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Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains never lets a great story get in the way of its clunky, repetitive action.
That’s a shame. Attack on Titan, a terrific story-driven manga and anime about humanity in crisis, sometimes lets story tangents drag on too long between its awe-inspiring action scenes. The franchise is a great candidate for a video game. Just not this one.
You can download Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains now for $40, exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS. Developed by Spike Chunsoft and published by Atlus, it’s the first game from the franchise available in the United States. Sadly, buying both seasons of the anime for about the same price would be a much better choice. I played it on a standard 3DS.
What you’ll like
A game that’s true to the show
Attack on Titan depicts the last stand of humanity against freaky and sometimes childlike giants. The remains of the race have gathered into a city protected by three huge walls and manage to repel the invaders, until a colossal Titan blows a hole in the outer wall big enough for the others to pour through.
The game begins there, picking up with Eren Jaeger, a boy whose mother died in a Titan attack. He volunteers for the Survey Corps, a group of soldiers that use gas-powered jets and grappling hooks to swing around the city, delivering fatal blows with katanas to the sensitive spots on the giants.
The game features five of the series’ main characters: Eren, his childhood friends Mikasa and Armin, Survey Corps badass Levi, and “potato girl” Sasha, a Corps member obsessed with food (aka the comic relief).
AoT: Humanity in Chains borrows heavily from the anime, and frankly these become the best parts. It adds absolutely nothing to the story, walking you through it via short, action-oriented missions. You play as one of five main characters from the anime in individual, overlapping quests.
That score, those cutscenes
Humanity in Chains borrows other elements from the anime: The stunning operatic score weaves throughout the game, giving it a sound that is far better than it deserves. Cutscenes come directly from the anime with no additions, so they have great animation quality and add to the sense of drama.
The first time you kill a Titan
An excellent tutorial teaches the extremely simple combat in AoT: Humanity in Chains. You use the same Omni-Directional Mobility gear shown in the anime: two hip-mounted gas jetpacks, a system of dynamic grappling hooks, and two razor-sharp swords. You zip along, Tarzan-style, on your grappling hooks, accelerating through the air using your jets to propel you.
When you see a Titan, it offers you target points to lock on. You pick one, hit a button to fire a hook and yank yourself toward it, then tap X twice to start a QTE: once to spawn a red donut-shaped targeting reticule, once to slash with your swords precisely when your circular cursor shrinks inside that donut to attempt a critical hit.
If you get a critical hit on an arm or a leg, you’ll lop it off. If you hit the Achilles tendon, you’ll take the Titan to its knees, exposing the sensitive spot on the back of its neck, where you can kill it. You can target your second shot, pull yourself toward it, aim and fire without even hitting the ground, even selecting the next Titan as the first one falls.
The first time you perfectly execute a kill, you feel pretty special. The 50th, not so much.
What you won’t like
The giants move like brain-damaged turtles
Killing Titans grows simpler with every contest. My complete guide to all the strategy you will need:
Don’t attack from the front.
Given that Titans move — and notice your presence — extremely slowly, that’s all it takes to stay out of trouble. When not attacking, you can use your jet packs to stay out of the way where they can’t get at you. Aberration-type Titans are a bit more challenging, only because they sometimes actually seem to want to kill you, but the A.I. lumbers when it should dart.
That’s a good thing, because. …
Your comrades make them look like geniuses
Playing with teammates from the series is a fun concept, but in reality you’d be better off with a bag of slingshots. Mostly they run around aimlessly, getting into trouble, rarely giving you an assist. They’re best at rescuing you from the grip of a Titan, a duty they perform well if they’re in the neighborhood.
The rest of the time, they will serve at best as a distracting screen of people for Titans to swipe at instead of you.
Titans and your teammates are both smarter than the camera
Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains has what may be the worst camera I’ve ever experienced. That’s a terrible thing in a game that has you swinging in arcs with a jetpack. The camera by default follows you at a sort of side-view/45-degree angle, pointed at nothing in particular, and certainly nothing you’re looking at or trying to approach.
Clicking the left shoulder button re-centers the camera on your character’s point of view in Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains … at least until you move again. You can also use the D-pad or the nubby C-stick on the New 3DS to rotate the camera with agonizing slowness. The few times I got grabbed by a Titan, it was either because I couldn’t get the camera positioned to actually see them or couldn’t see their attacks at all, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
If this title had been written for a console with a responsive left stick for the camera, it might have been easier. But the camera controls here create a fatal flaw in the 3DS game.
It excels at repetitively repetitive repetition
Playing through the 42 missions of story mode requires you to take on the role of characters other than Eren about half of the time. Unfortunately, their gameplay exactly mimics Eren’s, as do the missions. Even the cutscenes are the same, with the exception of Sasha; hers focus on her love of food.
Humanity in Chains has just three settings: the city, the forest, and the plains. Those landscapes themselves are incredibly bland: a gajillion lookalike buildings, all with the same roof pitch and materials; a similar number of identical trees; and near-empty grassland. It hems you into an arena covering part of the landscape for each mission.
About 90 percent of the gameplay is repetitive killing of Titans. The other 10 percent is split between annoying “collect item/revive human” tasks on the ground and races. You will use a few inventory items, including replacement sword blades, gas cylinders for your jets, and water to speed your healing.
You do get to play as a Titan in some missions (for a reason I won’t spoil here for people who haven’t watched the series), but that change only requires repeatedly pressing a single button to win. Races force you to zigzag between checkpoints in the air or on horseback.
All told, you’ll spend the half-dozen hours the story mode takes almost exclusively killing Titans in exactly the same way, hundreds of times.
Technical wonkiness feels unfair
AoT is fond of dramatically speeding up or slowing down your progress as you fly toward a Titan. Often, this happens during the QTE where you’re attempting to judge when to press the attack button for the second time to fire off a critical.
The dramatic zoom is great for effect — you really feel a little of the vertigo that a jet-assisted plunge toward a freaky giant would cause. But it can sometimes make it unfairly difficult to score a critical hit by abruptly speeding up your round target’s shrinkage just as you’re about to hit it.
It may also be partially responsible, in combination with the horrible camera, for another annoying issue: I almost never saw a Titan’s attack coming.
Most Titans lumber slowly. Yet somehow in most cases where I was caught by one, they managed to draw back their giant arms, slowly swing toward me, and grab me without my ever once seeing that they were moving. So much for that killer dodge I learned in the tutorial.
Using the handheld’s 3D settings exacerbate this problem and the speed up/slow down issue. I quickly abandoned any efforts to increase the depth, as 3D mode made the game nearly unplayable.
World mode teases you
A few hours in, you’ll unlock world mode, which offers a hint of the complexity this game so desperately needs. Here you can create a new member of the Survey Corps with the items and components you’ve collected in Story Mode. You’ll set up a base, upgrade gear, recruit new followers and (if you wish) play with others online.
If this sounds like an obligatory nod to Monster Hunter, you’re right. Unfortunately, the system grows stale quickly, offering none of Monster Hunter’s depth or open gameplay. It features some of the more annoying elements of the Story mode, while offering no real variety in the types of missions you carry out.
There is so little original content in Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains that its full retail price feels like robbery.
Flying around on your ODM/jetpack gear feels terrific, but it’s marred by a horrible camera, terrible Titan A.I., and utterly repetitive gameplay. The World Mode offers too little content, too late.
Fans of the series will find nothing new here to entice them. While folks new to the anime will likely enjoy the music, cut scenes, and story, they’d be better off watching the actual show than playing this dreck.
Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains is now available for the Nintendo 3DS. The publisher Atlus provided GamesBeat with a download code for this review.
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