Written Monday, March 10, 2014 By Dan Webb
Hey you! I bet you came here looking for a Titanfall review. But first let me offer you a riddle. If the Titan is both human controlled, like a mech, and is also a sentient AI, like a robot, what would you classify a Titan as then? It’s an interesting question and one that makes for a more thought-provoking start to the proceedings here, and let’s be honest, more entertaining than me mentioning the successful beta or the Infinity Ward roots. We all know about that and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter.
What we simply have here is a game, created by a studio and potentially the first killer-app of the generation – unless you count Dead Rising 3, which I do – nothing more, nothing less. It marks a hugely positive start to the generation though.
First things first, let’s get this out of the way: Titanfall is a multiplayer game and unless that’s what you’re after, start looking elsewhere. Heck, there isn’t even much of a story to it, although Respawn has obviously tried to force one in as the game’s campaign mode of sorts. This nine round game mode effectively puts a story into what is a series of preset multiplayer rounds which sees the IMC duke it out with the Militia in an area called 'The Frontier.' Players can play as either side in the combat – each of which takes around 2-hours to complete – but rather bizarrely, it has no effect on the actual story, which seems rather odd.
Jump! Jump with all your might!
Aside from a few mid-mission contextual AI occurrences and the odd big explosion, it’s effectively just a rigid multiplayer mode in which you play a certain number of maps and modes in order. It’s classic 'mingleplayer' from Respawn here, in that no one has managed to nail down this formula yet. Unfortunately though, folks, you’re going to have to sit through it if you want to unlock all three different Titan chassis.
What Respawn has nailed is the minute-to-minute first-person shooter gameplay which is central to the game’s success as a multiplayer game. Why the gameplay is so strong can pretty much be put down to three keys areas: balance, accessibility and strategy.
Balance is a word that floats around all too often when discussing multiplayer games without all too much emphasis being put on how it’s actually balanced. Well, let me change that. Titanfall is keenly balanced in very different areas, the first area is the Titans. Having sunk a considerable amount of time into each of the three Titan classes, it’s clear that there isn’t one that you’d necessarily favour over another, except in terms of personal preference.
The Atlas (the all-rounder), the Stryder (agility) and Ogre (durability) all have their obvious strengths and weaknesses that ensure you’ll bounce back and forth, experimenting with each Titan class. Then there’s the Pilots. As an on-foot human it’d be easy to assume that the Titans are always going to take you down, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, smart Pilots can be such a nuisance to other Titans that they won’t last long unless they think smartly too, and most of this comes from the free-running – and also the inclusion of Anti-Titan weapons – which in turn brings a welcome element of verticality to the game.
The balance extends across so many facets of Titanfall other than just Titan vs. Titan, Titan vs. Pilot and Pilot vs. Pilot as well, and with each class of Pilot and Titan having a choice of weapons, Tactical Ability, Ordnance and Kit to choose from when gearing up, that could so easily not have been the case. Whether you like the Vortex Shield, the Nuclear Ejection, Smart Pistol, the Sidewinder, the 40mm Cannon, the Kraber rifle, the Cloak, whatever; once you are at a level where you can create custom loadouts, the world is your oyster. And like the Titans, it comes down to personal preference, rather than feeling that you’re forced to use one because it’s infinitely – or even slightly – more powerful than the other stuff in the game. And yes, this is including the higher level unlocks as well.
Usually when someone says 'accessibility', it’s a bogey word. In this situation it's not, it merely means that Titanfall can be less punishing than other first-person shooters. That’s achieved in three ways: firstly, the Titans are almost as agile and responsive as the Pilots; secondly, by introducing Titans they’ve effectively extended the average lifetime clock, meaning it's not nearly as demoralising when you’re losing; and lastly, by introducing battlefield fodder for players to take down in the form of AI Grunts and Spectres. The latter unit is probably the most important as you can hack them, and with the game being 6 vs. 6, it also means that the battlefield feels more populated and closer to an all-out warzone.
