No doubt you’ve heard the news: Respawn Entertainment and EA’s Titanfall‘s beta was open to everyone with an Xbox One. Players all over the world were logging in, and experiencing first-hand is widely considered the most anticipated shooter in years.
The initial excitement of the beta announcement led to slight disappointment when Australian players learned that Titanfall had no local servers, and instead, Aussies would be relegated to various Asian servers, at the cost of latency-free gameplay. I’m happy to say that game’s Aussie connection is almost unfettered, with neither myself or other beta testers really detecting any lag at all. I have played roughly ten hours of Titanfall in the beta, and believe me when I can say, without hyperbole, that it is one of the best shooters I’ve played in years.
Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, and if you’re unfamiliar with Titanfall, allow me to introduce you to it. Titanfall is the first game from Respawn Entertainment, a game studio founded by Vince Zampella and Jason West, creators of the insanely popular Call of Duty franchise.
Set in the future, Titanfall casts players as pilots, who control enormous mechs (large tank-like suits of armour [think Pacific Rim]) amidst the chaos of a war between various factions. Not much of the game’s back-story is known at the moment, due to the lack of a traditional campaign mode (as well as the little that can be learnt from the beta) but with gameplay like this, I’m not going to complain. Now, onto the beta itself…
Titanfall’s impressive visuals are immediately noticeable. The first thing I did (and would recommend other players do) is play the game’s tutorial. Admittedly, I probably would have been quicker completing my first few lessons had I not been practically drooling over the games crisp visuals and brilliant lighting.
Upon completing the tutorial, players are able to unleash all the skills they’ve learnt on the battlefield, and boy, is it exhilarating! Titanfall features 6-on-6 game modes, similar to Call of Duty. At first, I was upset by what seemed like identical deathmatches I’ve experienced before, but thanks to some clever thinking from Respawn, the balance between players and NPCs (Yes, non-player characters are among human players) feels just right.
Having friendly and enemy NPCs running around for you to shoot add variety to the gameplay, and makes for a refreshing change to the simple two-team gameplay of other shooters. The NPCs can take various forms (grunts, Spectres, etc) and rarely do any significant damage on their own, but when they attack in numbers they can cause substantial damage to your pilot or titan, especially in conjunction with enemy pilots (actual players). More games need NPCs running around in their mix!
There is a weapon (or weapon part) for every type of shooter fan. There’s a carbine, sub-machine gun, shotgun, DMR sniper rifle and smart pistol (a lock-on pistol) and each is deadly when used correctly. There’s also two fairly standard sidearms, a frag grenade, Arc grenades (which damage enemy soldiers and stall enemy titan shields), as well as other special weapons. More weapons will no doubt be in the final version of the game.
The Titans (mechs) are an absolute blast to pilot. After a few minutes of a match, you will be alerted on-screen via an NPC on screen that your Titan will be ready to be deployed shortly. When you summon them into battle, they drop out of the sky to wherever you are. After that, you can choose to pilot them manually or have them fight on auto-pilot.
When choosing to manually operate your titan, your player will climb into the cockpit and the screen then changes to show the inside of your Titan’s cockpit. You have a main weapon and sub-weapon inside your Titan, and they can also have equitable perks, such as a nuclear explosion when they are destroyed, or quicker reloading.
When you set your Titan to auto-pilot, you can choose to have it follow you or guard a specific area. This is quite handy if you feel you’re on a roll on-foot, or if you wish to use your cloaking ability and snipe enemy players from cover.
I new the Titans would be cool, but I had no idea that the Titans would be amazing. Smashing through the core of an enemy titan and hurling the pilot within hundreds of feet away just doesn’t get old. Nor does killing everything around you with a well-positioned and well-timed nuclear blast.
Once you reach a certain level, you also unlock and earn “burn cards”, which act as a one-life/spawn perk. You can collect and stock multiple burn cards, but you can only activate one per life, and once you use them, they’re gone. Some are small buffs to your player, such as increased movement speed, and others are modified weapons, like assault rifles with extra damage, or explosive sniper rifle shells.
The burn cards are a brilliant idea, as they can help a low-level player compete with other players (as they certainly did for me) and also help other players discover new weapons or tactics. It’s doubtful that permanent perks like in Call of Duty will make an appearance as the burn cards manage to keep everything fair between players (seeing as they are frequently unlocked and only last one life).
There are only two maps present in the Titanfall beta, but both differ from each other enough to feel like complete opposites, but each belongs in the fantastic world Respawn have created. The action in Titanfall is quite full-on, and you will rarely have much time (if any) to appreciate the cherry blossom trees and well-designed building interiors.
Now you might have heard that there isn’t a story in Titanfall, which simply isn’t true. There is a story, which is told by the game’s NPCs, level design and other things. Sometimes, you’re simply fighting and absorbing the story, even if you don’t realise it. I’ve heard grunts talk about relationship problems, past missions, and even my own actions in the same match. Respawn’s past experiences with first-person-shooters have taught them that their greatest strength is multiplayer, so it makes perfect sense for them to tell the game’s story through multiplayer.
Titanfall is shaping up to be one of the best competitive shooters of all time, if not the greatest competitive shooter of all time. The ingenious use of burn cards, wall running, mechs and Titanfall‘s other unique features make this game feel like a huge advancement for shooters. If you’ve become cynical and jaded by the arguably “copy-paste” approach from other new shooters and sequels to established franchises, Titanfall will win you back, and then some.
Titanfall releases on March 11th for Xbox One and PC, and March 25th for Xbox 360.