First things first, Titanfall is an achievement for Respawn Entertainment. Born from the ashes of the original Infinity Ward team, Respawn have managed to persevere and create a game that feels very much like the Call of Duty games they were once known for. They brought competitive shooting back to a familiar video game setting, rather than a modern military one that questions the player’s morals. They’ve added and iterated to the formula in interesting ways, and made the act of map traversal more fun than scoring headshots. However, this is still very clearly a multiplayer shooter, and a very limited one compared to any of its contemporaries. It is laser focused on providing gametypes, guns, and environments that work in other games, mostly to the detriment of its own unique offerings. After all, despite all the giant robots and jetpacks, it’s still easy to forget that it’s the future when you’re firing off assault rifles and shotguns.
The story of the game is a simple one. An evil empire of a corporation with an army of faceless robots is hunting down a scrappy militia of rebels who live on the outer rim worlds. Over the course of the multiplayer campaign, the humans battle against the robots, alliances are forged, old allies bicker over their memories, and all the while you’re just playing rounds of Titanfall. The player is a non-entity in the story, which takes place in the top right corner of your screen, and it’s easy for it to fade in the background amidst all the carnage. Combine that with it basically being yet another science fiction morality play about unmanned drones in warfare, and it’s no wonder that the campaign went unmentioned before release. You’ll need to go through it in order to unlock the nonstandard Titan frames for use in the rest of the game, and there are a pair of cool moments outside of gameplay, but nothing compared to the dynamic moments you’ll make for yourself parkouring around levels as a pilot.
Titanfall (PC [Reviewed], Xbox One, Xbox 360)
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release: March 11, 2014 (March 25 on Xbox 360)
Of course, that is where the game really shines. Titanfall is a multiplayer shooter like you’ve never played before, prioritizing verticality and movement over power weapons and spawn camping. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop makes the massive maps feel tight, and the levels are well designed with plenty of open skylights and tunnels to produce unexpected ambushes and escape routes. Grabbing onto ledges is sometimes harder than it should be, but it’s almost impossible to fall off a wall completely thanks to generous wall-hanging and running, and it’s quick enough that you could try a couple times before becoming a sitting duck. Even the Titans become moving platforms for nimble pilots, with the added benefit of distracting enemy Titans as you jump on and off them. You could always shoot them down from their back, but its even more satisfying to watch them disembark, jump kick them from the sky, and then take out their unmanned mech with relative ease.
That is of course the other half of the equation, the Titans. I was initially saddened that the giant robots didn’t feel like giant robots, instead reminding me more of a Spartan from the Halo series.. You have a lot of maneuverability with dashing, even as an Ogre, which means that it’s all about keeping your energy shields active and getting off potshots, only your cover is giant buildings instead of computer panels in a starship. You’ll have to take cover often, as your giant robot is as fragile against other titans as you are on foot when fighting humans, and pilots on the ground can overwhelm you with homing missiles and boarding attempts. You have an arsenal of chunky weapons as a Titan, although it’s disappointing to see the same loadout of assault rifles and rocket launchers being preferred over the slow and clunky unique weapons at your disposal. There is seemingly no reason to wait to charge up the railgun or the lightning gun when you could be doing more damage shooting off rockets four at a time instead.
The Titan’s arsenal is just one aspect of the game that feels lacking. The game only supports five gametypes, three variants of deathmatch, territorial control (also known as domination), and a capture the flag mode seemingly thrown in for old times sake. Granted, many FPS players only go in looking for these modes, but the lack of any FFA options or something more unique to the game is definitely felt during longer play sessions. The weapons, perks, and challenges available once you unlock custom loadouts also feel like slim pickings, filling out the various roles you need for this type of game without any surprises. Even the Burn Cards, an excellent gameplay innovation for this type of shooter, feel very much the same after a while, and there aren’t many that pack as huge a punch as nuking an arena or calling in dogs in Call of Duty. This very much feels like a game that needs another iteration or two to feel complete, but that shouldn’t matter to you considering it’s still $60.
Titanfall is innovative in many ways, while still sticking painfully close to its forebear’s gameplay. I may have sounded a bit down on the game throughout, but it’s hard to describe in words how good it feels and how easy it is too pull off amazing stunts and survive. The parkour and movement speed of the pilots in Titanfall is a new standard for competitive shooters, and the mech gameplay feels like the perfect arcade counterpart to the old Mechwarrior series that we never got back in the day. For someone who’s already deep into competitive shooters, and for people who dropped off along the way, Titanfall must be experienced, it’s that good. But it’s not going to convince anyone to join in on the fun, and it’s certainly not the grand marshal of the next generation we were all hoping it would be.