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Titanfall: A Review
About the Author
John Roberts is a video game critic on HubPages and YouTube, reviewing that he sees worthy of the former, whilst reviewing Playstation One games on the latter channel. When he isn't polluting the internet with drivel that makes Twitter look like Shakespeare, he likes to duel people in the streets dressed as a Transformer calling "One shall stand, one shall fall".
The last time John assumed control of a robot was on a planet deemed lost, and managed to battle both the horrifying beasts and the extremely cold climate. He barely survived against the barbarian hordes of pirates native to the planet, and when his work there was done, he returned to Earth. When he isn't performing parkour he volunteers at Hammond Robotics working on the latest in mechanical suit warfare.
Being my first Xbox One title it wasn't just helpful for the console if this game impressed: it was mandatory, a requirement to keep me playing it and hope for future titles. The Playstation 4 failed to do this immediately and continued to disappoint with Knack, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Thief and finally Infamous: Second Son. I've had it with the hurt and I've been enraged by this generation's release so Titanfall had to meet my expectations.
It exceeded them. I was not just surprised but rather awe-struck by Respawn Entertainment's first title, which was made by a ragtag bunch of rebellious developers who worked for Infinity Ward, creators of Call of Duty. Following a huge debacle due to security the two co-founders of Respawn were joined by 38 employees to make up the rest of the company. I love the stories of game designers and journalists who not only leave a legacy behind but also create a new one with a fresh series, and Titanfall is the result of one of these successes. Although Titanfall gameplay footage will be critiqued for being too similar to Call of Duty, playing it makes the difference which I was quick to realise. It wasn't until I was in the game when I discovered a whole new breed of shooter, a hybrid of one long lost and what we've come to expect.
Titanfall is a first person shooter where players take control of Pilots, who can summon mechanical behemoths to aid allies in capturing objectives, duelling with other Titans or flushing out the enemy. What makes this game so great is that you feel like this gigantic war machine unlike other games like the Halo franchise where I'm a regular grunt but with a rechargeable shield. Not only are the weapons bigger, better and the mobility so different, but even getting into your Titan and watching the sequence of it boot up was riveting! This is the well needed return of Lost Planet's vehicular control and I loved every moment of it.
"What's better is that unlike most shooters the fun sticks to you like cat hairs on clothes, only it takes more than sellotape to rub off the enjoyment found here."
Titans don't feel like a gimmick nor do they feel necessarily overpowered. Sure if you're a lone pilot and expect to take one out with just your missile launcher you're going to get crushed under it's iron heel, but these are not to be solo'd. You will require backup, and even two Titans in one versus one combat can get tense, and may find themselves calling out for a pilot to flank it. An exceptional Titan player can deal with two Titans on either side at the same time, and still leave with a block of health or two left intact, but they can be brought down by a single and highly mobile soldier if said machine doesn't think they're a threat. It's not a matter of Titans beat all, and you won't find matches where everyone is in these hulking robotic suits even towards the endgame; because of the considerable cooldowns obtaining and maintaining your Titan is a treat you'll not get often, but you can call it in at any time anywhere when it's available. You can even spawn as a Titan, a tactic I like to use so I don't get killed before I reach it.
Pilots are just as dangerous as Titans with their pinpoint accuracy with small arms, as well as being able to manoeuvre unlike in any other game. You can double jump, wallride, wall kick, hang from ledges, use ziplines and climb, all while not suffering fall damage and being able to shoot at the same time. This kind of agility was long lost in the multiplayer shooter very rarely making an appearance for games such as Tribes: Ascend, Shadowrun and as I mentioned before to some degree the Lost Planet series. Because we see this so few times it's more and more fun. If every game did this, would Titanfall be as fun? No. In fact, it probably would be dangerously unpopular due to what little else it brings to the table.
