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Far Gone with NieR: Automata

There’s always a question when a new game in an established franchise comes out if it’s accessible to new players.  Usually this is less to do with grasping the mechanics & more to do with understanding the story.  Obviously, this all depends on the game in question.  Arguably starting a story in the middle isn’t ideal.  But not all sequels are directly related to the previous plot.  One could more easily pick up the story of a new Castlevania game versus staring with Metal Gear Solid 4.

But that gets a little tricky when discussing NieR: Automata, which is a kinda sequel to NieR, which was a spin-off to the Drakengard series, which itself is known for having multiple endings & diverging timelines.  To put it into proper context, NieR follows the fifth ending of the first Drakengard that involves the PC & his dragon following a giant humanoid monster coming into our world, spreading a plague to mankind upon its death.  And then in NieR we learn that to save itself mankind split their souls & body to wait out the plague, but then the bodies began to think they were their own entities & began killing the “shades”.  So, yeah, it’s kinda confusing.

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NieR: Automata picks up after the final ending of the original NieR an unspecified time later, following mankind having to flee to the moon when aliens used robots to invade, creating replaceable androids to fight the war for them.  Through several routes, we follow three of these androids, designated 2B, 9S & later A2, as they continue to wage an endless war against the machines.

Unlike the previous NieR, Automata was developed by PlatinumGames, & matches with the style of their previous games, most noticeably the likes of Bayonetta.  It’s very combat-heavy, with bombastic hack-&-slash action.  I’ve heard it described as a “spectacle fighter”, & that’s an apt description.  But it still maintains the feel of the previous entry by having a smaller open-world setting where you can travel around collecting sidequests that grant material to improve your weapons & combat abilities.

On a sidenote, can people please stop pronouncing it as “auto-ma-tah”, like a car.  It’s “a-tom-uh-tuh”, the same way you’d pronounce automaton, as it is the plural version, or autonomy, if you’re unfamiliar with the term.


Narrative: To answer the question posed previously, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary that you’ve played the previous games in order to understand Automata’s story.  It certainly helps, but the events from the previous game don’t really have a direct impact on the current storyline outside of world-building.  It provides some extra context in term of historical events & maybe even some characters, but you should find enough flavor text along the way to get a general grasp.  The game really is more about the androids’ struggle.

883956-nier-automata-windows-screenshot-interaction-between-2b-andThat being said, I don’t feel Automata explains its own story as well as it could, at least toward the end.  In the beginning, everything was good.  I could follow the plot, & things that didn’t make sense weren’t supposed to make sense, hinting at things not being what they seemed until later in the story.  But it wasn’t until the tower, the final mission in the game, that it kinda fell through somewhat.  Who was I fighting?  What was going on?  Where did these AI come from?  It made a bit more sense after reading some of the unit text that’s updated, but I feel if the player has to read it in a separate text blurb, it’s not good storytelling.

Other than that, I did enjoy the story for Automata.  It ask a lot of philosophical questions without being too postmodern about it, instead focusing on how those questions impact the characters.  It’s not navel-gazing, which I abhor, but instead shows how each person emotional deals with heavy questions with no clear answer.  To that end, I liked the characters, & how they evolve over time.  I liked that you don’t know everything going in, & discover along with them.  I also enjoyed the overall structure of the storytelling.  I knew going in how NieR made the player go through the story three times, revealing more with each playthrough.  And Automata followed that same pattern.  There are three “routes”.  Routes A & B are the same story, but told from 2B & 9S’s perspectives respectively.  Initially the plot is the same, but towards the end the characters are separated, so it’s nice to fill in the blanks between routes.  And Route C picks up after those routes, switching back & forth between characters to the finale.  Given that each playthrough isn’t unreasonably long, it’s a good way to tell the story, especially given the themes of history repeating itself & the utter futility of the androids’ war.  And I have to admit, I didn’t see that final revelation coming.

Overall, NieR: Automata has an intriguing story that mixes humor & melodrama as well as enjoyable characters, but can be a bit confusing at times.

Score: 4


Mechanics: If you’ve played PlatinumGames’ games before, you know to expect fast, visceral combat, & Automata certainly delivers on that.  There are a plethora of melee weapons to find & upgrade, & I liked that fully upgrading them adds special benefits, ranging from improved health to making your enemies fight for you.  Combat is very enjoyable, with a familiar flow for those who’ve played PlatinumGames’ games before.  Furious slashes, dodges & long-range attacks.  While I wasn’t as crazy about 9S’ hacking abilities replacing 2B’s combat options, it was nice that both characters have different styles that suit them.  9S is a “scanner” unit after all, versus 2B’s “battle” unit designation, so it makes sense, & prevent things from going stale on multiple routes.  The scanning mini-game is usually pretty fun & short, suddenly switching to a bullet-hell shooter type.

