HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – I’m caught off guard by a pilot inside a hallway of a two-story building. He gets off a couple of shots lowering my health down to almost nothing. I manage a quick escape out of an open window with seconds to spare.
I then decide to turn the tables on my would-be killer and wall-run around the building into another window. My nemesis isn’t looking and that’s when I kick him out of the two-story building. This all happened in under a minute and it’s one of countless adrenaline pumping moments I went through while playing Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall.
Titanfall is the Xbox One’s killer-app. The must have game for Microsoft’s next-gen console. It won dozens of accolades at E3 2013 and there are many reasons why. Respawn Entertainment was founded by the developers of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which many believe changed the first-person shooter forever. This is Respawn’s first game, and it’s a daunting one at that.
Titanfall is not like Call of Duty in many ways. The game is centered around an online only match of 6v6 multiplayer. You’re either going to need Xbox Live or friends to play via system link. Respawn wants you to play this game online. The game skips a traditional single player campaign in favor of an interesting blend of story and multiplayer. The player is in control of a pilot from the Militia in one side of the campaign and the IMC on the other. In the campaign you basically play through a Team Deathmatch or a Hardpoint Domination (like Battlefield’s Conquest mode) against other players online. See what I mean about online only? Everything is played in the form of a 6v6 match. I played through both campaigns and couldn’t tell you a darn thing about what the story was, but I didn’t care! The developers chose to worry about the part of the game most people want to play, the multiplayer.
Many of you have seen what the game’s big draw is, GIANT ROBOTS. What I found to be the best part of the game though, was the balance between playing as a pilot or a Titan. Pilots can in fact slay Titans. The balancing that Respawn delivers is incredible.
Most matches have players starting out as a pilot. Each pilot has the ability to run along any wall inside a map. Not only can you wall-run, you have a jetpack that allows you to double jump. One of the best parts of the game is how fluid it all feels. The wall-running mechanic could have been awkward but it immediately becomes second nature. The ability to traverse each environment easily is a big help in the fights against Titans. I mentioned balance and the movement is a big part of that. The levels are designed “vertically.” When I say that I mean they encourage the player to constantly think about the shortest way up. Instead of running through a building and taking the stairs, why not just jump in through a window? The levels also allow you to travel from one end to the other without ever touching the ground. The designers include billboards and other items to help you wall-run throughout the environments. It’s great. The movement keeps fights against Titans fluid and intense. Since pilots are more mobile, they can duck in and out of fights.
One feature of the game that I think makes it more accessible is the fact that every player gets a Titan in a match. Games like Call of Duty can be daunting for first time players. In Titanfall everyone gets to hop in a Titan at some point, usually after around two and a half minutes. Players can speed up their “titanfall” by getting kills, completing challenges, or helping with objectives in games like Hardpoint Domination or Capture the Flag.
Each pilot has several abilities to unlock that you can equip in a traditional loadout setup. You can use a rechargeable cloak or my favorite, Stim which regenerates health and makes you faster for a short time. The possibilities are endless. It allows players to really play to their strengths as well. I tend to run-and-gun so I don’t use cloak. I like that the game doesn’t force you into one particular play style. Pilots also all carry an “anti-titan” weapon as well. These help the little guys take down the big guys. The standard rocket launcher can really put a dent into a Titan’s heath. Don’t like that approach? No problem. If you get close enough to a Titan double-tapping the jump button will vault you on-top of the mechanical beast. The pilot then rips off the Titan’’s cover and allows you to shoot its brains out.
Titans in turn have their own abilities. One of those deals with pesky pilots when they hop onto the top of a mech. The Electric Smoke ability drops a mist that injures pilots who are “rodeoing” or just nearby. Another Titan ability is the popular Vortex Shield which lets the player create a force field that grabs incoming projectiles and then sends them back at enemies.
There are three types of Titans. The Atlas is the all-around mech. It has a good bit of health and is fairly mobile. The Ogre is the heavy-class of mech. It is slower, but packs a lot of health. The Stryder is the light-class and is extremely mobile. It is the weakest of the three though. One thing I will say about any of the Titans is that controlling them feels great. I hoped that controlling the big mechs wouldn’t feel lumbering and it really doesn’t. It’s fluid and fast.
Titans also have a wide array of weaponry. You have everything from a chaingun to a plasma railgun. Everyone will find a weapon that suits them. Each weapon is also very upgradeable. This goes for Titans and pilots. You can put suppressors on pilot weapons and bigger magazines on Titan weapons, for example. The customization is a major plus.
A twist on the gameplay comes in the form of “burn cards.” These are single use boosters that can really swing a battle. Some give you a supercharged carbine but another might knock 80 seconds off of your Titan build. The catch? Each card only lasts for the duration of one life. If you equip a burn card and die immediately, it’s gone. Each time I equip one I’m always nervous that I’ll waste it and that makes it more intense. The burn cards are earned for completing challenges, leveling-up, or doing a scenario based objective. It’s a fantastic twist on the multiplayer shooter formula.
So we all know and love catching a human controlled player off guard is a great feeling. But what about the players who aren’t as gifted on the battlefield. Titanfall has built in AI-controlled enemies that fill out the levels. This does two things. It makes the 6v6 matches feel bigger but it also gives players easy to kill targets. Players who might struggle with other players can still help out on the battlefield by slaying grunts and Spectres (robots). Killing grunts also helps speed up your titanfall, making it a bonus for first-person shooter veterans as well. I find myself going after the bots when I’m struggling in a match. It keeps you from getting too down on yourself in a tough game!
I often judge a multiplayer shooter on how strong its maps are. If a shooter has great mechanics and solid weapons it can still be a bummer if the levels are sub-par. Luckily, Titanfall has maps that keep you coming back for more. There are 15 maps total. I would say 10 or 11 of those are fantastic. There are only a few maps that I tend to dislike. I would have liked a system to vote on which map comes up next though. Call of Duty and Halo both offer a voting system and I think it is sorely missed here.
The game is not a graphical powerhouse on Xbox One but it isn’t a downer either. The environments are massive for the most part and some even include alien creatures off in the distance. While it is not a visual stunner I found the game to look pretty good.
The game modes include Attrition (Team Deathmatch), Hardpoint Domination, Capture the Flag, Last Titan Standing (everyone has a Titan from the start and only one life), and Pilot Hunter (killing grunts gains you no points, only pilot kills count). One feature of CTF that I love is that Titans can carry the flag. Imagine running full speed with a flag inside a giant robot. It is awesome. That’s it though. The game is a bare bones affair. I think that Respawn’s approach has an upside but also a definite downside. They created a very polished number of modes but it’s very simplistic. Games like Halo have variant game modes like SWAT or Shotguns and Snipers. Titanfall is very rigid in its game modes. This rigidity combined with a complete disregard for a single player mode (sorry but what is there is not really a campaign) can be somewhat of a bummer.
Titanfall is a big step forward for a genre that has grown stale in the last several years. It also takes a small step backward in offering a limited game mode set. The good far outweighs the bad though. It’s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots come to life, with big guns. For a genre that tends to scare off newbies, Titanfall is accessible and fun. It’s a fast, fluid, and intense shooter that will force many other competitors to step up their games.