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NieR: Automata Review

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★★★★★

Less than five minutes into this action RPG, you'll be surprised to find yourself playing a bullet hell shooter. A few moments later, you're making your way up the side of a gargantuan boss, Shadow Of The Colossus style, but hopping around like it's a 2D platformer. Shortly after that, you're merging melee combat, spritely evasion techniques, and infinite shooting to take down that boss – a transforming weapons platform with drills the size of buildings for arms – before hopping into a flight mech, delivering the final blow, and then nuking the site to be sure.

These antics serve to highlight just how brilliantly crazy NieR: Automata is – and that's before we even get to the bonkers backstory (this is set in distant the future of an alternate ending to the original NieR, itself an alternate future for PS2's Drakengard – thankfully no prior knowledge is required) or the fact that you're doing all this as 2B, a combat gynoid with a penchant for gothic Lolita fashion, and her soft-spoken backup, 9S.

Admittedly, affairs calm down slightly after the opening hour, but only to give the game breathing room as it adds open world exploration to the mix. Set in the distant future, Automata finds Earth evacuated and alien mechanoids now the dominant species. To fight back, humanity sends down its own robot forces to push back the invaders and return fleshbags to their rightful domain. There's far more going on than yet another post-apocalyptic robo-jungle though, and careful observation of the game's plot nuances – and even environmental clues – away from its rapid-fire barrage of ideas and gameplay experiences reveal a wickedly complex story.

This being developed by PlatinumGames – they of Bayonetta fame – it's little surprise Automata's combat is superb. From the off it's fluid and intuitive (a good thing; nothing is explained), and only improves as you acquire new weapons, upgrades, and skills. Combo chain length, range, and damage can be improved, and 2B can install chips for special moves. Customising a perfect battle plan is strangely satisfying, despite the typical JRPG menu diving.

Chips affect the entire game world too, with UI features such as maps, health indicators, experience point gauges, and sound indicators only available through installing the right load-out. 2B has a limit to how many can be installed though, so picking and choosing what features you want alongside your skills can dramatically change the game.

Change is central to Automata though. Even when you fail in your missions, that's not the end. There are dozens of alternate endings to explore, some of which directly lead to others and incentivise replay. With the conceit that the protagonists back up their essences to new bodies, you can even find your own 'corpse' and retrieve your experience, or repair it to gain a ghoulish doppelganger ally – unless you mess up, in which case you'll have to kill your now-malfunctioning former body.

Did we mention this game is weird? It is – but it's also surprising, challenging, and endlessly inventive. NieR: Automata is an unexpected delight.

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