The tumultuous fracturing of Call of Duty creators Infinity Ward in 2010 represented a significant shift in the first person shooter landscape. Free from Activision, IW founders Jason West and Vincent Zampella and a team of former employees founded Respawn Entertainment and joined forces with EA to create a new franchise.
The result of that union is Titanfall, a multiplayer-only FPS where players can control either the agile Pilots or utilize one of three giant robot suits, called Titans, to duke it out. With a massive groundswell of anticipation surging it to the forefront of the collective gamer consciousness, is Titanfall the new king of first person shooters?
The crux of Titanfall’s combat is the asymmetrical warfare going on between the Pilots and the Titans themselves. As a Pilot, players are highly mobile: they can double-jump and wall run, and staying off the ground will allow you to build momentum so you can chain together ridiculous platforming sequences. Given how most other multiplayer shooters like to keep your feet on the ground, the freedom of movement given to you in Titanfall is a welcome change. Playing as a Pilot feels like the best parts of Mirror’s Edge, Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario rolled into one, and every map is designed to take advantage of the Pilot’s agility. It might take some getting used to, but once your eye is trained to recognize the telltale markers in a map, you’ll be wall running like a pro.
The Titans themselves play a bit more like a traditional shooter as you’re stuck on the ground but can utilize the jump button to dash in any direction. There are three Titan chassis: the well-rounded Atlas, the defense-oriented Ogre and the nimble Strider. After a certain amount of time goes by in a match (which you can speed along by scoring kills or using Burn Cards), you can call in your Titan.
The nice part about Titans is that you can either hop in and pilot them yourself or set them in Guard or Follow mode, essentially turning them into an AI partner. Effectively utilizing your Titan’s OS will allow you to catch many other players unawares as the Titans function like a magnet, drawing attention to themselves while you swoop around stealthily and nab kills. As a side benefit, any kills scored by your auto-Titan are attributed to you.
While the Pilot/Titan dynamic makes for some excellent tactical gameplay, the rest of Titanfall feels a little slim. For a modern shooter, the unlocks you get, both in the way of weapons and perks, aren’t nearly as extensive as they are in some other contemporary titles. While this might be a blessing for those of us who aren’t inclined to unlock 127 guns with ten plus attachments each, it does make Titanfall’s arsenal look a little sad, especially when you consider that the starting carbine is basically the most well-rounded gun in the game. There are a few other weapons worth checking out depending on how you play (for both Pilots and Titans), but I found that once I picked a couple weapons and attachment combos I was comfortable with I stuck with those pretty much the entire time I played. One thing I’d like to give Respawn props for in the customizable classes is the addition of female Pilots without making it a marketing bullet-point.
Burn Cards, which I mentioned above, are a smart gameplay-altering addition. Each round you get to pick one of three cards that can be used one at a time per life, and there are a variety of them like infinite shock grenades, a motion sensor, double XP, faster Titan build time and more. Effectively utilizing your Burn Cards can make you a force to be reckoned with. It’s easy to forget about them and let them accumulate, but making an effort to clear out some common cards might allow you to pick up rare cards in the future so keep an eye on that.
For a multiplayer-only game, Titanfall’s offering of modes is a little boilerplate. You have the classics like Capture the Flag, deathmatch (here called Attrition), and Hardpoint Domination (a capture-and-hold gameplay mode) but there are a few new ones that Respawn have cooked up. Last Titan Standing and Pilot Hunter offer their own twists, but focusing each mode on killing exclusively Titans or Pilots sort of robs the game of its most interesting aspect, which is the addition of AI-controlled enemies and allies.
These AI characters, called Grunts and Specters, populate the maps making each round feel a bit more lively. Grunts are basically foot soldiers and Specters are anti-Titan robots which you can hack with your data-knife and turn to your side (you can do the same with auto-turrets). Taking a queue from games like DOTA and LOL, adding minions to the map gives less-skilled players a chance to contribute and even shave some time off of building their Titan.
Although Titanfall is a strictly multiplayer game there is a story driven campaign, but instead of guiding you through scripted levels where you face off against AI enemies, Titanfall drops you into multiplayer matches and fills out the narrative with talking heads and short vignettes between missions.
It’s certainly a neat way to include a story mode in a competitive shooter, but the way Titanfall handles its campaign is lacking. Having the bulk of the story told through short bursts of radio chatter while you’re trying to kill your foes or accomplish missions means that you’ll miss a majority of what’s going on in a given level. You see the campaign twice from both sides of the conflict, IMC and Militia, but even after a second go-around I only have the vaguest idea of what’s going on. Beating the story from both sides is required to unlock two of the three available Titan chassis and it’s basically just more multiplayer so it’s not exactly a slog. It’s a neat idea, but unfortunately the execution just doesn’t bring it across the finish line.
Titanfall has a lot of new ideas and twists on genre conventions, but once you reach the mid-30s in level you’ll probably feel like you’ve seen it all. Titanfall’s take on Prestige, called Generations, allows you to do the level grind up to Generation 10, with each Generation gated by unique challenges but unless you’re really motivated that might not be enough to keep you playing.
Even though Titanfall is a great deal of fun, the lackluster “campaign” and the quick pace at which you’ll see its available content means that it quickly runs into diminishing returns. Hopping around and punching other giant robots in the face certainly has its appeal, but the legs on this one aren’t very long.
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