Attack on Titan is one of those rare anime/manga things I can say is really good and not as a guilty pleasure. A strange hybrid between the usual humans-take-on-monsters-using-amazing-powers (in this case, technology) and a horror story in which lots of people die extremely bloodily, it scratches an itch I didn’t quite know I had.
In Attack on Titan world, all known humanity exists in cities within three massive circular walls, the reason being that the horrific Titans lurk outside those walls. Titans are massive human-like monsters with no genitalia, limited intelligence, incredible regenerative abilities, nigh-immunity to firearms, and seemingly no desire or reason to exist except to devour humans. Considering they’re borderline invincible and capable of swatting a house into rubble with a single clumsy swing of a palm, it’s perhaps no surprise that people have opted for the relative safety of the walls.
Things take a turn for the worse when a strange Titan appears and smashes through the outermost wall, allowing Titans to pour in, and massively cutting off the amount of land available to humanity. Suddenly there’s less space, less food, and more refugees.
The one weakness of a Titan is to hack out the nape of its neck, which is obviously easier said than done when you’re talking about a twenty-metre beast that’s trying to grab you and eat you. As such, swords with replaceable blade and omnidirectional movement gear that grapples onto points and then boosts you towards them are key to staying alive and getting to the necks.
In short, it’s a great concept for a game, and what little I’ve played of Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom seems to indicate that it’s actually been handled pretty well. But has the PC port managed to pass basic training, or should it be left out for the Titans? Hmm.
First up, launching the game gave me this slightly bizarre message:
I’ve never seen anything like this before – or at least, not on a Steam game. I’ve occasionally seen similar in low-budget indie Japanese titles, but that’s about it. I clicked “Yes” and it worked fine; I have no idea if Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom will have any issues should you dare to click “No”, but accepting compatibility mode seemed like a safe bet.
Initial impressions are actually positive, insofar as the menus have all the proper keyboard buttons listed instead of gamepad buttons. This is a Good Sign. There are also a wealth of graphical options, although they’re definitely not as in-depth as I’d like.
First up are the Graphics Settings, which bizarrely defaults to Full Screen off. No Borderless Windowed or anything: you’ve got Full Screen or Windowed, and that’s basically your lot. Then there’s resolution, which appears to go from 640×480 up to 1920×1080. It doesn’t look like it goes any higher than that – it’s possible that it’s simply not showing me options my monitor won’t display, but that seems a tad unlikely for a port job like this. Unfortunately, there’s no real way for me to check. I also have literally no idea what Movie Playback is, but I’m guessing it lets you opt out of the cutscenes. You can skip them anyway, mind, so…
Next up, Quality Settings, which is where the meat of the visual tweakables are lurking. These are pretty much all just On/Off toggles, with the exception of Texture Filtering and Shadows, which have High/Medium/Low and High/Low/Off respectively. Nothing overly impressive, although hey, at least there are 10 different tweakables. Not only that, but they include regular annoyances like Motion Blur, Depth of Field, and AO, which I’m assuming is Ambient Occlusion. Good stuff.
There is a pretty big difference in visual quality between having everything turned on and everything turned off, too. Play spot the difference, with everything at full at the top, and everything turned off below that:
The most obvious change is the complete lack of shadows, but its not too hard to spot a bunch of other differences in those shots. Considering the game runs silky smooth with everything on full (i7-3820, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 970) I’m afraid I can’t talk about how much of an impact these options will have on your framerate. It doesn’t feel like the world’s most intensive game and my system hasn’t struggled with it at all, but depending on how the port is coded, it might require more grunt than it appears. I wish I could be more definite about this, but that’s really the problem with doing a technical test on a single computer.
Audio and Gameplay options are basically what you’d expect, in terms of “do you want subtitles”, “do you want gore”, and “how loud do you want things to be.” As far as I can tell there’s absolutely no English dub for the game, which I’m slightly grateful for. As I didn’t see an English/Japanese toggle I was initially worried it was going to force me to play with an English voice cast, but nope, it’s all Japanese unless I’ve really missed something. This does make the subtitle option a little redundant, though, unless you really don’t like understanding what’s happening, or you just want to take pretty screenshots without text cluttering them up. If there is a downside, it’s that not everything is subtitled; little combat barks and lines that NPCs say when you’re wandering around hub areas go completely ignored by the translation fairy.
Then we get to Controls, and things dive faster than someone whose Manoeuvre Gear just ran out of fuel.
Short version: there is no mouse support at all. Long version: not only is there no mouse support at all, but the keys are mapped in such a way that you will require more hands than the average human being possesses to play. It’s the usual “map the sticks to WASD and the arrow keys, and then map the buttons to JIKL and some other random shit” that requires you to have 30 fingers. Not only that, but WASD defaults to the camera control rather than the movement.
