Attack on Titan has a pretty spotty reputation as far as adaptations go. The hugely popular manga – itself highly criticized as being not particularly good looking – gave us an anime that pretty much took over the world – and was highly praised for being particularly good looking – but also went on to spawn two incredibly bad live-action movies and a bizarre high-school spin off that just didn’t manage to do what it was supposed to do. Whatever that even was.
Even AoT’s first step into the world of video games was suitably nervous and unsure, with 3DS entry Humanity In Chains proving a disappointment to fans eager to live out the lives of Eren Jaeger and his band of not-so-merry and certainly not-all-men. When Koei Tecmo announced they were making an AAA console game based on the series, fan reaction was pretty mixed. Sure, it looked great, but we’d been hurt like this before, and we weren’t about to let another heartless, money-grabbing corporation toy with our fragile otaku hearts. Only Square-Enix are allowed do that. We have an agreement.
It’s unfortunate then, for a franchise whose fire is finally starting to settle down, that this latest iteration straddles the line between good and bad so evenly that it’s almost impossible to deliver a succinct opinion on it. It’s certainly not bad enough to get angry about, but it’s not really worthy of high praise either, and it’s difficult to tell if Attack on Titan fans should consider that a victory or a failure at this point.
It’s good. Let’s just get that out on the table right away as I’m sure some of you are concerned. This game is fun. It’s also, however, bogged down by a pretty astonishing list of minor flaws, not so minor flaws and baffling choices and omissions. At times, it can feel like AoT takes one lumbering, titanous step back for every two it takes forward.
The first thing you’ll notice is how relentlessly buggy it is. Textures bleed in and out of each other and pop up at random and while this isn’t usually that big of a deal, it certainly can be as the game progresses. Mercilessly slashing a titan’s neckflesh is, as it turns out, impossible when that titan is suddenly and inexplicably inside your house. Collision detection issues are not sexy.
That said, the graphics are generally, bugs aside, striking for all the right reasons; the game uses cel-shading to do a remarkable job at capturing the lined, dynamic feel of the anime. The titans are pretty creepy, but share about four facial and body animations between them, so as menacing as they may appear, you get used to it quickly.
The game is laid out much in the same way as its animated source, taking players through its storyline and introducing its ensemble cast by shifting the focus between the major players. In AoT, you’ll get the chance to play as Eren, Mikasa, Armin and even Levi and as exciting as that prospect is, it’s diminished a little by how similar they all are when the time comes to attack the titans. Each character can be built up RPG style and you can also upgrade your blades, gas-tanks, and – as Levi, mostly – your horse, to make getting around and getting down to business easier. Unfortunately, this means everybody basically plays the same way, and that could potentially have been a deal breaker, if AoT hadn’t nailed its core mechanic as well as it has.
If you’ve ever yearned to feel the speed and freedom that comes with vaulting through the air on gas powered grappling hooks AoT style, I’m happy to report Koei Tecmo has granted your wish for you. Zipping through the air and over rooftops is as exhilarating as it deserves to be and is, thankfully, also kind of perilous when there are titans around. Combat basically boils down to targeting a titan’s weak spots, mostly joints, until you can zipline to their fleshy death point and slice it from the neck. It involves a lot of arial maneuvering which is easy to learn, but surprisingly difficult to master. As if taking on a titan wasn’t stressful enough, occasionally one of your teammates will flag up on your radar, in dire need of urgent assistance. You don’t have to drop everything you’re doing to help them, but you probably should, as in most cases stalling the ball will mean losing teammates. Permanently.
Yes, that’s right, AoT kills characters off. None of the power four can die, but there are certainly a lot of faceless, nameless nobodies (each with their own face and name) who lost their lives to my stubbornness before I realised what was happening. It adds an element of urgency to fights that, fun as they may be, can at times get a little repetitive. It also, unfortunately, points to possibly the biggest ‘what could have been’ of them for this game.
Occasionally, AoT feels like it’s about to open up into something akin to an RTS in the vein of Valkyria Chronicles. There are moments, between fights, where you can walk around your barracks and chat with your team. These are also your opportunity to upgrade your gear should you wish to do so. Unfortunately, that’s all they are, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they could have been more. Imagine sitting with Pixis and forming your own handpicked squadron? Or battling without Petra because she’s injured from the last time, even though you know in your heart going anywhere without her is ultimately pointless because she is what this has always been and will always be about. I’d play that. I’d play the shit out of that.
But look, we could talk all day (and I frequently do) about ifs and buts, rag on the physics engine and complain about presentation until the titans come home, but what this ultimately comes down to is ‘Would I personally recommend Attack on Titan’? And my answer is, if you are a fan of the show, yes. Koei Tecmo have seen to it that most, if not all of your deepest, darkest fandom wishes have been granted and while it’s certainly not without issues, it is for the most part a lot of fun, and wholly representative of its source material. If, however, you’re not a fan, well… what the hell are you doing here anyway? This isn’t for you, and take it from me – absolutely no effort was made to change your mind.