Edit: If you’re Googling this to find the Attack on Titan minigame, the link is here.
Dream Games — Attack on Titan
This article contains some moderate spoilers for the ongoing manga storyline. If you’re watching the animated series and want to avoid having some cool parts ruined, please read another article on this website. Or you could do something useful with your time instead.
The Faintest Glimmer of Hope
Attack on Titan is an action horror comic created by Hajime Isayama beginning in 2009 and with no end in sight. It presents the final dregs of humanity, tormented by hordes of unstoppable giants or titans, forced to carve out a meager existence behind walls for fear of being devoured by the inhuman behemoths. Humanity is barely able to fight back; they have invented “3D gear”, a system of hydraulic grappling hooks that allow them to maneuver around the titans and retractable box-cutter swords sharp enough to attack the nape of the neck, the one weak point of the otherwise unkillable titans.
But despite this technological adaptation, they are nearly powerless against the advance of the giants; their forays outside of their gigantic city walls result in almost absolute devastation to their scouting teams. Even the most highly-trained soldiers–those who have dedicated their entire life to fighting the titans–do not survive for long. The titans are simply overwhelming. Yet humanity survives, clutching to the last shreds of life and sanity behind its walls. Then a colossal titan–a hideous skinless one with exposed muscles like some revolting skinned ape–sticks its head above the walls, a looming symbol of their annihilation, and kicks a hole through their gate to allow its smaller, mindless brethren to run in and devour the helpless men, women and children within.
I like Attack on Titan for its brutal simplicity (invading force wants to kill us) that is presented within a complex narrative (the motivations of the titans aren’t as basic as they seem), its stark emotions that wrack the reader, the surprisingly logical behavior of its characters, and the unsettling appearance of the titans. There’s a lot of speculation about the origin of the titans but I can tell you right now that they were born smack dab in the middle of the Uncanny Valley. They are more horrifying to behold than De Beers and almost as cruel and all-consuming. Isayama’s amateurish art works to his benefit in regards to the titans; he put his seemingly inability to create a realistic-looking face or body to great use in creating these cannibalistic abominations.
Attack on Titan has had a recent surge in popularity due to a high-quality animated adaptation with one hell of a fantastic opening theme. So one of the first thoughts should be: how could you make a video game out of the series? I postulated about a Berserk game a while ago, but despite having a similar mood, an Attack on Titan game would be a completely different experience.
An Attack on Titan game needs to be like Ninja Gaiden, except in the air. Every foe should be a puzzle and not a single victory should be an easy one. You should expect to fail a lot, but your failures should be the result of your mistakes. I want a challenging game to match Attack on Titan’s somber mood and it had better be a punishingly difficult one. If I can hack through hordes of titans like grunts in Dynasty Warriors, the whole effect will be lost.
Now, I could easily imagine an irritating little waggle control minigame involving waving motion controls in the same vague motion required for your onscreen character to chop the neck of a titan. Done well this could be tolerable like in Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure, but more likely it would be like the scads of deplorable Wii shovelware with tacked-on motion controls to appease marketers.
But the recent Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance did in fact require the use of precise joystick movements to create accurate cuts, and it pulled this off while both requiring skill and not being irritating. That could be your neck-cutting mechanic right there: when you get in close to a titan’s weak spot, you have a short amount of time (varies but less than one second) to get in those two cuts with your two thumbsticks. Fail and the titan recovers very quickly and might even swat you into mush like a Ziploc bag full of spaghetti.
But you’d have other options. Set pits or spikes or wire traps to get the titans more vulnerable; hamstring a titan to get it to fall down for easy access to its neck. Fire barrages of cannons to slow them down and hope you hit the weak spot. There are all sorts of options for killing these bastards, but this game needs to communicate through gameplay just how amazing the elite have to be to even overcome normal titans, let alone the intelligent ones like the Colossal, Armored, and Female-Type titans. Even the regular “aberrant” titans who do crazy stuff like kill horses and run directly for the center of groups of humans would make for great and unusual boss fights.
