Just in time for Christmas, Square Enix has given us a small bite of the action spectacle that is Nier: Automata, and after playing it we have to say that 2017 looks a whole lot brighter.
The Christmas surprise from Square Enix takes the form of the demo that has just landed. Although the whole experience is only about 30 minutes long, this compact demo build gives us a look at the promisingly crisp action-RPG. In the demo we take control of female Android 2B and infiltrate an abandoned factory to destroy a dangerous Goliath weapon of "the machines".
The demo has various linear levels to progress through, and the story promises to get complex as 2B searches for her purpose. After a short time we meet our first ally, the little android boy called 9S. He provides us with tactical information and bite-sized conversations, but we can't control him, at least in this version; he's more of an active companion.
Nier: Automata is in development over at Platinum Games, and this name has weight in the action genre. With Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and Vanquish, the studio has established their own successful formula, which also seems to apply to Nier: Automata. It's the unique combination of speed and precision that they weave into their third-person action titles that makes you want to grab the controller over and over again, and it doesn't take long for the combat in the Nier demo to convince.
You slice with light and heavy attacks, chopping through rather helpless mechanical warriors, and connect these moves together with jump attacks and dashes, and you've got little helper who covers the enemies from afar with a permanent bombardment. The drone follows us at every step and also assists with mission parameters and tactical analysis. It can be used simultaneously with normal combos in battle too, in order to assault the enemy's defences with both sword blows and flanking fire.
Platinum Games has delivered an excellent experience with this little Nier: Automata demo. The brisk combat doesn't focus on character development or setting the scene too much, but we do get an insight into the combat system and how the control scheme will work. A helpful feature is, for example, the automatic targeting, which ensures that shots hit home and attacks find their target. If this is too easy though, the feature can be turned off, and if you're looking for a real challenge, you can always turn to the hardest difficulty setting, with enemies able to kill you with just a solitary hit.
What will inevitably cause problems is the camera. The game has fixed camera angles, and sometimes Nier: Automata resembles a top-down shooter or a 2D platformer. Although this idea is charming, at times we have to adapt our playing style to the camera angle. At times this can make it feel harder than it should be, and that can be frustrating.
Nier: Automata won't release for another three months but we can't wait to get our hands on it again. The animations in the battles and the character movement are predictably superb, and the speed of the action is fast and intense. The factory complex setting in the demo version seems somewhat colourless, but aside from that Nier: Automata looks really great. What we can't comment on at the moment is the condition and the quality of the story and its characters, and on that front we'll just have to wait and see. Nier has raised the bar in some respects, but it remains to be seen what the whole looks like when the game lands in March.