Titanfall Review: The shape of things to come

Expectations. They can either be surpassed, met or leave you extremely disappointed. Respawn Entertainment’s highly anticipated Titanfall has finally arrived and since it’s E3 2013 debut, all eyes have been fixated on its arrival. With hype reaching levels that I have never seen for any game, it has a lot of expectations resting on its shoulders.

While I can’t say it has exceeded them, it surely has met them, leaving a bit of room for some slight disappointment.

The Tactical Ability Active Radar Pulse temporarily allows you to see through walls and see where enemies are headed or hiding.

Spider-men

Right from the jump, Titanfall is a blast to play. Double jumping, wall running, aiming, shooting; all of it feels fluid, intuitive and just plain old fun. I have spent nearly entire matches just running around the massive maps, exploring, discovering places for long runs, and perfect places for Titans to be set in Guard Mode.

On top of the completely fluid, easy to pick up movement, there are the nuts and bolts of any FPS, and that is the shooting and combat. For me it’s needless to say that the controls are as close to perfect as any game in the genre I’ve played. Seeing as how the original group of developers is comprised of veterans from Infinity Ward, it doesn’t surprise me in the least. Aiming, shooting, running, throwing grenades, calling in Titans – all of it is smooth as butter, never cumbersome, always intuitive and makes sense. So much so, that was never a moment in which I was confused as to what buttons did what. All of this makes Titanfall very much a pick up and play experience and allows players to just focus on enjoying themselves.

Wallrunning and double jumping with jet packs open up whole new ways to approach each map.

It’s in the way that you use it

With Titanfall being a competitive multiplayer only experience, a factor often overlooked when people discuss games is map design. Here map design is absolutely key to the overall experience and works in tandem with the controls in ways that I’ve never even thought about before. I mean, what good would all of the maneuverability and agility be if the maps didn’t lend themselves to it. And it could have been easy for Repsawn to through in a bunch of walls and ledges and call it day, but on all 15 of the maps, it’s all incredibly organic and fits snugly into the world building going on in the game.

In other multiplayer games, after a while I would have a routine. I knew which paths I would take, which choke points I would hold, and could pretty much figure out how and what my opponents would do simply through repetition. That line of thinking has gone completely out of the window in Titanfall because there are so many different ways to get around the map, no true choke points to speak of, and with the various ways to speed up Titanfall, there are no sure things when each team can have massive, walking tools of destruction ready to lay waste to careless players.

The perks of being a wallrunner

On those 15 maps, we have 5 game modes to choose from: Attrition, Hardpoint Domination, Capture the Flag, Pilot Hunter and Last Titan Standing. Attrition and Pilot Hunter are more like Team Death Match where points are awarded for kills and nothing else. The key difference is that in Pilot Hunter, the only way to score points for the win is by killing other Pilots. Killing minions and Titans only counts towards your Titanfall.

Hardpoint Domination and Capture the Flag are so ingrained in the FPS vernacular, that I feel that anyone should know exactly how these modes work. But Last Titan Standing is probably the game mode I feel changes up the formula. Not entirely different from Team Death Match, two teams of 6 begin the match in Titans and face off against each other until one Titan remains. If your Titan is destroyed and your Pilot has survived, you can assist your team by using your anti-Titan weapons to whittle down the remaining enemy Titans’ shields and support your team. There are no respawns so once you’re dead you have to wait until the next round. First team to 4 winning rounds wins the game. Make no mistake though, it takes skill and finesse to outgun and out maneuver an experienced opponent and I’ve played plenty of games that came down to 4-3 victories. It’s intense, fun and made me feel totally badass as the only remaining Titan.

Before each match, players can choose the loadout that best suits their playstyle. Want to go stealth? Pick the Cloak Tactical Ability. Want to perform longer wallruns? Try Enhanced Parkour. Personally, I like being able to see through walls which helps greatly in games of Capture the Flag and Hardpoint so I choose the Active Radar Pulse for those game modes. You will also select 2 “Kits” which are basically perks that enhance either your Pilot abilities or your Titans.

There are 10 primary weapons in total: 3 rifles, 2 SMGs, 2 Sniper Rifles, 1 shotgun, 1 LMG and the Smart Pistol. Each primary has a slot for a sight and a mod that changes the weapons performance/handling in some way like “Counterweight” for the SMGs which allows better hip fire accuracy.  Nothing here is too mind-blowing or groundbreaking and all failry standard.

Ordinance is your explosive and there are 4 to choose from: Frag or Arc Grenades, Satchel Charges or Arc mines. I like to use the Arc grenades personally because they totally mess with electronics and blur enemy Pilots’ vision and weaken Titans’ shields.

I skipped the tutorial and went straight into playing the game proper because the controls are very easy to pick up and play.

Use it or lose it

Perhaps one of the most interesting ideas Titanfall brings to the table is Burn Cards. These are awarded during matchers and serve as one-time use buffs for either your abilities or your weapons. Ranging from infinite grenades or more powerful primary weapons to unlimited tactical abilities, a radar ping every 10 seconds or getting a spare Titan to drop at the start of the match, they greatly add to the strategy. As I said, these are one-time use buffs, and once a burn card has been activated, you only have the enhancements awarded until you die. Assessing the tactical situation before you respawn, is key – do you drop your spare Titan early? Or save it for when you could turn the tide in a key moment. It’s a great addition to the gameplay and can really sway things in your favor (if you remember to use them, that is).

