06 July, 2015

Review - Shingeki No Kyojin: Humanity In Chains

Any game that allows you to become a proud member of the Military Police Brigade and watch your misguided comrades in the Survey Corps be eaten alive by ravenous titans, was clearly going to catch my eye. But is it truly faithful to the Shingeki No Kyojin /Attack on Titan name, find out within.

Shingeki No Kyojin: Humanity In Chains

Shingeki No Kyojin: Humanity In Chains

Prior to actually playing Shingeki No Kyojin: Humanity In Chains, I had accepted the fact that the 3DS was simply the wrong platform. There was no way this game could possibly play well, let alone capture even a wisp the spirit of the anime and manga. It was an easy sentiment to cultivate; I am well aware just how awkward action games can be on the handheld platform and thanks to its delayed European release, I had plenty of time to dwell on this assumption. But as it turns out, I couldn’t be more wrong!

With regards to the gameplay, its speed, and the ease in which it can be enjoyed, Humanity In Chains is alarmingly quite excellent.  While the tutorial missions don’t actually explain the movement systems particularly well, a few minutes of experimentation in the cadet’s training ground was all I needed to understand the controls. The speed and agility offered by the (3D/Omnidirectional) manoeuvre gear is captured surprisingly well here, some small yet extremely smart decisions allow the player pull off Mikasa levels of aerial brilliance with little effort. In the anime buildings and towers appear on screen simply to provide the manoeuvre gear the necessary height, the same effect is present in game; if you are near a building great you’ll latch on no problem. If not the tethers while just fly off camera and pretend there are buildings there, unless you are fighting on the plains outside of the urban districts, where titans are the only available leverage and horses provide transport. It may sound slightly ridiculous, but this conceit ensures smooth movement, I have no problem sacrificing that shred of realism in the name of playability. Similarly, you don’t take fall damage, but you can of course be snatched from the sky, backhanded away, or indeed fly straight into the open maw of a hungry titan. During an attack run, the game will slow as you reach the move’s zenith, not only allowing you to appreciate the moment, but also to land a critical strike. Critical are essential; a single critical will cut off a limb, or carve up a titan’s neck, otherwise multiple hits will be required and each will dull your blade.  Naturally, some of the more iconic titans make an appearance, demanding far more than a single critical to dispatch. Taking small liberties here and there means the player can focus on the fast, precise combat and the surrounding environment.

Shingeki No Kyojin: Humanity In Chains
Humanity In Chains allows the player a great deal of air control, but it is still momentum-based and logical. You can attach on to the different limbs of the titans, perhaps grinding along the ground, causing unlikely but awesome looking sparks before cutting a titans heel. A titan is running on all fours towards you? No problem, a few bursts of gas and you’ll be zeroing in on its neck from above. Wall-running, huge aerial arcs, darting in to free captured friends from the clutches of hungry titans; it is all there. And most importantly, stylistically it looks as awesome in game as it does in the anime. It is even possible to initiate a BeyBlade-style spinning attack by pushing the circle pad during an attack, the move is the only form of protection in a titan limb-rich area, but its speed makes landing criticals difficult. The flow of the combat is vastly improved by the intelligent way the targeting system functions. While attacking a limb, the targeting system will automatically continue to lock on to the limb until it is destroyed, or until you detach from the fight. Additionally, incapacitating a titan will cause the targeting to lock onto the head or neck of the titan, providing an opening for a killing blow.

Shingeki No Kyojin: Humanity In Chains

Stylistic authenticity is a crucial factor in any licensed property and fortunately, the game doesn’t fall into the same dark hole as Star Wars and Lightsabers. In Humanity In Chains blades inflict the same damage they do in the anime. Cutting the ankle of a titan will cause it too collapse, slashing its eyes may make it reel in pain, but the only way to kill it is by gouging the nape of its neck.  I’ve severed the hand of a titan before only to have it turn and smash me from the sky with its smouldering stump, by the time I had recovered the titan’s hand had regrown, snatching me from the ground. Equally true to the anime, humans come in three states; alive, on the verge of death, or dead. And as I mentioned earlier, blades can be dulled by repeated use, similarly gas is burned up during manoeuvres. While you can carry a supply of both into battle, it remains perilously easy to run out and be left utterly defenceless, especially if you happen to be on the ground at the time.

