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'Nier: Automata' Is One Video Game You Won't Want To Miss In 2017

I played the Nier: Automata demo the other day and was immediately smitten.

The demo is a little over 30 minutes long, but in that half hour or so is a wealth of striking gameplay, clever use of perspective, and surprisingly deep world-building. Indeed, when it came to the game's terrific combat I only barely scratched the surface, largely button-mashing my way through until I began to figure out the more involved systems of combos and special moves available. (It's one of those demos you really need to play twice.)

As the human-looking robot 2B, you fight your way through an industrial area filled with hostile machines. You have a little droid companion that flies along at your side who serves both as your ranged gun (holding down R1 releases a steady barrage) and as a floating device when you double-jump and then hold the jump button down, extending the range of your leaps.

Meanwhile, you have an assortment of melee options available, including counters and dodges, strong and light attacks, powered-up attacks, a lock-on mechanism which allows you to focus on one enemy at a time, and so forth. It's a lot to take in all at once, but everything works really well. Combat is fast and focused, obviously the work of long-time action game designers. This is Platinum Games at its finest. (A good thing, too, given the recently cancelled Scalebound from the same developer. It's a shame Platinum didn't go with either Sony or release that game across platforms.)

One thing that makes combat, and simply traversing the level, so great is how the perspective shifts in such interesting and unique ways. There have been games that use a fixed perspective in the past. God of War is perhaps the most famous action game to make use of this perspective, changing where the player views Kratos from one area to the next rather than letting the gamer change the view with the right joystick, as we see in most modern 3D games.

What makes perspective so interesting in Nier: Automata is that a good chunk of the time is spent in traditional 3D, free-form mode where you control the camera, and a good chunk of time is spent in fixed perspective mode, where the camera is suddenly pulled back and the game transforms into either a 2D platformer or a top-down twin-stick shooter (sort of.)

So you may be doing glorious battle in one arena and then run up a flight of stairs, and suddenly the camera is pulled back and you're fighting your way through a side-scroller. Then you come down the other side and the camera is pulled high into the air, bird's-eye-view, and it's almost like you're playing Helldivers.

It's surprisingly effective---far more pleasant than the constantly fixed camera of God of War, and just interesting enough in these segments to make it less a gimmick and more a way to change up combat a little, to add flavor and dimension to the game.

The demo wraps up with a massive boss fight that, while not terribly difficult, is quite the spectacle. You fight on land, in the air, and run up the sides of the gargantuan boss himself at one point evoking, however briefly, The Shadow of the Colossus.

This, of course, is just one thirty-odd-minute demo and far from the entirety of the game, which doesn't come out until February 23rd in Japan and March 7th in the US (March 10th in Europe.)

For my part, I can't wait. This has just become---along with Persona 5 and a handful of other titles---one of my most anticipated games of the year, a year that looks increasingly amazing for fans of Japanese video games in particular.

Did you play the demo? What did you think?

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