A.O.T.: Wings of Freedom Review

A.O.T.: Wings of Freedom stands out amongst anime adaptations for its ambition. The main draw of the show’s trademark action – explosive, precise midair combat against giants – is thrilling yet frenetic. Despite the obvious risks in replicating such unfettered omnidirectional movement and combat systems, Omega Force has managed to capture lightning in the bottle in an admirable realisation of Attack on Titan’s conflict.

For the uninitiated, Attack on Titan is set in an alternative universe where humans are on the verge of extinction a century after the mysterious appearance of instinctively murderous, colossal humanoids called titans. The most effective way of dealing with titans is outmanoeuvring them to strike their weak points with hip-mounted gas-powered grappling hooks that allow soldiers to zip around like an army of Spider-Men. Humanity has long been complacent behind the huge walls of their territory, but a new assault by unusually intelligent titans actively forces the army into the fray once again.

Leaping into action is fairly intuitive once you get a couple of levels’ worth of practice under your belt. At the press of a button, dual grappling hooks are shot from your character’s 3D Manoeuvring Gear to latch onto nearby scenery, launching your character forwards. You can hold down the grapple button to keep sweeping over the landscape in your desired direction, or time your swings manually.

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When you encounter a titan, it’s time to lock-on. Set your sights on one of their knees, elbows, or fatal weak point at the nape of the neck, and you can shoot your hooks into their flesh. At that point you can orbit around the anchor point until you’re ready to reel in, dealing a well-timed slash with your dual blades. If you need to change your strategy on-the-fly you can switch your attention and hook to a different body part, lock-on to a different titan, or disengage from the combat scenario altogether to reposition or pursue a different objective with the aid of a burst of speed from replaceable gas canisters.

The inherent issue with each and every enemy being dispatched in identical fashion is dealt with through the diversity of titan design. In the manga, Hajime Isayama never used the same design twice over the hundreds of individual titans he’s depicted. The spirit of that philosophy is followed here; while you will see lots of duplicates, titans are drawn from a large and varied visual pool. Your foes can range from 3 metres high all the way up to 15 metre-class monsters. Moreover, although each titan is ultimately killed (or SUBJUGATED, use use the game’s preferred vernacular) by a fatal blow to the nape of the neck, you’ll often have to disable their limbs for the chance. More astute titans that track you and turn to keep their vulnerable necks out of reach will need to be trimmed at the knees, whereas grabby varieties need their elbow privileges revoked. Further to this incentive to slice off titans’ limbs rather than going in for the kill immediately, titans’ limbs often contain item drops that can be used to build and upgrade new equipment in between missions. Additionally sonic and flash grenades can subdue sound- or sight-reliant titans, respectively. In later missions, each titan becomes a little puzzle to solve, rather than another titanic body in your way.

Bumping up the diversity further is the inclusion of “abnormals”. These individuals will act differently to the garden-variety monstrosities. Sometimes they’ll doggedly pursue a specific civilian or soldier or make erratic movements like diving through the air at you. My favourites are the ones that run everywhere with this hilarious wet-pants waddle that makes me laugh every time. The only disappointment in abnormal design is the relatively restricted pool that “Final Target” titans are drawn from. For individuals that should be a thrilling and challenging conclusion to each mission, it’s eventually anticlimactic when you’ve seen every possible Final Target a number of times.

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A.O.T.’s adrenaline-fuelled, chaotic combat is simply sublime. At the best moments, you’re flitting across the battlefield dispatching titans like an ultraviolent aerial ballet from Rick Moranis’ worst nightmares (Winner of Most Dated Reference Awards, 2016) in a perfect translation of the anime’s most thrilling action scenes. When it all works, the mechanical joys of this game are an astounding show of power, grace, and momentum.

Even portions of gameplay that stray from full freedom of movement are well implemented; for instance vast plains that have nothing in the way of anchor points for your grappling hooks are crossed by horse. While it’s notoriously difficult to make horses anything less than infuriatingly awful in games, in A.O.T. they feature generous turning circles, a healthy stamina bar, and enough speed to easily outmanoeuvre and latch on to titans’ weak points.

