Everyone loves a good underdog story - and the immensely popular manga/anime/gaming series Attack on Titan is one heck of a tale of David vs Goliaths. The sequel to last year's surprisingly popular anime tie-in, Attack on Titan 2 revolves around a simple concept - what if humans weren't at the top of the food chain any more? Set in an alternate universe, humanity soon finds itself in that very situation, when a mysterious race of muscular, wide mouthed, and fully nude giants known as Titans appear, almost wiping humanity out overnight - despite their apparent lack of genetalia. Retreating to fortify what little land they could, a few thousand humans managed to build themselves a fortress of sorts behind three circular walls - which, for want of something better to do, they named Maria, Rose and Sina. The walls have kept them at least roughly safe ever since, providing an impenetrable barrier that the Titans couldn't pass. At least, until now.
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With the appearance of the genuinely-unnerving-to-look-at Colossal Titan - with muscles so large they've burst through its skin - what once was an impenetrable fortress suddenly feels more like a cardboard box, as a giant foot smashes a hole straight through Wall Maria, allowing the rest of the Titans to swarm in in a surprise attack. Almost totally wiping out everyone on that side of the wall, only a few humans manage to escape and retreat further inside the fortress - including series protagonist, Eren Jaeger, and you, the player character. Having lost everyone you once held dear in the attack, you swear to sign up for the military as soon as you can, to get revenge for all those who fell, and to ensure a Titan never again sets foot on the human side of the walls.
While having a suitably epic plot is one thing, though, Attack on Titan 2 delivers on the gameplay front too. Developed by the guys and girls at Omega Force, the team behind the Dynasty Warriors series (along with spin-offs Fire Emblem Warriors and Warriors All Stars), you might be surprised to learn there's actually very little of the Warriors DNA in this game, with the vast, vast majority of the gameplay instead revolving around the hugely juxtaposed battles between the immense and mighty giants, and the comparatively tiny, yet much more nimble humans.
After creating your player character (with the ability to play as a man or a woman), you'll soon find yourself signing up for the military, where you'll be tasked with defending the town and its walls from Titan attack, through a series of heavily story driven missions. While we're unfamiliar with the anime ourselves, apparently the game does follow the same plot as the anime/manga - which is something to bear in mind if you want to avoid spoilers.
Starting out in basic training, you'll soon find yourself equipped with everything you need to get going. A couple of giant, oversized swords (naturally), provide you with the stopping power you need to chip away at the towering titans, while a grappling hook firing harness known as the ODM, or omni-directional mobility unit, is a real game changer. A piece of tech that's probably best described as what would happen if Tony Stark decided he wanted to swing through the streets like Spiderman, the ODM gives you the speed and agility to get around town in a flash - and is actually key to most of the gameplay.
Luckily, it's also pretty easy to use. Pressing square to fire, the game will automatically shoot your grappling hooks off into nearby rooftops in the town, letting you swing into the air and whizz through the streets with relative ease. While it doesn't always work as well as you'd hope - the game often has you swing far too low, scraping your backside on the floor, or splatting straight into a wall you were expecting to clear - it's certainly a cool enough feeling when it all comes together.
Of course, it wouldn't be called Attack on Titan without having to, you know, attack some Titans, and the ODM is essential to taking these hulking beasts down too. When a Titan comes into range, you'll be prompted to lock on to it with R1, which will bring up a number of circles over its limbs. With Titans being such immensely massive beings - and with humans comparatively being like annoying gnats to them - you can't just wander in on foot, hack at its big toe, and expect topple your foe. Instead, you'll need to work in a much more strategic manner, attacking limbs, and wearing the beast down, before going in for the kill - a slice across the back of the neck - something which seems to be the Titan's equivalent of the Death Star's exhaust port.
A far cry from endless waves of faceless enemies you just have to hack through, taking down Titans genuinely feels fun - and can often present a real challenge too. The way it works is that you can target a specific limb using the right analogue stick, and then press triangle to fire your ODM's grappling hooks into it. Lifting you up into the air, you can use the left stick to swing around your opponent, and try and get the best angle, before either letting go of the stick, or pressing X to dash in, before striking with triangle just as you hit the Titan. The faster you're going, and the better you line your attack up, the more damage you'll do, with most limbs being easily removable in a single move, if you know what you're doing.
Of course, it's not that the Titans don't fight back, either - and that's what makes taking them down feel so satisfying. While you can easily get lucky with many of the smaller beasts, and fire your grappling hooks straight into their neck, delivering a killer blow before they've even realised what's happening, many of the other giants will require a lot more work. Seeing as you need to fire grappling hooks into them to even get close, many Titans will notice you're attached, and swipe to get rid of you. That's why working your way through their limbs first often becomes your only choice - after all, an armless (and legless) Titan has a lot less ways of fighting back.
Sometimes, this even plays into the missions too. As you work your way through the level's objectives - usually "take out the Titans in X area" or "defend the base from Titan attack", you'll get certain sub missions pop up, indicating an ally that needs help. With each mission only showing up for a short amount of time, you'll need to rush there as quickly as you can, and save whoever's in trouble. Sometimes, again, you can get in quickly and deliver a killer blow to the back of the neck with no issue - but sometimes, you'll find an ally's been grabbed by a Titan and is about to be eaten. It'd be rude not to lop the Titan's arm off in that situation really, wouldn't it?
Some mini-boss style Titans add even more strategy to the mix too. Often having indestructible limbs - or being invincible themselves until you've worn them down - you'll need to focus on attacking their glowing green limb, which represents their weak point, in order to do damage. Deal enough damage to the limb, and they'll be distracted as they nurse it back to health, letting you (and your buddies) go in for the kill. In many missions, you'll be in control of a squad of up to four computer controlled characters, but ordering them around is as easy as targeting the bit you want them to attack, holding L1, and then pressing the right direction on the d-pad to select them.
However, though taking down a Titan may be great, not everything's hunky dory about Attack on Titan. For a game that often requires you to reposition, or otherwise defend someone who's under attack, the mini-map isn't actually as usable as you might expect. With tiny, and barely legible icons, it's really hard to tell where the nearest base is from the mini-map alone. Similarly, the fact that your weapons will blunt as the battle goes on - and your ODM will run out of gas - seems to exist purely to be frustrating rather than to actually add anything to the gameplay. While you'll start each mission with a few spare blades and gas canisters, the only way to restock your items is to find a base on the map - and as the mini-map is all but unreadable when it comes to bases, that can be easier said than done. It's also a bit disappointing that, much like Atelier Lydie and Suelle there's no English dub here. With characters regularly having conversations mid battle, you won't have time to read what they're saying, but you won't be able to understand it just by listening either - which is a bit of a shame, as it makes it feel like you're missing out on half the story.
Still, building on the original game with a whole host of new additions, including a relationship system that lets you unlock special cutscenes with characters the more you use them; online multiplayer support in the game's "Another Mode", which lets you and a group of friends go on Titan patrol outside the walls (albeit with much less of a plot - and also playable in single player); and a story that'll have you wondering what on earth is going to happen next, Attack on Titan 2 is well worth a look - both for fans of the anime, and those who've never seen it (so long as you don't mind having the story spoiled).
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4