So, Titanfall then. There’s literally zero chance that anyone reading this has isn’t already plenty familiar with Respawn Entertainment’s debut title, so that means we can skip all the needless introductions and padding about the game’s lineage until it actually becomes relevant, and instead focus our attention on what is, easily, the biggest release of the past twelve months on any platform. The Titanfall hype machine has been rolling on at full speed right from day one, and that’s not necessarily a good thing as far as developers are concerned. Expectations can be tricky things to manage, and if you’re going to really, and I mean REALLY, get the most out of your Titanfall experience, it’s essential you leave your preconceptions, inflated expectations and hype-drenched imagination at the door and take the game for what it is, not what you thought it would be.
I suppose the fairest way for me to kick off this review is to take a look at my own initial expectations from Titanfall. In the run up to the game’s release, I remained sceptical that it would actually deliver on the hype. For what essentially looked, and initially played, like a generic first person shooter with a bit of a gimmick where players could commandeer mechs (not that that’s not something that’s done before in the past), the level of expectation never felt quite right for me. Nothing pointed at it being a bad game in the slightest, neither early looks nor last month’s beta, but, by the same note, it didn’t feel groundbreaking, either.
I’ll admit that I tend to be a bit wary of hyped games, lest the build-up get the better of me and lead to the usual disappointment when the novelty of actually having the thing in your hands wears off, but for the most part I tend to avoid that kind of things through a fine mix of being a touch pessimistic, and incredibly cynical (six years of writing about the gaming industry can have that effect on a person) - so Titanfall wasn’t going to catch me out.
Thankfully, that standpoint seems to have worked out for the better, as the finished product has proven to be incredibly impressive, far more so than my time spent in the beta build. But if you’re coming into the game expecting a genuine game changer, you’re going to be a touch disappointed. Titanfall doesn’t really do anything that hasn’t been done before – particularly in the PC realm – but it manages to combine everything in such a way that delivers an incredibly polished and invigorating experience that’s not accepting to newcomers and enjoyable for haggard old first person shooter veterans.
At its core this very much IS the generic first person shooter I had expected. Pretty much everything you’d expect from a modern FPS is here, from the weapon types to the general look and feel of the maps – and the fact that so many of this Respawn Entertainment team had a hand in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series only serves to accentuate that sense of familiarity. It’s difficult to look at Titanfall and not see the influence that Call of Duty has had on it, from the loading screens through to the game’s audio, it’s all quite reminiscent of the Activision juggernaut.
The key differentiator here, though, is that once you’ve actually had some time to shake off all those years of playing a certain way and actually embrace the verticality of Titanfall, a very different picture begins to emerge. Those maps, which at first seem to be nothing special, suddenly burst into life, becoming a haven for creative manoeuvring, creative exploration and fluid combinations of walking, running, wall running and double jumping.
Getting to the point where you simply open yourself up to the possibilities of Titanfall’s navigation system takes a lot of work, though, intuitive and all as it is, because we’ve been so conditioned to play these games in a certain way. For console gamers, certainly, the game represents the breaking down of an invisible barrier that dictated how things should be done in the genre.
But as pretentious and flowery as that may all sound, it’s genuinely the only way I can explain the way Titanfall feels. It takes mechanics that have been used to great effect elsewhere and merges them into one singular, fluid running and gunning machine – and, boy, is it satisfying when you realize you’ve started to “get” it.
Suddenly, walls aren’t barriers any more, they’re opportunities. They represent the starting point for a vertical adventure that’ll take you in directions you never thought your brain would be able to handle – literally! Before you know it, you’ll be jumping, double jumping, climbing and wall jumping from one side of the each of the game’s maps to the other, surveying your surroundings in real-time looking for that next pedestal to propel you to even greater heights, giving you the ideal vantage point from which to strike on your enemies below.
For want of a better word, it’s simply refreshing.
But the thing you need to remember about Titanfall, is that for all your jump-kit equipped gymnastics, you’re still only experiencing part of what the game has to offer – this is, after all, a shooter, so it would make sense to take a break from the parkour and engage in a little facey-shooty every so often.