Get to know your Titan

As is well known, your Titanfall is on a timer and killing other pilots and Grunts, or completing objectives, shaves off precious seconds from the Titanfall countdown. Once your Titan lands, it’s a whole new ball game. Much like the pilots, each Titan has a loadout. Ranging from missile launchers to heavy machine guns, the Titans can lay waste to Pilots with relative ease, but Titan vs Titan confrontations are another beast altogether. Your loadouts can greatly change the tide of battle when these behemoths engage one another.

My personal favourite Titan loadout is Electric Smoke, which emits a smoke field that acts much like arc grenades, except does massive damage to Pilots and Titans but can also be used to mask your getaway if you have suffered too much damage. Just leave a cloud of Electric Smoke in your wake and use your dash boost to hightail it out of there to recharge your shields. Electric Smoke is also very useful if you are being Rodeoed by a Pilot who is looking to end your Titans time on the field by jumping on your back and blasting away at your energy core. Just puff that smoke and hop out to make short work of these unwanted pests.

How you choose to play will greatly influence your choices in Chassis for the Titans. First there is the Atlas who has decent shields and armor and is the well-rounded choice. Next up is the Stryder that can move incredibly fast for its size, but has very weak armor, and finally, the Ogre which is essentially an agile tank. Able to withstand an inordinate about of damage, but slower than it’s two metal brethren, the Ogre is perfect for players that like to use brute force as opposed to any real finesse.

Wear down an enemy Titan and time it just right, and you’ll be able to pluck the pilot out and dispose of his dead body in amusing and gruesome ways.

Artificial “Intelligence”

For months, Respawn and Microsoft touted the power of cloud computing, saying it is important for the flow of the game. In practice, that might be true and maybe it speaks to its benefit that I barely notice. AI poses no real threat other than the certain risk/reward that comes with killing Grunts because as stated, killing them shaves time of your Titanfall countdown, but gives away your position to other, more attentive pilots.  For the most part, they populate the map, pushing towards objectives and even help capturing points. I liken it to the Privates that kept running up the front line in Call of Duty 2 that really gave the game sense of scope that a larger battle is going in. It’s a neat effect, but for the most part, the AI is dumb as bricks and can be ignored altogether.

The Titan AI, however, is much sharper and lethal. Be it in guard mode or follow, they will crush anything that gets in their way, especially pilots. It’s pretty impressive and really makes hopping out of your Titan a viable strategy.

Titans are essential when the match is over for both the winning and losing team. The Epilogues in which the losing team must survive to be extracted can be nail biting affairs, made more so if you don’t have a Titan. With only one life, killing every enemy becomes a game of cat and mouse, making sure you stay alive long enough to even see the evac ship, let alone get on it and successfully escape. Having a Titan during these moments can mean life for death and oddly enough, in every match I have played, all of the players have had this in mind and have actually tried to escape or tried to shoot down the ship. I guess there’s nothing like adding that one final middle finger to the opposing team before it’s back to the lobby.

Grunts and Spectres will head towards objectives and even help you capture them.

But wait, there’s more

1700 words in and I haven’t even mentioned the Campaign Multiplayer. Well, there is a reason for that – it’s insignificant.

Ever since it was first announced at E3 I had a feeling what it was going to be, and as it turns out, I was right; you get some sort of “cutscene” that provides context for the conflict overall, and the pending skirmish, with some dialogue through out until the match ends. With 9 of the 15 maps in total, only 2 game modes available, the only real reason to experience the campaign is to unlock the Stryder and Ogre Titan chasis and earn the achievements for completing and winning both the IMC and Militia sides of the campaign.

There is the seed of something far more interesting here for sure, and hopefully, the inevitable sequel, will flesh something out more.

Not quite ready for next-gen

I’ve already touched on the lack of weapons, general lack of customizations,  and game modes, but TItanfall suffers from a few disappointing technical issues as well. First of all, the game has insane load times. A game like Titanfall hinges on fast paced action and speed, so when either joining a friend’s game proper, or sitting a lobby for a minute and half, it slows everything down.

Speaking of slowdown, there are some moments in the game, especially when in a Titan, that the framerate drops to a shockingly low level. It never hinders the game overall, but when a game prides itself on its 60fps gameplay, you have to wonder how this even happened. There is also some screen tearing, but even less so than the framerate dips, it doesn’t hinder the experience of actually playing the game all that much due to it’s infrequency.

Even playing in a more mobility challenged Titan is quick paced, and requires good use of strategy.

Epilogue

From the first moment I doubled jumped, performed a wallrun, hung on the wall, and called down my first Titan, I knew that I was experiencing something special in Titanfall. Born from equal parts ashes and DNA of Call of Duty, Respawn’s debut is an incredibly addictive and fun game that measured up to my expectations – it just doesn’t exceed them. Feeling a little light on content, and suffering from some head scratching omissions and technical faults, Titanfall is a very, very good debut that lays the foundation for what I am more than confident will become the next big thing. Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to get back to playing it.

Sean played Titanfall for 15 hours and reached level 46 before writing this review. The copy played was bundled with the Xbox One.

9/10+ Controls are easy to pick up and play
+ It’s insanely fun and addictive
+ Mobility is awesome and adds a lot to this genre
+ Titans are exciting and fun to use
+ It’s insanely fun and addictive
+ 15 excellent and incredibly well-designed maps
+ The epilogues
+ Burn Cards
+ Last Titan Standing
+ Did I mention that it’s insanely fun and addictive?
-Light on weapons and game modes
-Campaign Multiplayer is insignificant
-Load times and lobbies slow things down
-Some technical issues like load times, mild screen tearing and drastic but brief framerate drops

Available on: PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360

Version Reviewed: Xbox One

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