Review: Titanfall — Drop a Titan on It

 

The amount of hype behind Titanfall is insurmountable. The term “most anticipated game” has been thrown around a lot for the last couple of years. Titanfall is not only one of the most anticipated games of 2014, it also has the added pleasure of being tasked as the game that will shift the tide of the so called Console Wars in favor of the Xbox One. It not only has to live to the hype, it also holds the future of the Xbox One and Respawn Entertainment in its giant mech hands. No pressure.

Lets get it out of the way. Titanfall is a great game. It takes familiar first-person shooter tropes and perfects them in ways that only the veteran talent at Respawn Entertainment could do. And the introduction of a well-thought out parkour system and the awe-inspiring Titans that you can ride or pilot should please your inner mecha fanboy.

The six on six matches offer a more intimate matchups where the solo efforts of a player carry more weight than games with higher player counts. The maps never feel too cramped, where you could get killed off easily, or too big, where the action feels like its a mile away.

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The accessibility of Titanfall’s combat is a welcome surprise. I noted in my hands-on with the beta how easy it was for casual players to compete with veteran pilots with dozens of hours already logged in. Weapons like the Smart Pistol, which automatically locks on to targets, is a great starter weapon for newbies that are normally easily countered with quick-reflexes. At no point do you ever feel helpless or like you can’t compete, even when facing down massive death dealing Titans.

The speed of which the action moves in Titanfall is jarring at first.  The flow of combat and character development is what you would find in an earlier Modern Warfare game, though being called “Call of Duty with mechs” isn’t a bad thing.

Throwing some wall-running and and double jumps spices things up the combat in a meaningful way, while abilities like Cloak and Stim (which boosts health and speed) keep Titanfall from falling into finicky twitch-shooter territory.

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Burn Cards also do their part by offering one-time use power-ups that you can use for one life. One card I had gave me a laser cannon that chews through Titans. I felt like a superhero taking out giant mechs from a window of an office, maniacally laughing at the fact that they couldn’t figure when the shots came from. My fun was cut short when someone came and snapped my neck. I think we lost that match, I didn’t care.

Calling down a Titan in the middle of the battlefield is exhilarating. Once a Titan is active, pilots will scramble for the advantageous vantage points and tackle the Titan in true David versus Goliath fashion. Titans are walking power trips and could easily be taken away from you if you get too cocky.

Titan-on-Titan combat is an interesting challenge — the three Titan types each offer unique playstyles. The Atlas is an all-around model that’s useful in all combat scenarios. The Ogre is heavily armored and great for taking on multiple Titans. My personal favorite, Stryder, is a nimble mech that runs circles around everything.

Each chassis can be equipped with different abilities like auto-eject or awesome looking Vortex Shield that catches bullets and throws them back at your opponent. Smart use of your Titan’s dash will mean the difference escaping to fight another day or dooming your poor walking tank. For example, putting a quad-launcher on a Stryder chassis gives you great hit-and-run capabilities.

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Every kill you score shaves time off your timer, which allows you call down on a Titan from space. Even if you’re doing poorly you are always guaranteed a giant killing machine every three minutes. Better performances increases the frequency of a Titanfall.

As silly as it may seem, the inclusion of NPCs onto the battlefield really do add something to the fight. Playing a mode like Attrition, where killing NPCs depletes the enemy’s resource count, allows players who aren’t all that great to still run around and waste Grunts.

The game’s art direction at a glance doesn’t look at that impressive. We’ve seen war-torn future cities and space guns before. The real beauty, however, comes from the amount of sheer chaos that happens once a match opens up. If you take a moment (when you’re not skipping on rooftops trying to jump kick people) and just absorb what’s going on around you in a single match, you’ll realize that Respawn has done something truly special.

Take the stage Boneyard for example. At any given moment there are dozens of NPCs going around that will occasionally get eaten by the flying creatures that litter the sky, players zip-lining from the spine of what appears to be the skeleton of a space dragon, hackable turrets that shoot everything in proximity and oh yeah, Titans. You feel that you’re a part of a greater conflict as opposed to just being thrown into an arena deathmatch. I mean it still an arena deathmatch, but Titanfall just does a better job of hiding it.

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The rest of the level designs are a little less over the top, although I do like their variety in the sense that some levels clearly encourage the use of Titans while others are more about using your jumpjets to full effect. One of the cooler things is being able to cover the full length of the map without ever touching the ground, which is plain bad-ass.

The biggest weakness Titanfall has going for itself is its rather bland story. Since there is no single player, the plot is delivered through a competitive multiplayer campaign. The two-sided narrative has the military super-corporation called the IMC against the downtrodden Militia. You’ll play through each side in what are essentially a series of standard multiplayer matches with some dressings in the form of mid-match scripted events and pre/post-mission cutscenes.

The other problem with the story is all the juicy bits are told via radio chatter WHEN GIANT ROBOTS ARE TRYING TO STEP ON YOU. The action is so heavy that it’s easy to miss out on finer details of the Militia and IMC conflict in the frontier. Also, there’s nothing really compelling going on in the campaign outside of some really impressive explosions. The way I see it, the campaign is a good way to get some contextual information about the stages you’re killing folks in. As a bonus, completing both campaigns unlocks two chassis you can use for your custom Titan loadout.

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So the ultimate question on everyone’s mind: does Titanfall live up to the hype?

I must have played around 25 matches in my short time with game and I can’t stop thinking about it. I have challenges I need to complete, more guns and perks to unlock. I love wall-running and double jumping across maps and landing on enemy Titans.

Titanfall doesn’t reinvent the first-person shooter but comes close to nearly perfecting it. All the elements that we’ve seen fail before in other games somehow fit each other so well in this one. Titanfall accomplishes what it sets out to do: being the killer app the Xbox One needed.

*Jorge Note* I played the retail version of Titanfall on Xbox One prior to the official release date. At that time, servers held up fine. I did play a number of matches after the it was launched to make sure we weren’t running into a Battlefield 4 situation. I had one disconnect after midnight and one very laggy match. After that, Titanfall played smoothly. I did have an issue trying join private parties before, which was apparently addressed in a patch yesterday morning.

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