Beta’d Review: TITANFALL
By Dan Casey on March 14, 2014
They say that patience is a virtue, but the fact that it’s taken me this long to get a chance to actually sit down and play Respawn Entertainment’s excellent Titanfall has been a source of continual ire for me. Fortunately, good things come to those who wait, and Titanfall is one hell of a good thing. Considering the massive hype surrounding the game since its thunderous debut at E3 last year (it was our pick for Best in Show), many gamers, myself included, were nervous that the game wouldn’t deliver on its promising premise. Xbox Live login issues and reports of cheaters aside, the game expands on the raucous fun of the beta and manages to find ways to innovate the increasingly homogenized genre of competitive multiplayer shooters.
The story of Titanfall is an interesting one: In 2007, Infinity Ward changed the face of competitive multiplayer gaming as we know it with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. It’s no small secret that the studio left the experience fractured, wracked by bad blood that would fester until a group of staff members left in 2010 to form Respawn Entertainment. In the meantime, Call of Dutys have been churned out like clockwork, falling into the unfortunate model of annualized sports games, receiving little more than a new coat of paint and minor gameplay tweaks.
It would have been easy for Respawn to fall into the same trap. Rather, they’ve taken elements from across the spectrum of multiplayer shooters — bits and pieces of Modern Warfare, Tribe, and Mechwarrior, to name a few — and have stitched together a cohesive pastiche of influences to create a fast-paced, frenetic multiplayer shooter that seamlessly blends the thrills of mobile infantry and mech combat. The result feels both familiar and brand new; Anyone who plays a decent amount of FPS games will be right at home, and new players will find plenty to like as well once they surmount the parkour-and-jet-pack-laden learning curve.
Although the game is multiplayer only, Respawn has integrated a campaign mode into the online experience. Basically, in Titanfall, humans have expanded to the far reaches of space, living under a corporate-run government in various colonies. Naturally, the colonists get fed up with the powers that be and launch an uprising against their iron-fisted rulers, fighting each other with the titular Titans, giant mechanized armored suits that look like a more industrial version of a Gundam or an EVA. So, nothing revolutionary as far as genre tropes are concerned, but enough of a hook to give context to the mecha mayhem.
The multiplayer campaign plays out in the form of narrative voiceovers in between missions and contextual status updates during the course of each round. Gamers looking for a robust, story-driven campaign will be disappointed in the traditional sense, but Respawn’s narrative integration within a multiplayer framework is well done, given their self-imposed constraints.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the most innovative and intuitive things about Titanfall is the sense of mobility you have as a player. With the ability to double-jump using a jet pack, run along walls at high velocity, and generally parkour your way around the game’s fifteen maps, each life gives you a sense of momentum and freedom as you vault over obstacles, clamber aboard lumbering Titans, and ride ziplines across vast expanses while providing suppressing fire for your teammates. Few warzones manage to feel as fun and unrestrictive as Titanfall‘s.
Every player begins the round as a Pilot, a foot soldier equipped with a mobility kit that helps them navigate the battlefield mayhem. Yet, if you run around like a standard FPS, you’re going to find yourself a sidewalk Jackson Pollock with a quickness. Verticality is just as important as horizontality in Titanfall, and death can come from any direction at any time. Yet, while you’re spend a good two-thirds of your in-game time running around on foot, the remaining third is spent in those towering robotic beasts of burden, the Titans.
While you’re running around on foot, your Titan is being constructed off-world on a command craft of sorts. Typically, a 2-minute countdown begins once you start the round. Once the countdown hits zero, you’re able to summon your mighty mech via setting a drop point. After a brief interlude, the Titan is dropped in from orbit, surrounded by a protective Dome Shield, and ready for you to climb inside to pilot your newfound murder machine. Though they may stand nearly two stories tall, these Titans are surprisingly sprightly, offering a wide variety of weaponry, defensive countermeasures, and raw power with which to wreak havoc on your fellow gamers.
Though the Titans are tremendously powerful, they’re not impervious to harm. The game is meticulously balanced and, interestingly enough, the fastest, deadliest way to kill a Titan is as a Pilot on the ground. Not only are Pilots able to access areas Titans cannot, but they’re also able to “rodeo” the giant machines, climbing aboard their backs, ripping open access panels, and unloading a payload into the engine core to critically damage them. This makes every encounter an exciting high-wire act of trying to out maneuver your opponent without getting crushed by giant metal foot or dealing with hop-ons hellbent on killing you.
Customization options are also available in spades, allowing you to tweak your loadouts to your heart’s content and create options for every situation the battle may call for. Burn Cards are another terrific addition to the standard FPS mix. In lieu of a perks system, Burn Cards are single-use, single-life power-ups that you earn during the course of matches that offer up bonuses like increased running speed, reduced Titan construction time, increased experience, and much more. They add a sense of randomness to the proceedings and are a nice, non-gamebreaking way to give yourself an edge in combat, even if just for one life.
Having spent hours upon hours playing the beta and the full release, I can firmly say that Titanfall is the first real reason to own an Xbox One. No other game up to this point has really justified my purchase of what has essentially been a $499 way to turn my TV on by shouting “Xbox, turn on” or “Xbox, watch Food Network”. Titanfall may not reinvent the wheel, but it has pushed the envelope as to what the wheel can do and what gamers can and should expect from a fast-paced competitive multiplayer shooter. This is a watershed moment for next-gen gaming and hopefully a motivational tool that will encourage Respawn’s fellow devs to step their game up and deliver an experience as wholly joyful and addictively fun as Titanfall.
What do you think of Titanfall? Let us know in the comments below. Also, tell me your XBL handle so we can all game together.