The hype behind Titanfall has been massive as the lumbering giants themselves, looming over the shoulders of every other game as we slip into the start of a new generation. Having tasted the frenetic combat, I can’t help but join in the chorus of praise.
It’s familiar yet with plenty of room for discovery, making the climb to Regeneration (aka Prestige) ranks less of a grind and more of a fun by-product. Sinking hundreds of hours is an easy feat, even after the sheen wears off to reveal some problems.
The campaign that could have been
Beyond the introductory cinematic are nine campaign missions that tell of the ongoing struggle between the Frontier Militia and the IMC (Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation). These are the two factions you can side with and, honestly, that’s all you need to know.
These multiplayer-only missions are variations of Attrition (750-point team deathmatch) and Hardpoint Domination (capture and hold three locations). Other than unique cutscenes and dialogue, they play exactly the same as in regular multiplayer.
It’s a nice addition but ultimately lacking. The progression isn’t as engaging as the approach Brink took, where the missions ramped up in tension with the level design. Respawn had freedom to include scripted content here and missed out on the chance. As it stands, the campaign is simply a barrier to unlocking two out of three Titan models.
The Pilot parkour course
So what of classic multiplayer then? It’s pretty much an evolution of the “Call of Duty model” we’ve all grown accustomed to – no surprise considering the minds behind that franchise, Jason West and Vince Zampella, now lead the Titanfall studio.
Playing as a Pilot is wild, free-running across the side of buildings and boosting up onto rooftops. What isn’t immediately obvious is that you go faster the longer you wall-run, allowing skilled Pilots to outpace Titans or to deliver flying kicks through windows. Given time and practice you’ll soon be racing effortlessly from one area to the next.
The gunplay and weapons are standard fare (other than the lock-on Smart Pistol MK5) though it’s just one half of the whole experience. Exploring the beautiful maps, engaging in cat-and-mouse fights with enemy Pilots or even emptying your magazine on the back of a Titan all make for an exhilarating ride.
And then your Titan screams down from the heavens in a ball of light.
Dancing with Titans
I quickly learned that being sealed in a 20-foot mech does not equal success. Large and imposing they may be, Titans are susceptible to all manner of threats. Minions and enemy Pilots all carry weapons that chip away at shields and hull, and being outnumbered is a guarantee towards mashing the eject button moments later.
This calls for far greater situational awareness than in games such as Hawken or Mechwarrior Online. Furthermore, the inclusion of these human-sized opponents imparts a sense of scale to the battlefield. You feel huge, gleefully crushing enemies underfoot as your Vortex Shield stops 40mm shells and other ordnance in front of you. These brief moments of empowerment are spectacular, easily reinforced when you come across friendly minions awed by your presence.
The extra touches
And just what are these minions, you ask? They’re basically different types of AI grunts all over the map, making the battlefield feel dynamic despite being only 6v6. Gunning them down shortens your Titan’s build time and also counts towards your score in certain modes. They’re not as lifeless as creeps in a MOBA either, as you’ll see glimpses of them dragging a buddy to safety or engaging in other activities. Leave too many enemy minions alive, however, and you might regret the decision later.
A small degree of customization can be unlocked at certain levels. For example, Stryders (smaller, faster Titans) equipped with Nuclear Ejection and Auto-Eject makes for some amusing moments when you dash up close to an enemy. Then there are things like silencers, extended magazines, enhanced parkour kits and something called Burn Cards.
A player gets to bring up to three cards per match and can, before spawning, “burn” one to receive a benefit that lasts until death. They’re extremely handy as a response to different situations, good or bad, adding some spice to the game.
Two-sides to the technical coin
There’s little doubt that this shooter drips with high production values. It looks gorgeous and it sounds… well, there’s 34GB of uncompressed audio. Slap on some decent headphones and get lost in the symphony of war, provided you’re not busy getting shot at.
Thankfully everything is well optimized so even if you’ve got an older system, toning down the video settings will net you some good performance.
Yet outside of matches is where Titanfall’s shortcomings crop up. Respawn has already addressed the issue of setting up private games so that’s a plus, but the absence of offline or bot-only modes is fairly upsetting. Not only would it let players freely explore the maps, it also alleviates the trouble of finding games during off-peak hours, where the only bet is on Attrition with the same couple of players. Otherwise, expect lots of waiting.
There’s no Clan support, neither is there a fleshed-out Friends system. All one can do is invite a friend into their lobby and then search for games together as a party. This severely limits the possibility of large groups playing together, especially for competitive reasons.
Matchmaking also suffers from imbalances, as players drop out at the sight of multiple high-ranked players on the opposing team. It’s been a problem we’ve had for a long time and it’s unfortunate that Respawn didn’t manage to fix it or go with traditional server filters instead.
Prepare for Titanfall
Titanfall is a spectacular entry for 2014, injecting some adrenaline into a relatively slow AAA season. It breaks away from the genre’s habits, keeping the core of what worked and kicking everything else up a notch. The game does throw a few obstacles your way – and they are annoying – but get to the action and all those worries melt away.
- A welcome evolution for arcade shooters
- Spectacular, heart-pounding gameplay
- Looks and sounds worthy of the next-gen title
- Well optimized.
- Poor support for Clans and Friends.
- No offline or bot-only modes.
Titanfall is developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts, available now for Windows PC, Xbox One and Xbox 360.