Also on your team are NPC grunts which compare well to creep or minions in MOBA games, who throw themselves at enemies in desperate hopes of getting kills. They're often useless but it's possible to get killed by them at earlier levels and should you share a kill with one, you'll notice how fewer bullets you needed to contribute to the kill. It's also great that you might kill a series of grunts then suddenly slam into a player who looks identical to the AI, making for a spontaneous challenge that spices up the game more than expecting 23 other players to bag you and tag you. My favourite thing about them is when you walk by them they hail your presence. On occasion they'll ask what's so special about you when their partner points you out, simply replying "trust me, they're legendary" and so on. It's like when I first played Halo 2 and 3 where the soldiers reacted to you being a Spartan. If more of these reactions are added per DLC pack I welcome them.
Getting into the game was surprisingly easy and the meaty tutorial certainly gave me confidence in my abilities before reaching the campaign. I was worried I'd be thrust into the online-only campaign with no knowledge on how to use this game's many features, but thankfully the tutorial is helpful and I dare say fun. Heck, I even played it three times before writing this review because I liked to hone my skills in an environment that isn't filled with so many experienced players. It's so friendly that I could recommend it as a new gamer's first steps into first person shooters, with its coverage on each of the game's mechanics and never leaving me in the dark on certain controls. It covers the pilot controls, stealth kills, titan ability use, holding turf and what else I can do when I have a Titan out but not be inside it. This is easily one of the better tutorials that might treat you like you've never played a game before, but it feels rewarding when you make progress in some of the tougher challenges like taking out other Titans, and beating time records you set yourself.
My first step, and I would imagine the first for many, was to go into the game's campaign. I'd heard little about the campaign and it pains me to say that what comments I'd read were true: the campaign is boring. The mission objectives and the dialogues within the missions you get regularly are great, but they mean absolutely nothing if the main story isn't established in the game. Instead you have to look on the game's site to get a brief overview of the world you're playing in. From what little I managed to gather the game's universe takes place in the Frontier, where many planets are being colonised and also damaged for their fuel value. In the war, which we don't know how it was started, fuel is everything. Why? Who knows. The two factions are the IMC, the corporation who has merged with Hammond Engineering to create Titans and use them for more than just labour but for war, should the need arise. With this in mind they worked even harder to get resources and let nothing stop them. That sounds fine because this isn't a universe I've been given reason to care about, so the IMC can exploit it all they want. The other faction who opposes them for no reason stated is the Militia, who seem to want to prevent their homes from being taken and exploited by the IMC. If all this is incorrect please tell me in the comments below because I want to care about this story, but so far the factions are painted black and white and we can't tell their motives for being so.
"Much like Bioshock: Infinite, I couldn't wait for the campaign to be over."
The campaign matters to me because there's no traditional single player campaign, nor a campaign that's very well told. Looking at the Titans, the pilot training programme, the creatures of the planets as their buildings, vehicles and technology it seems ripe for a story that could rival Halo or Deus Ex's mythos. Unfortunately Respawn haven't fully taken advantage of the setting. Could it really be that hard to slap on a few bits of lore for IMC and Militia? The IMC is irredeemably evil with a few scraps of "we've killed some civilians here" and "it's not too late to join us" there, but it seems like it was done to justify having a story altogether. The Militia is so good with its intentions (I think) that I didn't want to kill them, but I was forced onto the IMC when first starting the campaign. If people are being paid to write this, stop. Get some volunteers who give a damn and will do it for nothing.
That said, Titanfall's campaign takes place over the course of nine missions, each with different objectives and game modes. Unfortunately there are only two game modes in the campaign: Attrition which is essentially Team Deathmatch and Hardpoint Domination, where you capture terminals to gain points over time. While this is undeniably fun and the dialogues between commanders makes things all the more tense, are these the only modes that could be shown? The only other potential candidate would be Capture the Flag, as other modes are for Pilots and Titans which would make the stories fairly short.
The story doesn't change for either side but the perspectives do. You'll hear your faction's commanders, and see events play out differently depending on which team you support. It's a shame that the ending doesn't change if you win or lose, but perhaps that's the beauty of the campaign? For once in a military shooter we're not the protagonist; we're just a grunt fighting a different war. I do hear radio chatter mentioning things that aren't on screen, and that our objectives are just to kill the opposing team. It's too bad that it's told so poorly, and that the prologue is never explained. I'm fine feeling like "just another soldier", in fact I welcome it, but when I don't even know why I'm fighting that's an issue in any story.
