The Nier Automata demo represents a first look at what could either be the biggest squandering of a golden opportunity or the refinement of a flawed gem. The first Nier game – Gestalt on Xbox 360 or Replicant on PS3 – had a fantastic story, great world-building and character arcs, and a beautiful soundtrack. However, it was let down by flabby gameplay sequences, woolly combat and rough edges. As soon as it was announced that Platinum would be helping out on Nier Automata, fans of Gestalt and Replicant were delighted, as it potentially meant a game that delivered on both its gameplay and story. More than a year after the announcement of the new Nier game, a gameplay demo has been released. And, naturally, I’ve spent some time with it already.
Nier Automata demo – slick moves and orb shooting
Let’s begin with the obvious point – as soon as you get your hands on the controls this feels like a Platinum game in terms of movement and combat; movement is fast and fluid, you have a dodge which goes far and in multiple directions, and you can cancel from attacks to dodges. Furthermore, the Nier Automata demo starts you off with an air-dodge and double jump, and attacks have light and heavy variants, as well as special enders. Meanwhile, your “pod” droid fires for as long as you hold down the trigger and its shots can be aimed in multiple directions. So far, so Platinum, but the Nier DNA makes itself known soon enough; waves of red orbs are shot from enemies and can be destroyed with shots or melee attacks. Additionally, enemies have lifebars and damage numbers fly off as they take hits, so the RPG roots are clear.
Nier Automata demo – a fresh perspective
What’s also clear is that Platinum liked the original game’s perspective shifts – the Nier Automata demo is constantly going between side-on, overhead and conventional 3D views; at times it almost feels like it beats the player over the head with these camera tricks, shouting “hey, remember? Remember when Nier did this?” but maybe the full game will relax things a little. There was one moment where the perspective shifts worked against the gameplay – enemies can spawn from small containers in one top-down sequence and it’s possible for 2B to enter one of these containers and be in a bad spot whilst the player can’t see what’s going on – but for the most part It was fine.
Nier Automata demo – promising combat and unproven questing
The Nier Automata demo is all about showing off the combat – it’s at its best when mobile enemies approach 2B at close-quarters whilst shots from wall-mounted cannons also head towards her, as it forces the player to manage the crowd and switch between melee and ranged attacks on the fly. In the previous game you generally had to deal with one threat or the other – removing the bullets of an enemy so that you could close in on that enemy and deliver melee damage. Later on, one phase of the Nier Automata demo’s boss showcases some similarly impressive bullet hell, where clusters and waves of projectiles are belched out and rockets rain from the sky. This is where the gameplay truly feels like Nier Deluxe – a more refined version of the original formula – and I would welcome more of it.
The one aspect of the game that’s never really shown off during the Nier Automata demo is the RPG and story side of the game – the character arcs, the settlements, the quests to pick up, the jaw-dropping twists. Just like Gestalt and Replicant felt like missed opportunities with their rough combat and platfoming, Automata could feel like a waste if it’s “just” another Platinum game with none of the hybrid gameplay of the original. However, it’s understandable that Taro might want the story and RPG elements to be kept under wraps if the narrative is anything like the original’s. From what I have played now, I feel confident that Platinum will do what Platinum does best, but I appreciate that we’re still in the dark about the bits that made the original Nier so special in the first place. If the slick combat is there but the questing and story are afterthoughts, we could find that Automata and Gestalt/Replicant are two halves of the one of the finest games ever made, neither one delivering on both gameplay and narrative.
Nier Automata will be released on PS4 in March 2017. A PC release has also been confirmed but not yet dated.