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Titanfall Review

by William Schwartz

Titanfall has been billed as the first “must play” next generation game.  Respawn Entertainment, the team behind Call of Duty: Modern Warfare  at the helm, this Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC multiplayer title is a shooter fan’s dream.  It combines traditional first person shooting with mech combat, and it’s one of the first console shooters to ship as a multiplayer only title. But it is just that, a shooter fan’s dream. Titanfall iterates on a lot of the popular aspects of conventional shooters. It’s brings forward a lot of great ideas, but doesn’t necessarily forge a new path for the genre.

There’s no doubt that shooter fatigue set in for many in the last generation.  It got me in the tail-end.  These first person online-centric experiences saw a huge surge in popularity in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation.  We saw year after year of similar games from Activision with the Call of Duty series, and we saw EA push out quite a few shooters of their own.  Let’s not forget the Bungie’s of the world, 343 Industries, Guerrilla Games, Insomniac, the list goes on.  There were a lot of shooters, and that’s only the decent developers.  Last generation it seemed like everyone wanted to cash in on this trend, and Titanfall is the first big shooter of the new generation. Thankfully, Respawn Entertainment didn’t rely on just the tried and true in bringing Titanfall to market.  Titanfall is something old, and something new.  It iterates on what you’ve played before, and it breathes life into a genre that’s been beaten to death over the last eight years.

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So about that something old.   Titanfall is a shooter, and you can feel the Call of Duty lineage instantly.  That much is definitely true.  It’s fast and solid, both measured and frantic.  Point and shoot, instant gratification.  On the ground it feels most like its modern counterparts. Well, when you’re not running up walls or jumping across buildings and chasms.  It’s got some of the trimmings as well.  Customizable load outs, and a robust system of XP and Prestige, there are definitely some recognizable pieces to the popular FPS formula.  The game modes are familiar, they’re easily recognizable for anyone that’s played shooters in the last few years.  Accessible and familiar in a lot of regards, shooter fans should immediately know what to do in Titanfall.  But for those putting two and two together, no, this is not Call of Duty with mechs.  There’s something else going on here, something new.

No, this is not Call of Duty with mechs.

Titanfall offers a not-before-seen dynamic between Pilots, Titans, and Artificial Intelligence, that are wrapped into the familiar game modes that shooters play best in.   It’s still aim and shoot, no matter how you cut it, but it’s what’s been added that really makes the difference in separating Titanfall from the crowd.

Pilots are the character that you control in Titanfall.  The biggest differentiator between a Pilot, and say, your average shooter, is your ability to move freely throughout the world.  Scale buildings.  Jump and Double Jump to make seemingly impossible and acrobatic movements across the map.  You never feel constrained.  Modern shooter fans will feel most at home as a Pilot.  The gunplay is solid.  With the same type of rewarding  60 frames per second feedback that’s found in Call of Duty.  You can be outfitted with a number of different abilities and weapons as a pilot.  You can snipe enemies from a far, or get up close and personal with a close range loadout, there are options and weapons to fit every play style.    No matter what you choose, your core ability is freedom, and of course,  the option to call down a hulking mech known as a Titan into the battlefield.

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In most game modes, racking up points as a Pilot will earn you the ability to call in a Titan.  The massive robots can be driven by the Pilots, or can be controlled by AI.  Either way, they are formidable opponents on the field of play.  They’ve got their own set of customization options to suit your playstyle, which includes a number of different perks and loadout options.  There’s also a number of different chassis for the Titans which provide particular starting statistics.  There’s the well rounded Atlus, a more agile Stryder, and the tanking Ogre. Controlling the Titans is done from the first person. It’s just a new set up of rules that differs from the pilots. Titans can dash across the map, use shields and powerful attacks, these robots are extremely fun to control, and feel like a intuitive extension to the pilots.

When you put it all together the cogs start turning to form an incredible online experience

Titanfall is a six on six multiplayer affair, but there could be far more going on on screen than that number denotes.  With six pilots on each side, and the ability to have 12 Titans on the battlefield at once, that number doubles.  Though Respawn also introduces AI soldiers into the mix for Titanfall, whose numbers can significantly increase the number of things to shoot at.  Taking a page from battle arena games, AI plays the role of meaningful fodder in Titanfall.  These AI soldiers will move around the battlefield like human controlled units, and  Pilots can take them out to earn points towards a number of things, like taking time off a countdown timer to call in a Titan.  The AI is passable, and gets the job done of making each map feel like a warzone, but they hardly offer the level of challenge that human opposition can.

When you put these elements into play across the game’s 15 multiplayer maps, the cogs start turning to form an incredible online experience.  Titanfall is a thrilling online playground filled with exciting “Oh shit, I can’t believe that just happened” moments.  These moments are inevitable — giant robots dropping from the sky is bound to do that.  The action is constant.  Titans fighting Titans, fighting pilots fighting other pilots, fighting the AI.  It’s FPS Gumbo.  The hulking mechs can squish the human pilots if they get too close, but a well timed jump allows Pilots to rodeo the giants and ride on their backs.  Titans smash through the chasis of another Titan in Doomstate to rip a Pilot from the cockpit and hurl them to their death.  Escaping narrowly from your exploding Titan with a well executed ejection maneuver, shot high into the air, only to land on the back of an enemy.  It never gets old. Titanfall is filled with moments like these, and there’s nothing else like it. There’s a massive rocks paper scissors system to the gameplay, that keeps Titanfall engaging on your first of fiftieth game.