It certainly helps A.O.T. that the Dynasty Warriors’ DNA woven into its battlegrounds feels like a perfect fit for the Attack on Titan setting. Each field is rife with enemy titans, fellow soldiers in danger, and side missions to pull your attention in half a dozen different directions. You’ve even got to keep an eye on your gas levels and blade conditions, and make resupply stops or risk getting stuck in danger without the tools you need to survive. Once you get into the swing of things, the initial chaos fades and you’re conditioned into a multitasking machine. Prioritising and reacting to the most immediate threat to victory elevates the experience to the next level.

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That said, though, occasionally the game’s rough edges jut out and rudely snag your immersion. As well-adjusted as the 3D Manoeuvring Gear usually is, you will occasionally get stuck on walls, shoot off in unintended directions, or shoot way too far ahead of where you want to land. Sometimes it can be a real pain to target a specific titan when a few of them bunch up. Occasionally your attacks seem to produce no damage or reaction, even though you’re sure you were reeling in at the right speed and angle. I’m not surprised that these hiccups exist, though, in a game this mechanically ambitious.

Less forgivable is the game’s story. Now, as someone that’s watched and read all of the available anime and manga volumes, I admire the way that the game has cherry-picked scenes and scenarios from its source material to follow the existing story. Were I approaching the game as a newcomer to the franchise, I’d certainly be underwhelmed by the cutscene exposition. Stunted animation and limp direction make watching these scenes a slog and a poor representation of the anime’s plot. I would highly recommend watching the anime or reading the relevant manga volumes before approaching A.O.T. if you’re at all interested in the story.

If you want plenty of the wonderfully addictive core gameplay, you’re in luck. Twenty substantial missions in story mode (AKA “Attack Mode,” to continue the game’s ongoing cute naming conventions) cover the plot of the anime, and five epilogue missions are unlocked by completing the majority of survey missions in five different areas – these are short, 5-15 minute long scenarios. If you’re simply aiming to complete all 25 story missions, then you’re looking at 20 hours of play or more. Admittedly chasing down each survey mission at the end of the game became a bit of a slog since I just wanted to see the game’s epilogue and trading over an hour’s worth of side missions for each new tidbit of story felt like a bizarre and repetitive wall for the game to throw up at that point.

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If you’re a completionist, you’re going to want to attain S-Rank on every mission (not as hard as it sounds-just kill as many titans as possible in good time and don’t ignore side missions in the field), fully upgrade all of your equipment, purchase all the extras in the in-game shop, and level up every character. You can even take on missions with friends in multiplayer mode with your unlocked and upgraded characters. A.O.T. feels at home in multiplayer with a group of competent players to take on whatever challenges the game throws at you. If you want substantial value for your money, you’re in luck here.

In terms of presentation, A.O.T. is a mixed bag. It’s certainly not the most graphically polished game out there by any stretch of the imagination, and animation in cut-scenes and gameplay is often wooden. Human character models don’t always feel well-realised or expressive enough to make use of their voice actors’ excellent performance. Plus, the setting of the show limits the game’s colour palette to greens, browns, and sandy yellows, which can become a little bit dreary and boring after a while.

On the flip side, titans possess a great and domineering presence with a variety of fittingly off-putting designs and distinctive animations. Up in the sky, characters’ movements are perfectly realised and true to the show. And you can’t fault that soundtrack, with its sweeping orchestral and choral compositions kicking up a storm behind everything onscreen.

A.O.T.: Wings of Freedom is a blast. Blisteringly cool gameplay sequences, cleverly implemented Dynasty Warriors design components, and a wealth of content cements its status as a superlative adaptation of its source material’s spirit. If you’re a fan of the franchise and always wanted to cut a bloody swathe through a city’s worth of titans like a rogue Borrower, A.O.T. has you covered.

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