The RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 19th

RPS-calendar-19th

Behind door nineteen, there is a computer chip. To learn more, you must plug it into one of your ports.

It’s NieR: Automata!

Katharine: What a ride Nier: Automata’s had this past year. The sequel to a game about three people played on PS3 and Xbox 360 back in 2010, it just goes to show what a bit of PlatinumGames magic can do to an ailing cult classic. Okay, so the PC version of Nier: Automata was a bit borked at launch, but to dismiss it now would be a disservice to both you and action games as a whole.

For me, Bayonetta still edges ahead in terms of overall combat, but the way Nier: Automata effortlessly slips between about eight different genres – all in the course of a single level, no less – imbues it with its own kind of Umbran magic. One minute you’re playing a bullet-hell shoot-em-up, the next you’re in a 3D brawler, then a 2D platformer, and then to cap it all off you don a mech suit to an oil-platform-sized boss as an on-rails shooter. This is what video games are about, and that’s just the first mission! Throw in an achingly beautiful world, soundtrack and story, and Nier: Automata is in no danger of being forgotten like its forebear.

Adam: I didn’t have a horse in the NieR race. I’ve never played the original, I’m wary of sexybots and sad anime sci-fi, and I am not very good at many of the genres the game seemed to cover.

It turned out to be one of my favourite games of the year. For a good while it was my favourite and I still feel sad whenever I find out someone I know didn’t get along with it. They have their reasons, and they’re often good reasons. Automata does silly things, it winks at the fourth wall and then punches you in the gut, it veers between existential horror and weird whimsy, and I’m still not entirely sure why it’s an open world game when I only really cared about following the story.

The thing is, it’s so exquisitely idiosyncratic and carefully constructed that I wouldn’t dare to second guess any element of it. Chances are, if you take away one of its uncomfortable qualities or moments, some of the best stuff in it might not work quite as well. It’s a game of many endings; in fact, it’s a game about endings in many ways. I wish it went on forever.

Head back to the calendar to open the door to another of 2017’s best games.

50 Comments

  1. Nolenthar says:

    One day, I might get over the anime bit, the “sexybots” stuff as Adam puts it and try this masterpiece, but admittedly manga culture bores me to death. I’m probably missing out something, oh well, too many games to play already

    • Chorltonwheelie says:

      Get over it mate.
      I’m a FPS, keyboard and mouse kinda guy but taking a punt on this thing was one of my better decisions this year.
      It’s a treasure chest of shiny things. Go on, go on, go on, go ooooon….

  2. Faldrath says:

    Wait a minute… does the calendar end today? Because Nier is clearly the best game of 2017. There must be some kind of mistake. Unless, of course, you’re pulling a Nier and it’ll appear again on the 24th! Ending B, right? Right? Right?

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      Keep in mind that Alec, who may have otherwise loved it, refused to play it past the intro because of its very player-unfriendly “no saves for you, start the whole thing over” design. So that alone kept it from getting a crucial vote it’s need for GOTY status.

    • DarkFenix says:

      This was hands down my GOTY too. Many others were great games, like Prey and D:OS2, but they were honestly quite forgettable after I was done with them.

      I don’t think I’ll be able to forget Nier: Automata in a very long time. Gameplay-wise it’s forgettable enough, but the music, story, and genre-switching weirdness are equal parts amazing and memorable. Especially the storyline, holy shit, in my memory only FF7 and The Walking Dead part 1 hit me that hard.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    “Okay, so the PC version of Nier: Automata was a bit borked at launch, but to dismiss it now would be a disservice to both you and action games as a whole.”

    100% agree that we shouldn’t dismiss games out of hand because of bugginess etc, but when you say “launch state” you make it sound like it’s been patched since then. I thought it never got a patch? Genuine question in case I’ve missed anything (I am def buying it during the holiday sale, but as one of those 3 people who played (but did not finish) Nier, I am loading up my old save and polishing that off first).

    • althrioan says:

      I’m also interested if (all) the bugs got fixed – or if something got patched at all?. I’m really interested in the game but the reported bugs keep me from buying and playing it

    • Premium User Badge

      bsplines says:

      It hasn’t been patched, but there is a mod called FAR (Fix Automata Resolution) that fixes most of the issues.
      AMD released new drivers that solved the issues specific to their cards as well.