You do appear to be able to rebind this shit, but seriously, I would not recommend playing this on keyboard. Not unless you are actually an octopus, anyway, and if that’s the case then well done on learning to read this website, and congratulations on having the taste to be interested in Attack on Titan. As a member of a species with opposable thumbs, I’m proud of you.
The game itself looks fairly nice and swoops along at 60FPS, so that’s a plus. It’s got the usual pseudo-cel-shaded anime-in-3D look which works nicely, and effort has even gone into the cutscenes, with all of them being redone in the game’s 3D engine rather than just copy/pasting bits of the anime directly into the game. While the anime arguably does them better, this does mean things are cut down nicely and kept fairly short and to the point. I can’t decide what framerate the cutscenes run at, though: they appear to be pre-recorded stuff that’s running at 30FPS, but FRAPS tells me that it’s still hopping along at 60FPS. It might be going at 60 but be slowed down a little from the game engine, or it may be that it’s a 30FPS movie while the game is still clocking along at 60. Either way, I don’t think it’s going to impinge your enjoyment anyway.
On the downside, there is some horrific tearing. At least, I think it’s tearing, but it feels more like the refresh rate isn’t quite right, almost as though scan lines are appearing partway down the screen for some reason. Mercifully, this mostly hit me in the hub areas rather than in actual gameplay, but be forewarned. I’ll be carrying on playing the game for awhile so if this gets worse or vanishes, I’ll update you.
Loading times are also pretty good, even without doing my usual ritual of defragging the game folder after installation. Any initial load-up took around 15 seconds, but once it had everything nicely cached, future loads took about three. I could go back to the main menu and switch to a different game mode and it still loaded stupidly fast. So hey, that’s pretty great.
Less great is that it’s crashed once already in just under two hours of play time. I’m sort of hoping that’s an outlier rather than an indication of things to come, but be warned.
Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom, basically, is a pretty bare-bones but functional port. There are keyboard controls that are utterly cursory and nobody should ever, ever, ever use them; there are graphical options that make a difference but aren’t particularly in-depth; it runs at 60FPS and 1920×1080 resolution; it has a weird hatred of all operating systems past Windows 7 but that hasn’t caused any notable problems.
I am, however, enjoying the game itself; considering it’s all about aerial control and swooping towards big targets that can kill you with incredible ease, Attack on Titan seems to have managed to balance ease of use with some depth to the control mastery.
Movement is mostly handled by tapping X to shunk out your manoeuvre gear anchors and swing yourself through the sky, and this is definitely based more on direction than it is on actual physics. Tapping A lets you boost through the air to move a little bit faster. Simple but elegant.
Things get more complex when you get close to a Titan, at which point you tap a button to enter Combat Mode and lock onto it. Depending on the size of the Titan, you can lock onto individual limbs or the nape of its neck, and then anchor yourself to it, swoop in, and attempt to hack off a limb or cut out its neck. You ideally need to whittle them down – take out a leg to stop them running around, knock out an arm to stop them flailing at you, then hack out the nape to kill it off – but you need to manage direction, speed, and timing to ensure you don’t sail towards its neck and thump into its face. Early on, this stuff is easy, but I suspect it’s going to get drastically more difficult as multiple Titans crop up at once.
You’ve also got allies to whom you can give basic orders (defend a mission-critical target, focus on the same Titan, or fan out and attack separate Titans), and you need to manage your supply of gas and blades to make sure you don’t run short at a bad moment. Maps are big Dynasty Warriors-style affairs, with smoke beacons offering up side-quests and logisticians hanging around ready to offer you extra supplies when you run out, but there’s a definite joy to simply swooping through the skies and hacking limbs off Titans.
Other than Attack Mode, which follows the story of Attack on Titan (I’m assuming only up to the end of season one, but…) there’s Expedition Mode, which has you foray out with the Scouts into missions that definitely aren’t based on the anime. These offer up extra experience to level up your characters and extra materials to research and purchase superior gear, letting you inflict more damage with swords or lock onto Titans from a greater range, or whatever. As a full-fledged bonus mode that lets you take on a bunch of extra missions, I approve. The big question is whether the swooping and stabbing remain fun a few hours in, because it’s starting to get a little messy already, and it can be a pain to target particular foes and deal with some aspects of the camera.
This isn’t a review of the game, but regardless, I’m not sure whether I’d recommend Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom at its frankly ludicrous £49.99 price, or even £41.99 with the launch discount. For a PC game that’s a huge investment, and while I’m probably going to keep playing it, I don’t know that it does quite enough to justify Koei Tecmo’s pricing. The price is hardly a surprise – Koei Tecmo are hardly the best in terms of making really solid PC ports that are priced appropriately for the system – but it still rankles.
The port’s okay, the game (based on an hour) seems reasonably entertaining, but even if you have a gamepad and really love some Attack on Titan, I’d be a bit leery of dropping £50 on this considering you can likely grab two recent-ish titles for around the same price. Steam’s refunds at least let you try it out for two hours to see if it’s worth the price, but right now I’d definitely urge caution.