While it's a common story, Attack on Titan managed to pull this particular scribe into the anime world a couple years ago. How could it not? It has a striking art style with bold lining and subdued colour, a European setting with an intricate culture and inventions, and an irresistible world that draws you in with its mysteries and cliffhangers. We could divulge the great characters that always bring on compelling drama or the excitement of watching them use Omni-Directional Mobility Gear to kill Titans in aerial dances of slaughter, but this praise is widely known and held for one of Japan's most successful properties.
It's only natural that a video game would come along, and Humanity in Chains marked the first serious stab at the franchise, but the 3DS exclusive demonstrated the difficulty of translating the franchise's fast-paced, unique action to an interactive experience. Now, Omega Force seeks to succeed where Spike Chunsoft failed, and against all odds, the studio has jumped this giant hurdle with Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom, which fans of the show and the developer's work will really enjoy – well, mostly.
Dynasty Warriors' signature imprint is immediately evident. You'll be travelling within and beyond the walls of humanity's last bastion in a series of missions where you zip your way across open fields, completing main objectives and side activities until you take over a territory. The process is continuous as you level up and take breaks in between combat to purchase new equipment and items that help you perform more effectively on the battlefield. This allows you to develop, modify, and fortify your gear, and while we found fortifying to be the most useless system, these upgrading systems coincide well with this framework based on Omega Force's staple franchise, which fits the flow of where you'd go and what you'd do in Attack on Titan's universe. When it comes to the action, though, this is where the similarities start to wear thin.
Instead of being grounded with hordes of minions to decimate with hack and slash gameplay, the game's like Treyarch's Spider-Man 2, but with gory violence thrown in. Soaring over rooftops in the town near Wall Rose or past trunks in the Forest of Giant Trees as Survey Corps soldiers feels so satisfying as your iron wires don't extend into nothingness, but realistically attach to tall objects in order to propel you forward. And if you're not around any, you'll only be able to run or use your horse, which will have you analysing environments just to make sure that you can escape a Titan's grasp with speed if need be.
Most of the time, you'll be locking onto Titans to attach to their limbs or necks. You'll then be able to adjust your entry of trajectory by turning yourself in the air, and when you've got a straight line to your target, you cease aiming and boost, which sends you zooming forward to execute a swift strike, either killing or amputating your colossal opponents. You can do more complex moves such as adjust where your wires are anchored mid-air to change your intended target or confuse foes, but what we described is largely what you'll be doing over and over again. It's a lot to get used to at first, but this initial complexity with the controls belies their ease to master after a few hours, and even though there are other characters, items that disrupt Titans, and new enemies, these additions can't stave off the intense repetition that eventually sets in.
This is also true for the missions themselves. You take out groups of Titans and aid fellow soldiers across maps by taking out more of them – and that's it. Variety is hardly a strength of the gameplay, and we concede that this is hard to avoid since Titans can only be killed by attacking their necks from a lore perspective. Slight camera issues and wonky AI behaviour don't help either, but that's not to say that the game isn't a rush while it lasts. The sheer amount of mechanics allow the game to maintain its appeal longer than it should, and since gameplay moves along without many hitches at top speed, it initially feels excellent in execution.
You add tiers of soldiers to your team as you play a mission; there are soldiers that you specifically approach who resupply your gas and blades, and characters have a special ability that lets them rally soldiers to their position. On top of that, some characters, like Eren, can transform into a Titan for a brief amount of time, and this is perhaps the most exciting element of battle, as you pummel your competition and buildings around you. As you can imagine, there's a lot to do and keep track of in any given mission, but the ease of accomplishing and balancing all of your goals washes away the thrill of the game once you finish its campaign mode.
Speaking of the title's story, it follows the first season of the anime, even adding bits of dialogue and other characters' perspectives on events to flesh out the plot that fans already know. While we recommend the anime over the game as a primer, it serves as a faithful adaption that newcomers can enjoy despite its less elegant pacing. However, it's a bit of a shame that the entire new epilogue extending beyond the first season's end is annoyingly locked until you've completed all of the Survey Missions and banal "requests" from supporting characters. Still, it's a decent incentive for hardcore fans to pursue.
What's more, unlockable Titan statues, characters, bios, and more that will attract collectors, but we don't think that they're good enough reasons to extend the already substantial life of the 10 hour campaign. Even the Expedition multiplayer mode feels somewhat lacking, consisting of Survey Missions that you complete with others, and while this helps those who want to unlock episodes of the epilogue faster, unique approaches or twists that come with cooperation don't really exist.
Fortunately, the graphics bring the anime's art style into 3D beautifully. Sometimes, these transitions don't look so good, but the developer has done an exceptional job capturing the colour, lining, and exact dimensions of every character and space in 60 frames-per-second. That said, there's a load of pop-in and a few animation oddities with the Titans and in cutscenes, but overall, it looks stupendous, and is further amplified by authentic sound effects from the anime, a decent soundtrack that emulates Hiroyuki Sawano's epic scores, spiffy redesigns of the Omni-Directional Mobility Gear to equip, and exclusively Japanese dialogue courtesy of – as far as we can tell – the original, excellent voice actors.
It's an accomplishment in itself that Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom is a robust, sensible game that does the beloved show justice, and it should be the groundwork guiding potential sequels. Commandeering any character is an absolute joy with the excellent control scheme and host of activities that fight for your attention on the battlefield, but this initial depth gives way as the title runs low on gas several hours in, failing to refuel and catch up with your sustained interest. Initially, fans will eat this one up – the story and visual presentation acting as delectable dressing – but even the best of meals lose their allure over time if that's all there is to swallow.