Nier: Automata Review - IGN (2024)

After trading fisticuffs with a Transformer, cartwheeling around a bullet-spewing tank controlled by evil clowns, and using a moose to buck my way through killer robots, it’s safe to say that there are very few games – if any – quite like Nier: Automata. At different times it’s a hack-and-slash, an RPG, a shoot-‘em-up, a brawler, and even a text adventure. But no matter which style it is at any given moment, this dazzling hybrid delivers 30-plus hours of fantastically fun action, remarkable locations, and a story so weird I doubt I’ll forget it anytime soon.

Nier: Automata takes place in a desolate but stunning futuristic dystopia where humanity has fled to the moon after an extraterrestrial invasion, leaving behind an army of androids to fight the aliens’ more primitive but prolific machines. It’s a world where lush green tendrils of ivy coil around the massive skeletal remains of crumbling skyscrapers and tears of rust streak down the sides of old factories, with rotund buildings and looming cranes dominating the skyline.

Automata’s striking art style and enormous sense of scale are mesmerizing.

Automata’s striking art style and enormous sense of scale are mesmerizing to look at on the PlayStation 4, but especially on the PlayStation 4 Pro. It doesn’t go above 1080p on the Pro, but colors appear fresh and vivid, while better lighting and shading bring the world into sharper focus. I did encounter a few hiccups that knocked the frame rate below 60fps and witnessed a fair share of texture pop-in, but they only pockmarked Automata’s lovely features ever so slightly. That, or I was too enchanted with the soaring, chorus-filled soundtrack to really notice; Automata will definitely be joining its predecessor’s score on my playlist.

The story that takes place amongst the tumbled remains of abandoned superstructures is bizarre and entertaining, if somewhat haphazard. First as an android named 2B and later as other characters experiencing the same events from different perspectives, your job is to fight the alien machines and bring an end to the war. The quirky, full-tilt drama that unfolds as you bounce between Earth and the moon is an intriguing one, touching on existential themes like the meaning of life and humanizing those on the other side of war. It works, for the most part, due to a couple of bonkers plot twist and well-done voice acting that helps sell the more outlandish bits of allegory.

Like its predecessors Nier and Drakengard, Automata does have an unfortunate tendency to wander into uber-convoluted territory, and this is where problems start to arise. Try as I might, I couldn’t always understand what was happening, even after I played through several of Automata’s multiple endings. There are also some emotional moments that struck me as forced. It's as if the game's lead writer Yoko Taro wanted to make me cry and was casting about for ways to make that happen. (To be fair, one event did have me pretty darn misty-eyed.)

I was happy to see familiar faces from the original Nier.

The bigger issue was the disconnect I felt from 2B and her fellow androids. Their personal dramas take too long to unwind, which prevented me from fully investing in their fates. Why should I weep or cheer for them if I’m not given a reason until 20 hours in? With that said, I was happy to see familiar faces from the original Nier pop up to help clarify the connection between it and Automata. Their presence brought about a welcome sense of nostalgia and helped bring closure to Nier: Gestalt's open-ended finale.

I didn’t feel much of a rapport with the heroes, but I definitely enjoyed playing as them. There’s an incredible sense of freedom that comes with effortlessly surfing sand dunes in the desert and shimmying up the concrete remains of office buildings in Automata’s open world. Parkouring plays a big role here, and it’s highly enjoyable thanks to ultra-fluid controls and a very smart camera that effortlessly tracks the action no matter how insane things get. And things get pretty nuts: Automata’s different flavors of combat are a maniacal, supersonic affair, and a total blast to play.

Automata is described as an action RPG, but it’s really an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of game. In between hearty chunks of feel-good hack-and-slash, you’ll trade a fireworks display worth of projectiles with flying enemies, hack into robot mainframes, read a text adventure or two, and even brawl with a pair of psychotic twins. This radically changing gameplay makes for a thrilling roller coaster ride, and I mean that literally: in one of the craziest, most beautiful action sequences I’ve ever encountered, you’ll fight atop a moving roller coaster while racing full speed through the dilapidated remains of a sun-kissed boardwalk.