NieR-Automata_201606_SS_Boss_02_ONLINE-e1466200507150I also thought that idea of adding chips to your androids for various benefits was a nice idea that fit with the characters.  Being living computers, basically, it makes sense that they can swap in and & different upgrade programs for various benefits.  Some are more passive, like increasing your health or damage output, but others let you slow time if dodging correctly, reflect damage back, or make robots “scream” when they die (for whatever reason).  You have limited space, but you can set up three different sets of chips, so you can have one that focuses on improving combat whereas another focuses on exploration benefits.

My only complaint with the combat is the lock-on system.  While it mostly works fine, I found that it can be hard to target a specific enemy when there are multiple on-screen.  It auto-targets the closest enemy, meaning when you run around (as you should in such a fast-paced game) it’ll switch targets even if you don’t want it to.  This is a major pain as you’re usually facing groups of enemies & trying to whittle down one specific one.  It also doesn’t automatically switch targets if the enemy you were targeting dies, so you have to release & then hold the trigger again.  Given that you’ll probably also be holding down the ranged button while switching between attacks and dodges, your hands will start cramping up pretty quickly.  I did find I could mitigate this by using the auto-fire chip, which will automatically start ranged attacks when in range & keeps you locked on, but you can only use that on Easy mode.

h8hylxju55b01On the flipside, I did enjoy that once you complete a sidequest during a specific route, it’s gone forever, so each route essentially has its own sidequests.  But if you don’t finish them within a that playthrough, they will show up again in the next, so if you’re underlevel you can come back later.  This is an entirely personal opinion, as I’ve seen some people complain about this feature.  Personally, I like not having to redo the same sidequest, as most of them are pretty basic.  You talk to a character to get the quest, then go & kill a certain enemy or collect a certain thing, then turn the quest in for a reward.  Although none of them felt pointless, & do contribute to your understanding of the world you’re in, they’d hardly exciting.  Some are even escort quests, so I’m personally very happy not to have to repeat them.  It might suck if you do, though, because that means you’ll have to delete your save data & start all over, losing all your level progress.  But for me, I liked it.

Overall, NieR: Automata has fast-paced, enjoyable combat that varies depending on the character you play as & a nice upgrade system, but the lock-on system could be improved, & some people might not like the more linear structure.

Score: 4


Aesthetics: Like its combat, Automata is a very stylized game that takes liberties with its presentation, matching that of its predecessor.  It likes to switch camera angles on you, mostly being from a regular over-the-shoulder angle, but sometimes going top-down, or even side-scrolling, usually based on the environment.  While this can be jarring, the changes do make sense & you can learn to read what you’re going to encounter.  If you’re fighting in a narrow corridor, it’ll go side-scroller, & you’ll be swamped from both sides.  If it’s top-down, you’ll probably have to navigate a space.  It’s both a mechanical & stylistic choice, & while somewhat frustrating does highlight the scenery brilliantly.

maxresdefaultIf you know anything about the Drakengard & NieR games, you’ll know they have amazing music, & Automata is no exception.  It’s one of those soundtracks I can definitely see people downloading.  It always seems to fit the moment, & even varies in subtle ways depending on the character you’re playing as.  I thought it was a nice touch that the music goes all 8-bit when you’re in the hacking mini-game.  Though the tracks do sometimes get stuck in a certain song until you leave a scene.  This isn’t usually a problem unless it got stuck on the one track I didn’t like, which was the “kiddy” song, as I called it.  The English voiceacting is also okay.  A bit melodramatic, but that fits with moment.

Score: 4


Replay Value: Very high.  As I mentioned above, the game has three routes you have to play through to get to the actual end of the game.  After completing the third route, you unlock chapter select, where you can pick a specific starting point, which is very helpful when trying to get all the other endings.  Did I mention this game has 26 endings?  Because I does, A-Z.  Most of them are “fail” endings that you can sometimes get on your own, either by not going directly to an important objective & “running” away or by pure stupidity (like taking out your OS chip).  They are pretty funny though, so it’s not a problem booting up a chapter & quickly getting them.  The game gets very snarky about it.  But there are 5 “real” endings.  And, as I said before, sidequests you’ve completed don’t respawn so it’s not a problem mainlining another playthrough to grind for supplies or trophies.

