Movie- and TV-licensed video games have an incredibly bad reputation amongst gamers, and in most cases, it’s for a good reason: they tend to be horrible. I can count the number that I enjoyed on one hand, and I’m sure many out there would say the same.
The hate stems from the tendancy of these games to be low-quality, repetitive, or cash-grabs, or a combination of all three in some cases. It seems that some developers believe that they can sell their game on just the name alone, and don’t have to put any actual work into it.
That’s not to say that every licensed game is bad. I have fond memories of playing Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers back on the GameCube when I was younger. I’ve also heard many agree (as do I) that the first Spider-Man game based on the Tobey Maguire-era films was a solid and fun release. However, even with the occasional good licensed game, the stigma against them is still strong.
Across the Pacific, Japan also gets to suffer from an endless glut of anime-licensed games. A staggering amount of these come in the form of low-quality and low-effort visual novels, which we rarely (if ever) see make the jump to the West.
With the recent resurgance of interest in Japanese pop culture in America, though, some anime-licensed games have begun getting localized for English-speaking audiences. The ones releasing here tend to be based on titles that have become popular worldwide, such as Dragonball Z, Naruto, and Sword Art Online, and while some end up doing well and earning good reception, many are average at best.
The game we are looking at today is one of these: a game licensed from an anime series that has become popular across the world. From the team famed for creating the Dynasty Warriors button-mashing series, they have set their sights on doing something outside of their comfort zone: a game focused on aerial acrobatics and slaying titans.
Set for release on August 30th, 2016 for the PS4, PS3, Xbox One, and Vita, Attack on Titan was developed by Omega Force and published by Koei Tecmo. The game is also available now on PC via Steam. The PS4 version was played for this review.
The Last Days of Humanity
Attack on Titan takes place in a medieval-style era, where humanity is on the edge of being driven to extinction. Giant human-esque creatures known as titans are predatorial against the human race, mindlessly killing and eating them for what seems to be no real reason. The titans have taken over much of the world, driving the last remnants of humanity to live within a settlement surrounded by three massive walls.
Unfortunately for them, though, a new kind of titan has appeared: the “Colossal Titan, ” much bigger than any of the walls. It proceeds to destroy a part of the outer wall, letting a horde of titans in. A vast chunk of people living near this breach are killed, including the mother of our main protagonist, Eren Jaeger. After witnessing her death, Eren decides to devote his life to wiping out the titans, joining the military to learn the skills he needs to exact his revenge.
The game follows the story of the Attack on Titan anime (and, by extension, the original manga), letting you play through all of the major battles throughout the series. However, it seems to assume that its audience already knows the series’ plotline, as the game’s story moves at a rapid pace and skips over some of the setting and motivation establishment between major moments. The story remains relatively easy to follow regardless (and it’s not a particularly complex one anyways), but the plot jumps between missions can be occasionally jarring.
Like a Majestic Eagle
As mentioned earlier, Attack on Titan is quite a departure in gameplay from the typical releases Omega Force is known for. Rather than mowing down hordes of mindless soldiers, you will be navigating various environments to track down titans and eliminate them as precisely and efficiently as possible.
Highlighting the gameplay is the use of the series’ “Omni-Directional Mobility Gear” (which I believe is called something else in the game, and I am unable to recall at the moment). This equipment, worn around the waist of the characters, fires two hookshots in various directions and propels characters around the environment with canned gas. The use of it in-game is relatively simple, with one button firing the hookshots, propelling your character in the direction you’re currently pushing on the analog stick, and another button available to release a burst of air. Despite its simplicity, manuvering around the maps with this equipment is quite fun and very fast-paced. I’d liken it to a speedier version of the navigation in the aforementioned Spider-Man movie game adaption.
Once you come within a certain distance of a titan, a tap of a button transitions you into battle mode, bringing up five targets on a titan: their legs, their arms, and the nape of their neck which acts as their weak point. You can select which part to target with the right analog stick, and pressing the hookshot button will attach you to the target, allowing you to navigate around the titan and rush in for an attack.
Complicating things is the fact that you have a limited amount of canned gas each mission, along with blades that can quickly wear out. You need to balance and conserve your usage of both to ensure that you don’t run out during a pivotal moment in battle. Luckily, each map typically offers side missions you can do, which upon completion can spawn a logistician character on the map who can resupply you. These side missions can also earn you powerful AI teammates who can join you in battle.
When you get used to the maneuverability mechanics, flying around the map eliminating titans without ever touching the ground is an absolute blast. Unfortunately, the game quickly dives into Omega Force’s worst pitfall: repetitiveness. Outside of a few unique missions, most of the game is doing the same thing over-and-over without any variation. Navigate to titan, kill said titan, navigate to next one, repeat until boss shows up, kill boss in the same way you kill other titans…wash, rinse, repeat. The fun of the game quickly wore off after the first couple of hours, and playing through some of the later missions became a slog.
Refining the Source
While the gameplay might not be all that great, Attack on Titan is quite an attractive game to look at. The graphics are done in a relatively detailed cel-shaded style, and capture the look and feel of the source anime quite well (minus the bold, heavy outlining work of the show). The characters are animated excellently, both in cutscenes and in-game. The attention paid to lip-syncing is especially appreciated. Taken together, playing this game and watching the cutscenes is like viewing a higher-quality 3D version of the anime.
The game can suffer from some minor framerate drops when there is a lot of action on screen, but most of the time it does a great job keep up with all of the hectic action happening. I did run across some camera issues when fighting titans in tighter corridors, but these issues were few and far between.
Unfortunately, as nicely designed as the environments are, they quickly become even more repetitive than the gameplay itself. Most of the game takes place within the cities of the human settlement, with many of the missions seeming to just take place on the same map over and over. There are some battles in fields and forests here and there, but these environments somehow manage to be even less interesting than the city.
The soundtrack of the game manages to also be quite unremarkable…at least, during the times I was actually able to hear it. Pounding drums, a brass-heavy orchestra, dramatic choirs, and some occasional electronic influence combine to create some incredibly generic action-game music. With all of the chaos of sound effects and voice overs happening around you during missions, though, it’s very rare that you’ll even notice the music.
Attack on Titan is also fully voiced in the original Japanese, with the same VAs from the anime reprising their roles here. Thus, the acting quality here is the same as the show: entertaining yet occasionally over-dramatic (sometimes extremely so), but fitting in well with the tone of the game.
Should Start with a Learner’s Permit
Overall, Attack on Titan does a great job of translating the anime to video game form, but quickly runs out of steam as you just repeat the same missions over and over in disappointingly un-varied environments. The full package does show that Omega Force put a lot of care into the title, rather than just going for a cash-grab from the license alone. The visual presentation is excellent, and I can certainly appreciate the team stepping out of its comfort zone to try and do justice to the license.
Unfortunately, I believe this game is destined to go down in history as “just another mediocre licensed game.” A game can’t ride on visuals alone, and after the inital awe I had in the first few missions faded, I quickly lost the motivation to continue playing through.
This is another one of those games I’ve played this year that isn’t bad in any sense of the word, but rather incredibly disappointing. Adding more variance to the game in gameplay, mission structure, and environments would easily lift this up to something more recommended. As the game is now, though, Attack on Titan is just another middling title that fans of the license may enjoy, but others will struggle to complete.
Using the Omni-Directional Mobility Gear, though, is an absolute blast.
~ Final Score: 5/10 ~
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo for PS4. Screenshots courtesy of Koei Tecmo.