The gruesome, sometimes disturbing anime and manga series Attack on Titan has gained worldwide popularity since the comic's launch in 2009. There have been only a handful of video game adaptations, with varying success--the last one, Spike Chunsoft's Humanity in Chains which released in 2014, was an action game with an uninspired layout, a half-baked rehash of the main storyline with simple, dull gameplay. Koei Tecmo's take, on the other hand, does a bit more with the Attack on Titan property; it grafts the series' elements onto the musou genre, in which core gameplay is a series of isolated maps that must be cleared of enemies. But although Attack on Titan painfully lacks combat variety and includes a host of technical disappointments, its use of Attack on Titan's strange world makes it a unique, and sometimes genuinely exhilarating, experience.
Attack on Titan recounts the events of the anime and then some--the story slips past the show's season one finale, telling tales from the ongoing manga series and foreshadowing the show's upcoming second season. Each chapter is broken up into a handful of missions that set you down on a map with specific objectives. These range from simply hacking titans to bits, protecting a specific structure on the map, or escorting soldiers from point A to point B. This is as complicated as things get. The latter half of the game, which includes narrative content past the show's first season, is unfortunately padded out; to add some length to the campaign, you are forced to complete dozens of small, formerly-optional side missions before you can advance the story. These are just as monotonous as the main missions, and after a while the campaign begins to feel like a parade of chores.
You spend most of the game slinging through towns and forests like Spider-Man using Omni-Directional Mobility Gear, special machinery used to move through the air and scale heights quickly in order to attack titans. Attacking titans requires you lock onto one of the giant's limbs and use your ODM Gear to gain speed as you fly towards it--the faster you're moving, the greater the damage you'll do, and hopefully slice off its meaty leg or arm with one stroke. If you can get a titan down on the ground, or you've propelled yourself high enough, you can kill the monster for good by aiming for the nape of its neck. It takes some getting used to, and there is some nuance in learning when to deploy your anchors and when to use gas canisters to propel yourself forward or up.
I had a good time with Attack on Titan's traversal system. It feels so good to sling between buildings, nailing titans in the nape of their neck for the one-shot kill as you fly from objective to objective. I felt powerful and free, like I was actually living in the Attack on Titan universe. The ODM gear is such a hallmark of the show, and having it done justice in the form of a gameplay mechanic was thrilling to experience.
There are some other things you can do when fighting titans, like drop fire or smoke bombs, but you'll spend almost all of your time in battle targeting and slinging towards titan limbs. There is a severe lack of variety in mission structure as well, and if you've played a musou game the drill will be familiar: defend certain points on a map, escort AI allies to other points on the map, and kill as many enemies as you can before they overwhelm your own forces. Once you've completed all of a map's required objectives, one final "boss" titan will appear for you to take down. This boss titan doesn't feel any different from the smaller monstrosities you encounter and it's an easy kill. Even the different types of titans--big, small, beastly, and armored--can all be taken down in the same way with little strategy. Even on harder difficulty levels, Attack on Titan presents rather simple challenges, making for rote gameplay through the latter half of the campaign.
This mission layout is the same for the multiplayer Expedition Mode, where you can team up with three other players to take on optional challenge missions. But there is no incentive to team up and take down a titan; you can simply zip to opposite sides of the map and route the enemy more quickly, with little fanfare or reward should you decide to work cooperatively. Multiplayer mode is just as cut and dry as single player mode, except now you have two other non-AI characters running around the battlefield.
Cutscenes are heavily pared down and aren't as dramatic as the show, but the visuals themselves are impressive, like cells taken straight from the anime. This includes the horrifying titans, which look like someone took the heads of full-grown men and attacked them to oversized chubby baby bodies or alternatingly emaciated and bloated corpses with long, flailing limbs. And even more disturbingly, their sexless bodies are entirely naked; more than once I found myself hurtling towards the ground with a giant butt directly in front of my face, or trapped beneath the quivering belly of a downed titan. Most of the time the framerate held up, but when the screen started to fill up with titans, things became muddy. The action slowed down and the lag prevented me from landing hits. In one horrible instance, my character got stuck between the rear-ends of two titans, one of which had clipped into the geometry of a nearby building and was stuck there. Unable to land an anchor on any part of either one, I managed to frantically jettison my way out after a few awkward seconds.
Attack on Titan also includes an over-simplified equipment upgrade and modification system that makes your blades slightly more powerful or grants you longer aerial time--or lets you buy a better horse for open field missions. Upgrading your gas canisters for better aerial control and your blades for toughness does make you feel more powerful, but I completed long stretches of the campaign without upgrading anything, and found missions several chapters apart didn't vary terribly in difficulty. Thus, I never felt compelled to spend time buying materials and upgrading my gear. After a certain point you are able to choose your own character, and playing as the the powerful Levi, quick-footed Mikasa, or as Eren in his Titan form is fun in its own right for fans of the series.
Facing the titans, too--no matter how derpy some of them look--also provides some grotesque thrills. It's one thing to watch them chomp people in half in the anime. It's another to find yourself face to face with these grinning menaces, fighting to slip from their grip and slicing their legs from underneath them like so many haunches of meat. I actually felt like Mikasa or Levi. Attack on Titan gets you up close and personal with the terrifying beings that make Attack on Titan so great, which is reason enough to give the game a shot.
Attack on Titan may be systematically simple and has some visual issues, but I still had fun playing within its world. Well-trod musou layout aside, battling titans and swinging through the skies with futuristic military gear can be an enjoyable experience--if you can look past its glaring flaws. It's not a work of art, that's for sure, but the freedom of flight and the thrill of unease that comes with fighting a titan make it entertaining.