October 24, 2016
Respawn’s rich history in the first-person shooter genre certainly isn’t lost in Titanfall 2. The development team cites Half-Life as a major influence and told us at a review event that they’d hoped to emulate a lot of Valve’s seminal shooter in their own game. While that’s always going to be a lofty goal, it feels like Respawn has aimed as high as possible, and even if the team didn’t quite achieve the ground-breaking success of Half-Life, they certainly made a campaign worth playing.
In the story, you play as generic shooty space marine Jack Cooper. Cooper is an everyman, a nobody from some backwater planet somewhere that had dreams of being a pilot. His arc never really goes anywhere from there, either: he always remains this beige, blank canvas of a man - the sort of protagonist a very specific audience would feel comfortable projecting themselves onto. But it works - to be honest, Cooper takes a back seat as far as the story’s concerned, anyway: it’s Titan mech BT-7274 that steals the limelight here.
BT is an inadvertently cocky Titan - Respawn told us that they had never really ‘done’ humour in their games before, and so using the wry, dry character of BT to offset some of Cooper’s more ‘hilarious’ dialogue choices is a wonderful contrast. BT reminds us of Drax from Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy - a logical Titan that uses its mathematical temperament to sarcastic effect. We thought the Titan’s personality might wear thin after a while, but it didn’t: we found ourselves laughing out loud often, right until the end of the game.
In terms of pacing, the story is good. It reminds us a little of Halo 3: ODST - high praise! - and the rhythm you fall into throughout the game works wonders with the mechanics Respawn slowly unveils to you. We assumed - perhaps arrogantly - that everything you have access to in the multiplayer would slowly be introduced in the campaign. How wrong we were! There are many surprises to be had from Titanfall 2’s single-player mode - Respawn isn’t scared of going kinda high-concept with this story, and that’s what sets it apart from the other, more ‘grounded’ FPS campaigns out there.
Between some pretty inventive platforming sections and a couple of really high-intensity combat zones, you should never really get bored of what this game throws at you. We got through the whole thing on Hard in about 6 hours, but this is a game that celebrates quality over quantity - in that time, we’ve struggled to find a bad level or story beat that brings the experience down. Every level is self-contained, themed, and it escalates amazingly. What starts off as a soldier and his newly acquired Titan stranded on the surface of a planet soon becomes a plot based on massive set-pieces and adrenaline-filled mid-air battles. Just when you think you’ve seen everything the game can throw at you - BOOM - a Titan Battle Royale ensues.
If that’s not enough to convince you to jump into the single-player, then the boss battles should be - each Big Bad you come up against feels based on the most ludicrous villains of pop culture (this isn’t a bad thing), and the little arenas you have to fight them in really serve to highlight their personalities. These encounters break up the pace of the story nicely, and they never feel too hard… in fact, that’s one of our few issues with the game: the difficulty.
So like we said, we played the campaign on Hard. It wasn’t Hard - not really. There were certain sections where we had to bang our heads against the wall a little more than we liked until we got through, but it wasn’t hard. The AI is mostly to blame here - for the most part they’re pretty dumb and happy to rush you until their wave respawn counter is diminished, but certain units seem more inclined to ‘think’ tactically - unfortunately, these demi-bosses only pop up here and there.
The game is insistent on a simple rule that ensures your survival: run and gun. If you keep moving, you’re likely to survive. This took us a while to get used to - so many games these days just love the use of cover - but once we were in the habit of chaining our abilities together, the game became a lot simpler. Think of Titanfall 2 like a grim dance - run, shoot, slide, jump, wall run, jump, shoot. Every arena is built to accommodate this tactic, and in many ways this game succeeds where Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst failed - it’s fast and fierce enough that combat never drags, and your jet-enabled jumpsuit will always give you, as a player, the benefit of the doubt. That is to say: it handles superbly. It’s a shame it never feels like the AI can keep up with you, though.
So let’s go on to multiplayer. It seems the open tech test Respawn put out earlier this year damaged the reputation of the game somewhat, but having played the final version of the game with a crew of 64+ people, we have to say - it’s good fun. Our main complaints about the unofficial beta have been waylaid: we no longer feel there are unfair potshots from across the map, we no longer feel Titans are defenceless against pilots, and we no longer feel snipers have an unfair advantage thanks to seemingly random respawn points littered across the combat arena.
There have been a few noticeable tweaks behind the scenes, but a lot of what makes Titanfall 2’s MP stand out are the small, incremental changes that Respawn has enacted since the tech test. They’re hard to really nail down, but everything felt a lot smoother in this version of the game, and opening up the full list of Titan and pilot abilities… well, that’s a game-changer.
First of all, the various pilot builds really come into their own in MP now - we used practically nothing but the grappling hook in the tech test - the maneuverability and speed it gave you felt ludicrous compared to everything else. But in this version of the game, we couldn’t peel ourselves away from the ‘cloaked’ pilot - it allowed us to get the drop on our foes and 9 times out of 10 be the ‘first to Titanfall’.
That doesn't grant you the crushing victory you’d think, though; with a whole roster of Titans at your fingertips, you’d expect some to feel underpowered or useless. On the contrary, this whole game now feels like a challenge - you have to pick to counter your foes and take advantage of what their Titans can’t defend against. We published an interview where Respawn told us ‘each Titan feels like a Street Fighter character’, and you can really feel that come across in the multiplayer. We’re sure a deep meta is going to emerge in the coming months, and we’re happy about that - it means people are going to push these Titan builds and take advantage of whatever they have to offer.
The customisation options may seem relatively scant on a Titan-by-Titan basis, but we think the game is geared more towards levelling up their Cores and using them to damage control, rather than making a build that is ostensibly ‘yours’. We like that - it fits in with the theme and world of Titanfall. It feels wholesome, in an online multiplayer game.
You’ll have to take what we’ve said on the multiplayer side with a degree of caution - we didn’t play on live servers and we didn’t play against a public that’s had chance to figure out any exploits. But what we did play seemed very solid, and very fair, and the progression kept us captivated for as long as we were playing. We think that maybe newcomers to the game will have trouble coming in later - once everyone has access to everything, newbies will have a hard time fighting against the advanced armory on offer - but for now, that’s a purely skeptical outlook.
For the most part, this game is solid in both single-player and multiplayer portions. A few AI qualms aside, and a couple of reservations about the half-life of the multiplayer that remain to be seen, we’re confident in saying this: Titanfall 2 is a better game than its predecessor, sporting a rollercoaster single-player mode and a multiplayer that’s different enough from anything out there to really set it apart. If you played the first and enjoyed it, you’re going to get more than your money’s worth out of this. If you’re new to the series, you’re in luck: because you’re jumping in at the best bit so far.
Titanfall’s now-classic speed works so well in this game - Respawn has studied everything that made the original game so enjoyable in multiplayer and built a solid story experience around those elements. The multiplayer is evolving, and whilst some may argue it's getting top-heavy, we truly believe that every alteration Respawn has made to the core Titanfall experience has been for the better, resulting in a stronger, better and more robust sequel.