So rarely has the tagline of a release been so intrinsically tied to its gameplay but “Standby for Titanfall” manages to send shivers of excitement down my spine each and every time without fail. It’s not just a slogan, it’s a statement and a signal that Titanfall is indeed embarking new era first-person shooters.
Frantic, dizzying and polarised could be apt descriptions but that would be doing the work of developers Respawn Entertainment a huge injustice: for Titanfall is instead high-octane, finely tuned and immensely satisfying. Billed as not only one of the biggest releases of the year but as the title to revolutionise the now formulaic FPS genre and to kickstart the Xbox One’s life, Titanfall has an immense amount of pressure resting upon its shoulders.
However, fresh-faced in the industry the Respawn name may be, the pedigree of the team is far from that and they have crafted a game that, aside from a few quantity issues, will define the shooting genre from here on.
Having a familiar core to build off is part of Titanfall’s wonder, it blends fresh and exciting gameplay mechanics with the best of what we know and love to create a seamless experience. Though not all will have to offer it to the same degree, any shooter that fails to offer a fast, free and enjoyable movement system will seem stagnant and outdated – that is just how perfect the freedom of traversal is within Titanfall.
Reach for the roof
A double-jump feature – presented by a jet pack – and the pilot’s wall-running ability combine with precise level design to forge battles that are perpetually gratifying, filled with exquisite moment time and time again. Leaping from rooftop to rooftop without ever touching the floor, travelling the breadth of a map in lightning speed, relying on nailing your timing is more reminisce of a complex platformer than a shooter, but instead it provides the perfect balance between the pilots and the Titans.
With such constant mobility, verticality becomes your ally as getting the drop on one of the gigantic metal beasts is vital to success. Incredibly rare is the need to stay stationary; if you do you’re likely to be picked off. Speed and manoeuvrability are what are most likely to keep you alive and it results in a blistering pace that is maintained throughout a match.
This is where the Titan’s change things entirely. You literally embark to a different style of play when you enter your exoskeleton-esque Titan. Whilst you gain vast amounts of power you lose the mobility that keeps pilots alive and the option to leave the ground is removed entirely.
Much was made pre-release of the decision to limit games to six pilots though this does not seem a negative decision. How the game would have played with more we’ll never know but at no point do matches feel empty or sparse.
The inclusion of computer-controlled characters of limited intelligence was a masterstroke, offering a sense of war thanks to the populated battlefields. It also increases the accessibility of the game, as, regardless of who it is you kill, racking up a ten-enemy killstreak is a marvellous feeling.
The arsenal at hand to a Titan makes it easy to kill a pilot, whether by stomping on them, unleashing a barrage of missiles or using your weapons as potential overkill, but when engaged with an enemy Titan things get increasingly interesting. There is a separate tactic to taking on Titans, as there is for pilot-on-pilot and pilot-on-Titan. Weapon load-outs will play a large role in how to take-on your enemies and the variety is what is most pleasing.
You can try to remain unseen, using the cloaking ability in conjunction with the Smart Pistol for a more silent approach; or perhaps run and gun with increased endurance and a futuristic SMG at hand. On the whole, the array available provides many viable options for playing style – and the married Challenges to each provide incentives to change things up. The shotgun, as far too often in videogames, is overpowered though with a deadly range coupled with both a wide shell radius and fatal damage.
One part of the puzzle
As an online-only game, Titanfall sports no single player campaign at all which, given the sparseness in quantity within the multiplayer is disappointing. Just a handful of game modes put this expertly executed shooters longevity in question. A multiplayer campaign sporting a plot is present however, it offers little in the way of engaging narrative. It’s an interesting concept at providing something a little bit different with an, at times, stunning cinematic opening and snippets of NPC dialogue developing as the battle takes place but nothing you do feels as though it actually affects this. You either win or you lose as you would in the “classic” multiplayer, this way just means someone’s narrating your matches.
It follows a predetermined route that never deviates despite the outcome and only offers two of the game modes: Attrition (a points version of team deathmatch with Titan and pilot kills awarded more than grunts) and Hardpoint (which sees each team fight over three neutral points on the map). Elsewhere there’s Capture the Flag, Pilot Hunter (classic team deathmatch) and Last Titan Standing (an elimination mode).
The twist on each of the modes is the Epilogue which sees the losers attempt to escape on a dropship whilst the victors try to eliminate them before they can do so. Each player only has a single life in this period but the experience points reward is substantial that it’s worth the risk to fight. It offers the chance of a final victory for the defeated and can leave you feeling proud if you’re the sole survivor.
Though I’m appreciative that it runs at the highest settings on my not-to-hot graphics card, it means that the title fails to impress graphically. Built upon the Source engine means that the high framerate is there but it’s not what you’d expect from a title looking to set the next-generation world alight. Impressive art direction saves it though as there are moments that, despite the disappointing technical qualities, look utterly stunning.
There are so many tactical layers to Titanfall that are evident when you play against a team that are working together. Utilising burn cards (single one use benefits), coordinating attacks, using Titans to either follow or guard when in AI mode, and moving in groups showcases just how smart Titanfall is on so many levels.
It truly is a remarkable shooter that I can say, without reservation, is a must-play and is some of the most fun I’ve had with the genre in some time. That said, it’s disappointing that there’s not more content available and I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some sort of single-player or co-op only portion for the inevitable sequel.
Respawn can be mightily proud of their first release and have pushed the boundaries of the genre from this day forth. It’s already set the bar in many aspects for what FPS’ have to adhere to in this new generation.