You’re the prey, and we’re the hunters.
Attack on Titan is one of the most beloved anime in recent memory. Revered for its intense story, beautiful yet graphic animation, and full-throttle action, I was excited to see how developer Omega Force would adapt it in video game form. I was especially curious about how they would handle the unique omni-directional maneuvering system (ODM) from the series. Nailing the action in an Attack on Titan game is key, so I was pleasantly surprised with how they capture the speed, maneuverability and style of the ODM.
The way the ODM works is there are two gas-propelled grappling hooks attached to your waist. You fire and attach them to something in the environment, or to titans during combat, and quickly reel yourself in to slingshot forward. It’s a complex system. You get your first taste of the ODM movement and combat system during the opening chapter in the training grounds. Darting around a forest using ridiculously tall trees as anchor points to gain positional advantage over your targets was a lot of fun. And once you get a handle on the movement and combat, you are thrust right into the action. Titans have breached the wall that protects the city and now it’s your job to protect it.
You fly in wielding two razor-sharp blades ready to slice the necks of any titans that dare cross your path. Within the Attack on Titan universe, that is the only known way to kill a titan. When you find an unlucky bastard, you lock onto it and use the right analog stick to choose different points on the body to attack. You zip around like an angry wasp until you find your moment to strike, and can then either stop moving, in which the ODM will automatically reel towards your target, or dash in for a more devastating attack. Unlike the anime, where soldiers are being massacred left and right without giving the enemy much trouble, taking down a titan is surprisingly easy to do here.
The developer built a solid mechanic with the ODM, but the scenarios you’ll encounter are lackluster and don’t require you to do anything engaging with those mechanics. It boils down to a simple routine: attach to a titan, reel yourself in and cut its neck–rinse and repeat. You can choose to cut off limbs before the final blow, but that just feels like a waste of time. The material rewards you gain from taking these extra steps are not worth the effort.
Missions take place in a finite space. A closed-off battlefield is set within various towns in the city, a forest, or out in the open fields. You can boost with the ODM to get across the map quickly, but it drains your gas tank, so you’ll need to make sure you replenish more often. Resources are limited, and flying around carving all those titan necks means you go through a lot of gas tanks and blades. When in the battlefield, health vials, blades, gas tanks, various grenades and more can be replenished by visiting resupply soldiers scattered all over the map. Additionally, side missions can be activated while out on the battlefield. They’re very quick objectives like “save this soldier” or” defend this point” that can award you more XP at the end of the main mission. You can enlist up to four soldiers from the field into your party to help you make quick work of your endeavors.
After missions, you’ll gain XP and materials based on your overall ranking for that mission. The more titans you kill, the more efficient you are and the speed in which you complete your mission all go towards determining your score. The XP earned will increase your Regiment and Soldier skill levels. New Regiment levels will grant you new material rewards, and new Soldier levels will award you passive abilities like a downward swoop attack, a double boost and an automatic dash after you’ve anchored to a titan. Higher ranks yield higher-grade materials, which are necessary for purchasing new equipment and upgrading your existing equipment. Upgrades provide things like improvements to blade length, sharpness and durability; gas tank capacity and boost speed; and ODM anchor strength and range, which will help you become a one-man titan-killing machine. Upgrading your gear is all done at your base camp, where you can also chat with NPCs and access survey missions separate from the main campaign missions.
These survey missions are regions that need to be cleared as part of the overall war effort, but they’re completely voluntary. There are quest-givers you can speak to at your base camp before you head out on a mission, and completing these missions rewards you with more XP and materials to fully upgrade your characters. Certain missions grant other rewards like costumes and characters to use in Expedition mode. Expedition mode consists of online survey missions. I didn’t experience any interactions with other players while I played, so I can’t say how tackling a titan feels with friends. However, I played a few offline survey missions during my campaign and a couple more after the credits rolled (when base camp opens back up). If you’re a completionist, you might enjoy yourself, but it’s completely unnecessary and not enticing enough to continue messing with the repetitive mechanics.