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The adrenaline rush of Titanfall’s gameplay comes alongside a familiar system of challenges and unlocks.  Like other first person shooters, players can unlock new weapons, new abilities, and additional customization tools for their Titan and Pilot.  The unlocks system also brings something new to the table with Burn Cards.  These single-use items allow you to use powerful perks, for one life in a match. They can give you a temporary advantage on the field of play.  They range considerably in functionality, and you’ll stack these Burn Cards in an inventory.  You can take three Burn Cards into any match, and use all three.     It’s an interesting take on the perks mechanic from Call of Duty, and something that keeps your attention towards earning unlockables, it’s got that free to play feeling about it, without all the agregious gouging of your pocketbook for chances at rare and unique power-ups.

Campaign Multiplayer is more of missed opportunity than anything

Titanfall definitely iterates on a lot of the proven successful ideas of modern shooters, and sticking with that theme, they’ve also forgone any single player campaign in Titanfall.  The draw is multiplayer.  If you’re looking for any sort of solitary narrative-driven experience in Titanfall, you won’t find it.   Instead, Respawn has opted to expand the universe and lore of Titanfall through what they call Campaign Multiplayer.

Unfortunately, Campaign Multiplayer is more of a missed opportunity than anything. It’s such a bare bones mode that you might find yourself wondering why Respawn bothered at all. It’s essentially more multiplayer on a predetermined sequence of maps with extended audio briefings and some very short cutscenes in the beginning and end of some of the maps. Whether you win or lose, you’ll continue to play until you finish the campaign with your faction, and it doesn’t really matter if you win or lose at all. The story plays out exactly the same for each side, and it’s uninspired to say the very least. There is very little exposition, and what is there doesn’t do a very good job of drawing you into the skeleton story line. It doesn’t help that much of this narrative is driven through audio sequences that occur during the multiplayer rounds. It’s almost impossible to both take in what’s going on during the match, and actually play the multiplayer and communicate with your online teammates.

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While it does offer some color to the game world and introduce some characters of the Titanfall universe, it’s never going to be able to compare to a dedicated single player campaign when it comes to delivering on story or narrative.  Campaign Multiplayer does the absolute bare minimum to fill you in and get you invested in this new world. The real unfortunate thing is, you’ll need to play it through to the end.  Finishing both the IMC and Militia campaigns will unlock new Titan Chassis to customize. The only way you’ll get a customizable Stryder and Ogre Titan is if you finish the lengthy campaign for both factions. It’s a slog through only Attrition and Hardpoint game modes. It could have used some mission-specific objectives that actually tie into the story to draw you in.

Things get a little dicey on the Xbox One

When it comes to performance on the Xbox One for Titanfall, that’s where things get a little dicey.  When compared to its PC counterpart with high resolution textures and 1080p native resolution, Titanfall on Xbox One is a bit of an under-performer.   Launching at 792p resolution on the console is a bit of a let down, there are noticeable framerate dips when action gets heaviest.  This usually occurs in the frequent Titan on Titan violence where explosions litter the screen.  It’s somewhat of a letdown for a $500 console to have this type of performance. Titanfall isn’t going to wow you with visuals or effects, but it’s not an ugly game by any means.

Titanfall also relies heavily on Microsoft’s Azure infrastructure. For the most part, Titanfall is performing well. 30 hours in and we’ve yet to experience any truly game ruining experiences. Partying up with friends and staying connected, the day one experience for Titanfall has been outstanding when compared to other multiplayer titles on the Xbox One. This seems like a really good sign for things going forward. Starting off on a good foot should mean that things will only get better with time.

Titanfall is not entirely different than other shooters, but rather a complex re-imagining of the genre. Respawn Entertainment seems to have cherry picked the very best aspects of contemporary shooters for Titanfall, and it works incredibly well. The dynamic between the Pilots, Titans, and AI is fun and fresh, and it works in every mode offered. Nothing in Titanfall feels shoehorned in. Titanfall is pure, unadulterated multiplayer fun, but it’s been built for a very specific person. That person is either the shooter fan who still can’t get enough of the online multiplayer experience, or the person that may have been turned off by the lack of innovation in the genre over the last few years.

"loved"
loved

Titanfall

  • Available On: Xbox One, PC
  • Published By: Electronic Arts
  • Developed By: Respawn Entertainment
  • Genre: Shooter
  • US Release Date: March 11th, 2014
  • Reviewed On: Xbox One
  • Quote: "Respawn Entertainment seems to have cherry picked the very best aspects of contemporary shooters for Titanfall, and it works incredibly well. The dynamic between the Pilots, Titans, and AI is fun and fresh, and it works surprisingly well in every mode offered. Titanfall is pure, unadulterated multiplayer gaming. "
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