Developer: Respawn Entertainment | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Played On: Xbox One | Price: $59.99 | ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence]
A few rules about videogame reviews: 1) you always review what’s there, and not what’s missing or what you wanted; 2) you never, ever change the score; 3) you judge it ultimately on one fundamental question: is the game fun? All these elements are relevant with Titanfall, simply the most important game that will be released this year (and yes, I realize it’s only March).
Titanfall is monumentally important for Microsoft and Xbox One. It’s the great hope; the crucial exclusive; the system seller. It’s been on every ‘most anticipated’ list since it was first announced, and fairly so. The game is also vital to consumer confidence in EA being able to release an online-only game that actually works as planned on day one.
As you no doubt know, Titanfall is a multiplayer-only shooter made by the lead and staffers who created and built the Call of Duty franchise. And as you may know from the beta, it’s fast-paced and introduces few fresh ideas in both its movement style and mechanics and, of course, the titular Titans.
It’s a shame that network stability should be an opening consideration, but the game requires you to be online so you need other people to make it work. In our closed review session there were problems with connecting teams in the Campaign, explained as a bug that was fixed overnight. There were occasional lag issues during gameplay, and odd connection drops. All of which could be explained by pre-release code, yet in the wake of SimCity and Battlefield 4, EA has not earned the benefit of the doubt. No doubt some will have issues on day one, others will be fine, and eventually everyone will get in.
But the game: what about the game? Of course you can jump into multiplayer Classic mode immediately (though it’s worth running through the training session just to understand the potential moves with double jumps and wall-running that will factor so vitally into how the online battles evolve), but the Campaign mode offers a more visceral training program. You join the Militia with five friends (or randoms) and a host of AI grunts and hackable Specters and fight the IWC in very traditional multiplayer battles.
Through nine missions you explore a couple of the limited supply of game modes and level up, unlocking more weapons, add-ons, perks, and kits. Then, if you wish, you do it again as the IWC “because there are two sides to every story.” Now I just spent two solid days playing Titanfall, ran through the Campaign on both sides and couldn’t tell you a damn thing about the story. That’s partly due to the space opera-style plot of intergalactic battling that’s instantly forgettable; but it’s also hindered by the story-telling mechanic that insists on popping random characters on the screen without introduction, and have them yell while you’re dodging bullets from other players, titans, and even the AI cannon fodder.
The campaign really fell down the gap between insisting you dive into the action instantly with the supposition that we demand a narrative to drive our investment in this new world. It’s actually a little sad to dismiss a storyline that evidently has background, reason, and drama but since you don’t really get a chance to stop and smell the roses, those wordly roses wilt in the heat of bullets, rockets, and those Titans.
But what really matters for Titanfall is the mechanics by which you move and engage in combat and here Respawn proves it absolutely know what it’s doing. Gameplay is fast, fluid, inventive, and manages to navigate expertly that difficult line between simple pick-up accessibility and what the advanced player will demand. You may suck, but the Smart Pistol—an auto-targeting weapon—provides the opportunity to head-shot basic Grunts with ease. It’s a powerful feeling, and while auto-killing other Pilots requires a much longer lock-on to earn that insta-kill, it provides a novice with a way in to the action.
Where Titanfall takes a sharp left-turn from the kind of death lanes that Call of Duty players know and love to hate/hate to love is in verticality. It’s a popular buzzword for level design, but it’s in the maps and the movement mechanics that Titanfall shows it really is part of something new and fresh in the shooter genre. Ledges and rooftops, industrial crates and machinery, rocks, walkways, even ziplines all create paths and exploration alleyways that couldn’t be fully realized in the two days we spent playing.
What’s even more limited is the number of game modes. Where other shooters in the category have evolved over time, Titanfall today is clearly a first-release in what’s planned to be a long-running franchise. There are only five modes and all follow familiar tropes—team deathmatch (called Attrition), Hardpoint (which is Domination), CTF, Last Titan Standing (which actually isn’t that fun), and Pilot Hunter. The last mode, Variety Pack, just mixes up the modes as you keep playing.
This is nothing new, but made fresh by your ability to drop your Titan in to the fight when you’ve earned it. Everyone can get a Titan, you may just have to wait two minutes for it to be available, but if you’re mowing down opponents, that time drops so you get the beast a little sooner.
And to be clear, jumping in a Titan and engaging in these battles is exhilarating. It also illustrates the challenge and competence to which the level design affords opportunities for Pilots on foot to be effective, and these mammoth Titans to still feel like they are powerful brutes. The balance between the size and power of each combatant is a nuance that has been expertly managed, and as a result makes each map and game mode challenging.
What matters is what Titanfall is. And that is an expertly formed shooter. It lacks many built-in charms gamers might expect, like obvious eSports functions and game modes that really promote how this experience is truly different. But it’s also clear that this is stage one of an ongoing process.
And what you get is a super-fast paced shooter experience, some epic moments in wall-running and shooting guys, and a truly original feeling of competitive multiplayer. As a result, I’d recommend it to anyone, but with the understanding that this is the first salvo in a barrage that will endure, and you will enjoy this shot, but also be aware that the true potential of the franchise is still to be revealed.
+ Incredible mechanics
+ Fundamentally fun
— Light on options
9 / 10