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Going into the latest Attack on Titan game, I only wanted the latest offering from Koei Tecmo to deliver on a few basic things. I needed big, open maps; giant monstrosities terrorizing the masses; and the ability to dispatch said brutes with razor-sharp swords and Omni-Directional Mobility Gear that lets me zip around the environments like a mix between a medieval Spider-Man and a particularly violent ballerina. But even if the game could deliver on all of those fronts, I knew it would be a tall order to make all of that swinging and slaying seem fun and fresh for more than a handful of hours.
Thankfully, the publisher turned to Omega Force to tackle the challenge, a studio that's known for making over-the-top, repetitive action a heck of a lot of fun. But even Omega Force would have to get a bit more creative this time around. Rather than having hundreds of enemies to slash your way through like in their various Warriors games (Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Warrior Orochi), Attack on Titan is about making the strategic dismemberment of only a couple dozen massive beasts engaging.
For those of you who have managed to avoid Attack on Titan up until this point, the game is based on a popular manga/anime series wherein humanity has been pushed to the brink of extinction. There are these nasty titans wandering around, towering monsters that look a lot like humans and just so happen to love eating them.
A long time ago, mankind built three massive walls to protect the last of our civilization from the titans. Then, one day, 100 years since the last titan was even seen on the horizon, the bastards return and start eating anyone they can get their hands on. That's where Erin, Mikasa and Armin come in, a trio of friends who watch their entire world get destroyed by the titans before vowing to join the military and one-day fight back against this seemingly unbeatable threat.
Thankfully, humanity has a secret weapon at their disposal: Omni-Directional Mobility Gear. In short, it's a rad-as-hell grappling hook that lets soldiers swing from building to building, making it easier to outmaneuver the titans and slice into the nape of their neck, the only wound that can actually kill them.
And that's actually the exact same set-up for the game. Attack on Titan follows the story from the anime very closely, with the added bonus of a handful of missions being thrown in here and there that fill in gaps in the story, as well as give players a sneak peek at the adventures that are waiting in season two.
Similar to Omega Force's musou games, Attack on Titan follows a pretty strict formula. Between missions, you'll have the opportunity to wander around various camps, chat up NPCs, buy some useful items and upgrade your gear. When you're ready for a mission, you'll be dropped into whatever the crisis of the day is, almost always revolving around the loop of swing, kill, repeat.
It's a thin formula, but one the developer manages to stretch about as far as humanly possible. Sure, you could swing into action, go straight for the neck and usually find success. It's the kind of combat system that can be boring, but only if you allow it to be.
For starters, titans are also vulnerable in the arms and the legs. Severing these limbs won't kill the beasts, but it goes a long way toward slowing them down or keeping them from grabbing you mid-air. Some even require you to disable their arms before their neck becomes a viable target, which is a nice touch that forces slightly more creative tactics.
Dismembering titans offers the added bonus of resource gathering. You'll notice certain limbs are marked with a golden resource icon. Slice off the marked limb and, boom, you've got yourself some extra resources to help upgrade your blades, sheaths or ODM Gear.
And while most of these battles don't offer a lot of challenge, I found the task of zipping around the environments while trying to maximize my blades and fuel, all while looking like a badass, to be very rewarding. For me, the challenge came in orchestrating a perfect aerial symphony of death. Anyone can slam into walls, fall to the ground, get tossed through the air and eventually bring a titan down by finally going after the neck. The real fun of the game is avoiding the stumbles and moving from titan to titan with grace and precision.
To mix things up a bit, you'll have to manage your resources, recruit new teammates and occasionally man a cannon or lure a titan into a trap. The environments themselves offer a nice wrinkle to the proceedings too, as tackling titans in the city versus a crowded forest or while riding a horse through the open fields requires different strategies to be the most effective.
Finally, just like in Omega Force's musou games, you'll need to keep an eye on your map. Folks will offer side quests on the fly, taking the form of green flares you can head toward if you feel you have the time. Red flares are used for progressing the mission and purple flared mean someone needs your assistance right-the-heck-now. How far you want to push your mission time and resources will not only affect your final score at the end of the mission, but usually, means additional items and cash for upgrades.
Oh, and I'd be remiss if I did not mention titan mode. Without spoiling the plot, you occasionally get to take on the role of a titan yourself, meaning you're now going toe-to-toe with these baddies rather than flying around them like a deadly mosquito. The hand-to-hand combat is a lot of fun and does a good job of making you feel immensely powerful. And then there are the destructible pieces of the environment that fall apart quite nicely when you toss a titan through them. Good stuff.
Aside from a rather lengthy campaign that does a nice job of summarizing the narrative, you have the ability to fly solo or join up to three other players in Expedition Mode. These are additional missions that give you the ability to level up your characters and earn even more resources, all of which are shared between the game's two main modes. Extra Missions are exactly that, while Expeditions let you take on a series of increasingly difficult challenges. You can bow out after any stage of the expedition, but you'll experience greater rewards, as well as greater risk, the deeper you go.
While I had a blast swinging around and toppling titans, for the most part, the game's simple but effective loop can still get pretty repetitive after a while. The devs did some admirable work spicing things up a bit, but the fact remains that 99 percent of your time will be pushing the same set of buttons over and over again to tether, dash and swing your swords. Depending on how much you love killing titans, your mileage here will vary.
Also, there were a few rough moments where the camera just couldn't figure out where it was supposed to be pointing. If you happen to land too close to a cluster of buildings or find yourself facing more than a few titans at once, you'll be fighting the camera about as much as your enemies. Thankfully, the better you play the game, the less likely you'll wind up in these sticky situations.
Also, I had an issue with character select in the Expedition missions. There's almost zero reason to play as anyone other than the well-rounded Eren, the brutal Mikasa or the sublime Levi. The other characters are fine if you happen to have a fan favorite, but there's no reason to pick them when they are so clearly outclassed by the trio of top-tier titan killers. The 3DS Attack on Titan game actually offered a great solution that I'm sad to see missing in this outing: Create a Character. In that game, you started from scratch and decided where to focus your strengths as you progressed in experience. It was a cool way to take ownership of the character, too, and meant that you never ended up in a lobby with three other Levi players over and over again.
In the end, Attack on Titan is a solid romp. Some might be turned off by the lack of difficulty or the repetitiveness of the missions and mechanics, but fans of the show should find plenty to enjoy here. If you can get into the swing of things, it's a great way to cap off the summer season.
This review based on a PlayStation 4 copy of the game provided by the publisher. Attack on Titan launches for PS4, PS3, Vita, Xbox One and PC on Aug. 30.