      And if you have played NieR, there are a lot of callbacks to it…

      • Premium User Badge

        MajorLag says:

        So much like with Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition, the developer can’t be assed to fix their broken crap product and rely on the community to do it for them? Pass. There are plenty of good games out there, I don’t need to support that shit.

    • castle says:

      You’re correct, it hasn’t been patched. It’s absolutely unplayable without applying the FAR fix. Pretty shameful that Square Enix apparently has no problem continuing to sell a broken game this long after release.

      The FAR fix works pretty well, but in my case it wasn’t perfect. With some tweaking I got it running at 60fps, but I could never get rid of occasional frame drops, which is annoying in an action game.

      • geerad says:

        I played without FAR, and it was absolutely playable, YMMV.

        • malkav11 says:

          Yeah, “unplayable” is a massive exaggeration. I’ve never heard of FAR previously and got through the first route without fuss. Though it certainly has higher hardware demands than its graphics would seem to demand (it’s a lovely game but not technically cutting edge) and I couldn’t run it at 4K at an acceptable rate until I got my 1080. On the other hand, I don’t think most people are running anything at 4K, so.

          • castle says:

            I guess that’s just my experience. I have a 1070/6700k and it locked to a low framerate in fullscreen, something like 24 or 30fps, along with frequent drops below that. Even in 720p and low settings, which screams “broken” to me. It seemed to run OK when windowed in 720p or 1080p, but I have a 4K screen so that wasn’t an option. I guess it’s a matter of opinion, but below 30fps with frequent drops to a lower frame rate renders an action game unplayable for me.

            Forcing borderless fullscreen with FAR or a program like Borderless Gaming gave me a decent frame rate, although the drops didn’t go away.

          • malkav11 says:

            I could get it running quite acceptably with virtually no tweaking at 1080p fullscreen when I was still running a 970 (now that I have a 1080, 4K with all the bells and whistles is going great). No noticeable framerate drops or anything like that. Probably wasn’t doing 60 FPS but I’ve never noticed or cared about hitting that mark and so if one’s standard of “unplayable” were to be operating below 60 (but at a steady framerate), which I had suspected might be the case here, I’d scoff a whole lot.

            Irregular major FPS drops are pretty uncool, though, and a 1070 should be able to handle better than that. Dunno why our experiences are so different.

          • castle says:

            Yeah, it seemed to work fine in windowed mode but frame rate plummeted in fullscreen, despite being at the same resolution. And toggling all video options between low and high had no impact. My impression was that it locked the frame rate to 24fps in fullscreen (and thus my specs and video settings were irrelevant).

            MGS:Revengeance (also a Platinum game) inexplicably locks the frame rate to 24fps in fullscreen, and in that case it definitely applies to every system and needs to be fixed with third-party software. So I assumed that was also the situation with Nier, given that my experience was identical, but I guess not if it worked OK for you without FAR.

            (Also I guess it’s debatable whether locked @24fps with drops is truly “unplayable,” but I sure couldn’t endure it)

    • ThTa says:

      Yeah, this is the only thing that’s stopping me from buying it right now. I know I’ll like it, and I could probably suffer some bugs, but I’m not about to pay (nearly) full price for a broken product that the developers have apparently been refusing to properly fix.

      Ah, but “Some enterprising fan fixed it for them!” or “Pirate it first, that way you can check if it’ll work properly on your PC. But make sure to play at least half of it first, because some issues only manifest much later! YMMV!”

      • Premium User Badge

        Don Reba says:

        There are too many unfinished must-play games in my library to bother with an even very good broken game. Especially given how long it is.

  4. Servicemaster says:

    “…..”
    “…..”
    “You want to fuck me, don’t you?”

    Let me tell you that an eccentric Japanese man’s take on a Cyberpunk Shakespearean action slasher was the last thing I’d ever think I could experience let alone come up with in a goddamn fever dream. The moment you step into that amusement park is when the game shoots for the moon.