The game follows the story of the anime. You play as Eren Jaeger, a young man who joins the 104th Cadet Corps in order to exact revenge on the titans who have bought the human race to near-extinction. There’s an extra chapter from the manga that let’s you control Captain Levi as he and an elite squad of the Scout Regiment venture beyond the confines of the city walls to capture two titans they plan to later experiment on. If you’ve never seen the anime, the game blasts through the story so quickly you likely won’t understand what’s going on. Most of the major plot points are hit, but they’re never fully explored. Some are completely changed (for the worse), while others are missing completely. You don’t really get any context for who these people are, why they’re fighting and why you should care.
If you are a fan, this presentation does the series no justice. The game fails to meet the intense, emotional moments and deep character development portrayed in the anime. Protagonist Eren Jaeger, and his wonderfully rage-filled personality, as well as the unique personalities of the supporting cast, are completely blown over in the game. It didn’t showcase any of the characters. They were lifeless and felt more like dolls than people.
This is in large part due to the less-than-stellar character animations. The moment-to-moment action is colorful, bombastic and very Japanese–and that’s all fine. It’s when the action slows down, and your character enters into dialogue scenes, where things really start to fall apart. I’m pretty sure the person who was supposed to animate the characters for these segments was on vacation during the entire dev cycle and they only just realized it as the game was getting ready to ship. It looks like a poorly-dubbed kung fu movie from the 70s–and not in a good way. Voice actors will be yelling at each other or hysterically crying over just having watched their friend get eaten alive, but the character on screen is completely deadpan–absolutely no facial expressions at all. It’s completely off-putting and looks like lazy work.
I’m a firm believer in the power a great soundtrack can have on delivering emotion and intensity in any entertainment medium. The series is well known for utilizing music to do this. Unfortunately, the game is not. There are often long periods, even during pivotal cutscenes where no music plays at all, and where it’s inclusion would greatly add to the experience. I was baffled by the way they chose not to use music often enough, and it was the most glaring drawback in the game’s overall presentation.
There are a few things that mix up the gameplay, like playing as various characters, fighting the female titan and gaining a war horse, but they’re not quite enough to make me want to play any further than the campaign.
You play as four characters–different ones for different missions. Eren is your standard character that is competent at everything but excels at nothing. There is the fact that he can turn into a titan, but more on that later. Mikasa is slightly better than Eren, with the ability to kill medium to smaller titans in a single strike. She’s faster, more agile and has stronger equipment. Captain Levi is a brooding yet deadly titan murderer, and is a hell of a lot of fun to play with. He is incredibly fast, his gear almost never breaks and he basically one-hit kills every titan other than mission-ending abnormals, titans acting as a mission boss.
Playing as Armin is refreshing. Because he is a relatively weak fighter compared to the other three, but is a better strategist, he’s granted a more nuanced tactics system. Whereas everyone else has basic formation orders for their party, such as Focus on one enemy, Guard the party leader or Fan Out to widen the attack, Armin has the ability to send individual soldiers to attack specific body parts of titans. Oftentimes, I never had to leave my horse and just rode around ordering my party members to wreak havoc on the titans. It was cool watching my soldiers zooming around a confused titan’s head like bees ready to attack on my command.
Playing as Eren in titan form is simple, dumb fun. You just charge in and beat the holy hell out of things. Light attacks (though they pack a wallup), a satisfying chokeslam, a charging heavy punch and a metered rage attack are about all that is at your disposal. It’s shallow, won’t keep you entertained for long stretches, but is amusing in short bursts. Eren is just an angry dude. And though I vastly prefer the presentation of his anger in the anime, his titan moments are the best moments you’re going to see in the game.
The female titan is a frustratingly tough fight as a soldier (as Eren, beating her is cake). She is a much faster, more intelligent and agile titan that makes for a more difficult encounter. Instead of taking this opportunity to offer up a more tactical and engaging fight, she’s basically a bullet sponge. Just do the same thing you’ve been doing, but do it more; the female titan fights were a disappointing bore.
During the manga chapter mission mentioned earlier, they add the war horse to your arsenal, and it’s hands-down the best mission in the game. You take control of Captain Levi out beyond the wall in the open fields. This is by no means the best horse riding I’ve played in a video game, but eyeing a massive titan in the distance, furiously galloping towards it, firing an anchor into its neck while jumping off horseback and jetting in for a dazzling, bloody kill is supremely satisfying. I hit the screenshot button on my PS4 controller more than I care to admit during that mission.