On consoles, the online shooter landscape has been dominated for years by a trio of franchises: Call of Duty, Battlefield and Halo. Other franchises have come into the mix at one point or another, but few have managed to survive in the shadows of the three FPS juggernauts.
After leaving Infinity Ward (And taking several key staff with him) Vince Zampella (creator of Call of Duty) announced a new studio and a new sci-fi shooter in development to be published by EA Games. That studio is Respawn Entertainment, and that game, is ‘Titanfall’.
Finally, after millions of gamers have been “standing by” for an unbearable amount of time, ‘Titanfall’ has landed. With no single-player offline campaign, it seems as though Vince Zampella and his team of ex-Infinity Ward staff have focused on what they do best – online multiplayer. Is Titanfall the sci-fi messiah we’ve all been waiting for? Or have we been led astray by the recent hype?
After pressing start at Titanfall’s title screen, a video introduces players to the world of Titanfall. Actual recorded footage of people, life events and space exploration met with realistic animated cut scenes of advanced spaceships and planets, which was clever and also lends realism to the game. Watching the video, it isn’t too outlandish to think that events like these could happen in our lifetime. Perhaps it was just the clever use of real footage beforehand, but the opening video helps draw a line between the real world of now and the fictitious future found in Titanfall.
With so much original content found in Titanfall, it’s inevitable that new pilots (players) will have to complete an introductory tutorial. Thankfully, this has been made as painless as possible, and is over rather quickly. By the end of the tutorial, you will know how to move in the game world both on foot (including wall-running and double jumping) and in your Titan (mech). You will also get a brief introduction to the game’s weapons, as well as some of your Titan’s weapons. From here, you are free to jump into multiplayer matches of your choosing, or play the game’s “campaign” missions, which are also online-only and a multiplayer affair.
I say “campaign” with quotation marks because Titanfall’s campaign is a rather odd affair, because of both how it was made and what the modern gamer is accustomed to. It breaks tradition, and instead of a long-winded series of extremely-scripted story events ala Call of Duty (where the player either rushes check points or spends an insufferable amount of time behind cover), the campaign’s story events take place during actual multiplayer matches. For me, this has both good and bad points to it.
If you consider yourself a competitive online gamer, you can happily run into the fray of battle and ignore the mission briefings as well as the silly bravado that takes place on your cockpit’s screen. If like me, however, you would like to learn more about the world in Titanfall, you might find that learning the campaign’s details take more than one match on a particular map. There’s so much going on it can get daunting sometimes, and I must admit that the intricacies of Titanfall’s story were missed by myself and other players I know.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t a story – far from it. It’s just that unlike in other game’s there are no rest periods to take the details in, but this also means that there are no annoying moments where you feel like you’re being bludgeoned over the head with the game’s story like in other FPS games (I get it, I get it, the Russians are bad! Now stop blocking my way!). Perhaps Zampella and Respawn thought that they should focus on the balance between a campaign and multiplayer, and not deliver yet-another tired FPS story. I mean, aren’t we all sick of the same old military shooter stories by now? I know I am, but here’s the thing: Titanfall is the one shooter that doesn’t have a story that has the potential to have an mind-blowing story. Seriously, the world looks like something out of a Ridley Scott sci-fi movie, I just wished it had a single-player story to match, as it feels like a missed opportunity.
The story itself tells the tale of two warring factions. The IMC is a major corporation, which has come to the frontier to extract valuable resources, and the Militia are the civilian military of Titanfall, and act as the resistance against IMC’s evil corporate empire. The Militia’s main characters are Mac, a Titan war veteran and former mutineer, Bish, the intel specialist and Sarah, a Militia marauder corps leader.
If I’m to be completely honest, the characters are pretty weak, and while they might initially feel like many characters you’ve seen in a game or movie before, they don’t feel that important. Because the story takes place in multiplayer matches, having them fight alongside you (or for you) would feel jarring to the multiplayer experience, and because they don’t, they feel completely ineffectual, or worse, like politicians (in that they don’t actually fight in wars). Despite this, the campaign is an enjoyable experience, it just tends to clash with the multiplayer nature of Titanfall, especially when the enemy team could be capturing points while you’re listening to your two commanding officers drunkenly bicker.
Multiplayer is the order of the day though, and Titanfall truly does deliver a balanced and exhilarating experience in that regard. There are numerous modes available and each of them is a blast:
- Attrition – Titanfall’s version of team deathmatch, this mode sees players aiming to get the most kills in a time limit. Killing NPCs and pilots rewards points, though killing NPCs doesn’t give as many points as killing pilots (players). The first team to 250 points wins the match, and the losing team must extract from the battle after being defeated.
- Hardpoint Domination – The two teams fight for control of three key points on a map. Each point begins neutral at the start of a match, and can be captured by either team. Holding a point adds score points, and when the score limit is reached, the losing team must evacuate to their dropship.
- Pilot Hunter – Attrition, but only pilot kills are tracked.
- Capture the Flag – Two teams must capture the opposing team’s flag from their base, and return it to their base. Having Titans in Capture the Flag truly shakes up the traditional CTF formula. Do you hitch a ride on a friendly titan, which will no doubt make you a highly-visible target? Or do you sprint on foot with your cloaking ability active. You might be thinking to yourself “Yeah yeah, I’ve played CTF before!”, but trust me, you haven’t played it like this. Titanfall breathes life into a classic shooter match type.