Now, when it comes to strategy that doesn’t just mean working as a team and working out what equipment to take into battle. It means, what Burn cards – one-time use, one-life power ups - do you use and when? Do you hack Spectres to make them fight for you or do you take them down for points? Do you risk life and limb to hack a turret in enemy grounds to help sway the fight a little? Do you use a zipline to make your way across the map at speed, running the risk of being caught in the open? Strategy is at work on every micro and macro level you can think of. That’s not to say it’s forced down your throat, it just means it’s there if you want to adopt it, and doing so can benefit your game.
A Titan in this state, is generally considered quite bad.
In all there are 15 maps to throw down in, each of varying size and style. There’s a shantytown, a freighter spaceship wreck on the surface of The Frontier, space stations, a corporate HQ, various colonies, and so on. Respawn really has all of the bases covered. Not just in terms of style, but in terms of map types too – there are thin ones, more confined corridor-based maps, pure exteriors, those that take place in wide-open environments, tall maps, flat maps; you name it. It’s obvious that some are crafted for each of the five specific game modes, but they tend to work whatever the circumstances.
Speaking of modes, there are no real surprises when it comes to Titanfall and again, all of the usual bases have been covered. There’s Attrition, your standard deathmatch mode, where players accrue points for all manner of takedowns; there’s the classic Hardpoint (territories) and Capture the Flag modes too; as well as the more Titan and Pilot orientated modes, Last Titan Standing (where you have one Titan each, per round) and Pilot Hunter (where only Pilot kills count towards the score). Because Titanfall's gameplay formula is so strong, the lack of surprises when it comes to game modes never becomes an issue.
Titanfall’s main problem is how robust a package it is when it comes to providing value and longevity. With a campaign you’re unlikely to visit after you’ve unlocked the other Titans, no private lobbies or custom matches, five individual game types and 15 maps, you’ve got to question how long that selection of content can keep you hooked. Heck, there’s no option to choose certain maps or even vote for them, one of a few oversights. If you’re going to sink all of your efforts into creating a multiplayer-centric game, all of these details should be catered for. Simply put, they’re not.
"Wait. Where's the dodge button again?"
When it comes to the achievements, I always lament lists that don’t make use of all 50, and Titanfall is one such offender. There are seemingly no minimum or maximum amount these days, but that’s what we’ve come to expect. Now, when you only use 35, I expect maximum effort, but the truth is that there’s little creativity in Titanfall’s list. Win this many matches, complete this, complete that... Yawn. Drop Titans on five enemies, yes, we want more of that. Why there isn’t an achievement for dropping your Titan on another Titan and killing them though, I’ll never know.
Other than a few hiccups and oversights, Titanfall is the shooter that so many gamers have been waiting for. It’s almost faultless from a gameplay perspective, blending some hardcore mech-heavy action when you’re piloting a Titan with the agile parkour-orientated Pilot gameplay, but it may be judged to be lacking when you look at the online options – no private lobbies, custom matches and a forgettable campaign. Still, despite these few shortcomings, Titanfall is sure to usher in a new era of multiplayer shooters and is a game that is more than worthy of your time.
There isn’t much to the game from an audio perspective, except for some impressive and immersive sound effects.
It’s not going to blow you away with its graphical grunt, but it sure does look pretty, regardless.
Intuitive and responsive controls make the game a joy to control, whether you’re free-running or piloting a Titan.
There’s plenty of multiplayer madness to be had across the 15 maps and five game modes, but there are a few niggling oversights when it comes to the rest of the game. Otherwise, excellent.
Well, there’s only 35 for starters, and a good chunk of them are ‘win this many’ and ‘complete this’ achievements. There’s some gooduns in there, but they’re too few and far-between.
Nobody can argue with Titanfall’s minute-to-minute gameplay. It’s a wonderful blend of verticality and brilliantly frenetic combat, and is sure to be the new standard of awesome when it comes to competitive multiplayer shooters. What you can argue with is the package as a whole, which could be described as a little light and lacking in some places. Still, there's a lot to be said for the inherently fun, shooty mech action that Titanfall has to offer.
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