When key members of Infinity Ward left to form Respawn Entertainment and make Titanfall, the question they had to answer was: could the studio make a game that’s as exhilarating and compulsive as the early Modern Warfare titles that made the Infinity Ward alumni famous? As it turns out, the answer to that question is yes.
The concept of a game in which the player can take out another human opponent with a shotgun, jump out of window, run across a wall and land in a gigantic mech, before launching a salve of missiles at an enemy titan and then ripping an opposing player from the chest of the damaged robotic beast is a compelling one. It’s also a concept that the cynic inside you might understandably interpret as little more than a dressing up of a tired formula, an indication that Titanfall is about nothing but spectacle. To an extent, Titanfall //is// about spectacle, but it’s also a fresh, taut and incredibly well-balanced shooter that is a hell of a lot of fun.
When playing as a human pilot, Titanfall is all about kineticism and fluidity. We may have seen freerunning mechanics in a multiplayer shooter before in the form of Brink, but we’ve certainly not seen them implemented with the panache that Respawn displays here. Once the freerunning clicks, it’s both easy and satisfying to move quickly across the map, scaling walls, bounding between roofs using your jetpack boost and flying in and out of windows to take out enemies or capture objectives.
While the mechs – titans, in the game’s parlance – are by no means slow, things do, counterintuitively, take on a more considered approach when you get yourself into the hulking metal suit. Titan’s are, of course, powerful and using them to take out fleeing human enemies or, most enjoyably of all, to destroy opposing titan’s, is a great deal of fun. However, Respawn has managed to balance that sense of power with an awareness of how vulnerable your titan can be in the wrong situations. It’s important that you are cautious about getting yourself outnumbered as a titan and make use of the abilities in your loadout to turn combat encounters in your favour. Confined spaces mean that pilots can become dangerous too, taking pot-shots at you from rooftops and windows, or jumping atop your Titan in order to do shield bypassing damage.
In fact, it is the way that combat between pilots and titans is balanced, and the way that the game’s maps are designed to feel natural for both, that’s perhaps one of the game’s most impressive aspects. You can get around relatively swiftly regardless of whether you’re on foot or in a Titan, but the routes you can take and the positions that are going to be most advantageous for you will change, depending on whether you’ve got a titan to hand or not. When you’re not in your Titan, it will automatically engage any enemies that it spots – so you might decide to set your Titan to follow mode and use it to draw out enemy pilots that you can get the drop on as they engage your titan, or, you might decide to set your titan to guard mode, leaving it to watch an objective while you head off on foot to capture another. In any case, it always feels like there are plenty of approaches that you could take in order to be successful in whatever mode you are playing and that variety is certainly of benefit to the game.
As well as getting the balance between pilots and titans right, it’s clear that Respawn has also thought very hard about how to make the game accessible to players who aren’t so hot at first-person shooters, without detracting from the enjoyment of veterans of the genre. Chief of the ways in which Respawn has done this is by borrowing an idea from MOBAs and including AI controlled enemies that are little more than cannon fodder. Killing these enemies is a cinch for anyone and gives a chance for the less nimble-fingered to contribute to the cause and rack up a few kills without too much trouble. Crucially, though, killing these enemies is not worth as many points as are pilots and titans, so better players who simply pick off a few of these AI opponents in-between pilot kills will still have a far greater impact on the game.
The same goes for Titanfall’s smart pistol – a weapon that locks on to enemy targets, negating the need to aim accurately at your foes. Yes, the smart pistol makes taking out AI grunts a piece of cake for inexperienced players, but against a skilled opponent in a one on one battle, the time it takes to get the pistol to lock on and get your shots away means that you’ll come off worse almost every time.
It’s also worth mentioning that every player will get titans during a match, meaning that those who aren’t as good don’t get locked out of the fun of throwing their weight around in one of the big metal beasts. Those who play well, though, will have the build time of their titan reduced significantly as they rack up kills. It’s a system that’s indicative of the way that Titanfall successful makes concessions to being accessible whilst ensuring that those that are better at the game will still find the experience rewarding.
Titanfall is notable for deciding to forgo the inclusion of a single-player campaign (a move that other shooters might do well to learn from) and has instead supplemented it with a storyline-laced campaign multiplayer mode. It’s an interesting experiment, but a failed one. The conflict between Titanfall’s two factions – The IMC and The Milita – is detailed in brief instances before the start of each match and through background chatter that takes place during the games. The main problem is that the background chatter becomes just that – something in the periphery that’s far from the front of your mind as you focus on the chaos around you. You’ll have neither the time nor inclination to pay adequate attention to the tale you’re being told and it quickly becomes noise spouted by characters that you don’t care about, if you know who they are at all. In fairness, Titanfall’s weak campaign mode doesn’t really detract from the game, amounting as it does to a glorified playlist, but neither does it add anything to it either.
When it comes to game modes, weapons and loadouts, Titanfall is a bit lacking it comparison to other multiplayer shooters in terms of sheer numbers. That might be a concern when it comes to longevity, but it’s more important that Titanfall is exciting to play, than that it has a long list of game modes and weapons. Titanfall has that in its favour. In any case, we’ve found there to be enough variety to the way that games play out and a broad enough range of options as to how to approach those games as a player, to believe that Titanfall will not suffer greatly from any perceived lack of content when it comes to game modes, weapons and the like.
Titanfall is not the most strategically demanding multiplayer game out there, nor is it the most complex. It’s certainly not revolutionary, as some might have you believe, given that many of its ideas have been cribbed from other games and genres. What it is, though, is a consistently exciting, accessible and expertly crafted shooter that repeatedly generates highlight reel moments that make you want to keep coming back. Forget about whether it’s an Xbox One system seller, if it can beat Call of Duty, or any similar chatter. All you need to know is that Titanfall is damn good fun.