Again, this is an area where Titanfall doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. The gunplay mechanics are every bit as chunky and responsive as you’d expect from a Triple A FPS, and there are plenty of weapons for you to choose from as you progress your character through the levels in standard FPS style. The weapons behave just how you’d expect, with the heftier options producing increased kick-back to play havoc with your aim, and the more lightweight varieties allowing for increased stability at the cost of stopping power. In truth, there’s not really anything here that you’ve never experienced before – although it’s polished to such a degree that it’s unlikely you’ll have played too many games that execute that side of things any better.
Where Titanfall really begins to differentiate itself from the Battlefields, Killzones and Call of Dutys on the weapon front is with the Titans themselves. These 25 foot killing machines are lethal in the hands of a competent pilot, allowing players to become one with the machines, laying waste to all that stands in their path, a perfect storm of human smarts and mechanical deadliness. At least, that’s how it’s probably supposed to feel. In truth, the Titans feel a little disappointing.
There are three varieties on offer right now, Stryder, Atlas and Ogre, with more likely to be added as DLC down the road, but despite the reasonably large variety of loadout customization options Titanfall brings to the table, the Titans somehow manage to feel as though they’re not quite right. On the one hand, when you’re taking on regular infantry, you’ll feel like a god amongst men, but throw them up against other Titans and the whole dynamic shifts.
Although learning how to manoeuvre the things properly will certainly be beneficial, there’s still the feeling that you’re not entirely in control of your own destiny while piloting your favourite killing machine. Usually, your success against other mechs will boil down to whether or not you got the jump on them, how much health you both had left at the beginning of the conflict, and whether or not another player will get involved – because if none of those things happen, it all-too-often feels simply like a contest to see whose Titan can take the most damage before giving up the ghost and going nuclear.
For what should be the focal point of the game, I found myself opting not to bother with Titans more often than not. “Your Titan is ready for deployment” I’m told, before darting into another building where my nimbleness and surety of foot will be of far more use than a mechanical monstrosity. It’s far more fun to let those who really want to get their hands dirty and spend the battle in a war of wills against other Titans simply get on with it, while those of us who want to enjoy the real fun that the game has to offer spend our time bounding around like lunatics – albeit lunatics with very powerful weaponry.
That’s my only real issue with Titanfall – the Titans simply aren’t that much fun to play with. They lack the satisfaction level associated with being exposed to the elements and gunning down your prey face to face. Heck, even taking other Titans down is more fun and rewarding when you’re on foot than encased within a mech suit. A well timed “Rodeo” as the game calls it, where your player straddles an enemy Titan, tearing off the protective metal plate housing its most vulnerable electronics before attempting to blow it to pieces, really is a sight to behold, and it represents one of Titanfall’s crowing achievements – making enemies as powerful as the Titans possible to destroy with a single soldier and a little luck.
However, that’s not to say that the Titans aren’t without use. Already there are plenty of players online who seem to have figured out the perfect tactics for mech combat, and they’re a real force to be reckoned with – but even for those who, like me, prefer to stick to ground-based warfare, there’s considerable benefit to deploying a Titan when you need to hold your ground, or take out great swathes of an encroaching enemy force as efficiently as possible.
The most pleasing thing about the Titans, though, is the fact that the gameplay has been so well balanced to accommodate them. There was always a danger that they’d simply be too powerful, but in making them vulnerable, particularly when isolate from the rest of their team, Respawn has ensured that there’s always a way out of a potentially tricky situation.
Nuts and bolts of the combat aside, there’s plenty more to talk about in Titanfall. For starters, the fact that the game is an always online shooter was something flagged by many as a concern – but it hasn’t turned out to be troublesome at all. Keeping the number of combatants limited to six per side, whether or not the reason was technologically driven or not, has turned out to be a great move. We’ve seen in larger squad-based games like MAG that throwing dozens of players into an online world isn’t always a great idea. Smaller squads mean that players are forced to think about their approach, both personally and in terms of the overall team goal.
