Attack on Titan sits midway between being an obvious candidate for a videogame adaptation and representing an experience that cannot be properly realized with a controller in hand. The anime, which is gloriously melodramatic and hyper-bombastic, relies on suspension of belief not only in its core concept, but in its representation of human movement.
The characters in both the anime and the game are equipped with ‘Omni-Directional Mobility Gear’ (ODM Gear), steam-powered harness packs that let the characters tether to buildings and flit around like Spider-Man. These devices are used to fight giant titans: humanoid enemies that feast on human flesh. The anime focuses on a handful of characters who train to defeat these titans, and who gradually come to terms with the sacrifices and difficult decisions that need to be made to keep humanity alive.
While Wings of Freedom follows this basic plotline, it doesn’t get quite as deep into the emotional lives of Eren, Mikasa, Armin and the others. While cutscenes capture several of the series’ pivotal moments, the gameplay focuses entirely on slaughtering the eponymous titans, using the ODM Gear to hack away at them until their one weak point — the nape of their neck — can be attacked.
Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom ultimately boils down to doing the same thing over and over again, without much variation beyond the characters you’re doing it with and the settings you’re doing it within. There are mild RPG elements outside of combat, but the game’s central action will have you focused on timing that tap of the attack button as you rush in for the same move over and over.
This ends up being far less of a problem than it sounds. Former Bungie game designer Jaime Griesemer once famously described Halo as featuring “maybe 30 seconds of fun that happened over and over and over and over again”, which seems to be the design philosophy that Omega Force has adopted here.
Wings of Freedom’s gameplay focus is expressed more explicitly. You’re defeating titans, which differ in numerous ways but all of which ultimately need to be killed with a well-placed nape slash. Some titans may require you to attack their arms or legs first, while others will take multiple passes at the neck to go down, but even then, the core action of attaching your tethers to the titans’ bodies and zipping in for an attack doesn’t change much.
You can customise your loadouts somewhat, and as you move through the story, you’re made to play as numerous different characters from the anime (who have different abilities but share inventories). Characters and levels tends to blend together over time.
Thankfully that core action, the sensation of zipping at great speed through the game’s environments, latching onto titans and ripping them apart, can be immensely satisfying. Logistically it brings to mind Treyarch’s amazing Spider-Man 2 game for the PS2, the best game ever made about flinging yourself around with strange tethers, but with a much heavier combat focus. The game has nailed the sense of speed and precision the anime showcases, with characters able to zip around and pull off impossible feats with relative ease. Wings of Freedom will make you feel powerful most of the time, especially when you really get into a groove and one-shot a series of titans in a row.
Omega Force primarily works on musou games (eg. Dynasty Warriors), the DNA of which is felt more in the game’s structure than in its combat. Levels usually involve moving around big open spaces, heading towards areas of interest on your map to quell the current Titan threat, choosing which side missions to engage or disengage from (all of which involve more titan slaying). There aren’t any complicated choices or environmental sleuthing to engage with — just head to where the game wants you to go and start attacking, over and over again.
Gimmicks pop up from time to time during combat. You get to control lead protagonist Eren’s titan form, and other missions may briefly pop up mini-game events, but these are few and far between. The team at Omega Force seems to realize that they’ve got a game that does one thing very well, so the focus is brought back to that one thing as frequently as possible.
At the end of most levels, a ‘boss’ titan will appear. They will, generally, require more slashes to the neck than the previous enemies did, or they may bring with them waves of other titans to deal with simultaneously. At times, the action can get a bit too intense, making it hard to track what you’re doing, which titan your lock-on system currently has you facing off against, and which ones you actually need to kill.
Despite the frenzy, Wings of Freedom has not been difficult. Playing on default difficulty for ten hours, I have yet to die, or ever really come close to dying. Considering the brutal body horrors this franchise trades in, I’m ultimately glad that the developers opted for an experience that lets you constantly feel like humanity’s savior rather than Titan-chow, especially considering how bleak the narrative is.
Outside of the story mode, which follows the events from the anime with a few dalliances to flesh out characters and extend plotlines, the game also features an ‘Expedition’ mode. This is the same thing, more or less — go into selected areas, fight all the titans, but with less story and more character choice. Expedition mode’s main draw is the optional multiplayer, which I didn’t get the chance to test pre-launch but which seems, on the surface of things, like a pretty good idea.
As much as I have enjoyed it, there’s not that much to Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom. As a fan of the anime I have enjoyed its dedication to the source material, its 3D realisation of the series’ mechanics and aesthetics.
It all boils down to pulling off that one movement, over and over again, and feeling the weight of what you’ve just done as a mighty titan collapses from the force of your slash. This is an effective translation of the ballistic brand of action Attack on Titan specialises in; non-fans likely won’t get as invested in it as I did, but if the ODM Gear always looked like tremendous fun to you, this is as good a game translation of it as you’re likely to see.