Respawn Entertainment, comprised of the outhouse that gave us the last two great Call of Duty games, Modern Warfare 1 and 2, had a lot to live up to judging by their previous pedigree. Needless to say, they received the reception they wanted when the game was finally unveiled last year at Microsoft’s E3 show. The game swept awards at the show and left gamers salivating at the chance to finally play a competitive first person shooter that broke the monotony of stale multiplayer first person shooters that were getting increasingly derivative and uninspired. To many, the realisation was stark; THIS was the jump in fps’ that gamers were expecting after Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. The question is, does the game live up to that hype? The answer, for the most part, is yes.
‘ Game Changer’
Titanfall is more evolutionary than revolutionary. The gunplay is clearly inspired by Call of Duty; not surprising considering the developers are the ones that crafted the famous (or infamous, depending on how you see it) ‘formula’. You have similar bevy of weapon types, smg’s, assault rifles, sniper rifles and a deviation that is the auto-locking smart pistol that locks on to multiple limbs or targets and fires multiple bullets the longer you give it to establish its markers. All pilots also have a choice of one of four different anti-titan weapons as well as a choice between 3 side-arms and grenade-type variants. The weapons are expertly balanced and although there were some early fears of the smart pistol being over-powered (by the simply virtue concept of an-auto aiming weapon), no one weapon really seems to dominate others.
An early concern we had was whether the inclusion of Titans would serve to undermine the balance or flow in the game. This, thankfully is not an issue as a result of someexpert balancing by Respawn. The Titans, whilst undeniably powerful are also surprisingly vulnerable to incoming fire from pilots on-foot. They are however, a joy to control and, if utilised properly, can change the tide of a battle dramatically. From the frankly brilliant way they enter into the battlefield from the skies down to the the way can grab pilots and insert them inside themselves, the Titans have style as well as substance. The three Titan classes are well realised and have varying play-styles, all of them effective, depending on how you use them. The Ogre is your slower but far more resilient to damage; it can deal heavy damage and can ‘tank’ its way into skirmishes. The Stryder is the complete opposite; much weaker but more nimble, it makes up for its susceptibility to damage by being surprisingly mobile, even for a Titan and a good pilot will run circles round the Ogre. The Atlas is the all-rounder; a good balance between the two. Each Titan has its own ‘core ability’ which once a certain time has elapsed, will offer pilots a bonus such as extra damage, shield boost and unlimited boost for a period that the core is activated.
Titanfall is one of the most balanced first person shooters we have played to date.
The weapons that Titans carry are quite distinctive too; with the default Chaingun being good for dealing ‘chip damage’ against Titans but also being a real threat to pilots on foot with its high rate of fire down to the Railgun, which is much slower but deals much greater damage against Titans. All Titans have an additional fixed weapon slot called Titan Ordnance which runs on a cooldown timer similar to the 3 ‘tactical abilities’ of each Titan which include the ‘vortex shield’ that can volley incoming bullets and deploy them against your assailants, ‘electric smoke’ which is useful for getting rid of pilots who climb atop your Titan in order to deal damage to your Titan’s core health and the ‘particle wall’ which releases a shield wall that blocks incoming fire but allows the Titan who deployed the shield to fire through it.
Respawn have managed to do what we were starting to think was impossible; making the game accessible to newcomers whilst simultaneously catering for more skilled players
One of the biggest complaints we have had about shooters like Call of Duty is the fact that firefights aren’t always based on skill as much as who spots who first because of how quickly enemies can die. The inclusion of Titans dramatically change the pace of the game. The game suddenly isn’t about ‘twitch-shooting’ but results in longer, more meaningul engagements where players to have deploy a variety of strategies in the midst of a battle to ensure victory. It harkens back to arena shooters of old or the Halo games where you actually to work for your kills and that is something really refreshing. All the while, Respawn have managed to do what we were starting to think was impossible and that is making the game accessible to newcomers whilst simultaneously catering for more skilled players.
Furthermore, there is so much variety in the potential play styles of the Titans alone and yet, somehow, Titanfall is one of the most balanced first person shooters we have played to date. It truly is admirable and a welcome breath of fresh air from having one particular weapon or ability dominating others and then hoping on developers to release a patch to fix the problems.
Where the likes of Brink failed, Titanfall succeeds
However, what is surprising is the fact that the real evolutionary change comes in the way of freedom of movement that players now have. Where the likes of Brink failed, Titanfall succeeds with its implementation of wall-running/hanging and fast paced map traversal. It brings a much needed change of pace in first person shooters and really combines the blistering speed of old arena shooters like Quake and Unreal Tournament with more recent fps trends and it really does work tremendously. Respawn Entertainment clearly sat down and pondered long and hard about how to take arena shooters to the next level as opposed to being content with just delivering a hollow yet pretty shooter.