Whether playing Attrition (Titanfall’s team deathmatch mode), Hardpoint (its analog to Domination), Capture the Flag or Pilot Hunter (where your team needs reach a set target of Pilot kills to win), it pays to have at least some awareness of what the rest of your squad is up to. Unfortunately, as seems to be a growing trend with this generation of consoles, few people actually communicate with each other during gameplay, which means you’re going to need to keep a close eye on the map and pay attention to the play style of your teammates, enabling you to make a reasonable estimate as to what their approach is going to be in any given situation.
There’s also a fifth gameplay mode in Titanfall; Last Titan Standing. As you might have guessed from my preference for foot-based combat, this isn’t really something that’s all that appealing to me, but it’s bound to be a real blast for many. In this mode, each player gets a Titan and they must eliminate all the Titans on the opposing team to win. It sounds like a great idea in theory, but the reality of the situation is that, now at least, it feels more like a repetitive slog than anything else, as it essentially boils down to the team with two Titans going up against one winning almost by default. Undoubtedly things will change in the future as players start to learn the nuances of Titan vs. Titan combat, but for the moment it’s just a little unrefined in comparison to the rest of the game.
Then, of course, there’s the game’s fleeting campaign. Although still essentially a series of team-based online match ups, it attempts to intertwine a storyline with the action, telling the same story from two perspectives in the battle between the Militia and the IMC. Without having an actual character for the player to control, and the outcome of the battles being relatively meaningless in terms of the overall outcome, the short two-hour long campaigns somehow manage to feel like a chore before you’ve come close to finishing the nine missions. Unfortunately, you’re going to need to play through from both sides’ perspective if you’re going to unlock all the Titan classes for your custom loadouts – so expect to spend a few hours itching to get back into good old meaningless deathmatch action along the way.
For all it does well, and that’s quite a lot, there’s still the feeling that Titanfall doesn’t quite live up to its potential, never mind its own hype. There’s a relative lack of game modes for a game that’s entirely focused on online play, while the maps, great and all as they are, can become a little repetitive at times (although that’ll very much depend on the quality of both the opposition and your teammates), and despite the fact that bouncing joyously around the battlefield is incredibly satisfying, the action still boils down to shooting other players in the face, and to that end it does the job no more ably than about a dozen other titles already on the market.
For those of you planning on picking the game up on the Xbox One, there’s also the resolution furore (read: largely irrelevant storm in a teacup) to contend with. While this new generation of consoles should really have been able to run just about anything at 1080p 60fps, Titanfall can only manage an internal resolution of 792p. There has been some talk that this could potentially increase down the line, but the fact is that it makes very little difference either way. Sure, some more pixels would probably be nice, you know, just to have, but that will do absolutely nothing to change the gameplay – you’re either going to have great fun here or you’re not. Slightly more concerning is the fact that, on busier moments, the frame rate does take a bit of a hit, but not really enough to upset all but the most ardent of graphical aficionados (and let’s be honest, they’re all going to be playing on PC anyway).
So, after all the hype, anticipation and, dare I say it, unwarranted levels of expectation, Titanfall is finally here, and it’s a real blast. It’s not a game that’s going to reshape the industry, change the genre or sell a hundred million Xbox Ones, but it is a damn fine example of how to entertain your players with high-intensity gun battles peppered with giant mechanical death-bringers.
If you’re a big fan of online first person shooters, you’re likely to be a big fan of Titanfall – and if you’re a newcomer there’s a solid tutorial to teach you the basics, as well as a reasonable enough level of accessibility to ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed by the variety of gameplay approaches on offer.
It won’t change the world, but it will keep you entertained for potentially months (depending on what’s lined up on the DLC front) on end, paying back its retail value many times over. As action-oriented first person shooters go, it’s a bloody wonderful one – and I didn’t foresee myself saying that a few months ago.
*Caveat: This review may be revised at a later date should Titanfall suffer with server issues or major glitches that weren’t noticed at the time of review. As of 3PM EST on Tuesday 11th March 2014, the game had suffered a single server failure which was quickly resolved by Microsoft and had displayed no glitches that would affect the enjoyment of the game. Should this change, the score will be revised accordingly at various points both before and after patching.