Posted by Pip
F369- Idiot Box
The Sins FINALLY have the tools they need to annoy distant people too! For far too long, they've been restricted to just annoying those in the same general area, but technology sets us free.
Quick Critique: Nier Automata
Nier was one of my favorite games on the PS3 and I've talked about it several times on the site, so I won't go deep on the remembrances.
I think this will sum up a lot about Automata. Throughout the beginning of the game, I couldn't read the settings menu. All of the text was garbled symbols. I spent the game thinking that was on purpose, like it was some grand joke or a reference to the android character's mental or physical state. It turned out it was just a defect in the game that some players encounter and I was unlucky enough to have it from the very beginning. It's also a game where I spent 30 minutes running in circles in a map with infinitely respawning enemies because a voice cue triggered at the wrong time and led me down the wrong path. I was sure I was missing a switch or I broke the scripting or something. If the voice cue had played properly, that would have been my signal that a door even existed and that I should have been headed in the opposite direction, but I didn't get that. Thank you, random Youtube person, for posting a runthrough of that level, because I probably never would have found my way out.
Seeing Nier 2 announced at that E3 conference had me giddy, but as soon as I saw Platinum's involvement, I got worried. I hate Platinum's games. My fears were immediately justified as Automata begins with a tedious shooter segment that serves as the intro stage and lasts for almost 40 minutes and then that shooting continues for most of the game. Even the final credits are a shooter. Nothing about it is fun or interesting, you just hold down the shoot button and your assistant does all the work for you. The shooter segments in the original Nier were weird and an interesting way to break up the combat. This one just starts with it and drives it into the ground. Nier was an action-RPG with a bit of weird bullet hell shooting mixed in for fun. Automata is a shooter with a bit of action-RPG mixed in. Most enemies dash back from you when hit or hover in the air, so your options are to constantly chase them down for melee attacks or just hold down the fire button and let the game do all the work. By trying to make combat more complex, they made it far more boring. You're not even allowed to use your sword against the final boss. It floats in the air and the game straight up removes melee combat part way through the fight. The shooting is bad enough but it's combined with a terrible camera and terrible lock-on. It breaks with every enemy you beat even when you're in a crowd, it locks onto enemies that are far away rather than the ones in front of you, and it will actually target friendly units over enemies. Friendly units that you can accidentally kill if you thought you had locked onto the enemy.
The UI is a pain with menus that go many layers deep and lots of micromanaging items, equipment, and skill chips. Nier 1 had that with the words you'd find, but very early into that game, I found the settings I liked and stuck with them. Here, I feel like I'm juggling all kinds of things but not really seeing the difference in the game. The world is unnecessarily big and full of invisible walls and one-way routes, so it's a chore to plod from place to place, and you don't unlock fast travel until several hours into the game. Even once you do have it, there aren't enough travel spots or they're bunched together so they don't cover the map well as you run through the same five areas over and over. The sidequests are mostly boring fetch quests, but if you don't do them, you won't have enough crafting supplies or currency and you'll fall far behind in levels so enemies can one-shot you. Almost every death I had in the game was due to some sidequest having enemies that were three times stronger than the story enemies, but the game gives you no warning of this. It will casually toss out enemies twice your level that you do 1 damage to without even a word of caution. And on the escort missions (uuugggh), you have to be able to throw yourself in the line of fire to prevent the escortee from dying, so if you can't tank all the gunfire, you're going to fail that mission very quickly. If you die, you have to do a corpse run back to your old body or you lose your gear. You can see the bodies of other players too, but it doesn't add anything to the game. At worst, it spoils some moments where a fight breaks out that we weren't expecting because you walked into this normally peaceful area that is now littered with player corpses, so you know something is about to go down. It really comes across as "Dark Souls is popular, so we need to get in on that". The bonuses never seem worth it and you should never use them as allies because they pick fights with non-hostile characters. I kept seeing the same player names over and over, so I'm not sure if it's even a real system and not once did I ever get a message that anybody had ever helped me. And of course, thanks to the wonders of the game playing population, during dramatic pre-boss moments, you'll run into people named "F4g". Way to go, humanity. Maybe that feature was a ploy to get me to side with the machines.
