I know what you’re thinking, what on Earth does the picture below have to do with Titanfall? We’ll get to that in a minute. For those of you who haven’t been pancaked by the hype train over the last year, Titanfall is a first person shooter from Respawn Entertainment. Respawn is a new studio made up of former Call of Duty developers and is founded by the original creators behind the behemoth FPS franchise. If you’d like to learn a little more about the history behind Titanfall and Respawn, click here. Anyway, on with Review.
The image above in my opinion metaphorically illustrates the singularly most important and indeed greatest thing about Titanfall. This is balance. Regardless of its innovation and even its shortcomings, it is all held together by peerless balance and genuinely supreme fine tuning. Many people like myself were worried that the outlandish premise of Titanfall would ultimately doom it, in that squishy men with guns could simply not compete in the same space as hulking mechanical Titans. But I could not have been more wrong and I say that with a smile spread widely across my face. Ask any player whether they prefer being in a Titan or on foot and I guarantee you will get a different answer each time. If you were to ask me personally, its more likely you would see me spontaneously explode than actually give you a genuine answer. It’s honestly that difficult to choose because both are so equally fun.
Each player or ‘Pilot’ is equipped with a primary weapon, anti-Titan weapon, side arm and two grenades. But more importantly, all Pilots are equipped with a jump pack. This allows Pilots to double jump and wall run, unlocking entirely new ways to traverse the maze like maps in what feels like an infinite number of ways. With this ability in stow Pilots are easily able to flank and out manoeuvre Titans, which due to their enormous size are restricted to the more open portions of the map. In this lies the genius of Titanfall. As a pilot you don’t fear Titans in the way that you should, not because they couldn’t crush you in an instant but because as a player you are given the tools to stay out of their reach if you choose to do so. A Pilot going toe-to-toe against an enemy Titan is never going to end well for the Pilot, but if they leap off a building onto its back then tear off a panel, they can shoot directly into its brain causing massive damage. Unless the Titan’s pilot decides to jump out and swat them off that is.
As with most online shooters, whilst playing you will accumulate experience points that go towards your over-all level. The higher your level, the more weapons and gear you’re allowed access to. Once you reach level 50 you are then given the option to ‘re-gen’, which is essentially the same to Call of Duty’s Prestige system. You will lose all of your unlocked gear, weapons and skills in return for a new regeneration rank that is displayed next to your gamertag in game lobbies. You can currently regenerate up to 10 times.
Burn Cards are an entirely new feature available in Titanfall. Burn Cards are usable Perk cards that you can choose to activate during matches, each card can only be used once so if you die or the match ends the effects of the card will end also. There are a massive variety of cards all with different effects ranging from giving you double XP to giving you infinite grenades. Burn Cards become available after you reach level 7 and are awarded after you complete certain challenges whilst playing. Using burn cards can be extremely fun and also give less skilled players an advantage when they need it, but highly skilled players will be the most ruthless card consumers. The right card at the right time can literally turn a match on its head in the hands of a skilled Pilot, which only adds to the unprecedented feeling of unpredictability and excitement in games.
Pilot weaponry is sadly quite limited and admittedly one of Titanfall’s few shortcomings. Whilst all the FPS staple guns are there; Assault rifle, SMG, LMG, Sniper, there is very little variety and most players have settled for one of three fully automatic rifles out of the ten available primary weapons. The reason behind this is likely to be Respawn’s predisposition towards achieving absolute balance in gameplay, which would be even harder to achieve if they had included a huge armoury of diverse weapons. Other than your standard primary and secondary weapon, Titanfall also provides all players with a choice of an anti-titan weapon, grenades, Two ‘Kit Skills’ and a Tactical Ability. Kit Skills are perks that help in a variety of ways, from increasing your Titans drop shield duration, to making you reload faster. Chosen correctly these perks can really give you an advantage in matches. A pilot’s Tactical Ability is one of three chosen abilities that can be activated for a limited duration at the press of a button. There are currently three tactical abilities; Cloak, Stim and Radar pulse.
Whilst Pilots traverse the hidden cracks and coves peppered throughout the impressive maps, Titans are confined to the more open spaces due to their size, but with an explosive payoff. With their monstrous size and strength comes the ability to carry immensely powerful weapons and ordinance that can make short work of any Pilot unlucky enough to find themselves in a Titans crosshairs. Like Pilots, Titan loadouts can be personalized in the menu and in between matches. Titan loadouts are very similar to Pilots in that they allow you a choice of gun, explosive, tactical ability and two choice skills. The only difference is that a Titan can only carry one weapon, but this makes sense given the sheer physical size of the weaponry that they need to carry.