Unfortunately, the gameplay alone isn’t able to offset the story mode. Five characters can be selected in the story mode; Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Levi, and oddly Sasha. The mode recounts the events of the first season of the Attack on Titan anime, using a mix of clips from the anime, short pages of text, and the events of the missions. Each character has their own set of missions, though many overlap, for example; without spoiling anything, you may find yourself defending something in the Forest of Giant Trees perhaps three times. It is not as if playing a different character makes any tangible difference, there little-to-no dialog or storytelling anyway. Sometimes you’ll win a mission, only to have the following anime clip show that you actually lost. Rather depressingly, the majority of Sasha’s missions involve collecting food scattered around the map. Collection missions are by far the worst; the items aren’t particularly easy to see from the sky, but it’s even worse when they strip you of gas and force you to run on foot. I did enjoy the rescue missions however, which admittedly aren’t that mechanically different from the collection missions. Of course, downed soldiers are notably easier to see and helping them survive feels exponentially more rewarding than snatching up steamed potatoes.

Shingeki No Kyojin: Humanity In Chains

The story mode feels as if it fell out of the early 2000’s, during the era of rampant PlayStation 2 movie-licensed releases. It’s representation of the anime and the events therein are so poor I cannot possibly recommend anyone new to the series use this as a jumping off point. Conversely, as some who has watched and read the series, I found the whole experience desperately boring; a soulless adaptation. It fails to capture any of the emotion or explore any of the characters, its fixated solely on the battles, which is fine on its own, but the game is entirely battle anyway, and it isn’t necessarily why I come to the series.  

I found world mode far more appealing. While admittedly quite limited, it is effectively a Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and by extension Monster Hunter style mode. You first create your character; selecting gender, build, face, and hair. There isn’t a wealth of options available at first, but completing the story mode will allow access to the anime character skins, and more options unlock as you rise in levels. There is also clothing, emblems, and titles to help define your character. In world mode you develop a camp, craft and upgrade equipment (weapons and manoeuvre gear), recruit and train soldiers, level up and manage your character, and of course go out on missions.

Shingeki No Kyojin: Humanity In Chains
Each mission, which may be any one of perhaps half a dozen objectives , are much like those found in the story mode, only here you have the camp; some persistence and a reason to play. The objectives and environments are extremely repetitive, though new titans are introduced and the battles become far more frantic than any in the story mode. In addition to normal missions, there are the more difficult scout missions and the endless survival mode. Scout missions yield greater rewards, but they are harder to complete and come with the cost of some ‘army points’, needed to unlock new missions. Survival is an endless horde mode, that I’m all for in principal but I don’t seem to receive any experience or money for playing it, making the whole endeavour feel a little pointless.

The entirety of world mode can be played with other people, either locally or via the internet, there are also leader boards (presumably regional), which bizarrely I was dominating for the first few days after launch. That probably tells you more about the number of people playing than it does my skill. Fighting alongside other people is far easier than relying on AI companions, who can be pretty useless and frequently get stuck running around the feet of titans. Though I did feel a far greater sense of loss seeing Hertha, my long time AI squad mate, being devoured by an abnormal, than I did with any of the random players. AI soldiers die permanently which can feel relatively meaningful; even if you are not emotionally attached to them, higher level recruits can get pretty expensive. Admittedly, higher level soldiers, and special characters (from anime) are noticeably more effective and reliable in combat than the lower level recruits.

Consumable items; replacement blades, gas canisters, and medical supplies are equally persistent and expensive, at least in the early hours. This drove me to better hone my blade skills and to move more economically, which are exactly the concerns I should be having when flying into battle against the monstrous titans. Equipment; the weapons and manoeuvre gear, are crafted and different types become available as you upgrade your camp. Whereas in Monster Hunter, or Toukiden, you would slay specific creatures for crafting materials, in Humanity In Chains, you just smash boxes around the maps. Its drags you from the action and increases your mission time (lowering your overall grade), rather than making the action itself rewarding. It is a poor adaptation of the crafting and gathering system.

I enjoyed Humanity In Chains far more than I had expected to; the core gameplay is smooth and exhilarating, and there was certainly an element of wish-fulfilment in there too. However, the game provides precious few reasons to actually commit time to it. The story mode is garbage; it fails to capitalise on the characters and events of the anime or introduce anything new. While I found the world mode to be satisfying, it certainly won’t appeal to all, and it has its own issues and shortcomings. The level of investment in Humanity In Chains depends entirely upon ones own interest in the wider fiction of Attack on Titan, I believe, and this certainly isn’t a good introduction to the world on its own.

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