Admittedly, even Nier wasn't the tops in the gameplay department (but what it had, it did well for me) and it's all about the story. Automata most definitely does not redeem itself with the story. It does have some horrible character designs and some of the most unlikable protagonists and sidekicks you can find though. I was invested in Nier and Yonah's story from the very start of the first game. Here, I hated my partner and couldn't care about the main character. Of the mostly main characters, there are a total of two characters I took a shine to: a renegade robot that said nuts to The Man and started his own village and my lesbian android ditz of an operator that believes in astrology and has girlfriend problems. 6O, you are a-dorable. Part of the problem is that the protagonists are androids and the game begins with explicitly saying that their bodies can be copied and their minds backed up, so there's never any danger or drama. There are lots of moments where the game plays up that they're in danger, but you as a player know it's no big deal because you canonically have dozens of copies of yourself stashed around the city. Automata makes attempts at the same despair Nier had, but it's like Nier-lite. None of the sad moments hit because the stakes are so low, they keep reusing the same themes, and the plot twists are obvious on their own, but if you've played Nier already, the twists are so blatant and uninteresting. Plot twists are rarely more than "this is what we told you was going on but then this is what REALLY is going on" and its attempts at despair are so corny and lazy that it's ineffective. "Everybody dies" is not an effective way at building despair. It's predictable and actually lessens the stakes. Nier used death as a spice. It built up the characters and their stories and used death sparingly to make its punch matter and, more importantly, it set things up to where some people would have been better off dying, but knowing that they have to go on is more sad than if they died. When you're looking for the junkyard kids' mother, you as the player know she's going to be dead, but then the game still gets you by making the circumstances of her death more depressing than just the fact that she died. Automata just throws death around to the point that it's meaningless. With no grandeur or build-up, it just adds "and then they died" to so many quests, that by the time there actually was a story beat that built up despair, I was so burned out on the trivial deaths that it didn't hit me.
Nier was a game where you poured over the story, trying to wring every bit of backstory and every ounce of lore out of it. Nier made me tear up no fewer than three times. Nier's reveals were earned through great characters and storytelling, so when you finally got to see it all play out, it was like a punch to the gut when you found out what was really going on. Automata's story... just kind of... happens? It has a nonsensical backstory that the game just throws at you with a "look, this happened before the game" and then a few hours later, it completely abandons its backstory and tells you that it just doesn't matter anymore. It introduces its antagonist in a cutscene that makes no sense and finishes that encounter with another cutscene that makes no sense. And the antagonist is evil because... reasons? You meet the antagonist when it's introduced, once in the middle of the game, and then again when you face each other. That's it. This is a game where there's supposed to be a dramatic and/or horrifying cutscene of a robot eating a humanoid android, complete with ripping noises and blood spurts, but it has no emotional impact because it happens for no good reason and the robot doesn't have a mouth. At best, that robot could be headbutting the android's face into a bloody pulp, and that would have been a way more brutal way to approach that scene. Instead, the game just shrugs and decides that zombies are popular with the kids, let's turn some robots into zombies. How? Why? Doesn't matter. Even the connections to Nier aren't worth it. Several characters show up that died in Nier and there's no explanation why they're here. The appearance of one tells you that Automata takes place after Nier, but they just show up unexplained. If you hadn't played Nier or read the Japanese-only side story (again, thank you, random Internet person, for translating that) that Automata uses as its backstory, none of their appearances would make sense, and even knowing that backstory, it still doesn't make sense. 25 hours or so into the game when the reason some of the characters show up is given, it's so flimsy and pointless that I would have rather they just not appeared at all. The writing in this game is just bad. It's amateurish at best and random for the sake of being random at its worst. The moments where it calls back to Nier just make Automata look worse in comparison. There's a tedious side mission of combing the desert for invisible items that tell of the fall of Facade, but that's all it does with that idea. It's like a Family Guy callback that only serves to say "Hey, remember that this thing existed?".
I'd probably be less harsh on the game and enjoy it more if it wasn't called "Nier" Automata. If it was just called Automata and the slight references to Nier were just Easter eggs, I wouldn't have the expectations I have. Calling it "Nier" sets me up for a story, for interesting characters, lore, and a world. "Nier" makes my cold black heart feel emotions. Automata is just... serviceable. The music is fine, but it's not the original's amazing soundtrack. It has some style and some lore, but nothing engaging. Nier told a dramatic story, but still had a lot of lighthearted moments and even played around with references to Resident Evil and Zelda just for the fun of it and they were great moments, but Automata is joyless. It's just an action game with a slightly better than average story. Nier was an essential game while Automata is just another disposable action game.