GOTY 2017: The Top 10 Games of the Year - #6
Welcome to the Ninth Annual Silicon Sasquatch Top 10 Games of the Year list! After months of discussion and yet another marathon five-hour meeting, we've finally narrowed down the 10 games that we feel best represent the best and most important that 2017 had to offer.
#6 - Nier: Automata
Platinum Games | March 7th, 2017 | PlayStation 4, Windows
Nier: Automata is surprising. It takes place millennia after humans have abandoned Earth, and not a single living human being is encountered throughout its duration. Yet Nier director Yoko Taro is constantly asking the player to ponder human nature: What does it mean to be human? To be humane? What is humanity? And while most science fiction revolving around the future actions of machines and AI seems to end with the extinction of mankind, Nier: Automata asks the most interesting question of all: are the humans worth saving? These are not explicit questions; however, in a year where current events, politics, and world news felt toxic and distressing, Nier had me constantly questioning the value of humanity.
The game revolves around a conflict between humanoid-androids, who exist for glory of mankind, and machines, original creations of extra-terrestrial invaders who seem fascinated by the remnants of human civilization. These efforts are never portrayed as inherently positive or negative, but they often yield positive or negative consequences that seemingly return to that initial question of humanity’s value.
Video games, especially linear, single-player video games, are no strangers to shining a lens on how little agency a player truly has. Playing as an automaton, even a sentient one, only compounds how frequently choice is often an illusion. But this makes what few real choices available truly matter, defining our sense of identity, establishing whether or not the world treats us any differently for making those choices.
Every element of Nier: Automata’s design purposefully feels familiar yet alien. The colors are muted and hue close to off-white tones—sterile yet dirty. Human playwrights and philosophers are misquoted. The lyrics to the game’s soundtrack are in a fictitious language that sounds like what a mishmash of English, Japanese, French and German might sound like to someone with little familiarity with human beings. Machines and androids display human emotions, but react to those emotions and stimuli in frequently unpredictable ways. Maybe once this was the world we knew, but it certainly isn’t any longer and probably can’t ever be again. Nier asks, is that so bad?
Western studios love to play with morality as a means of storytelling in an extremely binary manner. Will you be good or bad? Will you be a boy scout or a rogue? Are you empathetic or results-driven? It can make for an interesting play-through, but ends up feeling like the philosophical equivalent of empty calories. After years of snacking on black and white questions, Nier feels like a feast of “but why?”
The way that Nier: Automata examines human culture and the very nature of humanity itself isn’t one that could be told simply as a book or movie. It’s a true piece of mixed media and it needs to be experienced. It doesn’t succeed in every regard, and that’s okay—to err is to be human. Or something close to it. — Tyler Martin