Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Format: PC, PS4 (version tested)
Release date: 23rd February 2017
If it wasn’t for the medium of games, Automata just wouldn’t be able to exist. This game takes all the creative elements that are only accessible through the art of video games, and as a result has produced one of the most original and relevant titles of the current generation. The reasons why will not be fully explained here through fear of spoiling the game’s fundamental properties, but Platinum Game’s original and ingenious use of the medium is one that should be revered throughout the years to come.
You’d be forgiven for dismissing Automata for being a slightly above average game after completing its main story for the first time, but to fully appreciate the game and experience everything that the game has on offer requires multiple playthroughs. That’s not to suggest that replaying this title is to reiterate the game’s core narrative with stronger enemies and increased health to cater for your inevitable better understanding of the game’s mechanics, as for that, you couldn’t be more wrong. Simply finishing Automata once is to complete its tutorial, and the initial experience is merely a foundation in which the remainder of the game continues to build and expand on its inventive ideas. One incident saw me fall to the game’s opening boss, minutes into the game. The credits rocketed past the screen and the game reverted to the title screen. It was then apparent that was just one of the largely varied 26 different endings.Automata has seemingly severed any ties with its predecessor as it’s set 3000 years later, so any notion that this a direct sequel to Cavier’s original are apparently abolished. The main narrative follows androids 2B and 9S as they battle against the machines that have been sent by an elusive alien lifeform. The machines have occupied earth, resulting in humanity retreating and taking refuge on the moon. Unsurprisingly, humanity wants to reclaim its home world, and have sent an army of androids called YoRha, of which 2B and 9S are affiliated with, to help fight the machines. The machines in which you’ll encounter are relatively varied in design, and in the initial stages of the game show more character and emotion than the game’s protagonists. The machines closely resemble children toys, and destroying them as they let out anguished screams induces a sense of guilt. In their docile state, it’s hard to believe that these machines could pose a threat at all, but once they’ve become hostile, their eye’s flare red and charge forth to attack. A brief glare from their eyes signals that an attack is imminent, a helpful sign that it’s time to react.
Automata’s flowing and confident combat system is reflective of Platinum Games’ previous work, Bayonetta. It has the smooth and accurate dodge mechanic, which if timed right, will render you invincible briefly. Dancing around the enemies is a delight and every swing of a blade feels weighty and precise, and with the many variations of weapons on offer and the diverse number of different combinations that can be executed means anybodys preferred playstyles is catered for. Square is used for light attacks and triangle executes a heavier and notably slower attack, and the combos are just slight variations of using these buttons in different sequences, but despite this, every weapon feels different. A sword’s short range but swift strike feels notably different than a spear’s slightly slower yet longer reach for instance. You’ll undoubtedly have a finger firmly clamped down on the right shoulder button whilst fighting too, which fires projectiles from your AI pod companion that can be swapped around for several types of attacks once you’ve discovered them. The dynamic action makes a return too which has become a bit of a tradition from the developers, as the camera snaps between different camera angles, it continues to create an active and refreshing experience. Overconfidence sometimes causes obstructive issues as the protagonist’s actions are obscured by scenery, and initiating certain actions can prove troublesome when the depth of the screen is hard to judge, but thankfully these instances are particularly rare.Visually Automata carries the same dull textures that were present in its predecessor, but it’s not without reason. The game likes to throw hordes of machines at you that fire slow orb-like projectiles, so by keeping a plain colour palette and the simplistic textures means that the game can maintain its fluid combat system without effecting the game’s performance. A good trade off, admittedly.
There’s no shortage of things to do within Automata’s post-apocalyptic world, as there are many side quests scattered around for those seeking adventure outside of the main questline. These side missions certainly aren’t the generic filler material that we’re so used to seeing in recent open-worlds either, with each one providing a meaningful purpose that expands the main narrative, and each playthrough has some of its own variations of secondary objectives too. There’s plenty of content throughout the duration of the game that generously awards experience, money and equipment. The game does have a habit of sending you back and forth however, but thankfully a fast travel option is unlocked early on, making it less of chore going through previously visited areas where the machines have replenished. Exploring the world is quite reminiscent to Zelda when you discover pockets of civilisation across the land that all have their own way of life, and each having their own sense of personality. You’ll notice in your explorations through the urban wastelands that there are some chests that 2B won’t be able to open, these are your first indications of the extra content from consecutive playthroughs that you can expect.All weapons and items are transferred into a new game too, like your plug-in chips, which give useful upgrades to the protagonists and will vary depending on your desired tactics. The plug-ins have a limited capacity, which can be expanded from a vendors and merchants in exchange for money across the world, and as such will likely be your first purchase as with the limited space early on will present some rather tough decisions. If you’re struggling to stay alive, do you take a defensive role and upgrade your max health or maybe plug-in a chip that replenishes health after each kill? Or perhaps you’ll take a more offensive strategy and go for melee and projectile attack damage resistance? For those seeking a reward after executing a satisfying perfect dodge, the overclock chip (which slows down time for a brief moment after a perfectly executed dodge) is ideal which is not so unlike Bayonetta’s Witch Time. These chips also provide HUD information for 2B and 9S such as the health bar and map information which take up precious capacity slots. You can unplug these of course to free up space, along with your OS chip too, which is responsible for keeping the androids alive.
Few games have managed to encapsulate the fear of death in video games like Dark Souls did, and as much as others tried, it always seemed to fail in replicating the same dread of failure. Automata however has implemented a Souls inspired death mechanic that is equally as penalising for consecutive mistakes. Upon death, the android’s consciousness is transferred to a new body at the last access point you used, (which are also used for manual saves and fast traveling) with the current equipped chipset lost. If you can make it back to the location where the previous android met their demise, you can either recover your lost inventory or reactivate the body to fight by your side. However, if you happen to perish before interacting with the previous android then the body disappears along with the chipset. The fear of losing all of them precious and rare upgrades is quite terrifying.Automata’s soundtrack is quite possibly the pinnacle of the experience. It gracefully fades into the atmospherics and enhances the gameplay, and there’s not a single ineffective track throughout the entirety of the game. Each area is welcomed by its own memorable music piece, and every track projects significantly the emotions that the game’s trying to convey.
Graphically Automata shares the same dull and dreary textures that plagued the original Nier, but the basic visuals do little to diminish the game’s emotional story and innovative design choices that harmoniously goes in unison with the incredible soundtrack. The initial playthrough may seem rather anti-climactic, but I highly advocate that you see the game through to see endings A,B,C,D and E as the game may seem ordinary at first, but it increasingly evolves into an emotional and thought provoking experience and presents some rather difficult choices. Automata’s full of mechanics that never fails to surprise and impress with its overflow of originality and style that encapsulates the core of the artistic potential that video games can deliver. This is one for the history books.
Final Verdict 9.3