Aim high, and miss.
Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains presents players with an action RPG based on one of the most beloved anime and manga properties currently active. It trims down on the excessively padded characterization plots, and jumps right in on the action, allowing players to re-enact and relive some of their favorite moments in the show, with their favorite characters, and utilize some great mechanics along the way, such as the Spider-Man style swinging based navigation. It reeks of authenticity, featuring the same aesthetic as the show, and music from it (including the opening and ending themes). It is, in other words, a game that theoretically should be an easy sell for fans of the series- except it’s not. Humanity in Chains is a story of squandered potential, and whatever chances it has of being good, it completely sabotages.
That’s not something you would know when you first booted up the game- a shockingly high quality opening cinematic, right out of the anime, greets you, and promises you the perfect video game version of the TV show. And for a while, once the game starts, it seems that this is that rare game that is actually going to deliver on its promise. It looks and sounds the part, but more importantly, it is incredibly fun, at least to begin with. You are given bladed chains, sort of like Kratos’ Blades of Olympus, and you can use them in an approximation of Spider-Man’s webs, and swing from place to place (you could walk too, but why in the world would you, when you can just swing instead?). It can be argued that Humanity in Chains is the best Spider-Man game we have had in over a decade, at least on the webslinging front. It’s something that leads to a good first impression.
"For a while, once the game starts, it seems that this is that rare game that is actually going to deliver on its promise. It looks and sounds the part, but more importantly, it is incredibly fun, at least to begin with."
Unfortunately, those good first impressions don’t last, as it quickly becomes apparent that the game appears to lack any actual substance entirely. This happens when you face your first titan- you’re meant to swing into an advantageous spot, and then attack its weak spot, sort of like a more fluid Shadow of the Colossus. The problem is, a lock on function locks and highlights the spot straight up, so you’re never going to miss, and never going to wonder where the weak spot is. If, at the first titan encounter, you think that this may just be for a tutorial fight, that things get better later, you are mistaken- it soon becomes evident that this is all there is to do. It doesn’t matter what the titan is like, or what its special abilities or attacks might be- you swing to the weak spot, push the attack button a couple of times, and you’re on your way. There are no mechanical stakes to anything that is going on, meaning the game loses any gravity that it is trying to sell you on.
This issue carries over into the larger structure of the game as well- you are largely tasked with taking out all the titans in an area, clearing up one section at a time. This leads to a problem the original Assassin’s Creed game had in 2007- a lack of mission variety, and repetition of objectives. There is some variety – every now and then, you are given a mission that highlights the webswinging style navigation, either tasked to escape an area, or to recover some lost object, and these are the most fun missions of the bunch – but overall, the macro structure of the game is as repetitive as its micro, moment to moment encounters with the titans are.
"There are no mechanical stakes to anything that is going on, meaning the game loses any gravity that it is trying to sell you on. "
Attack on Titan is one of the most popular animes currently ongoing, but after playing Humanity in Chains, I have been left wondering why that is. If the premise of the actual anime is great, it has been entirely squandered in this game, with storytelling that is jumbled, and so broken in pacing that nothing that ever happens gains the kind of gravity that would invite your personal investment in how it unfolds. It unfolds across multiple characters, in non linear style, which would be great, but it does so without any intimation as to an actual chronological order. It’s scattershot, and very hard to keep track of what’s going on, and after a while, I gave up
Arguably the best thing to come out of the game is the World Mode. World Mode lets you customize and create characters and make a squad of titan killers. It has elements of management simulation, as you have a budget you’re meant to handle, research weapons, and then take on more tasks. The actual tasks themselves are all as banal as the ones in the story mode, and suffer from the same issues, but the metagame added some incentive for me to want to keep playing for a bit.
On the whole, Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains is, as mentioned above, a tale of missed opportunities and squandered potential. It loos and sounds the part, but cracks begin to show not long after you first boot up the game. The gameplay is shallow and lacks any depth, completely divesting you of anything that goes on on screen, and the story, which, if told properly, might have been reason enough to put up with it all and keep going, is told poorly too. Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains has some good ideas, and its heart in the right place, but if you were looking for a game that does its rich source material justice, this is not it.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo 3DS.
It looks and sounds great, World Mode can be fun, the Spider-Man style navigation is fun
The combat is shallow and repetitive, the missions are shallow and repetitive, and there is no weight or sense of gravity to anything that goes on; the story is a jumbled mess
Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains has some good ideas, and its heart in the right place, but if you were looking for a game that does its rich source material justice, this is not it.