- Last Titan Standing – The two teams both begin in their Titans, and the game ends when all Titans on a team are destroyed. Strategy and co-operation are key in this game mode, and lone wolves should consider becoming team players, as running off solo will only lead to bitter defeat. You’ll want to learn the ins and outs of different Titan weapons and customisations if you’ll want to succeed!
Where Titanfall truly shines though, is its shooting mechanics. I was beginning to think that something was awry with the new consoles, as the shooting games I’ve played on them just didn’t feel quite right with the Xbox One and PS4’s controllers, but Titanfall works perfectly. Whether you’re on foot or in a Titan, the controls are extremely accessible and highly responsive. Experienced FPS gamers will be able to jump immediately into the action with confidence, and it won’t be very long before more inexperienced gamers grasp the game’s controls either.
There are a total of 15 maps in Titanfall, and each one definitely has its own identity while complementing the others. Unlike other shooters, there really isn’t one bad map in the game. The free-running mechanics and Titans have a huge influence on the map design, but it isn’t an awkward mess of zip lines and seemingly randomly-placed objects like in Far Cry 3‘s multiplayer. Far from it, these are logically designed maps with loading bays, office buildings, tactical areas, natural scenery, destroyed buildings and all manner of unique features that have been used perfectly.
Some maps are military bases, with open areas designed to gather Titans for immense battles, but with rooftops that allow for sniping, and damaged buildings and tight corridors which make for thrilling wall-running chases and shootouts. Other maps are huge outdoor areas, where players will want to find a protected route to massive gun turrets to help turn the tide of battle.
Weapons-wise, Titanfall has got you covered. There isn’t a ton of variety though, which has had other players tell me they’re disappointed as there really is only one or two types of some weapons. Compared to other games, there isn’t very many weapons at all, but Respawn have managed to provide players of all types enough tools to cater to them. The weapons also have unlockable mods (again, there isn’t many) that will also help cater to different play styles. Do you like to leap from rooftop to rooftop, sniping your prey and then disappearing into the scenery? Try a sniper rifle with a stabilizer and an AOG scope (and use your cloak ability!) Or are you wanting to hold a fortified position and provide cover for your team mates? Try the enhanced-zoom scope and a suppressor instead.
The Titan weapons are pretty much just Titan versions of Pilot weapons. There are chain guns, cannons, rail guns, arc cannons and more, so your Titan can be just as friendly to your play style as your pilot is. I prefer to go in with a high-damage, low-defense Titan, and combine it with a nuclear core that can destroy enemy pilots and Titans upon detonation. Sometimes though, I like to have a Titan sniper, which is equipped with a vortex shield (A shield which can suck in enemy rounds and then hurl them back at the enemy) and rail gun. There are also three different types of titans – the Atlas (which has a balance between armor and speed), the Stryder (which is nimble, but has less armor) and the Ogre (a tank on legs). Learning these will mean the differences between successful games of Capture the Flag and Last Titan Standing, though the standard Atlas is capable of every game mode.
Some players might find the lack of options disappointing, but it helps level the playing field knowing that everyone else has the same carbine or shotgun, and it also takes out that annoying “weapon learning period” that comes with a new FPS.
Being a game from the Call of Duty perfectors, you might expect a little something extra to help customise your pilot, and you’d be right. These aren’t perks though, these are tactical abilities and burn cards. Tactical abilities are equipped by Titans and pilots are can help in a variety of situations. Your Titan can unleash an electrically-charged cloud of smoke (Electric Smoke), which is harmful for enemy pilots and Titans, the afore-mentioned Vortex Shield, and the Particle Wall, which is a shield that blocks incoming enemy projectiles and rounds, but allows for your shots to pass through.
Pilots can use the Cloak ability, which almost completely conceal their appearance from enemy pilots and Titans (which is cancelled if you fire a weapon) for a limited time, the Stim ability, which allows players to move quicker and have enhanced regenerative health abilities for a limited time, and the Active Radar Pulse ability, which allows pilots to see enemies through walls for a limited time.
Burn Cards are one-use, one-life perks which are earned throughout the game. Some of these are pretty simple, such as “amped” weapons (weapons with enhanced damage, rate of fire or other unique perks), or enhanced speed, and others are more rare and have greater effects, such as unlimited grenades (which need to recharge) or a permanent tactical ability. I almost spent an entire game being able to see through walls, but I died and lost the burn card’s effect. You can take up to three into a battle, but you can only use one at a time (no invisible X-ray vision grenade spamming, I’m afraid!).
Once again, the burn cards are fun without providing too much of an advantage to players. Proof that Respawn have learnt what makes a great and balanced shooter.
Visually, Titanfall looks great. As I said earlier, some of the art direction is very reminiscent of a Ridley Scott film. The weapons, vehicles, maps and characters all blend seamlessy to create the best atmosphere I’ve seen in a shooter in years. Respawn have said that their influences include Ghost in the Shell, Bladerunner, Star Wars and the classic Sega title, Abrams Battle Tank. While I can’t see any Star Wars influences (maybe the ‘Boneyard’ map) I can see where the other influences have blended with Respawn’s vision. Even the tutorial is impressive.
- A refreshing take on the FPS genre
- Extremely fun, but also extremely accessible
- Tons of replayability
- Odd execution of campaign
- Lack of weapon variety
Titanfall is easily the best shooter I’ve played in years. I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement of DLC and am keen to see what direction Respawn will take the game and its inevitable sequels. The unique features such as burn cards, Titans, free-running, tactical abilities and the maps all blend to create one of the most original and fun online games in recent memory.