It couldn’t have been easy for long time Musou developer Omega Force to craft Attack on Titan and not give into the temptation to dip into its established and immediately recognisable bag of game design tricks. Yet, that’s precisely what the Tokyo-based outfit has managed to achieve with Wings of Freedom; an effort that not only manages to shake off the shop-worn design shackles of the team’s Musou heritage for the most part, but also one that succeeds in fashioning the most faithful anime videogame adaptation the industry has seen to date.
For the uninitiated, Attack on Titan is set in a far-flung future where humanity, now reverted into a steampunk type existence, has been driven into seclusion behind a massive walled city due to attacks by towering humanoid cannibals known as Titans. Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom follows the anime television show almost to the frame, as it casts players as young Eren Jaeger, an upstart, wannabe Titan hunter who intends to wreak vengeance on the giants for the death of his mother.
Fans of the 2014 anime that serves as the basis for Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom will find much to love here, as a consummate re-telling of the show is provided in the single-player campaign, taking in all the major milestones of the narrative and leverages a mixture of in-game CG cutscenes, character dialogue and in-game cinematics to get the job done. It also doesn’t hurt that visually-speaking, Omega Force has managed to mimic the character designs of the television show extremely well; a feat that helps to foster a real sense of connectivity between players and the source material.
Despite being shorter in duration than TV series, the campaign story mode still manages to hit all the major story points, and even throws in a few wrinkles here and there to surprise fans, with an epilogue that extends the narrative beyond what the current season of the show has been able to show. Significant too, is the fact that a lot of the existing story points have been fleshed out further and integrated back into the canon, thus making Wings of Freedom a real treat for fans in the process.
If all that plot stuff doesn’t mean anything to you that’s fine, because as deft as the developer has handled the narrative in Wings of Freedom, their practiced hands are also evident in the gameplay too; simultaneously fashioning an affair that not only emulates Attack on Titan’s uniquely hyperkinetic brand of action, but also something that’s as different from anything else Omega Force has ever done.
Breaking the Mould
Traditionally, the crux of the Musou sub-genre as popularised by Omega Force, has been predicated around the notion of one extremely powerful warrior being able to single-handedly decimate an army of thousands. So it’s fitting then that in seeking to keep with the theme of Attack on Titan, that Omega Force has had to reverse that way of thinking; instead forcing the player to work with other hunters to contend with overwhelmingly powerful singular foes, rather than a bustling horde of countless, paper-strong enemies. This change in design philosophy is profound and cascades down to the player in a number of game-changing ways, not least being the method in which these titans must be vanquished.
Coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, all Titans have the same weak-spot on the nape of their neck, but the larger a Titan is, the more difficult it can be to get at that precious fleshy weakness, with the strongest Titans proving to have invulnerable napes that cannot be exposed until all of their other limbs have been severed. Often times, it’s worthwhile to sever limbs rather than just go for straight for the kill anyway, as some Titans drop special materials that can be used to craft new and improved equipment later on.
Now obviously the largely teenage cast of Attack on Titan are all, well, human-sized and as such this presents a problem when it comes to slicing and dicing such towering foes. Enter ODM (Omni-Directional Mobility) gear as a solution; whereby each of the scouts equip belt-fastened cannons that fire tensile metal hooks into walls, which when combined with a gas-powered thrust mechanism, effortlessly allows players to reach heights far above that of even the lankiest Titan.
The upshot of this somewhat unique system of combat and movement is that Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom feels like a remarkable cross between the Spider-Man and Shadow of the Colossus. The sheer exhilaration of being pulled down city streets and then boosting up to soar over and above buildings, before swinging down and around the awestruck form of a targeted Titan, is a true thrill and one that the game manages to replicate both frequently and effortlessly. Functionally, this sort of speed also yields benefits for traversing around the game world too, with the player often able to get from one side of the map to the other in a matter of seconds, rather than the extended slog of travelling inactivity that is so depressingly synonymous with the Musou games.
Further bolstering this spectacle is the city-wide destruction system that Omega Force has put into Attack on Titan; as buildings and infrastructure all fall apart and can be smashed to pieces as you battle intensely with the Titan menace. Honestly, you haven’t lived until you’ve cut the kneecaps off of a Titan and watched the lumbering lump face-plant through two rows of buildings like Godzilla on the wrong end of a monster’s night out on the town. You almost feel sorry for them too, were it not for the fact that they’re skyscraper sized cannibals with a stiff one for wiping out humanity.
