Plenty of video games feature post-apocalyptic scenarios.In fact, this very publication recently put out an article on the medium’s preoccupation with them! With this being the case, then, developers set on allowing players to run around a ruined world have to work extra hard to make their vision of an apocalypse stand out from all the others. If one person knows how to make a product that stands out from everything else, though, it’s Taro Yoko, the eccentric creator best known for his cult hit Drakengard series. From what I’ve experienced of NieR: Automata, his signature weirdness and penchant for oblique storytelling are shaping up to make Square Enix’s latest an apocalypse to remember.
The allotted preview section started me off in control of Automata’s heroine, 2B—a fashionable android with a flair for stylish murder. From what I could gather, 2B and her straight-laced partner 9S have joined a group of human resistance fighters in a ruined city. This ragtag group of survivors are attempting to scrape by in a world now overrun by machines. Their camp is small, a tiny encampment with a handful of people and no meaningful defences. Even from this small set piece, it’s clear how desperate things are for these people, which helps to add a sense of urgency to helping them out.
Before following the main narrative path, 2B was able to engage in a few side-quests. These involved picking up materials for various shopkeepers so they could open their services up for me. While this sounds like typical fare for open world RPGs, the small portion of the map I could explore made them feel like anything but. Automata’s vision of a ruined cityscape is an interesting one in that it doesn’t involve nuclear fallout or grey drabness. Rather, I was struck by how everything felt lush and alive. Every empty city block was overgrown by grass, vines, and trees—this was a place taken back by nature. Reinforcing that was a wealth of different animals running amok, including moose and boars.
Those weren’t 2B and 9S’ only company, however. This is a Platinum game, after all, and it wouldn’t be one of those without something to fight. In this case, my opponents were isolated scores of rusty robots. Initially, I didn’t want to hurt them—their round heads and squat bodies were more endearing than threatening. But they dealt the first blow, so naturally, they had to be cut to ribbons.
As anyone who’s played a Platinum joint can attest to, cutting things to ribbons is exactly what the developer excels at. As soon as 2B stepped into combat, the developer’s signature dish of precise, dodge-heavy, breakneck combat was served up on a silver platter, and it tasted better than ever. While they’ve experimented with sandbox games before in Transformers: Devastation and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, those titles felt constricted by their licenses and like test runs as opposed to fully fleshed-out experiences. However, from what I’ve experienced, NieR: Automata is already shaping up to be the ultimate realization of an open-world Platinum title. The mechanics are tight and the maps (both the city and a sprawling desert were available in the preview build) are spacious, giving a sense of scale to the combat that’s never really been present in the developer’s previous titles. Being able to leap and dodge around large landscapes to fight off enemies feels amazing, and like a major evolution for a developer primarily known for smaller, more focused level design.
After taking on the sidequests, I ventured into the desert to search for an anomaly being picked up by the resistance. A sarcastic woman named Jackass briefed 2B on the situation before letting her loose in the desert. Once the leash was off, the scope of the area became clear in an instant. The desert is huge, with a large pipeline the only thing giving players any indication of their direction. It’s just as easy, however, to amble off in your own direction and get lost. The city and desert are just two parts of the whole game, and I’m eager to explore whatever else the title holds.
Running around the desert, 2B and 9S begin getting ambushed by enemies. But these aren’t like the robots in the city—they’re wearing facepaint and garbed in tribal regalia. Almost as if they have their own society out here. As 2B lays waste to them with her katana, they begin to speak to her. What they’re saying makes no sense, but it seems as if they’re attempting to communicate with her, trying to convey some deeper meaning than their own preprogrammed responses. It’s unnerving, to say the least, and something players can look forward to learning more about in the full game.
Discussing anything that lies beyond the desert treads into spoiler territory, and I wouldn’t dream of doing that for a game like NieR: Automata. Suffice it to say, there are dozens of multi-layered mysteries lurking behind the combat and buried in the open world, and this preview section only teases at a small percentage of them. But what a tease it is—Platinum’s games are not necessarily known for long-form narratives, but the addition of Yoko Taro’s creative direction gives players something to look forward between each conflict.
NieR: Automata is shaping up to be a fascinating adventure. Based on my time with it, RPG and action gaming fans are in for something special. While we can’t divulge any more details, I have spent over 32 hours with the finished build of the game, and absolutely can’t wait to talk more about it in my full review. Until then, however, keep this one on your radar—it may very well end up being one of 2017’s most unique, engrossing titles.