A game that I’ve had my eye on for a couple months now has been Nier: Automata (stylized in production materials as NieR: Automata), but I wasn’t really rushing to get to it until recently when I realized that I was over Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I decided that I’d keep a look out for a discount since the game’s been out for about a year, and that’s usually around the time that big budget games start to see price drops. In the meantime, I enjoyed some time with a smaller scale game, and got ready to revisit Life is Strange one last time with the bonus “Farewell” episode that is supposed to be all about Max and Chloe just before Max moved away to Seattle (I haven’t played that yet; it’s probably best left for a weekend when Rachael and I can set aside a big chunk of time to do the whole episode in one sitting). Because I rarely buy big budget games outside of special occasions, I decided that I’d also check out the demo for Nier: Automata just to be sure I would actually enjoy the gameplay (it’s one thing to find the story premise intriguing, but I learned from Horizon: Zero Dawn that it’s a good idea to be sure you’ll actually enjoy the mechanics you’ll be engaging with for the majority of your play time).
In the demo, you play as 2B, an android soldier on a mission to eliminate a gigantic machine that’s been located by YorHa intelligence. The machines are all pretty dopey looking, but they were apparently enough of a threat when they invaded Earth that all of humanity has fled the planet. Supporting 2B is a little satellite assistant called a Pod; this Pod handles communications with other androids, providing cover fire, and helping with navigation of the area. The gameplay is a mixture of melee combat with 2B’s weapons and run-n-gun action with the Pod in environments that alternate between three dimensional arenas and two dimensional corridors (in both side-scrolling and overhead varieties); also thrown in for fun are sequences modeled after Gradius and Xevious styled bullet hells (though I haven’t yet encountered anything that was as genuinely difficult as dedicated scrolling shooters). The result is a pretty eclectic mixture of action game genres that all mesh well with the motif of superhuman androids fighting off waves of modularly built, mass-produced enemies (I’m actually most strongly reminded in terms of premise of the old NES game The Guardian Legend). The demo concludes with a sequence where 2B finds herself fighting a machine the size of the factory that she just navigated before she and her support partner 9S find themselves surrounded by three more of the giants with no hope of escaping alive. They initiate a self destruct sequence that destroys them and all of the machines in one massive explosion, which is a pretty good way to end a preview for a game.
I found the demo engaging enough that I decided that yes, I would definitely buy this game when the opportunity arose, and lo, a few days later I bought it digitally on sale (huzzah!). That meant that I needed to download the whole game, which is not exactly a small task when you have a relatively slow internet connection and fifty gigabytes of data to pull over the line. Fortunately, as is common with most big digital downloads, the game’s designed so that you can go ahead and start playing after a certain point in the download (presumably for those folks who have nothing else to do while they’re waiting for their downloads to finish). I jumped in on a lazy Sunday morning to get into the game while it was still finishing up the download, and I ended up playing a nearly identical version of the demo level as the opening sequence. This was perfectly fine; it’s silly to expect demo assets not to be reused in some way in the full game, but what I found after I finished the level for the second time was that I couldn’t continue until the whole download finished.
Because 2B and 9S are androids, the self destruct was a pretty obvious fake out; it’s easy to presume that their data was backed up somewhere else, so following the explosion the game would carry on back wherever 2B’s bodies are stored. What surprised me though was the above screen, which if you select any dialogue choices besides “I don’t care,” you’ll quickly find that it’s an infinite loop of meditations on the nature of existence. If you opt out, the game tells you that it can’t continue yet because it hasn’t finished downloading, but if you want to quit you can always start over later.
I did not want to start over and play the starter level a third time, so I ended up leaving the game to finish its download (which took an additional two hours according to the game’s play timer). Consequently, even though I’ve played the same content of the game over twice now, I’m finding that I quite enjoy it; I’m hoping that this will be a nice change from the boring gruffness that is The Phantom Pain.