Nier Automata was released on February 23, 2017, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a landmark title. In recent years, the AAA space has seen a real lack of thought provoking, truly well-written games that are simultaneously an absolute blast to play. It is, admittedly, very weird, but I would urge you to not let that be a reason for passing this one up. The game follows the exploits of a pair of androids, 2B and 9S as they try to pave the way for humanity to return to an earth now overrun with machine lifeforms.
The question of what it is to be human is one that has seen fierce debate. It has found a way into almost every form of art and is now deeply ingrained in our culture. What I’m saying is that this is by no means a new or novel idea. What’s admirable about Nier Automata, however, is that the game essentially is this question. It is perhaps the deepest exploration of the idea that I have ever come across. Everything about the game reinforces the one central theme, the protagonists, the NPCs that you encounter, the tasks that you perform, and the overarching plot. And I do want to stress that this is an exploration of the question. There is no moment where the game overreaches and tries to make some grand, definitive point about the nature of humanity. All the philosophy is tied closely to the games very essence. I’m trying to avoid spoilers (because this is essentially my plea for you to play the game yourself) but as you play you will find yourself asking, can a machine love, understand the concept of family, can an AI know fear? These are but a few of the myriad questions the game puts before the player, and every single one is handled with a grace and finesse now uncommon to the AAA sector.
After all that I’ve said you may expect the gameplay of Nier Automata to be a rather dry affair. But that is not the case. The combat was in fact developed by the now legendary (and at times not so legendary) Platinum Games, the minds behind the excellent Bayonetta. What you get then is a combat system that is smooth, stylish and surprisingly deep. On the most basic level, it revolves around timing your dodges and exploiting openings with a devastating series of strikes with sword, spear, axe or fist. But beyond that, you must use your pod strategically (a small flying robot that provides support), carefully consider which chips (perks) you equip, and compensate for the huge amount of enemy variety. You never really know what the game is going to throw at you next, which balances out the difficulty nicely. But the main reason I love the combat is that it just feels incredible. Every move is so quick and responsive that hacking your way through countless enemy bots is a delight. Style is what underpins classic Platinum Games combat, and Nier Automata has it in spades.
So please, if you’re looking for something really stimulating and the latest Ubisoft or EA offering makes you want to curl up into a ball, then you should absolutely give this game a go. If you have any interest whatsoever in gaming as an artistic medium, you owe it to yourself.