The wall-running isn’t a gimmick either; it allows players to traverse maps much faster and and really opens up the vertical as as well as horizontal space. Areas such as ceilings or rooftops that aren’t accessible in other fps’ suddenly become key areas of engagement in Titanfall and that really is refreshing. It takes a while to get used to but it adds a whole different layer to the proceedings when it comes to navigating, dodging and out-manoeuvring your opponents. The freedom of movement is made all the more apparent when playing other first person shooters, which feel drastically restricted when compared to Titanfall.
That addictive flavour that benefited Call of Duty is back and Respawn clearly know how to tap into the addict in us gamers. Burn cards are one of the devices that Respawn have designed to engage players. Burn cards are rewarded to players for completing in-game challenges and there are many different burn cards to match to accommodate the plethora of in-game challenges available. Players can employ 3 burn cards at once and many of these burn cards are well-imagined for instance the burn card that makes you look likie a Spectre (as if distinguishing players from pilots wasn’t hard enough). The XP system is similar to the prestige system in Call of Duty but every level of prestige is now called a ‘generation’. Needless to say, all these mechanics work well in tandem with the addictive and engaging gameplay and will have players coming back to the game for months to come.
Short of Greatness
However, whilst Titanfall delivers on its promise, it also falls short of greatness. Firstly, the visuals are not what we would consider next-gen. Whilst this is cross-gen title that is also available on the Xbox 360, the ageing Source engine upon which Titanfall is built on, shows its age and with this arguably being the first ‘killer-app’ for the Xbox One, it kind of sullies are excitement a bit. The art style is great however and the game manages a steady 60fps for the most part when on-foot. However, the frame rate does dip to around 30fps on average when commanding the Titans. We have had very isolated instances of severe frame-rate dips in the single figures when the intense on-screen action gets a bit too much for the game (only twice in over 25 hours of gameplay) but it makes you wonder whether the game should really should even dip below 60fps as it isn’t exactly a graphical powerhouse.
The core story literally operates as ‘background noise’ to the gameplay
The lack of a dedicated campaign feels like a missed opportunity. There are two campaigns in the game where you can play as either the IMC or Militia but really, there is no appreciable plot at all here. If there is one, the game fails to tell it effectively as you are essentially a multiplayer game with some narrative being told in the background. Fair play to Respawn for trying something new here and telling the core story via multiplayer but it just doesn’t work because it merely operates as ‘background noise’ to the gameplay. Players will be far too concerned with what’s happening in the game to take note of the dialogue or even the impressive set-pieces that take place in th sky with massive dropships exploding etc.
Titanfall is a multiplayer only title and we are fine with that (even though some may struggle to understand the concept even though the likes of Quake and the Battlefield games have existed for years). However, for a multiplayer only title, Titanfall is lacking in game modes, something which serves to undermine its longevity somewhat. You have your default modes that you expect in shooters such as deathmatch (attrition), capture the flag, domination as well as Last Titan Standing and Pilot Hunter but we just wish there was a little bit more to make the experience feel more ‘wholesome’. Thankfully, Respawn have acknowledged this complaint and are promising more game modes in the future in the form of DLC.
The bots can be rather distracting
The issue of bots caused a bit of a furore a few months ago when the player count of 6v6 was revealed. Ultimately, the palyer count is a complete non-issue as the 6v6 dynamic works really well. The bots aren’t your traditional a.i adversaires; they merely operate like minions (see League of Legends) and whilst they aren’t much of a threat, they can be rather distracting when you are on-foot because they can be somewhat difficult to distinguish from actual players. The scenario can be frustrating; you engage a target you think is a player but it turns out to be a bot, and then a real player comes around and kills you. However, the bots do add a unique gameplay element in the shape of challenges as well as flushing out would-be campers.
A precedent for greatness
Titanfall is a brilliant multiplayer title. It is what many of us have been waiting for; the next big thing after Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. This is a competitive multiplayer-centric fps’ players dream come true and one that is an instant classic. However, whilst the most important element, the gameplay, is near bullet-proof, the execution of delivery in terms of the package as a whole seems slightly rushed or lacking. At the very least, Titanfall is an excellent game that sets the foundation for a seminal franchise which we are very confident will only become bigger and better as Respawn truly embrace the next-generation without being shackled by limtations of the older generation. The future is bright for the franchise and Titanfall marks the beginning of greatness on next-gen consoles. The first real killer-app and one that will have you itching to play over and over again.