Score: 5


Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 4

Final Word: Despite some minor complaints, NieR: Automata is an fun, fast-paced action that doesn’t take itself too seriously while also touching on existential issues.  There’s a lot to love for gamers who enjoy action games.

– GamerDame

Title: NieR: Automata
Console: PS4, PC, XB1
Rating: M
Developer: PlatinumGames
Publisher: SquareEnix
Release Date: March 7, 2017
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Filed under Action, PC, PS4, Reviews, XBox One

Has Half-Life Decayed? – (Un)Retro Review

Nowadays it’s not uncommon for popular games to see re-releases or remasterings on newer consoles, but not every touted titled gets that privilege.  Thus it’s left to online platforms like Steam and GOG to keep these classic titles available for those of us who missed them the first time around, or perhaps wish to merely bask in the nostalgia.  But this can be a double-edged sword, as not all games have aged as well as others.  I’ve certainly had my fair share of disappointment when I boot up an older game only to find it nigh unplayable thanks to certain advancements in gaming tech since its release (more on that later).  Thus was the inspiration for this review series.  The (Un)Retro Review.  Do the old classics hold up from the perspective of a modern gamer, to the extent that they can still be enjoyed today, or are they more akin to a museum display, important historically but best left untouched?

What better game to start with than the venerated Half-Life?

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It’s always an interesting experience having played a sequel before getting to the first game in a series — and something I’ve done more than a few times.  I’d already played Half-Life 2 & the ensuing Episodes long before picking up the original, so I already had a vague idea about the plot going in.  Though not as much as I would’ve thought.  Hell, Half-Life 2 might as well have been a standalone for all that the plot was directly referenced back.

As with the sequel, we take on the role of Dr. Gordon Freeman, though “only” a theoretical physicist & not the Messianic figure he became during his absence between games.  While helping with an experiment at the Black Mesa research facility, he survives a disastrous resonance cascade, whereupon a tear is ripped in space-time, allowing hostile alien creatures to invade.  As if things aren’t bad enough, the government begins sending in soldiers to “clean up” the problem, ie. killing everyone in the facility.  And for some bizarre reason they decide that chasing a lone scientist is a better usage of their resources than killing the invading forces.  Thus it is left to Gordon to find a way to seal the portals.


Narrative: Historically, Half-Life is touted as revolutionizing the way story was presented in the FPS genre.  And looking back at a timeline of games released before this, I could see their point.  FPS games prior to this tended to have very little in the way of story presented during the actual game.  Think your Dooms, Quakes, & Wolfensteins.  You might get some brief backstory in the pamphlet that came with the game, or maybe some opening sequence, followed up an ending text blurb.  Everything else was just action, and the player assuming they’re working to some end goal.  And usually the end goal was little more than to kill the end boss, receive happy ending.

20180828202417_1But Half-Life tried to do things differently by weaving the narrative into the action.  And from a modern gamer’s perspective, it does a fine job of this.  Obviously it’s done in the same way as Half-Life 2, where exposition happens in real-time.  No cutscenes, just NPCs talking directly to you.  But neither are these moments long-winded, taking you out of the game.  I’ll give Valve credit in that a lot of the story is shown & not told.  It shows a good understanding of how details in the environment can build upon the greater story going on outside the immediate area.  The escalation, from accidental space-time ripping to taking out a dimensional space fetus, feels natural.

That being said, there were a few… odd points.  From someone who played the sequel first, I kept asking myself which of the identical NPCs were the people Gordon teams up with in the second game.  Am I to assume Dr. Kleiner & Dr. Vance are the white & black scientists who talk to Gordon outside the testing chamber at the beginning?  The ones that look like every other white & black scientist?  And which identical guard was Barney?  Yes, I know there were some standalone expansions that might explain these things, but I’m merely documenting my experiences here.

Overall, Half-Life’s story is competently paced, engaging without removing players from the experience, & takes advantage of the gaming medium.

