Some games receive unexpected sequels years after their initial release. As a follow-up to the highly underrated NieR, does Automata have what it takes to stand out in the crowded action RPG genre?
NieR: Automata has you control an android soldier known simply as 2B. The story begins with her and a fellow soldier named 9S infiltrating a compound overrun by machines. As far as they know, these machines are a threat to humankind who have previously escaped to the moon. Considering androids were built by humans to serve and protect them, they'll stop at nothing to end the machine threat once and for all.
As the plot unfolds, you'll slowly realise that the machines have a deep curiosity about what it's like to be human. You'll witness them explore aspects of humanity such as religion, sex, family, and beauty which will make you wonder if these machines are trying to form their own identities or they're just crazy. Either way, it's such a unique and deeply profound premise for a story that it'll make you wonder just what it means to be human.
You control 2B in various gameplay scenarios that all seamlessly blend together to form some of the most memorable action-intense scenes in all of gaming. The gameplay can transition from 2D platforming to 3D arena combat to a scrolling shoot 'em up to twin-stick shooting within minutes. Each one of these gameplay modes is handled perfectly so that you're never fumbling around with the controls. Instead, anyone can easily adapt to every presented scenario in order to take down hordes of machines and massive bosses.
Between the action, there is an open-world dynamic where you can uncover treasures and complete side-quests. Doing so is great fun, especially when you acquire new weapons and helpful Pods. Heck, you can even take a break and do some fishing. Anyway, customizing your android with new gear is easy. Besides equipping more powerful weapons, you can allocate plug-in chips to gain certain boosts, assign different functions to your Pod (a handy floating unit that attacks enemies, etc.), and use various merchants in order to forge new goodies and upgrade your existing arsenal. Overall, exploring while improving your abilities can be a very rewarding task.
Although the open-world can be satisfying to explore, it's also frequently a chore to do so. Invisible walls and unexpected barriers will constantly get in your way while trying to travel from point A to point B. That being said, there is a 3D map that will help you make sense of your often complex surroundings but the fact that you'll regularly be frustrated and confused remains.
All of that being said, the world is very small compared to most open-world games so you'll likely memorize how to traverse it effectively after a while. Besides the central dilapidated city, you'll explore an abandoned factory, a ruins-filled forest, a vast desert, a rundown amusement park, and a flooded city. Considering there are only a handful of areas, it all gets repetitive after you've visited each one.
Similarly to the original NieR, you can play through the campaign multiple times as different characters and watch new story sequences and endings unfold in the process. Trying to unravel the plot as much as you can is a great incentive to play it again. That said, the small world and limited environments will be all too familiar on subsequent playthroughs.
NieR: Automata's visuals are subtle and mysterious. Whereas most games aim to be colourful or realistic, the graphics here are faint and subdued which creates an almost constantly eerie tone that'll keep you immersed from start to finish.
On the audio side, NieR: Automata features some of the best music that I've ever heard in a video game. Not only are the melodies catchy and atmospheric, they adapt to each scenario in a way that I've never experienced before. Instruments and vocals fade in and out depending on current circumstances. Additionally, when you hack into enemies, the music shifts to chiptunes. Probably the most impressive part is how the machines' voices are remixed to be incorporated into the musical soundscape. It's downright stunning.
When it comes to action-packed gameplay and breathtaking audio, NieR: Automata goes above and beyond almost every game in existence. It may have its issues with its less than stellar open-world but it remains a wholly phenomenal and memorable experience.
- + Seamless mix of gameplay styles within jaw-dropping action-intense scenarios
- + Stunning music in an immersive world
- + Incentives to play through multiple times
- - Traversing environments is often confusing
- - The open world is quite small and repetitive