Horizon Zero Dawn Review
It's beautiful, it's thoughtful, and while not perfect it's an easy recommendation for anyone who has a PS4 on hand.
This game has an outstanding soundtrack. You'll probably want the vinyl.
Controls like a dream. No controller breaking to be found here.
I love weird games. Deadly Premonition is one of my favorite games that would fall in such a category. Games in general have become a bit of a homogeneous blob that hasn't much changed at the AAA level in a great many years. I always mention indie games when talking about this phenomenon because they truly are the last bastion of creativity afforded to game developers today. Thankfully there are still a handful of directors out there willing to take a risk and do something different. Fewer still are the publishers willing to join that director on their journey but the Nier series is certainly one of those rare exceptions.
Just like with almost any art form, being different is always in vogue but there is a line that everyone has internally – a line that determines when they believe the artist is being different just for the sake of being different with no real respect to what that means for those consuming their art in the first place. Deadly Premonition is a great case study in walking this line in expert fashion. For me, Nier:Automata danced that line before crossing it unceremoniously in ways most disappointing since I was so ready to enjoy it from the start.
Taro Yoko made more than a few fans with his cult hit Nier, and so Automata already had people wondering where he could take his style next. Set thousands of years after the original, Automata is a post apocalyptic exploration of humanities efforts to retake Earth after having been forced off-world by an alien force. You'll experience Nier in the shoes of 2B and 9S, android units dispatched, like many others, to continue the fight on Earth for "The Glory of Mankind." In what can only be described as a very Japanese narrative, Automata explores some of the more straightforward existential questions coincidentally tackled by at least one other front-and-center game this year. The difference here is that, in all honesty, Automata does it in the most obvious, ham-fisted, if not melodramatic ways imaginable.
Since it has become a point of contention in reviews of Nier:Automata, I'll be as up front as possible. I completed endings A, B, and got about a half an hour in to C before I had to put the controller down. For those who aren't already versed in Automata's narrative delivery, there are 26 endings in total. Of the 26 endings, 5 are set aside that tell what is considered to be the complete story while the other 21 are more random, often joke endings. Each ending presents you with the credits, dumps you back to the start, and you continue from whatever main ending you left off at. Unfortunately, especially for reviewers, the first two endings are the exact same game, save about 30 minutes of varying gameplay and flavor text. You play the same game twice in its entirety. This includes being put through the tutorial sections again which definitely enriched my gameplay experience.
I did request a member of the community and good friend of mine who loved Automata to give me a relatively detailed summary of the events in endings C/D/E so that I could better understand what it was that was so worth hiding behind such a mind numbing introduction. Disappointingly both the developments of the characters and the story itself were as predictable as I'd thought. I had already guessed everything before it happened, and I'm glad I didn't play another 15 plus hours for those conclusions. Truth be told I may have been able to do it if the A/B endings had been merged in to one segment. The frustrating part is that there is no perceivable added value in having separated the two. Everything it sets out to accomplish in doing so could have been just as easily done in one ending and it wouldn't cheapen the experience at all – it certainly wouldn't make it any worse than playing through the same ending twice back to back.
This incredibly odd delivery is heightened by the inclusion of a message you are presented with at the end of ending A. Here's the quote:
To all players,
Thank you very much for playing "Nier: Automata."
We have a special message for you!
This game has several different story lines that change each time you play. You have witnessed the "A route," but there are still many story elements and changes to the gameplay systems you have not seen yet. We highly recommend you play through again to witness the full "Nier:Automata" experience.
We hope you enjoy the rest of the game!
Square Enix PR
It's signed by the Square Enix PR team. It's bizarre and oddly similar to the "for fans and first timers" message we got from them in FFXV. Look, if your game requires people to be told the credits don't signal the end of the narrative then you might wish to rethink how your game plays out. This is especially true if you say "We highly recommend you play through again to witness the full...experience," but then present the player with essentially the exact same game for ending B.
So what you're left with is a very stale opening 15-30 hours depending on your penchant for side quests and mindless slaughter before the story or character development even opens up. What life that is breathed in to Automata is partially thanks to its combat. The best comparison I can come up with here is the Devil May Cry series, or more recently Bayonetta. It can be fast and frantic, or slow and methodical depending on what weapon combinations you shoot for. There are a great number of varying weapon types that can dramatically alter how the flow of combat plays out, but if you're like me you'll likely find something pretty early on and stick with it. Unfortunately while the combat is one of the best parts on display, it frustratingly lacks a great targeting system. While the options available to you for customizing the camera are more complete than almost any game I can think of, the flaw is unfixable all the same. While it is indeed very much relatable to Bayonetta, the targeting is sluggish, inaccurate, and turns what could be a very refined combat experience in to more of a button mashing slog.
What is nice, though, is the varying combat and traversal types in Automata. You'll spend most of your time in the pulled back third person view but will also seamlessly switch into a side-scroller and even a bullet-hell-esque shooter. I greatly enjoyed the side-scrolling sections and many times felt the combat was more suited to such a view. The bullet-hell sections while fun, become trivial to the point I jokingly closed my eyes for entire segments while streaming and cleared them all the same.
The real star of the show here is Automata's soundtrack. It would be surprising to me if we didn't see it take a few spots on soundtrack of the year lists. Whether intentional or not the only oddity here is that while the music is truly fantastic and I loved almost every song that made its way into my headphones, the songs often don't match up with what's happening on screen. It didn't particularly ruin anything for me because the music was just that good but it was a bit jarring at times. The sound design in general was quite well done, and while the voice acting was hit or miss for the English VO, I've definitely heard worse.
The same can't be said about Automata's visuals. While there are a couple of nice set pieces the general aesthetic is bland and graphically lacking. It often gives the feel of an upscaled HD remake of a previous generation title, if that makes sense. Perhaps the one thing they didn't skimp on graphically was 2B who is animated very well, and in true waifu style is particularly paid attention to in all the right places. For whatever reason 2B is one of if not the only character I've ever known who has an ass I can watch dry in real time after leaving water. Is it really a negative? Not really, but it does feel a bit ridiculous in the "why does this even exist" kind of way. There's likely already a subsection of internet rule 34 titled rule 34.2B so I guess there's that.
Nier:Automata really left a sour taste in my mouth. There's a half-way decent game in here somewhere but it's buried under a heaping pile of trying to be different for the sake of being different. It's kind of like that person you work with who shows up wearing funky socks but can't pull it off. They're the same person who tries to join in at the water cooler with quips they spent months waiting to use that they laugh at themselves but everyone else is just confused and tired of having to be nice to them all the time. It surprises me then, that there is such adoration for Automata. For all of my experience there stands a huge number of others in opposition – more so than any other game I've played in years. So keep in mind then, that while Automata didn't blow my hair back, I'm in the minority it seems.
If you're a previous fan of Taro Yoko's work then you will more than likely be thrilled with Nier:Automata. It's got all the trappings of his previous work but with a combat system that isn't completely awful. If you're coming in to this fresh, be aware that this could be a very divisive game for you. Automata demands, for no particularly good reason, a borderline saintly level of patience to enjoy it in its entirety. For those en route to saint-hood then, Automata will perhaps be one of the top games of the year. For those like me who require more than a Japanese melodrama rife with forced differentiation, it's riding on occasionally entertaining combat and an incredible soundtrack. Ultimately nobody can deny that, for better or worse, Nier Automata is different.
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