If nihilism demands that humans find meaning in themselves, then Androids finding meaning in humans is a bit paradoxical.
This is the central query that permeates NieR: Automata. The 2017 masterpiece, headed by cryptic director Yoko Toro, developed by Platinum Games and published by Square Enix, debuted on PS4 and PC via Steam. The game didn't run smoothly on either platform. But in 2018, a digital-only port of Automata came out on Xbox One. And of all the versions of the game, the Xbox One X iteration ran the best. The newer NieR: Automata Become as Gods Edition is back in the news (opens in new tab) as this improved version is now available to PC users via Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Here's why it's a must-play for Xbox Series X and PC gamers with Xbox Game Pass.
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When it first came out, the PS4 version of NieR: Automata ran at 1600x900 resolution with no antialiasing. This low resolution made the game look blocky, especially compared to other big-budget action titles like Uncharted. The PS4 Pro version did get a resolution bump to 1920x1080, and included some antialiasing to blur jagged edges. It also added motion blur.
Being a Platinum Games title, running at 60 fps was practically a requirement for Automata. Not even the PS4 Pro version of the game could hit 1440p or 4K resolution, as the developers prioritized framerate.
Weirdly, the PC version via Steam also ran into many of the same issues found in the PS4 version. From screen size woes to frame rate drops, the community had to create mods to help alleviate some of the performance issues. Digital Foundry has a great breakdown of the PC port:
NieR: Automata Become as Gods Edition came out a year later on Xbox One as a digital-only title. Xbox One X version ran much better than its PS4 and PC counterparts. The game ran at a 1920 x 2160 resolution. That's half the pixel-count of 4K resolution, but the game used checkerboard reconstruction to output a 4K image. It's likely that the Xbox Series X/S version will utilize a similar technique.
Interestingly, the PC version (opens in new tab) on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is the newer Become as Gods Edition. It includes a bevy of performance and other quality-of-life improvements that weren't in the original Steam release. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that people who own NieR: Automata on Steam will get this slightly enhanced PC port. The Steam version is already being review-bombed (opens in new tab) by angry fans.
The gameplay in NieR: Automata takes the standard Platinum Games action formula, mixed with some shoot-em-up action. It's a bizarre melding of genres. The game switches camera perspectives, taking you from third-person sword slashing to bullet-hell shooting in seconds. The game's ability to meld these two seemingly disparate idea is a testament to Taro's quirky design sensibility.
But more important than the creative gameplay or the mysterious open world is the philosophically bouncy story. The game, which features an android who goes down to Earth to kill alien robots, forces the protagonist to question the rationale of her actions. While many of the robots do attack you, some have evolved and now question their own existence. Your character, 2B, also begin to question her own motives.
It's a fascinating world, far into the future, that still embraces deities and finding truth through morality. It also calls into question how much humanity future AI might exhibit. If AI does eventually develop free will, does it also deserve pure freedom, devoid of any moral constructs from the Bible or Quran? And is life without a god better or worse?
The game names its characters and bosses after major philosophers throughout history, and imbues in them the same qualities that lead to their real-life counterparts' downfalls.
For those who don't want a heady existential filleting, players can easily glaze over the story and still have a good time with the fast-paced combat.
NieR: Automata is one of those games that's relentlessly referential, to the point that it might seem pretentious. But for Xbox Game Pass and Game Pass Ultimate subscribers, I suggest you put aside preconceived notions of anime-esque art, leggy androids in leotards and the on-the-nose callouts. Jump into NieR and succumb. You might find yourself going through a second playthrough, or even a sixth. It's also the perfect primer for next month's remaster of NieR Replicant, a prequel to Automata.
Oh, and the music is also absolutely fantastic.