Nier Gestalt's protagonist is the perfect hero for his game. He looks tired and a bit confused.
After a 40 minute wait on a line at last week's Tokyo Game Show, I played a five minute demo of Square-Enix and Cavia's 2010 third-person action role playing game, NieR Gestalt. I was unimpressed.
The demo was set in a hallway that may have been in a castle. I was the hero, Nier, a man who looks like a retired rock star who still works out but eats a bit of junk food. The mission I was on in the hallway may have been woman-saving, but the first order of business was guard-slaying. With Nier as my warrior I would need to get past two armoured behemoths.
But first I had minions to kill.
Scrambling around Nier's legs, unnoticed by me at first, were wisps of fiery enemies. I liked how vague these guys were. They were mere hints of enemies who I became aware of only because Nier started flinching.
My firey foes were good dummies upon which to test the results of pressing different buttons on the Xbox controller. I found a jump and a sword strike. Basic stuff.
I found a dash for escaping danger. Via the shoulder buttons I found spells. One produced a book that hovered near Nier's head and rapid-fired red shot-put balls of energy. That move made it seem as if we had just switched game designs to traditional Japanese shoot-em-up. I wanted to strafe left and right and was looking for some bullet hell to dodge.
The other spell was the excellent-looking, though confusing, magic black lance. This tool of death could target all the enemies around Nier, but it always bewildered me because it initially pointed over Nier's shoulder toward me when I brought it up. Yet it would be locking onto enemies in front of Nier. Confused, I'd spin the camera to re-orient the scene. That would wind up accidentally locking other enemies into my sites as well. Then I triggered the attack. Spokes of lances fired out in all directions. It looked cool, but what I never want from Square-Enix is pretty attacks that are joyless and clumsy to implement.
When I had the least control, the game was best. Cut scenes of Nier glowering at the guards were cool. When I knocked one down, Nier had a few seconds to beat the prone thing out of existence, cueing a victorious lance lunge that was all spinning black energy and dramatic impact.
But, sadly, you who are reading this post have just had almost as good a view of the actions I've been describing as I did while I was standing at the demo station in Tokyo. The game's camera might as well still have had its lens cap on, it was being obscured so much. When I should have had a view of Nier I was getting a too-close close-up of the back of his enemy. I was making Nier fight with fury. The camera was making me fight blind as if it was trying to hide from Nier's awesome moves. Video game camera work in narrow hallways isn't ideal, but the often bad results should warn against setting a TGS game demos in levels that are narrow hallways.
NieR Gestalt seems like it is supposed to be a fast action game but seems to lack the speed of play of the God of Wars or Devil May Crys. Its clip is not aided by the need to pause the game to use healing potions.
There may yet be some good somewhere in here hiding behind familiar ideas that are not yet executed well. This white haired older brute, this heavy- metal warrior, appears to not be our typical game protagonist. Perhaps the game will show its value in emphasizing that. These most promising part of the demo was an unexpected outburst in English from Nier. Something to the effect of: "Will you please stop talking?" I want to know about that.
But first I'd like to know if the camera will be fixed and the gameplay has gotten better.