“And just like that, everything changed. At that terrible moment, in our hearts, we knew. Home was a pen. Humanity, cattle.”
Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom manages to perfectly capture all the flair, action and emotion that make both the original Manga and the worldwide phenomenon that is the anime such a compelling world to absorb and be a part of. And apart from a few technical hiccups Wings of Freedom also acts as a shining example of what a console quality game can achieve on Sony’s portable handheld!
In a nutshell Attack on Titan is a mixture of Evangelion and Band of Brothers with a dash of Spiderman thrown in for good measure. To bring you up to speed AoT is set in a world where humans have been hunted to near extinction by terrifying, naked, grinning behemoths known as Titans. Now cornered and caged like birds, humanity is confined to living in a huge city separated by three huge concentric walls erected to keep the Titans at bay. And apart from the walls the only other thing standing between mankind and total annihilation is the military, categorised into three distinct regiments and armed with powerful aerial combat gear, which allows them to zip around and tether themselves to enemies and parts of the environment.
This is the main element that sets AoT apart from the rest of the crowd, as it is the fast paced, heart in your mouth, edge of your seat aerial combat that makes AoT such an exciting series to watch. And for many it is how well the Omni-Directional Mobility Gear is handled that will make or break the game. Well I am pleased to announce that for the most part zipping across battlefields such as Trost and the Forest of Giant Trees works a treat, but before I get too far into how the game plays lets have a quick look at what form the structure of the game takes.
The main campaign follows the story of season one of the AoT anime and as such serves as a perfect jumping on point for both old school fans and people new to the franchise. The in-game cinematics, which bookmark the majority of the story missions, are choreographed with all the high production and pulse pounding action seen in the show and manage to convey great amounts of story without piling on heaps of tedious exposition.
One of the things I admired most about the anime when I first saw it was how it would dedicate multiple episodes to one battle at a time, often from different character’s perspectives. I was reminded of epic war television shows such as Band of Brothers and The Pacific and felt that this technique lent a certain weight and gravitas to whatever was happening on screen. I am glad to report that the same narrative style has been used in Wings of Freedom. Each chapter in Attack mode is dedicated to a certain event in the AoT chronology and is seen through the eyes of many of the franchises’ protagonists. This not only serves to keep each chapter interesting and fresh throughout, but also means you get ample opportunity to experiment with each character’s slightly different style of play.
You begin each mission at your base and it is here where you will be able to buy new gear, weapons and even horses. Not only does your base act as an important place to procure new items, but it also gives you the chance to talk to your other comrades, which helps to further flesh out the characters we have come to know and love from the anime.
Once you are fully prepared for your next mission it’s off into the field of battle you go! There are a few things that keep the pace of battle interesting – you have to keep an eye on your gas levels and blade sharpness as you eliminate titans, however its never really an issue as there are always recruitable comrades around who can help you stock up on supplies. Side missions also appear at random intervals and completion of these (most of which consist of guard the NPC or kill the enemies in the vicinity) will fill your special attack gauge which upon activation not only unleashes a devastating attack but also partly refills your gas and blade meters. Apart from a couple of missions which deviate from the regular path, most of your time spent on the battlefield will be dedicated to doing a few similar objectives over and over again. In other words killing Titans.
Now this isn’t a bad thing as the combat in AoT and the movement bestowed upon your character is great fun and perfectly captures the spirit of the show. Holding down the square button propels your character forward using their Omni-Directional Mobility Gear and sees them instantly zipping across rooftops with all the speed and grace of a certain web-slinger. The game is designed for your character to automatically swerve and avoid obstacles to give you that ‘free flow’ feel, however you will occasionally smack straight into a wall or cliff face and although this causes no damage it does sometimes take a few seconds for your character to reorientate themselves before shooting off again. This can sometimes be annoying as it can ruin the flow of a mission and make your Mobility Gear feel more like a hindrance rather than the natural extension of yourself it is intended to be.
But how good does the aerial manoeuvring handle when locked in a battle with a Titan? Well it handles very satisfyingly indeed. Upon approaching a Titan a quick click of the R button will tether you to a certain part of your foe as you circle around them. Fans of the series will already know that the nape of the neck is your best chance for a quick kill, however you can flick the analogue stick around to tether yourself to different parts (legs and arms for example) and slicing these appendages off before dispatching your giant enemy will often reward you with rare materials which are needed in order to upgrade and buy better weapons and equipment. But be warned – doing this will leave your defences open and give your enemy a bigger window in which to attack you! It was this risk/reward material grinding mechanic that has kept me coming back and, in my opinion, staves of the repetitive nature of the mission structure as there is such a vast array of gear to acquire and then upgrade that I always felt hungry for more.
However the combat isn’t all roses and it’s when the heat of the battle starts to get really hot that my only real complaint about the game rears its ugly head – The frame rate. As expected when porting over a console game to the Vita (especially one of this calibre) the frame rate dips frequently throughout the campaign. However it’s when you are engaged against multiple enemies at once that the frame rate falls faster than a Titan with a machete lodged into the back of its neck! It never ruined the experience for me, nor did it ever grind the game down to a complete halt, but it sometimes made it hard to focus on what I was doing and I feel I would be remiss in not mentioning that it does happen often.
Playing through and completing the game’s Attack Mode is only the beginning as there is a wealth of post game content for you to sink your teeth into. During the game you will unlock the ability to go out on survey missions and although you can undertake these during the campaign you will definitely be spending a lot of time here after the credits role in order to acquire new materials and money! And upon completion of Attack Mode you unlock not only a nice sizable epilogue that introduces a whole host of new missions and enemy types, but also new weapons, gear, side missions and requests for you to lose yourself in. The replay value and bang for your buck that Wings of Freedom offers is truly staggering yet never feels like an insurmountable challenge and promises to keep you coming back for more time after time as you grind for new gear, weapons, horses and Titan Models to adorn your base with.
Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom is not only a fantastic videogame but also one of those rarities – a licenced game that gets it right! A love letter to fans of the original source material and bolstered by a wealth of interesting and worthwhile content the likes of which I have not seen since Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker on the PSP. I say forgive it its flaws as they do little to ruin the overall experience of this jam-packed and absorbing title.