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How Nier Automata Drags You In Despite The Emptiness

Nier Automata first boss One of the enemies you face in Nier before you can save the game. Credit - Dev Press Kit

Nier Automata was a game I was hoping to avoid, with trying to Platinum Horizon Zero Dawn, Finish Zelda and colonise Andromeda in Mass Effect. But after the buzz around how good it is, I traded a few while they had value and picked it up. Unfortunately despite the pedigree, fluidity of attack and intriguing storyline there is emptiness at the centre of the early game that I haven’t overcome yet.

Starting off, the similarities between Nier and Platinum’s other games are obvious. In 2b they have a protagonist that shares traits with Bayonetta, yet she moves more like the characters in their other classic Vanquish. After a distraction with the Transformers and Turtles games, Platinum are back to being their original best with Nier Automata.

2B is an android and in the early game, you learn that androids are created by humans to fight against the machines in the great wars. After defeat by the machines, humans have had to move to a colony on the moon. Like the rest of the game, this isn’t immediately apparent to the player. You firstly play a bullet hell shooter to show how much control the machines have over the earth, as you try to land your ship. It is a nice departure from other games that spend ages with cutscenes explaining a back-story that is hard to remember when the action starts. Nier drops you right into the action.

One thing to note is the warnings you receive throughout the early game. It doesn’t support auto saving. In fact, before you get a chance to save you will go through about an hour of play, a sub-boss and a much larger boss before you get a chance to save. In other words, concentrate from the beginning or else you will be doing it again and again. The combat style is very like Bayonetta with heavy and light attacks and a dodge button. Obviously this early in the game you are not a death-dealing machine but muscle memory should allow you to dispatch the early foes.

In combat, the lock-on feature is handled you your pod. The pod is a floating robot accessory that acts as your guns and your mechanics. It feels like the companion you have in Metal Gear Solid 4 Sons Of Liberty. It acts as a way to contact your base as well as being your ranged attack.  Unfortunately, it takes a bit more aiming at this stage than I would have liked. Usually, the guns in these games are a way to keep a combo going or do chip damage to an enemy as you circle them for a decent angle of attack. The starting gun from your pod is stronger than usual but has no auto-lock, meaning that you can take the time and be a ranged combatant, however in doing so you miss out on the balletic close combat that the developers are famous for. You can see the reasoning behind it but unfortunately, it hides the strongpoint of the game. This is only a personal gripe however and soon you are knee deep in enemies, juggling the way you kill them, slowly defining your own style.

Here is where the game feels a little flat with me. The enemy models are uninteresting. Whether they improve as the game goes on or this is a conscious game design choice remain to be seen. They simply aren’t threatening or interesting at all. Here you have a gloriously designed protagonist, interesting world and great combat, seemingly wasted on small non-threatening dustbins. It ‘s as if you are fighting the droids that lined up in front of the Sandcrawler in Star Wars. This is just a view on the early game but it is something that has bothered me over the first few hours. I feel that using my array of killing moves on small loveable muppet droids, is a bit off, especially when you see the way they attack you. Even though they look harmless, one strike from them can set you back and make you need to use a recovery, it makes fights more difficult than they appear and certainly keeps you on your toes.

The world itself is very much in the current vein of extreme apocalyptic worlds. Like Horizon, it is so far past the apocalypse that there are only hints of the old human world. Unfortunately, this can lead to a bit of aimless wandering, from point to point. Luckily there are interesting loot drops and even fishing to contend with along the way. The map unlocking feature leading you to get save points is very much in keeping with the rest of the game.

Another nice feature is the discovery of other dead android bodies. These are the fallen bodies of other players. When you get to them you have the choice of prayer which sends the other player a health boost, then retrieve or repair. Retrieve, boosts your character while repair allows the dead player to fight alongside you. It is one of the best implementations of the Dark Souls mechanic, I have seen and really makes you think. You could be walking through a seemingly deserted area when you stumble upon a dead player. Usually, the question in your mind is ‘How did anyone die here?’ Then you find out.

Because of this, however, I am more than intrigued to play the rest of the game. There is just something about the empty feeling in the beginning of the game that drags you in. The first enemy that is different from the standard droids is such a shock to the system that suddenly the design choice makes some sense. Other design choices are yet to make sense. The upgrade system is poorly explained and you can end up buying duplicates of items you already have. The storyline hides some of the menu options by default and I feel there must be some investigation required from the player to get the most from the menu system.  In all this is a very risky strategy from Platinum games, but one that seems to have hooked every player who has lifted the game. It has certainly hooked me but as of yet, I can offer no clear explanation why I want to play on. If as said the game requires multiple playthroughs before it reveals itself then it could be the sleeper hit of the year. At the moment, in the early game, it is a quite soulless, hollow curio that needs much more investigation.

You can see for yourself here
Nier Automata: Day One Edition

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