Attack on Titan Co-Op Review

8/26/2016 at 10:30 AM

It's alright

Omega Force has done something with Attack on Titan that surprised me. Rather than apply the rote formula of their Dynasty Warriors franchise to yet another IP, they’ve focused on creating a gameplay experience that does its best to mirror ideas of the property itself; and for the most part, it works.

Set in an alternate world where humanity attempts to defend itself from giant humanoid creatures called Titans, the game’s “Attack Mode” will take you through the major story beats of the first third of the manga series that’s been published thus far. Over the course of the campaign’s 20 missions, you’ll meet a broad cast of characters, uncover some of the secrets behind the monstrous Titans, and kill quite a lot of them along the way. Fans of the series will likely bemoan the lack of any time spent with the minor characters and sub-plots, but the condensed version of events works well enough to pull you along.

Each mission in the Attack Mode tasks you, more or less, with the same objective: kill Titans. The dressing around this may change, but you’ll usually find yourself confronting a “final Titan” that you have to “subjugate” (i.e., kill). There are side objectives you can complete that typically entail killing a group of Titans in order to rescue a character, but they are optional. Doing these side objectives, however, will provide you with some bonuses, such as supplies or a stronger NPC that joins your squad, that can make the rest of the mission easier. All of this could get dull quickly if not for the intrigue that’s spun by the story and, more importantly, the action itself.

Attack on Titan’s gameplay feels like a mix of ideas from Dynasty Warriors, Monster Hunter, and the Spider-Man games from the early 2000s. The influence from previous Omega Force titles is apparent in the number of enemies you’ll face in every mission (it’s not an endless sea of one shot foes, but it’s still sizable), and in-game elements like the HUD, the way side objectives pop-up, and the dialogue between characters as objectives are completed or new situations arise. When it comes to actually fighting the Titans, however, the usual tune changes. Given their massive size, you cannot run up to a Titan and just swing away at them. Instead, individual limbs are targeted and damaged in order to prevent them from moving or attacking, while also making it easier to attack their weak spot: the nape of the neck. Some of these limbs also contain materials that are used for crafting your gear and your weapons will dull after repeated use and need to be restored, which should sound familiar to any “MonHun” fans out there. It is the way you go about targeting and attacking those limbs, though, where Attack on Titan’s innovation shines.

In order to effectively battle these massive threats, the humans within the world of Attack on Titan developed special equipment called “Omni-Directional Mobility Gear.” These devices allow the wearer to move around in three-dimensional space by shooting duel grapple hooks into nearby objects and propelling them into the air. In the game, that gets translated into swinging around in a fashion similar to everyone’s favorite wall crawler. It’s a movement system that’s fun and works well once you get used to it, though it is not without its frustrations.

For some reason, easily getting up and over a building or wall when you’re just standing on the ground was not part of the device’s design docs. You’ll likely end up mashing the movement button trying to coax your character into clearing the obstacle, only to watch as they get up about halfway and then drop back down. Based on the character animations, it’s clear that there’s supposed to be some kind of detection of these vertical planes as characters will occasionally appear to be running up them, but it doesn’t seem to work as intended.

Aside from being used to navigate through the world, the Omni-Directional Mobility Gear also plays a key role in combat. The hooks are fired into a Titan’s limb and you then get pulled towards it in order to attack. An on-screen reticle lets you know if you have a clear shot at the limb, which causes more damage when you attack, and distance meter appears so you know precisely when to press the attack button. This would all be quite easy if the Titan stood still, or if there weren’t environmental objects like trees and buildings that go in the way. So if you don’t have a clear approach, you can move around in that three-dimensional space using the analog stick until you do, and then let go of the stick to zoom towards the target. It’s all very deliberate and a welcome departure from the usual “mash on a button and watch stuff die” routine.

Having your view suddenly blocked by something in the environment, though, is only one of the problems with the targeting system itself. The bigger issue is that it’s often imprecise. You’ll often go up against a group of Titans that are all rampaging in an area. There may be a specific Titan you wish to target - either because it seems like the easiest to take down or maybe it’s about to kill an ally - but there’s no reliable way to do so. First, you have to switch out of the movement mode into combat mode, then (assuming it didn’t auto-target the Titan you want) you have to cycle through all of the nearby Titans until it’s the one you want (which can be hard to tell if you’re on the ground looking up at a bunch of legs), and finally select the limb you want to attack (while also hoping you’ve got a clear shot at it). It all feels about as elegant as getting off a packed bus during rush hour.

Despite the issues with the targeting system, the combat system as a whole is satisfying. After attacking a limb, your character continues moving in whatever direction they’re going; so if you’re attacking from the front, you’ll end up behind the Titan, or if you’re attacking from above, you’ll be headed towards the ground. Knowing this, you can position your initial attack in such a way that on your follow-through you can hook into another body part and make a successive strike. The first time you utterly dismantle a Titan in this way feels good and it continues to feel good the 5th, 20th, and even 150th time you do it. Provided, of course, you've got the appropriate gear to support you.