Score: 5


Mechanics: Mmm… if you follow me on Twitter, you might have some inkling as to my opinion on the gameplay side of Half-Life, but we’ll get to that in a minute.  Firstly, I will say that despite my general ineptness at shooters, Half-Life’s combat handles well.  Gordon has this great fluidness to him that makes maneuvering on the battlefield a breeze.  I don’t know if Gordon is some track star, or if his HEV suit (which I kept wanting to call HVAC in-game) boosts his stamina, but the man can move — as evidenced by the constant squeaks his boots make on the floors.  Adding to this are the fun variety of weapons that become available.  Yeah, in the beginning you’re stuck with your more standard shotguns & pistols, but some of the later weapons are a lot of fun to mess around with.  Though I didn’t always find them very useful.  I don’t think I ever used the trigger mines or satchel bombs, & I have no idea what that alien arm gun-thing even did.

20180828203528_1I also enjoyed that, although always a shooter, the game wasn’t just combat.  As with the sequel, there’s a lot of traversal & switching up the specifics of your current objective.  Some of my favorite levels included “Blast Pit,” where you have to sneak around an alien claw monster to reach different power stations to fire up a rocket engine to kill it, “On A Rail,” where you drive around a little train, & “Surface Tension”, where you have to get around a bunch of trip mines or blow the whole place up.  It adds a nice variety over just shooting people.

That being said… Y’know, I feel like Valve has a bad habit of being impressed by one new feature of their games & then add way too much of it.  In Half-Life 2, they were so impressed by their gravity gun & physics engine that every citizens had to lock doors via see-saw puzzles.  They also seem to like vehicles, given the entire levels in both games dedicated to some form on conveyance.  But I’ll let that pass because I actually enjoyed those sections.

What I enjoyed significantly less, however, was the platforming.  And I knew this was a common complaint going in.  Most people will tell you first-person platforming is a pain in any game.  But I don’t think it’s the perspective.  I think the problem is one of the things Valve was proud of: the combat.  You may recall me mentioning the fluidness of Gordon’s movements just a few paragraphs ago.  Well, having slippery movement is good in fast combat, but unsurprisingly not so good for precision jumping.  You end up quite literally not being able to stick the landing.  Gordon seems to slide everywhere, including off the very platform I’m trying to land on.  It got to the point that I aimed to ram into something just to stop myself.  It didn’t help matters that, perhaps as a bad habit from other platformers, I tend to hit “back” to slow my jumps, which would for some reason cause Gordon to completely lose all forward momentum & fall.  Does the HEV cancel gravity?  Add to this the frustration of crouch jumping.  I get that this might make sense from a realism perspective, in that a human would probably make a standing jump higher if they crouched first.  But I did the long jump & hurdles in school track, & I know that’s bad form for jumping a distance, rocket pack be damned.  It probably would’ve bothered me less if I could’ve found a decent button to map the crouch to.  But no matter what I did, nothing made pushing W + random button + Spacebar feel anything but cumbersome.  All that, especially when taking into account that the entire last level is one big jumping puzzle, & it does drag the experience down a bit.

Despite all that, Half-Life is overall a fun gaming experience.  The combat, imagination & variety of scenarios is definitely where the game shines bright.  But the insistence on jumping puzzles keeps it from being perfect.

Score: 4


20180910204646_1Aesthetics: I mean, it is a 20 year-old game, so the presentation in some areas hasn’t aged well.  Character models aren’t the greatest, although I really only found it noticeable on the human models.  With the aliens & the industrial setting, it’s not quite as obvious.  I expect machinery to be angular.  And there’s quite a lot of detail when you take the time to look.  Honestly, I never noticed in the sequel how disgusting the headcrabs’ teeth were.  The sound design was okay as well.  A lot of those sounds were familiar from the sequel.  Is it odd to be reminded of something that was carried over to another game by the game you’re playing now?

Score: 3


Replay Value: Moderate.  As I mentioned, there are a lot of little details that you’ll probably miss the first time through, so it’s definitely worth going back through to further immerse yourself in the game.  While there’s technically no reason to play through again from a story perspective, Half-Life is well-constructed enough to stand up to multiple runs.

Score: 3


Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 4

Does Half-Life still stand up?
Absolutely.

In my opinion, Half-Life deserves all the praise it receives, as well as a little criticism.  Desite showing it’s age, & a few frustrations, it remains an enjoyable gaming experience that anyone can enjoy.  If you are bothered by “old” games, there are some more modern fan updates I believe, that attempt to update the graphics & some of the more tedious mechanics.  But the original Half-Life should be remembered for its flaws & all.

– GamerDame

Fan-Made Trailer
Title: Half-Life
Console: PC, PS2, OS X
Rating: M
Developer: Valve
Publisher: Sierra Studios
Release Date: November 19, 1998

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Filed under (Un)Retro, 4, FPS, PC, PS2, Reviews