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story.lead_photo.caption Art from the game NieR: Automata

Title: NieR: Automata

Platform: Windows PC, PlayStation 4

Rating: Mature for blood, strong language and violence

Score: 9/10

NieR: Automata is a hard game to pin down. It's definitely an action role-playing game, but it's also a meandering philosophical treatise on concepts like love, duty and existence. There's a lot to unpack in this game, and it's all pretty enjoyable.

NieR tells the story of androids 2B, 9S and A2 and their battle to reclaim the earth from extraterrestrial robots that have wiped out almost all of mankind. The last of humanity lives on the moon, and the androids are proxies in a war between man and machine in a distant, dystopian future.

Published by Square Enix, NieR was developed by Platinum Games, which included the ultra-fluid combat it perfected with the Bayonetta series. That combat meshes well with a grand story, excellent visuals and melancholic original musical score. The soundtrack for NieR: Automata is top-notch. It's almost worth buying the game just to listen to the music. The voice acting is done well, and is available in English and the original Japanese (with English subtitles).

The main story follows the waifish, white-haired 2B as she battles machines both small and gargantuan in a continuous open world. Everything else aside, NieR's ability to seamlessly switch between genres is nothing short of a technical masterpiece. NieR has traditional role-playing elements -- like acquiring and upgrading weaponry, gaining levels and completing quests, but combat is real-time and (usually) in the third-person perspective.

Sometimes, though, NieR's gameplay radically (and fluidly) shifts among genres such as top-down shooter, side-scrolling platformer, text-adventure game and flight simulator. Some segments remind me of the 1987 arcade game 1943: The Battle of Midway. Somehow, it all works beautifully.

In combat, the androids wield various katanas, swords, spears and gauntlets, each of which has its own combo attacks and animations. Weapon swings are either light attacks (quick but weak), or heavy attacks (strong but slow). Each android also comes with a "pod," a flying boxlike drone equipped with powerful weapons such as lasers and anti-gravity bombs.

The pod also uses circuit chips to improve the androids' combat abilities, letting players custom-tailor the difficulty of the game. Chips can control virtually every aspect, from maps and health bars to automatically applied healing potions when you're low on health. The game has four difficulty modes: Easy, Normal, Hard and Very Hard. Easy is extremely forgiving and has lots of auto-assists for players. On the hardest setting, every enemy kills with a single hit.

And what a wacky, wild ride the combat is. The androids must face off against enemies on land and airborne, including trash-can-size, rust-bucket R2-D2-looking bots, robot clowns and behemoth machines the size of tall buildings that swing buzz saws 100 feet in diameter.

NieR: Automata is a wild, fast-paced drama that, although the central cast is not human, manages to portray quite a few human emotions. While combat is the main draw, players also can take time to explore sandy deserts, overgrown city ruins and sunlight-dappled forests, making sure to catch a few fish in the rivers, watch a sunset and ride a moose or giant boar.

REPLAYABILITY

2B's path, the main story, takes about 20 hours to complete, but beating the game isn't the end of the story. Instead, the game is played through a second time, from the perspective of 2B's companion 9S. Players will reach the true ending on the fifth play-through, which requires a total playing time of about 40 hours.

CAVEATS

I did run into a few technical issues in my play-through, such as the camera getting stuck behind a wall, so I couldn't see where my character was. If you want this game and are undecided on the PS4 or PC version, get the PS4 one -- the PC version has had frame-rate issues and some glitches. Either way, you'll want to play it with a controller, not a keyboard and mouse.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Because it has been almost a year since NieR: Automata came out, it should be available at a pretty significant discount, especially if you can find it on sale. I picked up my copy for less than $30 in December. If you're still on the fence, try the demo, which is the first 30 minutes of the game. This is a journey you won't want to miss.

2B takes down stubby robots in NieR:Automata

ActiveStyle on 01/22/2018

Print Headline: Game On

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