HIGH 2B and 9S are likeable characters.
LOW The game is twice as long as it should be.
WTF Accidentally getting joke ending H.
There is a frequently-encountered, commonly-held belief in gaming that it’s acceptable for a person to put five, ten, twenty hours (or more!) into a game before it ‘gets good’. I disagree.
I am entirely fine with a game holding plot twists back or revealing mechanics as it goes along, but it still has to be interesting on some level at all times. Perhaps the story is intriguing, maybe the action is kinetically satisfying, maybe there are quiet moments of reflection, or the artwork might be so phenomenal that wanting to see the next area is a draw unto itself. Whatever it may be, there’s got to be something worthwhile going on.
This brings me to Nier: Automata. It has a fascinating story that is ultimately worthy of telling, but unfortunately, the game takes far too long to ‘get good’. What would have been a fantastic 15-20 hour experience is stuffed with ho-hum and drawn out to 40 hours or more, and it doesn’t justify the time investment it’s asking for.
The game stars cheeky battle android 2B and her partner 9S. The two are sent to a post-apocalyptic earth that’s reclaimed by nature and populated by wild animals and robots. Over the course of their journeys they ponder what it means to have feelings, to be alive, and similar topics that tend to crop up when artificial life is involved. Much of this will be familiar to anyone who’s read some sci-fi or seen some anime.
Automata is basically a small open-world featuring hack-and-slash character action similar to a greatly simplified Devil May Cry with a tiny bit of Bayonetta tossed in. The combat is solid, if not thrilling, and 2B’s abilities can be tweaked for variety by adding ‘chips’ – things like automatically using life items when below a certain level, adding a shockwave to sword slashes, and so on.
The combat would be passable as a central activity if other aspects of the game were robust enough to fill in the gaps, but apart from the likable main characters there’s not much of interest going on. The story was too similar to things I’d seen a thousand times before, the sidequests felt like busywork, and of course, no modern game would be complete without some form of crafting – it’s usually a tedious bore, and the game isn’t better for its inclusion here.
While spending time with this android duo was pleasant because they are pleasant, I was constantly wondering when something unexpected was going to happen, or when things were going to kick into high gear and take off. That moment never comes. Slashing enemy robots is only low-cal thrills, and the bits of story involving the robots that 2B and 9S encounter never drew me in. The entire campaign felt like being in a room where a surprise party is waiting, only to find there’s nobody crouched behind the furniture with balloons and streamers.
But hang on, there’s a catch. It gets better, right? The original Nier’s story famously unfolded only after it had been completed more than once, and that same conceit lives on in Automata, so this dullness is just… setup? Unfortunately, that pony doesn’t prance pretty this time.
For me, the first Nier was far more compelling and intriguing. In addition to a strong script, it had several mechanical surprises in store as it changed genre several times. Simply playing the game was fascinating because it was impossible to guess what it would do next. Automata has nothing of the sort in its first run. To be fair, it would have been extremely unlikely that the developers could have pulled the same tricks again, but as it stands, the campaign is flat and dull.
However, the real crime is that after credits roll, it’s revealed that the second run through is almost exactly the same as the campaign that was just completed. Of course, a few things change — cutscenes are shown from a different perspective and there’s a new mechanic added, but the same tasks need to be done in the same order, and where it was dull the first time, it’s straight-up tiresome the second.
I got about halfway through this second run and had no will to continue. Friends kept telling me I had only seen part of the story and that the third run was all-new (and make sure to come back for the fourth!) but I just didn’t care anymore – by this point I was more than 20 hours deep, and I wasn’t interested or excited enough to put more time in. I went to YouTube to see the rest of the story, and it was indeed good — just not good enough for me to sit through hours of it’s okay-ish, I guess?
If Nier: Automata had been more compact or structured differently, it would have been more effective, immediate and powerful. Instead, it’s a great idea stretched across too many hours of uninspiring content. Although I had affection for the androids and admired what the script ultimately revealed, this is one case where less would have definitely been more.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Platinum Games and Square-Enix, and published by Square-Enix. It is currently available on PC, PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 24 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed one time. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, and Violence.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue has subtitles and there are no audio cues necessary for successful play. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.