    And I am SO glad I boarded that rocket ship. I don’t know what it is about dystopian-ish futures that attempt to teach or portray AI’s with empathy but 2017 was full of them. Namely just Prey and Nier but it’s weird that there’d be two of them, let alone one.

    • Morat Gurgeh says:

      “Goddamn fever dream” is a good summary mate.

      If you don’t think it’s your cup of cha but you see it on sale, risk it. Brilliant game.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I enjoyed the beginning and some of the running around.

    But it starts to feel like an MMO with limited fast travel and no other actual players around. Wander around big open areas killing identical enemies so you can get 50 robot butts or whatever for the next quest or crafting. Then you get to walk 500 miles across the same terrain you just walked across to get back to the next area.

    I couldn’t get past all the mindless grind.

    • DarkFenix says:

      Then ignore the grind and simply progress the storyline. I too got bored of the MMO-ish elements, but they’re mercifully optional.

    • malkav11 says:

      Did you actually unlock fast travel? It’s not particularly limited once you do, and even less so when you get whatever makes docile boars and mooses spawn next to all of the fast travel points for riding. But until then you should probably hold off on sidequesting or it will be a giant pain, as I found out.

  6. parsley says:

    I wanted so badly to like Nier, but the inability to save for that entire first mission, followed by that brutal boss fight, ultimately sent me scrambling away. It sounds so fascinating, but I’m not talented enough to play it.

    • welverin says:

      Is that even when playing on the lowest difficulty?

      • malkav11 says:

        The boss fights could conceivably still be challenging on Easy but you can turn on Auto Chips that automate pretty much every single aspect of combat and you can uninstall the ones that automate things you’d prefer to handle manually. Moreover, when you’ve enabled them you can turn them on or off at a single button press. If you are capable of controlling the game at all, you can finish it, on Easy.

  7. onodera says:

    What’s the difference between this game and Horizon: Zero Dawn?

    • Premium User Badge

      calcifer says:

      One of them is an amazing post-post-apocalyptic sci-fi RPG with near perfect world building, characters, story and gameplay which also happens to be the best PS4 game ever released.

      The other one is an anime arcade game with a sexbot.

      • fish99 says:

        Well, it’s not the best PS4 game or an RPG. Horizon is sitting at 8.3 user score on metacritic, below Nier and Bloodborne, both at 8.8.

      • Premium User Badge

        Ghostbird says:

        Getting tired of the “sexbot” thing, to be honest. Either make an actual argument about objectification and/or the male gaze or admit it’s just another way of saying “girl cooties”.

    • DarkFenix says:

      One is just some open world console game about shooting robot dinosaurs. The other is probably the best game this year, and best RPG in recent memory. Though as you can see, Nier: Automata gets a fair bit of stick from people incapable of seeing past appearances.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Horizon’s got more blue in it?

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      AFAIK, Nier has a non-negligible amount of dawn.

  8. castle says:

    I bounced hard off this one, but I see it has a lot of fans and I love Platinum, so it feels like I’m missing out. Someone want to convince me to give it a second chance?

    Aside from technical problems, which I mostly managed to correct with the FAR fix, my biggest complaint was the difficulty. On hard the first couple bosses kill you in a single hit, and you have to walk back from the last checkpoint (or replay the entire prologue, unbelievably). Turn it down to normal and you have 50-100 healing items in your inventory that you can use at any time, making you effectively invincible.

    I was also surprised by how boring it was, in light of the reviews. I played around 3 hours and mostly did fetch quests that involved killing the same brown robots over and over.

    So…does the difficulty become reasonable at some point, or do I have to choose between dead-in-one-hit or invincible? And approximately how many hours do I have to play before it starts blowing my mind?

    • geerad says:

      That’s pretty much how the difficulty is throughout. Later in the game, you’ll be even more nigh-invincible on normal and maybe three hits before dying on hard.

      The story and style stuff is what people love about the game, not the tightly balanced combat, because it isn’t.

      When will it blow your mind? The first time is maybe a few hours in when you get to the amusement park.

      • castle says:

        Thanks, good to know. It’s a shame, I’d love to experience the story, but I’ve heard you need to play through the game multiple times to get the full experience, and there’s no way I’m doing that unless I really love the gameplay. Maybe if I’m unemployed some day I’ll come back to it…

        • Deano2099 says:

          That’s… somewhat overstated.

