| Christopher Byrd |
CALL me jaded, but some of the first things I noticed about ‘Nier: Automa’, the Japanese action RPG sequel to the cult favourite ‘Nier’ (2010), were its shortcomings. Notwithstanding its lighting model, the game’s general reliance on muted colours coupled with its many barren environments gives it the look of a last-generation title that has been up-resed for contemporary displays. (The PS4 version runs at 900p on the standard PS4 and 1080p on the PS4 Pro.)
On the more technical side, I couldn’t help but notice occasional frame drops, aliasing issues, and, most annoyingly, invisible walls that cut off places that otherwise look traversable. Now, if you had to choose between a game that was a polished known quantity – like one of those annualised, blockbuster series – or one that was a little ragged around the edges but simmering with unruly energy, what would you choose? I’d lean toward the latter, and, if you agree then please read on because ‘Nier: Automata’s” is a wonderful game whose real beauty lies beyond its immediate details. In fact, the game dares to get better after you see the credits.
‘Nier: Automata’ follows the story of two sword-wielding, ship-flying androids: 2B and 9S. The androids work for the YoRHa corporation which is tasked by a human colony, exiled on the moon, with repelling the “machine life forms” that conquered Earth at the behest of their alien creators, or at least that’s the cover story.
What’s apparent from the game’s opening hour is its encyclopaedic – one might even say nostalgic – embrace of different conventions. It shifts from a vertical space ship shooter, to a twin-stick mech shooter, to a 3D third-person brawler, to a 2D sidescroller, and an overhead combat game. Also noticeable in the first hour is how the designers like to toy with the player, e.g. it’s possible to flub the intro near the end and be forced to play the whole thing over. Such needling is but a prelude to the more interesting mind games that ‘Nier: Automata’ dishes out down the line. In an interesting twist, it keeps its most remarkable moments a secret until players have completed their first playthrough. (New gameplay systems and crucial narrative elements are reserved for later playthroughs.)
Although ‘Nier: Automata’ is an action game to its core, a line of philosophical reflection runs through it. Yoko Taro, the game’s director (who also worked on ‘Drakengard 3’ which led to the original ‘Nier’) is known for seeding his games with philosophical questions. Why do people kill each other and why do they make the same mistakes time and again are questions that arise at dramatic moments in the game. Philosophers, too, are name-checked.
I don’t know why a boss is named Hegel but I found it amusing to encounter, in a village of pacifists, a robot named Jean-Paul who’s fond of spouting the existentialist credo that existence precedes essence (in other words, one’s material conditions affect one first and foremost as opposed to, say, one’s talents). – The Washington Post