Attack on Titan Review
A faithful adaptation of the anime TV show that will appeal to fans, but not many others
The Attack on Titan game, for those that may not be aware, is based on the hugely popular manga that hit the shelves in 2009. Since then, there was an equally popular, no expense spared anime series, which has now made the leap into current-gen gaming territory. Previously, Attack on Titan had swung onto Nintendo's 3DS, and there was even a mobile social game. So on paper, the combination of an established, successful IP mixing with a veteran action game developer in Omega Force, as well as KOEI TECMO publishing seemed like the perfect combination. However, Attack on Titan for the PS4 (reviewed), PS Vita, and Xbox One is not all smooth swinging.
The premise of Attack on Titan anime felt like a breath of fresh air, if your main intake of anime is what's streaming on Netflix, Crunchy Roll, or similar services. As a bit of an aside, and as an anime fan, I tend to get a little tired of the constant slew of high school-based shows that crank out over 400 episodes, and stick too staunchly to fan-pleasing tropes. So when I heard about Attack on Titan—about a seinen (mature) show in which armies of quasi-mechanical, seemingly endless goliaths ruthlessly attack the last bastion of humanity—I was all on board.
The Attack on Titan game follows the story of the first season of the show. 100 years ago, Titans appeared and decimated the majority of the world's population. In response, the last remnants of humanity constructed three walls—Walls Maria, Rose, and Sina—to keep the beasts at bay. However, after a truly massive Titan attacks the city, causing death and destruction, humanity decides that it's time to fight back.
Enter Eren Yeager, a boy whose mother died at the hands of Titans. He decides to join the city's military in an act of protracted vengeance, to get even with the colossal creatures. The role of the military is to safeguard the populace and fight any Titan threats, even going so far as to breach the city's Walls. As the story progresses, Eren is able to transform into a Titan and dole out punishment to the massive, walking creatures.
The best way I can describe Attack on Titan is this: take the web-swinging mechanics of the Spider-Man 2 game for PlayStation 2 and mix it with a simplified version of the bosses from Shadow of the Colossus. Then put everything on a small, open-world map like in Dynasty Warriors. If you're not familiar with the anime, and have no idea about the game, this can come across as a little confusing. Basically, to combat the Titans, humans invented Omni-Directional Mobility Gear. Attached at the waist and fueled by gas, these "belts" with large holsters at the side carry hooks and guns. You fire the hooks, they stick into Titans, trees, buildings—whatever—and they pull you towards the destination. Then, when you're close enough to your target, you attack it with your dual blades. Just imagine an angry wasp relentlessly rushing into different parts of your body, and you're half-way there.
The elevator pitch of the game sounds cool. The first time I went swinging around New York as Spidey, it felt like they had managed to transpose web-swinging into a medium a player could control. It feels the same with Attack on Titan. The swinging works; it's smooth and you can really establish a rhythm. You simply press a button and you're on your way. Combat is easy, too. Just tap a button to lock onto a Titan, select the body part to sting, and reel in for the slash. However, you need to note that, while all Titans have a weak spot at the back of their neck—the nape—which puts them out of commission for good, it's not always easy to land the killing blow. Smaller Titans can fall without much hassle, but large, even armored enemies require you to first take out their legs (and arms) like the AT-AT walker on Hoth. Once they're defenseless, you have free rein to finish them off for good. But if you simply attempt to strike head-on all the time, there's a good chance a Titan will snare you in its grip and smoosh you like the insect you are.
Flying through the air, slashing one Titan across the nape, and then deftly changing your angle to avoid another as you head in for the kill can feel great and look awesome. This is especially true if you have been swinging your way to your destination, given yourself a little boost, and then changed your angle on approach to land a finishing blow in several fluid sets of movements. Attack on Titan is a game that rewards you for getting your rhythm going.
The overall look of the game is one that stays true to its anime roots, with the cell shaded-esque graphics that have become rather prevalent when adapting anime to video games. However, the graphical limits of current-gen systems are not being pushed very hard. The city, forests, and areas around the Walls immerse you in an environment just like the show. No doubt, fans will recall different parts of the Wall, base camp, and especially the forest area as places that particularly strike a chord. Titans will bound (not as haphazardly as in the show) across the landscape and plough through buildings which crumble into thousands of pieces. But due to the practicality of anime productions, it becomes difficult to draw on too much diversity in the setting, meaning streets, buildings, and plains can appear somewhat monotonous and brown.
Sounds pretty good so far, right? Well. There are issues.
The biggest overall problem I found with Attack on Titan was the source material, which, by design, doesn't give Omega Force much room to maneuver. It cripples the developer like a sharp blade to the back of a Titan's knee, affecting the characters, level design, and longevity.
