The sequel’s minor improvements can be tough to find in the largely recycled campaign.
With its first Attack on Titan game in 2016, developer Omega Force laid down a rough but promising groundwork for what a game based around the anime phenomenon should be: fast-paced and thrilling aerial battles against gargantuan Titans with a unique control scheme that allows you to zip around effortlessly using Omni-Directional Mobility Gear. Attack on Titan 2 builds upon that foundation with a much-improved interface and some cool new tricks to slice the napes of a Titan in fun and extravagant ways. But the sharp edge of this sequel is dulled a bit by an all too familiar story mode hamstrung by plodding pacing.
Trailers for Attack on Titan 2 might have you believe that it picks up where the first game left off and primarily covers the events of season two of the Attack on Titan anime, but the reality is the story mode is about 80% a retelling of season one, and 20% season two. That means that if you played the 2016 game, prepare for about 10 hours of retreading very familiar missions, boss fights, and some of the exact same cutscenes.
Attack on Titan 2 is a pretty solid place to jump in.
All of the missions – the new and the old – are pretty standard fare. There’s a lot of protecting points of interests from Titan attacks, escorting VIPs from point A to point B, saving comrades who are about to be eaten, and so on. To be fair, those re-used cutscenes still do a fantastic job of telling the story, having been painstakingly crafted to mirror the anime’s most pivotal moments. If you’re new to the Attack on Titan universe, though, and would rather play it than read it or watch it, Attack on Titan 2 is a pretty solid place to jump in.
One of the differences this time around is that the story is framed through the perspective of a player-created character who’s been written in as an inconsequential trainee who befriends the main cast. This could’ve been fine if your character had any sort of personality to speak of, but the role you play is disappointingly bland and uninteresting. You’re given a choice of how to respond to other characters, but there’s no consistency in the dialogue options and you’re encouraged to choose the obviously “correct” choice, even if it’s out of character for how you’ve been playing thus far. At one point a character was being full of themselves and bragging about how amazing they are and ask you what you think, you’re punished if you don’t flatter them. That’s thanks to a shoehorned “Friendship Level” system that rewards you by unlocking skills for your character. The side stories you unlock by leveling up your friendships are all dull, too. (There’s also another mode, literally called “Another Mode,” where can you actually choose a character from the show and complete missions removed from the context of the story.)
While this kind of system may work in Persona games, it falls totally flat here and contributes to Story Mode’s plodding lack of momentum. Worse, you have to do it because your character progression is tied to those relationships. If you decide to skip it you’re at a tremendous disadvantage when you go out in the field.
Killing Titans is lots of fun.
It all feels like fluff and gets in the way of the fun stuff, which is killing Titans. Fortunately, killing Titans is lots of fun, even if the frame rate occasionally takes some significant hits on a stock PS4 when things start to get a little hectic.
Omega Force did an incredible job of adapting the battles from the manga and anime into video game form in the last game, and this time around it feels even better, with faster and more fluid movement that feels like a cross between Spider-Man and the Prototype games. After you’ve locked onto a Titan you’re able to select individual arms or legs to strike to disable the disturbingly naked giant beast, or you could go straight for the kill by targeting the neck. Lining up the shot with the left stick, then releasing to reel yourself in at high speeds feels like loading a slingshot, and timing your sword slash just right in order to deal maximum damage is a satisfying feeling when you nail it. It took some practice, but once I got it down I felt like an unstoppable force. Even after more than 15 hours of play I was still having a great time with the combat.
If you take too long Titans will become enraged, making them much more dangerous.
New to Attack on Titan 2 is the ability to use sneak attacks to instantly kill or at least severely damage a Titan from a great distance away, which adds a great risk/reward element to combat. In order to use them you must use your scope to target a Titan and press a button when prompted – but if you take too long they’ll become enraged, making them much more dangerous and harder to kill. Less useful but equally as satisfying is the new Hook Drive, a defensive maneuver that rewards a well-timed aerial evade with an instant-killing and flashy execution.
Attack on Titan 2 also adds a layer of strategy to the skirmishes by letting you establish a variety of bases on the map, each with their own specific use. Supply Bases will replenish your blades, gas, and other items; Automatic Battery Bases will bombard nearby Titans with cannon fire; and a Manual Battery Base builds a turret that you can enter to take out Titans from afar. Smart management of bases comes in very handy during the later skirmishes, where Titans attack in much greater numbers and you’re forced to decide whether you want to put down an Automatic Battery to help fend off the horde or an extra Supply Base in case you run out of blades or gas.
Finally, while you can’t directly control any of the characters from the show in Story Mode, you can recruit them into your squad and give them orders. Some characters even have special abilities: Armin, for instance, can give your character an attack buff, and the super-powerful Mikasa can basically use Omnislash to immediately take down just about any non-boss Titan. These abilities do a great job of making you feel like you’re working together with the characters from the show, as opposed to them just being in the background.
All of these improvements come on top of a much cleaner, more compact interface, faster and more fluid movement, two-player online co-op, and a cool online competitive mode called Annihilation that pits two teams of up to four against each other to see who can kill the most Titans and score the most points before time expires. You only get credit for the kill if you land the final blow, so coordination and timing is important to make sure that you don’t lose kills to the other team – and to try to steal theirs.