          I mean technically it’s true but you’re not playing the same game. It’s best to go in cold in you can faith in the game itself, but if for those that can’t minor spoilers beckon:

          The second playthrough follows the same plot beats as the first but from a different perspective, the story scenes are mostly different (and the game basically skips through the stuff that isn’t), at least a third of it is entirely new, and you’ll be using a very different combat system for it.

          Then after that the plot picks back up where those two playthroughs both end and you’re playing what’s essentially a new chapter of the game. It’s not a replay at all.

          • castle says:

            Didn’t mean to suggest the replays would be identical, I was just referring to overall length. I’ll play a short game for the story even if I don’t enjoy the gameplay, but no matter how great the story I’m never going to grind through 20 or 30 hours of gameplay I don’t enjoy just to experience it. The backlog is always calling

  9. Phinor says:

    As much as I enjoyed the story, I’m not sure it’s a game I can easily recommend. There was about 75% too much combat and most of it was so repetitive, I would have had better experience if it was 10-15 hours total playtime for the same overall story. I did switch to easy combat after 10+ hours but even then there was just so much of it.

    However if you think you might also enjoy the combat then it’s an easy recommendation.

  10. botd says:

    I really don’t get this game at all. The combat was boring, it too often feels like a not-particularly-good single player MMO, the environments are drab and monotonous and the whole play through the same damn game multiple times idea needs to be taken out back and shot in the head.

    I eventually gave up and just read a detailed summary of the plot(s). Like most science fiction outside novels and short stories, it would have been outdated even 50 years ago. Whenever I see someone praise the story of Nier Automata, or really any science fiction game, I mostly just want to yell at them to go read a book.

    • DarkFenix says:

      You judged a storyline based on a short plot summary… I’m not sure how to respond to that in a way that isn’t insulting.

      So I’ll avoid directly responding and just say this; Nier: Automata’s storyline is one that physically can’t work in any other medium than gaming. It’s not a story you can simply read to appreciate, it’s not something TV could do justice. And that’s quite an achievement in itself, in most games you could simply replace the medium and it would all still work just fine.

      You need to know certain things in a certain order, and that order isn’t remotely chronological. The plot isn’t going to win any prizes for originality, that much is certain, but it’s in the delivery that Nier: Automata shines.

    • TrenchFoot says:

      As for the last, it’s not a fair comparison. There’s no videogame story that is going to stand up to classic literature. Barring a few, even the best ones are derivative of something that’s already been done. I’ve seen stories lauded in videogames that wouldn’t pass a beginner’s level fiction writing class. Is anyone going to remember [your favorite videogame] in 50 years? Probably only a hard core. It’s a benighted age we live in, full of ephemera and crappy, ripped-off mythology.

    • TrenchFoot says:

      Also, Jorge Luis Borges wrote stories 70 years ago that used the same techniques as those used in videogame stories. If you want stories, step away from the screen and pick up a book instead of having your imagination mapped out for you.

  11. M0dusPwnens says:

    I played through the entire thing (all endings), and found it modestly enjoyable – enough to keep playing – but I admit I’m a little confused by the amount of praise it’s received.

    The first mission is (aside from the no-save thing) very neat. But it rapidly exhausts essentially the entire “rapid genre-shifting” conceit. After you’ve done the first mission, you’ve seen almost every genre on offer – after that you’re just repeating the same genre shifts, usually much more slowly, with the eventual minor addition of the hacking minigame. That feeling of playfulness, of wondering what could possibly come next, holds for about an hour.

    It feels as though the people praising its incredible genre-shifting were enamored with the first level and sort of forgot the next 20-odd hours.

    The bulk of the gameplay, the brawling, was okay. Not as sharp as Platinum usually manages, but not bad. It got substantially better once I switched from the default controls and could comfortably use the gun and melee attacks at the same time. As soon as I did that, I had the immediate feeling that it was how the game was meant to be played – the controls and gameplay systems made far more sense. The limited combos, the enemy design, etc. all feel sort of slapdash at first, but felt very purposeful as soon as I changed to this. I strongly suspect that this was the original intent, but too many people (very understandably) found it difficult to control, and so they simplified the default controls. I wish this had been communicated to players.

