Titanfall - REVIEW

Titanfall is one of the most hyped games of the new console generation. Developed by Respawn Entertainment, the new company formed by former Call of Duty visionaries Jason West and Vince Zampella, its their attempt to re-imagine online first-person-shooters. With it being a Microsoft console-exclusive (PC/X360/X1) and seen as the great white hope for the Xbox One, the hype must weigh as much as one of the titular Titans. A lot is riding on this, but does it deliver?

First thing is first, Titanfall has no single player. If that is a deal breaker, then so be it. Respawn have gone all in with multiplayer and left no room for solo players, in some ways backing up Microsoft’s original next-gen, always on business model. With that out of the way, a personal note.

I had no intention of buying an Xbox One, I was lucky enough to receive a Playstation 4 for Christmas, and whilst I’d been hankering for a great mech game since Front Mission 3, I had no intention of buying a console for one game, no matter how good it was. Or at least that’s what I told myself…

I went to my friend’s house and played the Beta. I played two matches in a row and was hooked in a way I hadn’t been since I first played Modern Warfare 2. It was fast paced, mobile, and noob-friendly, what wasn’t to love? With this in mind, I picked up a Titanfall Xbox One bundle a few months later.

When starting up Titanfall, you’re met with a tutorial. There are a few mechanics in the game, and I definitely recommend playing the tutorial to get to grips with them. From there, your choice is Campaign or Multiplayer.

As I said before, don’t go into Campaign expecting a single player narrative. Campaign takes the form of multiplayer games on each map in succession, playing as the IMC (the bad guys). Once you’ve finished that, you can play the exact same maps in the same order as the Militia (the good guys). Each match is framed by audio commentary from external characters, along with chatter throughout the matches themselves.

Respawn’s attempt to reinvent the shooter wheel with campaign should be lauded; in a world with cookie-cutter campaign structures in established franchises, its good to see a new IP taking risks, but unfortunately the only reason to play through is to unlock the specialist Titans at the end of each half of the story. The background noise is exactly that, and you’ll be too busy trying to line up headshots on pilots as they jetpack and wallrun around the map.

Once you first jump in, Titanfall wears Respawn’s history on its sleeve; the game plays like Call of Duty on steroids. That familiar aiming-down-sights, switching between primary and secondary weapon and throwing grenades all work in the same way. Rather than a quickfire knife melee attack, however, Titanfall pilots use a jump kick to dispatch opponents. And then the true fluidity of Titanfall becomes clearer.

Your pilot is nimble, almost ninja-esque. Your jump pack allows you to double jump, run along walls, and climb into second floor windows with ease. The offshoot of this is that nowhere is safe. Since no sniper spot is inaccessible, camping becomes a death sentence. You’ll want to keep moving, and it creates a frantic pace with wall running, double jumping, cloaking (turning almost invisible) and flying along ziplines becoming just as important for staying alive as your gun and bullets.

In the build-up to release, there were concerns that Titanfall’s 6 vs 6 match sizes would be too small. Luckily, clusters of AI “grunts” (easily killable troops) and “spectres” (slightly tougher robot opponents) help you keep your score rising, and the countdown in the bottom right corner of your screen will drop extra seconds with every enemy pilot, spectre or grunt you kill. And once that timer reaches zero?

“Your Titan is ready” is one of the most empowering phrases you’ll hear in a first person video game. Drop that bad boy into the action with the hit of a button, and any enemy in the crash site is destroyed. Hop in from any angle (even mid-air), and your big metal friend will become an extension of the pilot. Whilst in a pilot you’ll have a primary weapon, a defensive option (a shield or smoke cloud), and an ordnance weapon such as a missile salvo. The more you play, the more you’ll unlock, and the Titan options are just as plentiful as the pilot ones.

Don’t get carried away though. Pilots can take down a Titan with the right knowhow; certain grenades can knock out the Titan’s shields, whilst others are anti-armour launchers which do serious damage. Most exciting though, is the ability to “rodeo” a Titan, clinging to it’s back whilst blasting away at it’s core. Of course, you can always hop out and kill the pesky invader, in which case your Titan can go into “follow mode” or “guard mode” – great for objective based games.

The key with Titanfall is balance. Maps are designed with labyrinthine pathways, walkways and steep climbs ripe for wall running, facilitating quick infantry warfare and guerrilla warfare against Titans. From the other perspective, they also offer enough cover to keep Titan battles tactical through flanking and bottleneck assaults.

This sense of balance extends to the weaponry and second to second gameplay too. To every action, there is a reaction, which means the game plays as a battle of wits as well as reflexes. An example would be that you jump onto a Titan which uses the “electric smoke” perk to flush you off, only for you to then switch to a grenade launcher to deal massive damage whilst the Titan is obscured by the smoke. Its thrilling, and means that every match features some kind of “wow” moment. That’s a testament to the way Respawn have clearly play-tested the game for hours on end.

Game types, unfortunately, are less imaginative. Attrition is a race to 300 points, earned by killing everything and anything. Pilot Hunter is team deathmatch, and domination involves holding multiple control points on a map. Capture the Flag is nothing new, but Titanfall ensures that it plays out more frantically than you’ve seen before, particularly when you eject from your doomed Titan before it explodes, sending you flying across the map to score the capture. Its electric, and truly takes on new life in this scenario. Finally, Last Titan Standing has everyone starting in a Titan but with just one life, and it’s a simple yet tense affair; the first team to destroy all of the opponents’ machinery wins.

As I alluded to earlier, Titanfall is great for newcomers. Whilst a knowledge of basic FPS controls is recommended, you can really contribute to a game of “attrition” just by eliminating grunts and spectres. And the fact that Titans aren’t a killstreak but rather a new toy that everyone gets to try at some point per game means that it’s always a case of “when” you get into a Titan, and never “if”.

After each game, you’ll earn “Burn Cards”, which are single-use perks which last until the match ends, or until you die (whichever comes first). These take the form of more powerful versions of each weapon, bottomless grenades, unlimited invisibility, even the ability to disguise yourself as an AI Spectre, right up to rarer cards which allow you to call in a Titan at any time. It adds to the game’s unpredictability, and the brave move to make these bonuses temporary means the game remains balanced. That said, a Burn Card used at the right time can really turn the tide of a battle, so there is definitely scope for more tactical usage.

In summary, whilst the campaign “experiment” could do with some more work, there is no denying Titanfall is a game built for pure fun. Keep your fingers crossed for new game mode DLC, but for now, this is the most fun you can have online on an Xbox One. It doesn’t so much re-invent the wheel as it does jump-kick it into a new shape. Try playing an FPS afterwards and you’ll wonder how you got this far without ninja-running along walls.