To conclude my thoughts on the campaign it's badly done but I understand the intentions. The factions aren't well explained and I don't feel anything for either side, when I should in a universe that begs for expansion in its lore. The modes that exist in the campaign are great, and the radio chatter makes them a lot more enjoyable, but the lack of variety makes this mode look stale. It lasts a good two-three hours either side, but feels much longer. Much like Bioshock Infinite, I couldn't wait for the campaign to be over. Not to mention if you want to understand the entire story you have to play the campaign as both factions. The question is, do you want to?
"The best way I can describe the campaign is it's like the icing on the cake, only there's no cake."
Much like the campaign the main multiplayer is still six-a-side which you might think is too small, but it takes playing the game to understand why that's a decent size. Many games boast to have 28, 36 or even 64 players in their maps which is fine but it makes no difference if you can't take them all on in quick succession. Titanfall's maps are surprisingly large and have complex designs comparable to Halo 3's, but thanks to AI-controlled grunts, well placed objectives and a constantly leaping and bounding community, you'll always be in danger. Even a single Titan looks more threatening than 10 enemies in the distance running around aimlessly. The additional game modes were fun and felt like something players made just for their friends. Last Titan Standing is a mode where everyone is a Titan and you guessed it, the Last Titan standing wins. Or rather, the last enemy titan to fall is the loser, as this is a team game. If it was prison rules where everyone was against each other it would likely be more chaotic than when my takeaway order is late. The other mode is a true deathmatch mode where you can kill AI grunts, but this won't affect your score - it's strictly player killing.
The modes are very similar to every shooter out there which is to be expected, but with the addition of Titans and pilot abilities the game has a whole new dimension. Thanks to the mechs there is a far greater risk-reward to picking up flags, being the lone pilot that has an army of men and machines encroaching on your position or simply running from points A to B is tense and gratifying. What's better is that unlike most shooters the fun sticks to you like cat hairs on clothes, only it takes more than sellotape to rub off the enjoyment found here.
What I'm grateful for in Titanfall is progression and character customisation. As you'd expect from modern shooters levelling up exists to grant you new weapons and character perks, plus challenges which will unlock you some other rewards including - but not limited to - experience points, weapon skins and accolades. But what follows may disappoint players looking for a lot of depth in their unlocks; there are very few primary and secondary weapons, and the Titan unlocks are the most offensive of all. You would think with such emphasis on having your own war machine there'd be countless skins for your mech, but so far I've not unlocked any. I've heard that there are some, but "some" doesn't cut it. I can appreciate the lack of weapons because I've noticed the more there are, the more likely players are to go onto the internet and find the best builds. Here your loadout may be identical to most other players' but what matters is how you use those weapons, as opposed to relying on the best builds.
Another thing I quite enjoyed was that with each level past a certain point you unlock 'burn cards', which act as buffs for your character or team for a short duration. These have been compared to CoD's kill streak bonuses but these are limited in supply and only a maximum of three cards can be taken to each match. Some boost your ammo capacity in a certain gun, others increase movement speed, some increase Titan health and some increase your points gain. These are huge buffs that can give your team a well needed kick in the backside if you or other members are falling behind, as opposed to Call of Duty's short term goodies that don't improve a player's performance all that well. An OK system, but until there are more ways to earn burn cards (I'm still learning so there may be more) I'll be rationing mine.
Progression in Titanfall is rewarding especially when I see the XP bar zoom up, the level up notification and the challenge completed sign explode onto screen. Despite this I feel levelling is too fast and in just two hours I made it to level ten out of fifty. Gating the weapon and perk unlocks behind levels almost seems pointless and unnoticeable when you can quite easily level up multiple times in a single match. Titanfall absolutely must have more cosmetic unlocks to keep people who aren't as excited as I am in the game for longer. Giving us a really cool pilot or Titan skin to aim for would definitely keep me invested in the game, as the level cap of 50 doesn't take long to reach.
