One of the better games of this season (that will probably tragically slip under the radar) is Nier: Automata. Automata is an action role-playing game developed by Platinum games, and the second in the Nier series, which is in turn a spinoff of the Drakengard series. Except it’s more of an alternate reality of Drakengard taking place in a different universe, and Nier: Automata takes place thousands of years after the original Nier, with almost no narrative overlap between any of the games. The history behind it is a little strange — in fact, there’s a lot about this game that’s strange.
The basic premise follows 2B, an android serving humans in the 14th Machine War. In this universe, humanity abandoned Earth after it was attacked by aliens thousands of years ago. When the game begins, the war between humans and aliens is being waged by proxy, with the humans using advanced android technology, while the aliens make use of their supposedly inferior, mass-produced machines. Curiously, neither humans nor aliens physically appear during the story (at least in the first playthrough), leaving all of the interaction and character development in the game to center around these soldiers fighting someone else’s war.
The story at the heart of Automata alternates between an intriguing mystery and a totally bat shit absurdist comedy, all the while taking itself completely seriously in-game. To me, the plot hits just the right notes of otherworldly fantasy that I’ve come to expect from Japanese RPGs.
After thousands of years of war, the Earth has seen better days, and yet it remains kind of beautiful. Automata takes you through ruins of urban cities, desert wastes, lush forests, and war-torn shores. The game is packed with style and looks great, with plenty of spectacular visuals. However, while Automata is technically an open-world game, it’s actually somewhat small in scope. In this regard, Automata actually does suffer for releasing around the same time as Horizon: Zero Dawn and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, two games that make Automata’s world seem tiny by comparison.
In this regard, Automata actually does suffer for releasing around the same time as Horizon: Zero Dawn and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, two games that make Automata’s world seem tiny by comparison.
Fortunately, the major selling point of this game is the combat. The combat style is a bit hard to narrow down, but I’d describe it as an action RPG, beat-em-up, bullet-hell-shooter with rhythm elements. Like I said, it’s a strange game.
The core combat of Automata gives you an assortment of weapons used for both light and heavy attacks, in addition to a robot that works as a hands-free gun. You also equip yourself with a bunch of enhancing items, skills, and programs to turn you into the killing machine (literally) of your dreams. Some of your foes will blast you with a massive stream of bullets that you’ll have to skilfully navigate in order to not get your ass kicked. Others will take a melee approach, causing you to test your reflexes as you dodge skilfully in order to — again — not get your ass kicked. On top of that, the game occasionally switches the camera up on you, making you have to play through side-scrolling and top-down segments. Secondary playthroughs of the game unlock new combat abilities as well, such as hacking.
The combat is addictive, especially as you pick up on the rhythm of combat, to the point where I think I might be getting withdrawal on days when I don’t play. It’s one of the most unique and engaging combat systems I’ve seen in a long time.
If you’re looking for a game that’s weird, unique, thrilling, and probably not going to get the attention it deserves, check out Nier: Automata.