Occasionally I used to think, "Wouldn't it be cool to play a modern Spider-Man game that let you swing and swoop over and between buildings in a city?" No longer. My itch has been scratched. Attack On Titan: Wings of Freedom is basically Spider-Man vs. Godzilla, and it is unexpectedly great.
The Godzillas in this instance aren't giant lizards, but enormous, naked, occasionally skinless humans, and they are much more terrifying than any radioactive reptile. It's their grins which do it, recalling the glee of a small child reaching for some helpless pet rodent. Regular human beings are the rodents, who have been eaten by the titans in such large numbers that what remains of humanity now lives in a single city behind three gargantuan walls.
The Spider-Men and Spider-Women, meanwhile, are a squad of soldiers trained to fight titans using swords, twin grapples for swinging and climbing, and gas canisters for forward momentum. You control different people in different missions but the basics are always the same, requiring you to swing and dash over rooftops, grapple on to titans, and slash off their limbs before felling them with a final blow to the nape of their neck.
Conceptually, of course this should be great, but it's unexpected in part because Attack On Titan: Wings Of Freedom is an anime tie-in game. The show is good, carefully unspooling its mythology and considered world design across the first season, but there's not a lot of precedent for successful adaptations. It seemed unlikely that the game would be able to capture the wild speed of the grapple-and-gas movement.
Yet it does. Pressing a button will fire two grapples into nearby scenery and begin to reel you forward, while pressing another button will expend some of your gas supply in order to let you speed up the reel or dash through the air. Using these two actions in tandem lets you quickly speed from one side of a large city district to another, and there's pleasure in trying to be as efficient and smooth as possible by dashing at the apex of your ascent and attaching your grapples at just the right moment to give you the largest swing onwards. Landing neatly on the rooftop you were aiming for feels good.
What feels great is chaining movement with attacks. The same grapple-and-dash are used to attach yourself to the titans, but the difference is that while connected to the arm, leg or neck of an enemy, you're able to use the left-stick (and you'll need a gamepad) to rotate yourself relative to your chosen target. Let go of the left-stick and you'll start to move forwards. This lets you position yourself at the right angle to get close without being snatched and eaten.
In one mission, I'm on one side of the level and see a green exclamation mark appear on the minimap, indicating that one of the other character's from the show is having difficulty somewhere else in the city and needs help. A couple of taps and I'm in the air and swinging in their direction, vaulting over buildings to travel as the crow flies. Once I'm within range I can see the titans this ambient side mission requires me to take down, and I target and grapple on to one of them immediately. I dash to reel myself in, building speed for a stronger strike, and swing my swords when I'm close enough to slice off one of the titans legs. It tumbles, crashing through a building - most of which are destructible - in the process. Before the titan can get up and start trying to limp-shuffle toward me, I attack to its weak spot at the nape of his neck and land a killing blow.
This has all happened without me touching the ground. I complete the entire objective like this, taking down two more titans before swinging off towards the next green exclamation mark.
As missions progress, you will occasionally need to stop and re-stock. Your blades become dull, your gas supply depletes, and your health can be diminished by being grabbed and crushed by the titans. Each of these things only takes a moment to replenish if you have the necessary item in your inventory, and your inventory can be quickly stocked via characters positioned around the battlefield. In between missions, you'll be let loose in a safe area in which you can talk to main and tertiary characters from the show. Some will trigger cutscenes - shot-for-shot remakes of scenes from the show which have been animated, like the rest of the game, in 3D designed to look like 2D animation - while others let you buy and sell materials you gather by cutting off titan limbs, or use those resources to craft new and upgraded weapons, grapples and gas propellant.
But otherwise, this is a game about speed, and flow, and that simple combat loop described above repeated. Different characters have slightly different abilities - Mikasa is good at everything, Armin is slightly better at giving commands to teammates and bad at everything else, Eren is tediously angry all the time - and on harder difficulties you'll need to spend more time re-connecting broken tethers to titans and slashing at their weak spots, but these things don't fundamentally change the game. The only thing to add variety are a few missions which give you control of a titan and thus let you smash buildings freely yourself.
It's repetitive, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Wings of Freedom is a Koei Tecmo game and it feels, in combat and RPG-lite structure, a lot like their Dynasty and Samurai Warriors games. The difference is that where in those games each swing of your weapon strikes an army of dozens or hundreds, here you're normally only fighting one really big enemy at a time, but otherwise it's a similar brand of dumb, silly fun.
A larger issue is the price. It's not something I'd normally think too much about in a review - your budget is your business - but Attack On Titan currently costs £50 on Steam, which is in my budget an absurd amount for the game.
There's also currently at least one serious bug, which causes the A and B buttons on an XBox controller to be treated as the X and Y buttons, and vice versa. This means all of the onscreen prompts are wrong. There's no way to fix it yet, but I got around it by plugging in a DualShock 4. The button prompts were still for the A-B-X-Y of an XBox pad, but they were at least referring to the correct positions on the pad.
Attack On Titan is reminiscent of the EDF series, but where that game aims for bombastic frivolity, its run-and-gun ant slaughter ends up feeling insubstantial thanks to a lack of feedback. Wings Of Freedom is similarly straightforward, but the satisfaction of moving and fighting is enough to sustain me for hours. I hope it becomes a series as long-running as EDF.
Attack On Titan / A.O.T. Wings Of Freedom is out now for Windows for £50/$60/€60 via Steam.