Perfectly matching their anime counterparts, the Titans in the game are a hauntingly terrifying lot; with their dull-eyes, misshapen limbs, erratic movements and eerily chilled out smiles, they make for an intimidating foe quite unlike any other. Ultimately then, it’s a good thing that speed and agility are on your side, because these Titans really don’t need to do much to detach our plucky protagonists from their mortal coil.
Indeed, whereas your superhero-like heroes could take masses of damage before finally calling it a day in the Musou games, the towering titans need only grab you and eat you, or, kick you through the nearest building to get the job done. All the same, Attack on Titan can be quite forgiving when it comes to death as the action slows down to a crawl just as a Titan is about to grab you, and even then, when you’re locked in the grasp of one such giant, you can hammer the triangle button in an effort to cut off its fingers and make good your escape.
Something else to consider too is the fact that your resources are desperately finite. Blades can snap after extended use and gas tanks can be depleted and so both must be kept topped up, lest you end up a snack for the Titans. Essentially, this means either scavenging for them around the battlefield, or, finding supply officers who can provide one-off top-ups to keep you in the game. Furthermore, you must be tactical when it comes to where you engage the Titans, since doing so out in the open where you having nothing to grapple onto, can rob you of your agility and make you a much easier target for a good chomping as a result.
It isn’t all just blades and gas either; another feather in your cap is the ability to use various types of grenades, which while don’t deal significant damage, do provide a distraction that can mean the difference between getting away intact, or, getting stuck in the digestive tract of the nearest Titan. Elsewhere, cannons can also be occasionally commandeered in battle, but only prove really useful if you find yourself swarmed with Titans, and ultimately lack the satisfaction of doing away with the slavering giants that the ODM and blade combo are able to accommodate.
Shadowing the Colossus
Speaking of picking your battles, story missions in Attack on Titan’s single-player campaign tend to follow a similar pattern, where a number of Titans must be destroyed, or, a friendly unit must be escorted in order for the story to progress. Additional side objectives also crop up during these missions and, indicated by a green exclamation mark on the map, require you to provide aid to certain individuals in battle that in turn rewards the players with extra supplies, or, an extra soldier for their squad.
Ah yes, squads. For as much as Attack on Titan deviates from the norm of Omega Force’s output, the game still cribs a little from the studio’s modus operandi, with the player able to recruit team members on the fly during battle, tasking them with defending or attacking targets as required. Ironically, it’s when you actually take control of a Titan that the game further wanders into more traditional Musou territory; the act of bulldozing groups of opposing Titans through buildings proving familiar, but no less satisfying, as it occurs seldomly throughout the duration of Attack on Titan’s single-player campaign.
Away from the heat of battle, players are given free roam of various hub-like areas where they can talk to other scouts, soldiers and recruits to further expand the plot, as well as gaining access to various vendors that allow use of previously collected materials to create new and improved gear. From this hub, players can also elect to take on Survey Missions where they can embark on Titan hunting missions to obtain rare materials and equipment for use in the main the game. The problem with this however, is that despite unlocking some bonus content such as extra costumes and such, these missions become repetitive very quickly, since the objectives you are tasked with completing hardly ever change from just kicking the brown stuff out of a bunch of Titans.
This also happens to highlight another issue, which is that Attack on Titan only has two modes – its single-player story campaign, and Expedition Mode which essentially just allows you to team up with friends online to tackle a variety of skirmish side missions. A far cry from the content-stuffed Warriors offerings that developer Omega Force is known for, I’m hopeful that future Attack on Titan titles will boast a more comprehensive selection of modes for players to get stuck into, while the promise of downloadable content for Wings of Freedom suggests that we still might see something extra in the interim.
On paper, and using their previous output as precedent, I wouldn’t have blamed you for presuming that Omega Force would play it safe with the design DNA of Attack on Titan. For a developer so frequently lambasted for refusing to break the mould in regards to its creative output, Attack on Titan represents a size two-hundred step in the other direction and in doing so, provides hope that future adaptations by the developer will follow down similarly innovative avenues.