The Titan gameplay itself is wonderfully enjoyable. Respawn have again accomplished perfect balance by making you feel both omnipotent yet vulnerable whilst in your Titan. You can roam the map laying waste to Pilot after Pilot with supreme dominance, but all the while still weary of the ever present threat that at any moment a wave of opposing Titans could turn a corner and quickly turn the tide of battle. Titan on Titan gameplay is equally exhilarating and more often than not ends in an explosion of Michael Bay proportions. Chaos will inevitably ensue when two Titans clash, but even after their bullets have run dry, battles will still rage on as they often literally resort punching each others faces off until the losing Pilot is ripped from their Titan and tossed aside like a rag doll. If you think that sounds like the coolest thing ever, check out me doing it below…
As far as game modes go Titanfall is a fairly standard affair. It offers all the classic FPS game modes you know and love such as Team Death Match and Domination, but there is a real lack of any original modes, especially for a game that doesn’t offer a single player campaign. I can only hope that Respawn is planning on adding more modes in the future, otherwise Titanfall could suffer from people getting tired of playing the same modes over and over again fairly quickly. On the flip side though is the brilliant variety and quality of the maps available at launch. Titanfall ships with 15 maps and Respawn have already released a Season Pass signifying their intent to add even more in the future. Anybody worrying that this may be a case of quantity over quality needn’t fret, as all of the maps are of the highest order. They offer a really great variety of locations and styles, from sandy beaches, to city blocks and dusty ruins. One particular map even features flying monsters that will occasionally swoop down and carry off your AI controlled team mates, which makes for a pretty hilarious random event that’s rarely seen in other modern online shooters. After playing around 20 hours of the game I still find the amount of maps really helps keep things feeling fresh even whilst playing the same game modes. You never feel like you’re constantly playing on the same map because the large quantity keeps things moving around nicely, this at least goes some way towards excusing the lack of modes, although admittedly not completely.
Although Titanfall is a multiplayer only game, it does feature some sort of campaign/multiplayer hybrid. The campaign is essentially matches of Team Death Match and Domination with a few basic cut scenes and some extra voice work in the background. Whilst moulding these two ideas is brave and a fairly innovative way of approaching a story, I did find it quite hard to follow the plot whilst I was in the middle of a competitive match. However after playing it all the way through multiple times I did start to enjoy the extra context more and more as you start to pick up new pieces of the story each time you went round. Admittedly this is a strange way of playing but its entirely optional and doesn’t effect the classic multiplayer modes in any way. Even if you aren’t interested in the story itself, it might be worth playing just to witness some of the pretty cool set pieces only available in the Campaign mode. You can see one of them below….
Titanfall is a game that focuses on its key mechanics and gameplay balancing far better than any first person shooter before it, for that alone it deserves the attention it has received. Regardless of the slight lack of depth that I personally felt was needed for a game that doesn’t feature a single player mode, its really hard to fault Respawn for focusing on the one thing that actually matters — Gameplay. Yes it lacks in certain areas, but the key thing to remember is that the one area that it doesn’t lack in, is really the most important. When you combine the silky smooth running and gunning with the non-stop weaving and jumping it truly adds layer upon layer of excitement to the action. You are always moving, always shooting, always jumping, capturing, hacking, kicking, punching, it just never stops. You always find yourself in the middle of the action and it all blends together without missing a beat. The greatest compliment I can give to Titanfall is that even with everything new that it offers, it still feels remarkably familiar. It seems vaguely ridiculous that a single game could incorporate wall running, jet packs, shooting, Titans and even AI bots in a seamless, brilliant experience that I already feel like I’ve played for years. But Titanfall’s gameplay achieves just that and so much more in truly spectacular fashion. Respawn have created a new, exciting franchise built upon a genre that has otherwise become stale and generic. If first person shooters as a genre are to be shook free of their currently shackled nature and delve into newer more innovative territory, then I firmly believe it will be a Titan doing the shaking. To the 69 people at Respawn who developed this game, I take my hat off to you.
I’ll leave you all with this joyous moment, thanks for reading, enjoy….