Mastering the movement system is a key part of Attack on Titan’s gameplay, but it’s also vital to go into combat with the right equipment. There are three pieces of gear you can equip to your character: a blade, a gas canister, and your omni-directional mobility unit. Each of these have their own stats but the short version is your blade determines how much damage you do, the gas canister determines how fast you move around in the air, and the mobility unit determines how far away from a Titan you have to be to hook into it and how quickly you’ll accelerate towards it once you do. All of this gear you’ll have to craft using the funds and materials you acquire for completing missions, which means playing through missions repeatedly in order to gather enough resources to do so. As I mentioned earlier, Attack on Titan’s story is just enough to help pull you through the story missions the first time, but none of them are particularly noteworthy or fun enough to warrant multiple playthroughs. That’s where the co-op mode comes into play.

The Attack on Titan we’re getting in the U.S. isn’t the same game that was initially released in Japan. That game only had the single-player “Attack Mode.” A month later, though, the “Expedition Mode” was added to the game along with the four player online co-op. This mode allows you to choose your character, rather than be forced to play as a particular one, from among those that you’ve unlocked through the completion of “Attack Mode” missions, and then take on a variety of scouting missions to earn rewards. These missions vary in difficulty and provide you with greater rewards for completing the tougher ones. You can also choose to partake in “Expeditions,” which serve up three scouting missions in successive order from those that are available. Each of these missions are more difficult than the last but completing them all earns you more rewards than if you were to do them individually. Fortunately, everything you earn - the materials, the money, the new gear you craft, the experience you earn - gets carried back over into the “Attack Mode”, so you don’t have to do it all over again when you change from mode to the other.

Before undertaking any of these missions, you should invite some friends along for the Titan slaying; not because you’ll get some special in-game benefit from having them along, but more to help with the repetition of it all. Rather than one person grinding for material/money/experience, you can get a group together and knock it all out at once as everyone earns the same rewards for successfully completing a mission. Aside from being able to revive a fallen comrade should they be defeated and the Titans getting a little tougher the more players you add, the gameplay in co-op doesn’t change at all from the single-player, which is disappointing.

Even though the co-op mode was added into the game after release, it would be nice to see a little more done on this front (the co-op Musou attacks in Dynasty Warriors were always fun). Cutting through swaths of foes with a buddy has always been one of my favorite parts of Omega Force’s long-running franchise, but Attack on Titan’s combat discounts that as a possibility. Instead, the most satisfying co-op moments come from higher difficulty missions where you start to feel like you’re working as a team to take down a giant. That means, though, having to clear through all of the lower level stuff first, which is sometimes quicker when you go it alone.

Attack on Titan feels like a good way to end the summer before the onslaught of fall/holiday releases arrive. It’s a solid “b-tier” title with some interesting mechanics that work well as a fun diversion when a quick video game break is needed. It doesn’t innovate an existing genre or seek to redefine our preconceived notions of what an action game can be. It simply is, and that’s alright.

Tally’s Take

I approached Attack On Titan from a fairly different angle than Jason. I’m not a big Dynasty Warriors or Monster Hunter fan, but I was familiar with some of the source material with which the game is based on. Though I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the anime series, I appreciated some of the things the show did in its earlier episodes. So, while I was hoping for a high quality game that would really try to do well by its huge fanbase, I was expecting it to probably be yet another title simply cashing in on the IP.

The short way to describe my thoughts after spending some time with the game is that it was not as bad as I feared, but not as good as I hoped. I feared that the mechanics would be an unusable mess, but except for some small missteps that Jason mostly mentioned, the aerial movement and combat is solid. I hoped for the oppressive and grim atmosphere that gained the title so much attention in its early days, but I didn’t really feel that at all. The constant chatter of the characters (usually Eren talking about how he hates Titans and he’s going to murder them all; we get it) and the fact that Titans are falling left and right never made it seem like the humans had any chance of losing.

But the part that disappoints me the most about this game is that I felt like the developers were playing it too safe. I believe many players will already be familiar with at least some of the source material, so seeing very abbreviated versions of the major plot points just won’t be very satisfying for them. I wish Omega Force had chosen instead to tell a new story about a different group of soldiers. The objectives in both the single-player and the co-op modes also feel safe. The missions all boil down to kill X number of Titans at Y location, kill special Titan Z before an important building is destroyed, or something very similar. It all becomes quite repetitive, despite how satisfying the combat can feel at times. The crafting system is similarly uninspired and, while functional and easy to understand, there’s nothing new or exciting about it.

All in all, while there was nothing about the game that blatantly stood out as poor concept or design, there was nothing about the game that made me eager to play it again after I’d finished a session. Aside from the aerial movement and combat, there’s nothing here I haven’t seen dozens of times before, and the repetitive nature of the game doesn’t make that enough to make me want to revisit the game too many more times.
 

Our co-op review of Attack on Titan is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game using a code provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.