Titanfall - Review
Chances are, even if you couldn't care less about the game, you've already heard tons about Respawn Entertainments multi-player focused first-person shooter. It was greeted with a ridiculous amount of applause at last year's E3 and has continued to ride that momentum and hype all the way to its release.
Fortunately, Titanfall isn't just all talk. What developers Respawn Entertainment have done is take the best bits of every online shooter, cut off the weakest parts and then thrown in a bunch of giant mechanical robots just for good measure. It does mean that the game comes with the caveat that if you didn't already like online shooters, don't think that Titanfall is going to change your mind. This is very much a game about evolution rather than revolution.
Given that the game puts its multiplayer front and centre, there's very little in the way of an actual single player mode. After a brief tutorial that gives you an outline of the game's basic mechanics, you're thrust into a campaign that sees you fighting for either the IMC or the Militia, or, as they're more commonly known, Red Team and Blue Team. It'd be somewhat asinine to complain about Titanfall's lack of a coherent story however; when you're up against several players trying to blast hot-lead straight into your face, there's very little desire to want to reflect on some deep science fiction plot.
Instead Titanfall simply hones your typical deathmatch experience to a razor-sharp edge. Given that many of Respawn Entertainment's employees previously worked on Call of Duty the comparisons are easy to see. The game is a twitch-shooter through and through. One wrong move can mean getting blasted to pieces by someone sneaking up behind you, or a sniper taking a lucky shot. Likewise, the threat of a hulking metal Titan stomping through the level puts you firmly in place.
Titanfall in particular places emphasis on manoeuvrability. Pilots are equipped with a double jump and are also capable of wall-running, turning casual bouts of navigation into mini games of Mirror's Edge. It shows in the level designs too. Not only are levels suitably large, many are also tall, with numerous buildings to clamber up and on to, making claiming the high ground an important part of many match. It also makes for a clever balancing act; whilst being in a Titan does you give you seem feeling of invincibility, at least the first time you hop in one, it's also met with the realization that suddenly you can't get around the level so well. Enemy pilots become scuttling mice that you can trample on, but said mice are also capable of hopping out of a building and blasting you with a bazooka.
Getting hold of a Titan is pretty simple. At the start of any given match, your Titan essentially operates like a power with a cooldown timer. Killing enemies or scoring points shortens that time limit, enabling you access to your gun-toting behemoth that bit sooner. Playing as one is perhaps comparable to playing as a Big Daddy in Bioshock 2's multiplayer: you're extra-powerful but also a much bigger target.
Like with your pilot, you're able to customise your Titan with different loadouts. The robots themselves come in three different types, with one emphasizing speed, one being a walking tank and another that sits in the middle. Likewise, different armaments and perks can make a Titan better a different situations, whether that be taking down other Titans or holding down objectives.
Those objectives come into play in the game's other major game mode: Hardpoint Domination. It's your standard capture and defend style of match, with three different locations that need to be seized by your team in order to score points. The game also comes with a last person standing variant, where players all start out in a Titan as well as your typical capture the flag game and another deathmatch variant. All in all though, it does seem rather slim pickings for a game that's clearly focused on its multiplayer. None of the game modes are things we haven't seen before, and after a while the question starts becoming how long are you going to enjoy the standard death matches.
The perk system is there to ensure that Titanfall is constantly throwing new toys your way and stave any growing sense of repetition. Unlocks include new weapons; which are all rather standard shotguns, rifles and machine guns for the most part, as well as additional perks that can offer your character different abilities. It does, unfortunately, mean that the best player is usually the one that's been grinding away the longest, and it would have been nice to see Respawn experiment with a different level-up system, to ensure newer players aren't handicapped simply by virtue of having access to less gear.
At the moment, it's clear that a few of the power-ups are stronger than other options. Whilst there's nothing game breaking, certain equipment choices render many others obsolete, with the Titan's Electrical Smoke defensive ability being one of the best examples. Time will tell how well Respawn do at maintaining good game balance, along with the inevitable slew of DLC upgrades that will be on their way.
Burn cards are the final addition to your customization options. Instead of being a part of your loadout they work as one-off buffs that last until your next respawn. There's a good mix of different effects, from providing you with buffed-up guns (the most common), to allowing you to respawn where you died. They're unlikely to help you turn a match around on their own but are a smart way of adding greater customization to your loadout.
And that's the thing to take away from Titanfall; it lets you play how you want. Given the speed at which players can be killed, there's less emphasis on team communication and more importance placed on your own ability as a player. That'll be a turn off to some, and does mean that physical reactions almost always trump actual strategy, but does mean that the game, for an online shooter at least, does have a relatively low barrier of entry for new players wanting to get their feet wet.
There's the slight disappointment though, that Titanfall keeps so much of its options hidden behind high level barriers. Grinding away for thirty levels just to get the extra weapons ensures that some players don't stop playing but does mean that you have to wait a while until all the game's options are available to you. Titanfall is incredibly fun, it's just a shame that the developers saw fit to lock away a lot of it behind hours of less thrilling matches grinding away.
As it stands, Titanfall is a great example of taking an increasingly stale genre and giving it a shot in the arm. It doesn't radically overhaul anything but adds just enough new features to make it a genuine alternative to Call of Duty's stop-and-pop shooting.
Titanfall was released on March 11th for the Xbox One, PC and Xbox 360.
This review is based on the Xbox One version.
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