay, actually you need to complete a quest for the shop owner to actually unlock the Chips, but the reward is worth it given that the Chip system is how you customise and upgrade 2B. Though I would say that dealing with the Chip system is a little unwieldy to begin with; just take your time with it and experiment, but if it really does prove too bothersome, there’s an NPC at your second hub area that will gladly advise you on what to do.
However, the truly surprising thing about NieR is not its gameplay or the mechanics in use. It is its story. Never have I ever played a game like this that made me stop to think about some of the ideas it introduces. Really, I mean it. I had not expected to be faced with really philosophical situations presented to me in the proxy war between the machines and the androids. Are the androids really as devoid of emotions as we are lead to believe? 9S and an NPC called 6O certainly seem to be more human than first believed, one particular conversation fairly early on in the game leaving poor 2B rather flummoxed to begin with. Are machines actually capable of feeling or are they just mimicking what they believe to be human interaction and ritual? There is a scenario that you are faced that… well… I’ll be frank, I was so weirded out by it that I just left 2B standing there for two minutes while 9S started to repeatedly remind me that they were just machines.
There are also machines that you meet in other areas, each with a characteristic that continues to leave you pondering over what sort of questions are being put in front of you. The pervading question though I feel the more I played NieR was: what does it really mean to be human? The melancholy mood paired with some of the darker elements of the game leads to a rather haunting narrative that through the first playthrough leaves more questions than answers, warranting the key subsequent playthroughs necessary to understand more of NieR: Automata’s story. I’ll leave you to discover that on your own.
Overall though, NieR:Automata is a game that is well worth your time and effort. It is a truly seamless open world where, more often than not, you might find yourself just staying still to look and enjoy how both desolate yet beautiful it is, armed with a soundtrack to match – if I had to describe it, during the still moments its the sort of music you might practice yoga to, and it just works so well for NieR. It’s real time combat system is both welcoming to the casual gamer but also offers the challenge that hardcore gamers will crave, with a dodge and Pod system that just really ties it together neatly and makes even the hardest of boss fights an absolute pleasure to play – I speak as someone who sort of sits between these two camps, often fighting bosses in NieR about six levels higher than 2B which would normally give me heart palpitations.
Although the inclusion of the shooter sections I do find at times a little unnecessary, the inclusion of 2D platforming sections are lovely little pockets of playtime, whether they be just for the sake of exploration or for combat situations. But again, if its these elements that draw you in, its the setting, the music, the characters and the story that they live in that make you stay, and make you consider some very deep and probing questions that it poses as you go deeper into it.
And that is why you should play NieR:Automata.