Managing blades and gas should be a gameplay element. Go dry on the propelling gas and you need to resort to traps mentioned in the previous paragraph. Run out of the former and you’re almost certainly dead; maybe you can hit a small ten-footer with a woodcutting hatchet and hope to escape on a horse like Sasha did in that one flashback.
Here’s those spoilers I was talking about. BEWARE!
There are some titan-on-titan combat sections. When Eren-as-titan wrestles the others, it’s a completely new style of gameplay. Now it’s a twisted beat-em-up. The weak spot is still the neck, and you can certainly get at it more easily than when you were a 5-6 foot tall weakling, but your clumsy punches and grabs aren’t as precise as the cuts of the detachable blades. Expect to have to squeeze at a titan’s neck quite a few times before finally killing the blasted thing. Eren’s fight against the Female-Type is a nightmarish knock-down drag-out fistfight from hell against a more skilled opponent. Either that or his insane MMA bone-breaking bout against the Armored Titan would make for a great final boss. There’s a gigantic amount of variety available in the gameplay.
There are a few obvious choices for inspiration: Shadow of the Colossus, Spider-Man, and others. Let’s look a bit more closely at how they would work.
Shadow of the Colossus wouldn’t be as good of a choice to start with as you might think. Both it and Attack on Titan involve killing giant behemoths, but that is all. Most of the colossi are slow, lumbering beasts that either sit or walk around passively until you attract their attention through violence, whereas almost every titan immediately wants to kill or eat all nearby humans, and they will do so with incredible speed. You crawl on a colossus, grabbing it by the fur and looking for the right spot to stab, drawing roars from its throat as you weaken it until it finally falls to rubble. Conversely, you use gas-powered grappling hooks to get up to where all titans have the same weak spot (the nape of their necks) and risk everything in one practiced double-bladed swipe. Shadow of the Colossus features ponderous journeys through grassland and ruins followed by drawn-out epic battles. Attack of Titan has the monsters invade the protagonists’ homes in order to quickly and messily eat them. The two offer very different experiences, and an Attack on Titan game based on the combat found in Shadow of the Colossus–though it may be good on its own merits–would simply not be true to its source material and would fail as a video game.
So how about Spider-Man, the character known for flying around on ropes and hitting things? That would work, right? There have been Spider-Man video games going back to 1982, but the first good Spider-Man games appeared in the early 2000s, developed by Treyarch. These two titles in particular were made around the same time as the live-action movies, and of course video games based on movies are generally terrible. But the simply-titled Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 (for the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, and Windows) offered players to ability to feel as agile as the famous radiation victim by firing webs at skyscrapers to sling upon, darting around enemies, and generally being as tough and cocky as the character himself. Something like this could be incorporated into an Attack on Titan game, definitely.
And like the more involved Spider-Man swinging, I enjoy the thought of a game that feels unusual and has a little learning curve in terms of its locomotion system, but once you master it you really do feel elite, like you can take on these monsters and win. Like 2002’s GunValkyrie, except not unplayable garbage. You should be able to take aim at a tall structure like in 1998’s Tenchu and swing to the right position to fight the titans. Hard, but fair, and highly rewarding.
2008’s Mirror’s Edge proved that it’s possible to create a first-person platformer that doesn’t control like you’d put horse blinders on vertically. Or maybe you could climb around architecture like in Assassin’s Creed, except scrambling for handholds while a lightning-fast 50-foot monstrosity is trying to eat you while you struggle to get high each to hack at its neck. Zone of the Enders 2 had good in-air combat, and the 2009 Bionic Commando reboot did so decently. The atrociously titled yet enjoyable Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie proved that you can have a tie-in game licensed on an existing franchise and have it succeed admirably.
OK, enough self-indulgent name-dropping. I’m not the only one who has contemplated a game of this sort. Here’s a Kickstarter for a grappling hook concept made by the guy responsible for the Spider-Man 2 game and two gameplay mockups for engines specifically designed to resemble Attack on Titan.
The idea clearly has a lot of potential, and here’s hoping the eventual Attack on Titan game is neither junk nor a Japan-only exclusive. Good licensed games are a rarity, and hopefully this one would beat the odds.