Yahtzee reviews Extinction and Attack on Titan 2.
It's been a funny week, mainly focused around stabbing gigantic things, and not just because I got my bell-end pierced. It started when I tried out the distinctly unmemorably-titled Extinction, by someone called Iron Galaxy Studios, which rang a small bell, and when I looked them up, it turned out they were the ones who ported Arkham Knight and Arkham Origins to Windows, which didn't bode terribly well. They used to say "any port in a storm"; they've now had to add "...unless it's the Windows port of Arkham Knight, in which case, put on a waterproof hat and take your fucking chances". "Come on, Yahtz; be nice." Well, Extinction is a game about a tiny man with a very big sword and an impressive jumping height who has to kill giant city-destroying orcs and literally nothing else. Not without context; apparently, we're killing giant city-destroying orcs because we'd rather they didn't destroy cities. Seems a bit oppressive; what else is a giant city-destroying orc supposed to do with his time? Retrain as a giant dog-grooming orc?
Extinction is a game designed around a very small number of elements; you could believe it was adapted from an arcade game from the 80's or something. You rescue civilians and kill normal, sensibly-proportioned city-destroying orcs to fill your Power Meter, and once it's full, you can do a Super Mega-Slash that cuts off giant-orc body parts, which you can use to decapitate them, or at least, that's how I interpreted the tutorial. After I started repeatedly failing missions and got heartily sick of the king complaining my ear off about how I was lazing around, desperately liberating innocent citizens while the giant orcs break all his lovely buildings, I eventually discovered that you only need to be at full power to do the final beheading; you can do a standard Super Mega-Slash whenever you want, but for me, that raised the question of why we have standard attacks at all, 'cos you have to pummel the tiny orcs for long enough to give your fists a repetitive strain injury to kill them, but the Super Mega-Slash pushes their shit right in.
Also, you can cut off giant orcs' arms and legs straight away; they grow back in time, but it does build your Power Meter, so one viable strategy is to hang around the giant orc, pruning it like a fucking bonsai tree, until you can cut its head off. Sadly, this does somewhat increase the chances of getting pounded into a cardboard cutout by a flailing arm swing you have no way to see coming 'cos you're too close to the fucking orc to see anything besides a huge screen-filling greasy armpit. And then an NPC complains at you again because another building got smashed while you were peeling yourself off the tarmac with a fish slice...
So, not the most rewarding experience. It is quite well-presented, with elaborate animated cutscenes, which might surprise you if you looked at the Steam user reviews and noticed the game getting fucking bent over a clothes horse and paddled like a naughty canoe; this might have had something to do with the fact that the game is selling for $60 at time of writing, which is taking oceanic quantities of piss for a game that's little more than just one mechanic tortuously stretched out into a dowdy list of samey missions in basically the same environment. You can get Shadow of the Colossus on PS4 for $40, and Extinction is no fucking Shadow of the Colossus; maybe, if Shadow of the Colossus only had one colossus that you fought over and over again, and every time you got hit, your comatose girlfriend rang you up to yell at you 'cos you obviously don't love her enough.
Look, the giant orc bonsai-pruning isn't unspectacular, but it needed more, and not to be wrapped on all sides by poorly-thought out game mechanics like a sushi roll made with green duct tape. But it was in one of these Steam reviews that I noticed someone accusing Extinction of being an Attack on Titan ripoff, and I thought, "This seems like the sort of thing a responsible journalist would research before embarrassing themselves by repeating it!" So I looked up some gameplay videos of Attack on Titan 2, and then I thought, "Huh, that looks fun. Looks like something I'd much rather be playing now, actually. You know what? Fuck it! Double review!"
Attack on Titan 2 is based on the anime of the same name, in which the inevitable cast of highly-emotional 14-year-olds use repurposed extreme sports equipment to fight an invading force of the eponymous Titans, which are of pretty effective fucking nightmarish design, looking like humans with weird proportions and big smiles, like someone brought to life all the hideous monstrosities we've ever made in RPG character customization screens as a joke. Their brazen nakedness also acts upon the primal fear dredged up from that time in your childhood when you saw your dad stand up in the bath.
Well, speaking of character customization engines, this game has one of those very things, because we're not playing as any established character in the series; you are Original Character Do Not Steal, who becomes everyone's best friend and is just as good as the protagonists, so I guess it's like Sonic Forces, but for the Attack on Titan fanfiction weirdos. I never watched or read any Attack on Titan before, and this doesn't strike me as the best way to experience the story for the first time, as the important events tend to lose their impact. "Oh, look! One of our schoolmates just turned into a Titan slightly resembling a 'roided-up Steven Tyler; bit weird. Oh well; let's go home and craft some fucking sock suspenders."
But anyway, as with Extinction, Attack on Titan 2 is, like, one game mechanic worked to breaking point, namely, "Titan Fightin'", or "Titey Fightey". The basic premise is that Titans can only be killed by slitting up their sensitive spots, and the best way to do that is fucking demented high-speed kamikaze strikes with a combination of grappling hooks and jetpacks, like you're flicking an elastic band and the elastic band is you. Let's not burden proceedings with silly questions like "Why don't you use a gun?" or "How about, just fling your sword on the end of the elastic band rather than fling your entire person into biting range?", because this mechanic is, in brief, a blast. The movement system brings back happy memories of the web-swinging in that one good Spider-Man game on the GameCube, and while you have to swing around a Titan and dive-bomb their precious bits an average of about five million times, it's got the right mix of cathartic speed and finesse to not get too boring.
But then, of course, the game fucking slams the brakes on your swinging and your dive-bombing the instant your blades break or your gas runs out, and that's where we get to all the faffing about packed around that central mechanic. Everything's quantified - health, dexterity, blade power, blade strength, reel strength, reel speed, Real Ghostbusters - so downtime between missions can be spent crafting and side-questing to add tiny increments to your stats in ways that mostly don't seem to add anything to the overall feel of the combat. There's a rather Persona-esque mechanic where we level up relationships with the characters to develop skills; a bone thrown out for the fanboys, I assume. There are way too many characters, and pretty much all the relationships go as follows: "I want to do my best!" I also want to do my best! Let's both do our best! "Whoops, I only did nine-tenths of my best." Burn the heretic!
But when I said Extinction needed more than just its core mechanic, I guess this is sort of what I meant; downtime is essential. Extinction's flat to-do list of giant monsters to kill made it harder and harder to summon enthusiasm for the next one, but in Titan, after I was deposited back at base after missions, I'd get drawn into some conversations, light filing of crafting items and general cooldown, 'til I'm thinking, "Oh, go on, then; I can fit one more completely non-Freudian Titey Fightey in before Dad stands up in the bath--I mean, bed!"
- Titan of industry: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Surely the translators should have realized that it's attacks BY Titans rather than attacks ON Titan, but what do I know
- At least it's not Titan A.E.