As Super Bunnyhop put it, Nier: Automata is the “weeb trash” version of Waiting for Godot. In exploring its existentialist concepts, it tells a story only possible due to gaming’s uniquely interactive space. It was one of 2017’s most captivating games when it launched early last year on PlayStation 4 and PC. Disclaimer: Click on the images below for links to higher resolution captures.
“Fear Destroyed Them”
I played it at launch on a PS4 Pro and while it hit me in the feels, its technical makeup never wowed me. For starters, a last-gen looking game running at only 900p on the base ps4 with a mere bump to 1080p on PS4 Pro? Add the fact that neither iteration locks to its 60 fps target along with a PC release that still requires a mod to run at higher resolutions and you’ve got a game that’s held back by Platinum’s lack of technical know-how. They can craft fluid and exciting combat, but properly optimizing visuals and performance is a foreign concept to them.
Thankfully, this is where the Xbox One X version swoops in to offer the best out-of-the-box experience (the PC version with the FAR mod supersedes any console version), though it’s still not perfect. Automata‘s greatest sin lies with its last gen assets and rendering features. Hair rendering looks no better than last gen games. Draw distances are laughably poor for a game with such a constrained mini-open world. Additionally, Nier: Automata features some of the most inconsistent texture work of any game all generation.
While there are a fair amount of high-quality textures that hold up at high resolutions, most don’t look so hot when you take a step back to linger.
“To Think We Have The Same Face, Yet Such Different Smiles”
Therein lies the issue. Nier: Automata revels in its emotional center. It wants players to put the controller on their lap and become absorbed by its thematic weight:
Automata‘s narrative wants to disrupt players’ emotions; Get them to sit in perceived silence as its emotionally arresting soundtrack envelopes the soundscape. With a game so deeply entrenched in thematic weightiness, things like art design and visuals become more important than something like a Doom. You play Doom to kill shit and have fun doing it. You play Nier: Automata to soak in its emotional splendor as it encapsulates the medium’s narrative potency. The fun comes as a byproduct of Platinum Games’ spectacle-action chops. It’s not the point. Letting thoughts and emotions resonate is.
“It Always Ends Like This”
My initial playthrough last year on PlayStation 4 Pro was one I won’t forget. It was my first time experiencing this game and that first time is the most special. As 2B puts it herself in a busywork side-quest that involves finding locations based on photographs, “Everyone has memories that are precious to them for one reason or another“. My memory of that first proper playthrough will stick with me forever, but that doesn’t change how much more effective it is on Xbox One X by comparison.
Nier: Automata‘s destroyed world captivates because of how expertly it blends death with life. The destroyed remnants of a shopping mall with a shattered skylight is visually striking. The light filtering through the skylight, illuminating the shopping center’s foliage in broad daylight is what the kids would call “an aesthetic”. By the same notion, the city’s amusement park is one of those sights you want to sit and stare in awe at for minutes at a time.
Unfortunately, that beautiful art design has felt somewhat constrained by lower resolutions. I couldn’t imagine playing Nier: Automata on a base PlayStation 4 at 900p, but even at 1080p on a Pro, it looked somewhat noisy with aliasing, shimmer, and a residual softness that’s difficult to shake once the high-quality textures decide to show up.
“I Never Quite Realized…How Beautiful This World Is”
Areas I’m intimately familiar with were given a breath of fresh air thanks to the Xbox One X’s higher native rendering resolution. It was enough of a difference from the outset to make me proud of spending that money again just to support the title’s ambition. The effect of seeing Nier: Automata‘s world through a higher resolution lens is equivalent to the time you moved from a DVD to a Blu-ray copy of your favorite movie.
It’s still the same great experience, but that extra resolution gives it a new lease on life. I was initially curious just to see how it looked on a One X and ended up becoming so enthralled and shocked at the visual upgrade that I ended up completing endings A-E in a span of four days. It doesn’t hurt that, without framerate tests to back this up, the game feels smoother on average than Pro. While re-buying the game at $50 is a tough sell for all but the most devoted fans, any Xbox One X owner that has never played Nier: Automata absolutely needs to check it out now.
It is the definitive no-frills way to play that doesn’t require messing with mods and tinkering with settings. All gushing aside, the FAR mod’s creator recently released a high-resolution texture pack. Acting as a wholesale re-texturing of all low-quality assets, the difference in fidelity is staggering. Seeing those comparisons made me long for a Platinum Games with a little more technical knowledge. After all, this is the same studio that ported Bayonetta 2 to the Switch with no extra resolution or visual settings and yet it still can’t lock to 60fps 100% of the time???