Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom PS4 Review
Ever since the release of Hyrule Warriors, the Musou genre has been getting a noticeable rise in quality. Previously, developer Omega Force seemed content to suffocate the videogame market with bi-annual releases of Dynasty Warriors and its uncountable number of spin-offs, but their latest crop of Anime-inspired spinoffs (including One Piece, Gundam and Dragon Quest) have received a much more welcoming response from fans of those respective series and action games in general.
It is that combination of goodwill and brand recognition that Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom has received a bit more attention. Since its premiere, the AOT series was instantly recognized for its potential as a character-swinging, Titan-slaying videogame, but the last attempt to recreate the action and excitement of the series was little more than a poorly-developed cash-grab on the 3DS, a system well below the performance requirements to capture the feeling of taking on cannibalistic giants in a massive city. With the latest attempt releasing on the PS4, the juggernaut console is more than sturdy enough to handle the Titan-slaying concept, but does Omega Force manage to keep up their streak of more fluid visuals and less repetitive combat?
For those who haven’t followed the series, here’s a brief refresher on the story: in an alternate universe medieval setting (or possibly a post apocalyptic future setting, as some fans have theorized), humanity is on the verge of extinction due to frequent attacks by the Titans, large humanoid creatures who are mindlessly driven to consume every last human on the planet. The survivors are backed into a corner and forced to live behind massive walls which have kept them alive for a century. Naturally, all it takes is a really big Titan to bring down the wall, causing a flood of cannibalistic creatures to finish off the remaining humans. As a counterattack, humanity has set up a squad of fighters equipped with gas-powered grappling hooks and massive blades to cut through the back of the Titans’ necks, their sole weak point. The story follows new recruits Eren, Mikasa and Armin, whose homes and families were destroyed by the latest Titan attack. Lots of carnage, twists and ongoing mysteries follow the ongoing series that quickly became one of the biggest anime properties in the world.
As with most adaptations, Wings of Freedom follows the plot of the anime in an almost checklist fashion, covering most of the key moments from the first season (while also including an epilogue chapter that teases some of the story beats to look forward to in season 2). Being a more action-oriented anime, a good chunk of the original story is preserved in this game without compromise, and even manages to retain much of the character development that the main cast goes through thanks to interactive moments between missions. The differing character traits are also incorporated into each playable character’s skills, which helps in adding a bit of variety: Eren is a hot-headed character who prioritizes offense, Mikasa is an efficient Titan-slayer who can chain multiple swings on a single attack, Armin is a weak fighter but can issue advanced orders to AI companions, etc.
The core gameplay mechanic remains the same regardless of which character is being controlled: players must complete a series of missions in each chapter, which take place in a large map that is typically filled with buildings, trees, and lots of ravenous Titans. Whereas most Musou games earn their reputation by littering the screen with hundreds of enemies, Wings of Freedom smartly chooses to feature only a dozen or so Titans at a time, as their larger size and tenacious attacks make them a far greater threat than the average fodder enemy in Dynasty Warriors. Taking a Titan head-on is a recipe for tragedy, which is why players need to make use of the Omni-Directional Gear to swing and grapple around their blind spots to target their key weak points: while it takes a swipe at the back of their necks to permanently bring them down, it is often recommended to go for a Titan’s limbs first in order to temporarily incapacitate them (the fact that certain limbs are highlighted to contain valuable crafting materials is a further incentive).
Mastering the 3D maneuvering is the most crucial aspect of the game, but also the most fun. While the gaming world waits for a new Spider-Man game to recapture the revolutionary web-singling from Spider-Man 2, Attack on Titan’s console release offers a really solid alternative; while grappling onto the nearest building or tree isn’t quite as fluid as the best Spidey game, Wings of Freedom sacrifices precision for speed: the Square button latches onto the nearest structure, while the X button performs an aerial dash that covers great distances in quick fashion. Combining the two maneuvers strategically makes getting from point A to point B fast and fun, especially when rushing to assist an ally and/or taking down a Titan. Speaking of which, the same grappling hooks used to get around town are also used for combat: hitting R1 locks onto the nearest enemy, which then has players targeting one of the five key points to latch onto. Once hooked, players will assume an attack position, where following the right timing will lead to a powerful attack that can instantly sever a Titan’s limb or take it out entirely with a neck chop (the term used by the game is “subjugation”, which leads to various rankings on the spot based on how well an enemy has been subjugated).
Despite the shared similarities with other Musou games, combat in Attack on Titan requires a bit more finesse than the average button-mashing found in the genre. Whether this fact is good or bad depends on the individual, but either way there will be a learning curve before players can confidently subjugate the mass army of Titans lumbering toward them. A cluttered screen and somewhat choppy framerate can add to the frustration, which is why players will need to learn to retreat in order to get a clearer perspective of their targets. Once the controls become second nature, however, zip-lining through the area, dodging Titan teeth and slicing enemies from above becomes much more commonplace, and continues to look real good while doing so.
Developer Omega Force has greatly stepped up their visuals since adapting anime titles, and Attack on Titan is one of their most visually appealing games, despite the intentionally bleak color scheme. Cutscenes are as fluid and expressive as the original series, and watching a group of soldiers band together to take down the largest of enemies never stops being satisfying. As mentioned before, the framerate on the PS4 version can dip a bit with the combination of enemies and destructible environments, but for the most part things hold up well (the physics of the Titans as they grow limp upon death can also lead to some amusing imagery). The soundtrack is also appropriately loud and bombastic, though it’s a shame they didn’t re-use any of the iconic music from the series, including it’s chart-topping opening song.
Content-wise, there are a decent number of side activities and unlockables that keep the core gameplay from feeling stale despite its repetitiveness. During missions, allies will light up smoke signals, giving players a limited time to assist them before they wind up as Titan chow. Completing these activities yield additional rewards, particularly extra gas canisters and blades (both of which must be replaced after extended usage). Obtaining the necessary crafting materials will also allow for upgraded gear during mission briefings, and additional sidequests and characters can be unlocked as well in addition to a multiplayer mode. The moments where you also take control of a certain character once they obtain their ability is also a simplistic but very satisfying highlight, which should be instantly familiar to fans but could be a spoiler for newbies.
All in all, Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom is a smart adaptation that replicates the action of the series without resorting to a typical hack n’ slash knockoff. The cluttered camera and controls take some adjusting, but otherwise this is the first real attempt at successfully adapting the colossal anime hit in videogame form and is another proud notch on Omega Forces’ belt (it also increases the anticipation for Berserk, their next anime offering later this year).