Titanfall's visuals are acceptable but didn't stun me like a lot of the Playstation 4's tech demos it deemed worth the £60 price tag, and while visuals aren't everything, they can sway someone's opinion on buying a game for a certain console. When I got into the matches this was a world that shared similar designs and textures to Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (not a complaint, folks), but what makes the Frontier really impressive is how it runs at 60 frames per second, with a few unnoticeable frame drops when I turn from time to time. This is expected of this generation, sure, but the Xbox One delivers seamless gameplay constantly. The loading times are tolerable for maps of the size Titanfall boasts, and my favourite graphics are those of the Titans and the soldiers. I'm surprised Respawn put so much effort into the cutscenes at the beginning of each match, as well as the visual display where your commanders give you constant updates. While not as noticeable, I also liked the NPC creatures like the dragons in the 8th mission of the campaign, where you can even see that chimaera pick someone up in its jaw and take them away! The giant dinosaurs in the background are stunning sights too. Come to think of it, most of the best looking things are in the background!
Where I wasn't impressed was the soundtrack. I found it to be forgettable and there weren't that many songs I remember. Once again Respawn fail to embrace the potential they have here and could've made a highly theatrical soundtrack with the places we go to. The music doesn't have to play all the time, but hearing something that has a nice beat to it in the lobby would be much appreciated. The Titan sounds are easily the best and the voice acting is superb. The IMC accents made a pleasant change to all American or Russian accents, but this is just me as an English gamer. But even they suffer from the script, as the dialogues between commanders is pointless because we don't know our mission briefing. It sounds off and while we're not supposed to relate to the two factions' generals we should know what we're fighting for. But that's enough about the story, I think it's time to close the lid on this hulk.
A Behemoth or a Pipsqueak?
For an online-only game Titanfall ticks all the boxes it needs to but because of its model it can't achieve a ten out of ten. It made taking control of leviathan feel just how it should as opposed to just being told we're a super soldier and have all these cool perks. Its twitch combat makes for fast gameplay, aimless navigation and lots of dynamic matches plus with playable mechs one-on-one duels are terrific that make you feel like gods among men. Even as a pilot the game is designed with parkour in mind, and the attention to detail the developers have put into each map with scalable and runnable walls, lots of windows and large rooms makes this all the more fun. When grunts question why the pilots are so good, you remember why you're playing this and also why it makes a great competitor against the current shooters on the market.
Its flaws are glaringly obvious to someone who is used to single player campaigns in video games however. Much like Battlefield this game was made with multiplayer in mind, and it coul've been more of a mistake to include a single player mode than not to include it. To add one at this point in the game, or any for that matter, would undoubtedly be a waste of time, resources and development in the sequel. And for the record in my reviews if it's in the game it gets reviewed; if it isn't, I don't base the score on that. The game's mythos and lore need to be expanded upon and hopefully in the DLC we can expect to see more campaign missions and how the seemingly endless fight between IMC and Militia continues. If this is done I would easily recommend this game more than I already am.
The final rating for Titanfall is an 8 out of 10, ending up with a GREASY GAMER MUST BUY accolade! Be it for the Xbox One, 360 or the PC this title is one you must have in your collection, especially if you're a fan of twitch combat shooters. What prevents it being a nine or ten out of ten is its story, or rather the lack thereof, and progression limitations. If these are resolved in the future or even in the inevitable sequel this could quite possibly be the number one game of 2014/2015!
Thanks for reading and have a pleasant day!
Titanfall is easily one of the best shooter experiences I've felt in a long time, but the lack of story in a world ripe for lore prevents it from being the diamond standard. Recommended.
While the fluency of the control is great and there's plenty of sensitivity options, I found the button layout options to be samey. Not bad for people who are new to twitch combat shooters though.
Very easy to get into and I can see many months of enjoyment ahead, especially with promises of further DLC. If more customisation was on offer, and more things besides burn cards to unlock though challenges this could keep people entertained for years
Great visuals but not a great example of what 'next gen' can do, despite being a multiplayer online only game. The player characters, grunts and creatures look great however, but the buildings aren't anything to write home about unlike some titles.
It would be unfair to vote the soundtrack when I can't remember it even as I play the game for review. The game's voice acting can hardly be judged when the scripts are so poor, either. If this was being rated, I'd probably give it a 5.