In retrospective, 2017 clearly wasn’t a bad year. The action genre was strongly represented with amazing indie title like Cuphead and Hollow Knight, while Resident Evil 7 reminded us that there is still hope in AAA gaming. The blend of adventure and storytelling brought us the fantastic experience that was What Remain of Edith Finch. While Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds has popularized a new subgenre through gameplay innovation built around the thrill of competition.
I played all these great games yet I couldn’t take my mind off a technically challenged port like NieR: Automata. I have to say that NieR wasn’t really on my initial shopping list for 2017. Knowing about the ups and downs of Platinum’s action games and having Square Enix in the mix, I was rather skeptical. And I was right to be so, almost a year after the game’s PC release players still experience performance problems and the control scheme with mouse & keyboard hasn’t been improved. But putting aside all the port and budget problems, NieR: Automata was such a remarkable and intense gaming experience that no other title in 2017 could challenge.
NieR: Automata’s strengths lays within its story which stays cohesive despite a crazy anime-like setting where adolescent looking androids dressed in sexy outfits fight a war again alien machines in the name of humanity. Just a small scratch on the surface uncovers a deep narrative experience raising one existential question after another in a sequence of actions that go from comedy to tragedy in the most plausible way. And despite the story’s depth, the writing is never forceful or presumptuous leaving everything to the player’s discretion.
Automata’s gameplay is a blend of genres seamlessly transitioning from flashy action scenes, in Platinum’s well-known style, to bullet hell sequences and even including a rudimentary fighting game in the mix. All these opposite gameplay elements feel at home in this game, but even more remarkable is how cohesively they tie into the story. Every gameplay mechanic serves a purpose within the narrative fitting beautifully into the compelling mold that is this messed up sci-fi world.
The technical component isn’t something worth praising even if the animations make the combat feel spectacular and satisfying for the most part. Automata makes up for this through an artistic direction that brings together some of the weirdest sceneries. A long lost civilization has left its marks over what has risen from its ashes and the new world is inhabited by the most peculiar beings with the most fascinating habits. I never thought I’ll see an active amusement park between post apocalyptic ruins, yet NieR: Automata made it feel so natural. There is beauty to be seen in this game and it was made possible despite its dated visuals.
NieR: Automata spends two of its five main paths building an emotional connection with the player just to prey on it repeatedly during the short but climactic final paths. The game’s narrative, audio and visual elements tie together into one of the most intense gaming experiences bent on testing my emotional vulnerabilities. The ending was bitter and sweet at the same time befitting for its complex theme that mirrored our existence as human beings.
Despite its obvious flaws, NieR: Automata is a masterful mix of story, gameplay and innovation that should be held as a standard for creative design as within lies the power to save this generation. Congratulations to Yoko Taro and PlatinumGames for creating the best game of 2017!