Let’s kick off level design with the base camp, which is threadbare. Though the area changes—from barracks, fields, ruined parts of the city—there's not much of interest. You can talk to different characters from the show if you like. You can buy weapons, deciding whether to focus on elements like how quickly you want to reel into your opponent, how much gas and how many blades you have (both have to be replenished in-battle), how much damage you want to deal, etc. There's not too much that can be done: everyone has the same weapons. Upgrades and prioritization feel arbitrary because choosing the weapon with the most damage was the smartest option.
To upgrade weapons and equipment you need to collect parts/resources, which you acquire from completing missions, doing so with a high rank (the top being S), and targeting specific Titan limbs in battle. The issue it that the game leans towards being a grind-fest later on, and by the end of the story, I only had around six weapons to choose from. You can purchases horses, too, for levels that take place on open plain-type environments.
You can jump into Survey and Expedition missions, where you travel into battle, separate from the main story. This is where a lot of grinding - I mean resource collecting - happens. The more you play a certain area, the better the drop rate of rarer items. Once you complete the game, other missions open up, including the possibility for people in camp to provide you with missions. However, these rarely amount to more than “complete 5 missions for me”, “get this resource”—they fade into the background and don’t add much. One of the biggest issues is that practically every single battle, regardless of nature, ends with an armored Titan appearing. This is a codeword for: hit every limb ten times instead of two. It has more health, that's about it. And despite being told that there are more nimble Titans in levels—those who jump around or react quicker—I honestly felt no difference in the type of Titan I faced.
Pushing out of camp, you find the battlefield. Now, I may be defending the developers somewhat, but their other, home-grown titles have some great memorable levels. Dynasty Warriors has Hulao Gate, the Battle of Chibi, and the Battle of Sekigahara from Samurai Warriors, to name just a few. However, in Attack on Titan, there are really three levels and no sense of (channelling my inner marketing manager) “verticality”. The cool thing about Spider-Man is that you’re swinging through New York, with its alleys and streets and building of different sizes. In Attack on Titan there are houses, most of which are the same size, and you rarely have do much navigating on your way to the destination. The field-type levels are made interesting when you are swinging through defiles in mountains, but on the plains you are simply galloping away on your horse to the targets. Finally, the dense forest did offer a change in battle tempo, with having to avoid the trunks of trees, but it was a small area compared to other locales.
You can even take on missions online with people, if you fancy some coordinated Titan slaying. Here, you'll start off in camp with another player, equip yourself, then head out into the literal field. Like at base camp, you can take on Survey and Expedition missions, but both play out the same: kill Titans. Depending on who you're paired with, battles are usually coordinated bouts of felling Titans, or you both split up and do whatever you please. Neither experience differs greatly from merely going out on your own, and level grinding can soon begin to crawl. At least, however, the environment is a little different to some of the aforementioned levels: there are castles to weave in and around; little differences in topology; though, reflecting on it now, I could not imagine sinking more than a couple of hours into the experience before it comes a chore. What I will say is that it was simple to drop into a game (despite there not being too many people online for me) and the connection was smooth, meaning I always knew where my partner was swinging.
The side missions you can accept stretch each battle out and rarely amount to anything more than: travel all the way to the other side of the map, slay some Titans, then head ALL the way to the other side of the map. Rinse and repeat several times a battle. It felt like padding. You can also recruit people into your party as you zip around, who can be ordered to attack, defend, or got out Titan-hunting by themselves.
Another hindrance that the source material causes is the characters themselves. Because everyone has the same equipment, it’s very difficult to differentiate characters. Throughout the game’s various modes, I either chose Eren or Levi. The former because he could transform into a Titan and easily lay waste when surrounded by numerous foes. And the latter because he has the highest overall stats. The skills that each character has—such as executing a powerful swing, ordering others to attack Titans for you—are arbitrarily mixed around so you feel like each character is different. If you look at your other anime-to-video game adaptations like Dragon Ball Z or other Omega Force games like Samurai Warriors, most characters have a different move set, which gives you a reason to change them up. I also found it rather annoying when, due to the story, a good character like Levi was exchanged for a much weaker one such as Armin. Armin is not the most competent character in the show, with a focus on leadership, which really doesn’t help me out when the levels become progressively harder. I need someone who hits fast and who I’ve been leveling up with for a good while.
Taking a step back and looking at the main story, it does stay rather faithfully to the source material, which causes characters to change nearly every chapter/episode. You do not get many chances to control Eren and his mighty Titan, and spend more time in the company of often weaker characters. After a while, I just wanted some stability.
Attack on Titan is a game that was hindered by its source material. While hunting Titans is fun and epic for the first few hours, the shallow gameplay, uninteresting upgrades and missions, and bland playable characters cause it to lose its luster swiftly. If you are a particularly ardent fan of the show or the developers, then Attack on Titan may entertain you for a while. For others, however, I’d advise you to consider if you're really interested in this setting or gameplay.