The radically changing gameplay makes for a thrilling roller coaster ride.

The majority of enemy encounters take place on the ground, in sun-dappled pine forests and submerged cityscapes. These seamlessly connected areas offer plenty of space to experiment with Automata’s excellent free-flowing combat, which is where the gameplay shines best and brightest. The system is streamlined into a variety of light and heavy attacks that make it easy to leap, shoot, hack, and slash through giant metal serpents and giant arm-flailing bipeds whose hard knocks can only be avoided through quick thinking and nimble dexterity.

There’s no stamina bar holding you back, and the ability to instantly swap out weapons with a light tap of the D-pad means you can go nuts stringing together long attack combos without the need to stop and catch your breath. Developer Platinum does an amazing job of delivering a seamless combat experience, which becomes all the more impressive as things get increasingly frenzied and you find yourself backspringing away from an angry mob in one direction while charging an oncoming panzer controlled by zombie clowns in the other direction.

Accompanying all the action are hyper-stylized animations of Automata’s cybernetic heroes twirling oversized katanas over their heads and using axes to cut through hostile bits of iron with ballet-like precision. Each battle stance flows elegantly into the next, resembling a crazed version of tai-chi that makes the carnage as fun to watch as it is to play. In fact, combat is such an addicting experience that I often sought out evil animatronics even when they weren’t in my path, just so I could cut them down with a broadsword so massive that in reality it would take three very strong men to lift it.

Automata loves to throw out increasingly zany combat scenarios: it’s not unusual to be fighting in an arena full of robotic samurai, tanks, flying metal spheres, and whatever else it can think of to throw at you. Managing all this insanity requires changing tactics on the fly, which is where Automata’s flexible customization system makes itself handy. Upgradable plug-in chips can be swapped out and freely stacked to adjust your androids’ speed, strength, and defenses at any time. Foraging for nuts and bolts in the wild allows you to upgrade your weapons and AI battle pods, while consuming temporary buff and debuffs help to give you a leg up in battle, particularly during Automata’s more punishing difficulty modes. You can even remove chips that provide HUD information for more of a challenge.

Ticking up the difficulty to white-knuckle levels of chaos was a rewarding way to test my combat skills, but it also meant raising the danger in corpse runs, which greatly increased the possibility of losing precious inventory if I failed to retrieve my body. Luckily, if I ever felt cornered I could just hop online and recruit the AI-controlled remains of another player to fight alongside me, or pilfer them for useful items. And if that didn’t work, I could press a self-destruct button to do massive damage to the enemy (and my clothes). I could even wrest control of an opponent’s mind by hacking into their system and force them to demolish their own allies. Unconventional battle tactics? Yup, but they sure are effective.

There’s more to do than just stab robots and search for the truth.

Combat is the heart and soul of Automata, but there’s more to do than just stab robots and search for the truth. Fun money-making enterprises like fishing and hunting are available, and I’m very happy to report that the animal-riding mechanics of the original Nier – complete with car-like drifting capabilities – return. There are also a number escort missions and fetch quests you can do on the side. These missions aren’t always exciting, but they help fill in backstory and reward you with money and rare loot upon completion.

My favorite moments, however, were the ones I made up myself. More than once I stopped the action to scale the far-reaching heights of an office building and drink in the sunset, or stood atop a massive tree limb to survey the land below me. These quiet, zen-like moments were a welcome reprieve between bouts of overcaffeinated combat. I loved it, and I loved the game for allowing me to do it.

At this point I should note that you do need to wait for Automata to fully download before you play it, otherwise there’s a high probability of coming across a game-breaking bug about three hours in. I also crashed out twice during a couple of particularly intense boss fights, which was a pain in the butt since there's no auto-save and I had to start the battles over again. Still, spread out over 30 hours of gameplay that’s not the worst thing in the world.

Nier: Automata Review - IGN (2024)


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