    Similarly, the chip system, while interesting at first (especially how the system chip and auto chips make some usually abstract game concepts more diegetic), eventually becomes a grindy bore. Mercifully it doesn’t end up mattering very much – you can mostly ignore it – but is that really a good thing?

    And the story. It starts out mysterious enough that the possibilities seem interesting. It has a few great, innovative elements, especially early on and right at the end. But the bulk of it is your absolutely typical pseudo-philosophical (complete with empty namechecking of existentialists) JRPG story.

    It has some great moments – the ending in particular is a true delight – but I wouldn’t rate the story on the whole any better than “passable for a video game story”. It certainly has pretensions to something greater, but I didn’t feel like it lived up to them often.

    The whole second sequence was an interesting idea, but again turned out to be very repetitive. Mercifully short, but I don’t think terribly interesting. And the subsequent sequences relied on a twist you could see from a mile away and then even more pseudo-profound wanking.

    The side missions were, with a few quite nice exceptions, terrible.

    All in all, I don’t really think my time was wasted and I don’t regret playing it, but I think it’s perhaps easy to remember the few great moments that were surrounded by an awful lot of stuff that was frankly pretty crap.

    It wasn’t bad, but I definitely would not call it any kind of game of the year.

  12. Meat Circus says:

    Easily my game of the year.

    I’ve not seen a game blend effortless genre mechanics and be able to explore the facets and subtleties of existential terror with quite such adroitness.

    Ignoring the electronic old men upthread whining about sexbots (who either haven’t played it, or if they have were certainly too dim to grasp it themes).

    But this game is bleak. It’s about the horror of existing in a universe devoid of meaning. Of knowing your life is a pointless lie. And seeing the effect that existential horror takes on 9S is…

    Poor 9S.

    All he needed was a hug.

  13. Meat Circus says:

    The sad thing is, you’d think the electronic old men complaining in this thread that somebody is wrong on the internet would resonate with a story about your life being meaningless.

    Ho hum.

    • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

      I just read through the comments, and didn’t really see anyone lash out at other posters before your lovely double combo?

  14. DantronLesotho says:

    Any of those “why play a video game for story when there are books” people can get fucked. Video games are great. Video game stories can also be great and the way they are told is even better. For example, I haven’t read anything or heard about anything that comes close to telling a sprawling story like a good road trip JRPG that isn’t steeped in tropes and Tolkien callbacks. I haven’t heard of any type of literature that plays out like an archaeological investigation like any of the soulsborne games. I haven’t heard of any big piece of literature that changes depending on how you read the pages (except for maybe choose your own adventures?). There’s no piece of literature that can let you veer off and create your own story out of the contents of its pages unless you just start writing something, I guess.

    What Nier does is relish in its video game structure and I love that. But it sounds like those that are stuck with old media fail to appreciate the novelty of Nier’s quirks. Does it have mopey anime characters? Sure, but so what? You think books and other media don’t have unlikable things? Does the plot veer between serious and playful at a moment’s notice? Yeah, but what’s wrong with that? It’s how life goes.

    Anyway, Nier is a Good Thing and I’m glad it exists.

  15. Keios says:

    Oh, it’s the game that someone called me “a fucking philistine cunt” because I said I didn’t have any interest in playing it, because I don’t like that genre of games. Apparently it’s “a genius masterpiece that only the wilfully ignorant won’t appreciate”. So, needless to say, I was immediately sold on it! Nothing sells a game like being told the only reason you don’t want to play a game is because you’re not smart enough to understand it!

  16. KreissV says:

    I like how much “Reee sexy grils! Evil!” is in this entire comment thread. It’s amazing how much our society has regressed in terms of sexual maturity. Just want to point out that the game has literally naked sexy men, but no one gives a good goddamn. But you put a girl robot in a miniskirt dress and GOOD LORD THE HUMANITY. Also, way to judge a book by it’s cover, it’s a shame to pass up this game because of how scared people are now but attractive female characters.

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