This game was reviewed on Xbox One.
After more than a decade of shooter development mastery, Respawn Entertainment has pitched its vision for the future of the sci-fi shooter genre and from the outside in, it looks like a giant mech. Climb into the pilot’s seat of this daring vision, however, and you’ll soon realise that this game is more than it seems. Taking the best aspects of the franchises we hold near and dear to our hearts, Titanfall is a sensational synthesis of tight mechanics, brilliant multiplayer design and organic player invention. While not the revolution that some might have hoped for, it’s simply a reinvigoration of a genre we thought we couldn’t love any greater, until now.
Freedom is the main sensation you’ll find yourself awash in throughout Titanfall. Once you’ve completed the rather thorough Pilot and Titan training, you’re free to jump into the game’s campaign or multiplayer. Ostensibly, the campaign consists of 9 multiplayer matches that you play through twice: once as a member of the overbearing galactic corporation known as the IMC and a second time from the perspective of the freedom fighting Militia. While the game attempts to thread a coherent narrative throughout these matches, it fails to present a compelling story that you can invest yourself in.
Before and after each match, a series of cutscenes give players small glimpses of the Titanfall universe, which is not heavily explored in the multiplayer modes. These do a fine job of establishing the mission and summoning a sense of pre-match and post-match excitement, but the same can’t be said for the story moments littered throughout the actual match. Respawn tries to give context to the mission objectives that you’re assigned to complete: for example, your typical three point capture mode, Hardpoint, translates to a mission to secure three turret placements in order to protect your team’s ships circling in the sky above. While the idea of bringing narrative context into the frenetic action of a multiplayer shooter is commendable, the implementation here has zero impact on the actual gameplay itself, acting as background noise in an experience that ultimately feels forgettable and tacked on.
One facet of Titanfall that I’ll never forget is the glory of summoning my own metal behemoth from the heavens above. The unquantifiable ecstasy of earning your Titan by slaying enemy Pilots, then gazing as your mechanical buddy majestically bursts through the clouds, crackling through the atmosphere with unmistakable distinction and grandeur, is a sight to behold each and every time.
What aren’t quite as glorious to behold are the game’s textures. In a direct comparison with graphical stunners such as Ryse: Son of Rome and Killzone Shadow Fall, Titanfall doesn’t stand as tall and proud, but real visual beauty can be found in its artistic direction. While giant mechs, sci-fi weapons, bipedal robots and futuristic dropships are nothing new, Respawn has managed to meld these fantastical tropes in a way that delivers a distinct and delicious visual flavour that does enough to distract the eye from the game’s textural shortcomings.
During development, Respawn explained that a rock-solid 60 frames per second experience would always be more important than stunning graphics; for the most part, the game manages to achieve this goal. During encounters with multiple Titans in confined spaces, however, the frame rate does drop quite notably, but this drop did not impact the experience to a point where I could call it unfair.
After all, fairness is the star of the show in Titanfall. Simply put, the balance between Pilots and Mechs is spot on. Climbing into your Titan never feels like a ‘win button’; it’s simply a different way to fight. In fact, on maps such as Angel City and Colony, scurrying along rooftops and through windows as a Pilot can be equally, if not more profitable, than circling the open outskirts in your Titan.
Throughout each of the 15 maps available at launch is a wealth of strategic playgrounds begging to be explored, studied and memorised. Like any great multiplayer shooter, it’s up to the player to utilise their environment in the most beneficial way possible and with 15 maps in rotation in every game mode there’s plenty of learning to be done in order to excel.
The process of learning and mastering the mechanics of this sci-fi shooter may seem intimidating at first, but a clear and easily digestible user interface, clever map layouts and consistency of controls offer a steadily-paced education that’s uncharacteristically delightful.
Once you’ve come to grips with what you’re capable of, the journey to mastery is well under way and the simplicity of mechanics makes for a supremely enjoyable one at that. From wall running and double jumping to mounting Titans and ripping the protective armour from their hides, everything is buttery smooth. In fact, I’d say Titanfall almost reaches mechanical perfection. Not a single action, movement or input feels like it could be tighter; it’s that intangible feeling of player interaction synchronising seamlessly with computer reaction that makes this multiplayer shooter shine brighter than most.
Speaking of bright, that’s definitely not a word I’d use to describe the A.I. Grunts and Spectres that populate every match. Meandering the map at what can only be described as a pace not suitable in a warzone, the Grunts languish around key areas of each map, randomly firing pot shots here and there at the opposing team, doing very little to contribute to the actual score of the game. What’s great about these A.I.-controlled characters is that they give novice players the opportunity to contribute to the overall success of the team without the absolute feeling of incompetence that may occur if they only faced experienced human opponents. That’s not to say that skilled players will feel less fulfilled for taking them out. Grunts and Spectres pose a considerable threat to Titans, often whipping out anti-Titan weapons, such as the rocket launcher, to deal serious damage to naïve players that brush them off as fodder.
While these reinforcements disappoint in ground-to-ground combat, they excel in warfare communication. Nearby NPCs will call out enemy Pilot and Titan locations for you, allowing you to get the jump on an unsuspecting enemy or protect yourself from an adversary that’s ready to pounce. Simply by monitoring their actions, you’ll instantly realise where the action is happening, allowing you to quickly jump into the fray after each respawn.
An interesting new feature for players to be mindful of when respawning is the game’s Burn Cards; single-use perks you earn after each match. Your overall performance and the types of Challenges you complete will dictate what type of Burn Cards you’ll receive. The catch is that you can only take a maximum of three cards into each match; only one can be activated at a time, and once activated, the reward will last only until your next death. Combining the thrill of a gamble with the promise of a temporary advantage, these Burn Cards add a tertiary level of strategy to each match and equip you with a small confidence boost when you really need it.
Conversely, I’m not confident that the amount of game modes and load out customisation options in Titanfall will deliver the type of longevity many gamers expect from modern multiplayer shooters. Far from being barebones, the ability to create varied and unique Pilot and Titan loadouts is there, it just lacks the sort of depth we’ve seen in franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield.
In spite of those fears, Titanfall has provided the most fun I’ve had in a multiplayer shooter since Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007. While many shooters nowadays focus on delivering scripted and manufactured moments of awe and suspense to thrill the player, it takes a courageous and talented developer to create a sandbox that facilitates the possibility of these epic moments, and that’s what Respawn Entertainment has accomplished here. Titanfall marries seamless shooter mechanics with a sublime traversal system to create a bad-ass simulator unlike any other. While some elements of the initial package could be expanded upon, it’s a beautiful debut title that thrusts the team into the same class as developer powerhouses Bungie, DICE and Epic. While it’s not without its flaws, at the end of the day, Titanfall is easily the best game on Xbox One right now and sets the bar for mechanical polish colossally high for the rest of the industry to chase over the coming generation.
Image Credits: HD Paperwall, Forbes, VG Wallpaper, The Gamer’s Drop, Jeux PC Mag