Three Weeks with Titanfall – Review

Luke Powney

A Game Design/Production student at Abertay with a passion to become a Producer. A lover of Halo, One Direction and Karl Pilkington. Oh, and just try to beat me at any Harry Potter related question. You won't win. @LukeDPowney

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“Prepare for Titanfall.”

Those three words have stirred up some very mixed emotions in myself over the past couple of weeks.

Excitement. I’m about to witness a twenty-foot hulking machine drop to the ground, pulling me from my puny human existence and passing over the reins to unsurpassed power and speed.

Pride. This is happening because I’ve exterminated every enemy in my sights. Now, those remaining about to suffer complete humiliation at the hands of my gargantuan prize.

And finally, fear. My trusty companion; the mechanical giant that exists to protect me no matter the cost, is hurtling from the heavens and is about to crash in to a war zone both him and I aren’t destined to survive. I’ve sent him to his death.

Sounds a little melodramatic, no? One might accuse me of as much-In fact, I wouldn’t deny it for a second. But make no mistake, the moment my Titan reaches out with his claw like hand, tightening his grip as he hurls me in to the cockpit, we are one. He won’t go down without a fight, and I’ll be there right at his side…or…quite literally, inside of him. (Please, leave the homo-robo jokes at the door. Titans are so obviously asexual.)

Deemed one of the first “must own” games of this new console generation, Titanfall has certainly made an impact since its reveal last June at Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference. Coming from veteran developers Vince Zampella and Jason West, Respawn Entertainment’s first title approached the dizzy heights of unbelievable hype. Having the ‘Creators of the Call of Duty franchise’ on your resume will do that. The worst element of hype in the video game industry is the crushing feeling of coming so close to meeting it, but falling short of greatness. Look back across the previous generation and take your pick of the casualties. Too Human? Aliens: Colonial Marines? Grand Theft Auto 4? Not my words, the words of the internet-to many gaming fact. And that’s the problem, we gamers trample through forums and demand unparalleled quality at all times. Titanfall then, had it coming. If it couldn’t overcome the scrutiny of the internet; that infamous phrase – “it’s just Call of Duty with mechs!” – then there would be hell to pay. I’ve had the pleasure of having three weeks with Titanfall on Xbox One and you can rest easy. Their latest first person shooter has well and truly made its mark, in exhilarating fashion.

Titanfall is one of those games that manages to finely balance a mix of tried and tested gameplay elements oh so attractive to the stalwart players of established franchises, as well as new mechanics that manage to both excite and challenge on every occasion. It throws away those claims of being a Call of Duty clone and provides gamers with its own unique image, ready to stand side by side with its rivals. These mechanics will be well known before you even step foot in to the game, as they’ve been more than heavily plastered on to your screen.

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As a ‘Pilot’ (the human controlled soldier at the core of the first person action scenarios) gameplay extends beyond what we’re used to. The shooting mechanics are tight, stable and pack one hell of a punch. Pulling that trigger and hearing the roar from any of the available guns proves that the developers spent plenty of time honing their skills ensuring that every bullet feels real and that every weapon will win you your fight. These weapons aren’t particularly inventive however, but they do their job and give Titanfall a grounded, welcome feeling.

What makes playing as a Pilot so much fun however, is the wall-running mechanic that every player can attempt from the get go. Parkour has invaded film and gaming over he last decade. The best? Daniel Craig’s first foray in to the world of Bond in Casino Royale and the globe-trotting Assassin’s Creed. These franchises proved that running across and over walls was the coolest way of getting from A to B. In Titanfall, it feels like a combination of the two: the intensity of Bond, and the freedom of the Assassin. The verticality of the map design allows players to traverse each arena in multiple ways. Running on the ground from one side of the map to the other is great, if you want to die a very quick death. Wall-run your way across though? Not only will you gain speed bonuses the more walls you chain together, but you’ve just captured that flag in record time. If you want to wear that MVP crown at the end of every match, you’ll have to let go of your assumptions of how to move in first person shooters. Mastering this technique will truly separate the good from the sublime, and provide you access to areas that’ll give your team the edge.

I don’t care how blasé it might seem, but other franchises need to adopt this mechanic. It feels so effortless to perform that initial jump on to a wall or building, and escaping an enemy or outmanoeuvring a Titan, makes you feel utterly invincible.

It is the Titan however, which is at the core of all things. Not simply a robot, but instead an extension of your body that mimics your actions as you fight across the battlefield as soon as you clamber inside. Move left, and your Titan will respond accordingly. Punch another Titan in the face? Your wish is his command. The transition from Pilot to Titan is incredibly natural, with little new controls to master. Clearly, the developers intended Titans to be a powerful weapon on the ground, not a vehicle. Earned every two minutes in a match, which can be reduced depending on how many enemies you can kill, it is the ultimate reward in Titanfall. It’s a gift from above and looking up when you hearing the crack as it breaks the sound barrier is an ageless experience. Having one Titan on the ground can change the course of the match, but having twelve? Ooh, that’s just spoiling us. Going toe-to-toe with another Titan for the first time is terrifying yet heart-poundingly fun. You’ll fire your rockets only for your enemy to stop them in their tracks with a Vortex Shield, hurtling them back to your face. Titans have a serious arsenal of powers and a battle can last up to a minute before one of you ejects up in to the clouds. The trick is to get to your nearest allied Titan as quickly as possible. Going up against another really is Goliath vs Goliath, but having your best buddy at your side goes a long way in making sure you can control the battlefield. Now that you have a new toy to play with, the bully will most certainly come after you – teamwork is key.

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As a multiplayer-only game, it’s reassuring to know that Titanfall has a strong set of legs. With a total of fifteen maps, it’s going to take you a considerable amount of time to understand every accessible route, both on the ground and across the walls. Respawn Entertainment’s previous map designs have stood out as some of the most memorable across the genre, and while Titanfall’s won’t be the cause of many water cooler moments, they have been perfectly crafted to meet the demands of the game. My two personal favourites have to be ‘Smuggler’s Cove’ and ‘Boneyard’, the latter having an Avatar-style ecosystem of flying, ravenous creatures. It adds to the intensity while you’re fighting the enemy team, but piss them off…and they’ll no longer be a pretty distraction.

It is a shame then that these maps aren’t backed up by a strong line-up of game modes. ‘Attrition’, Titanfall’s version of Team Deathmatch, and ‘Hardpoint’, a capture-and-hold gametype exist alongside ‘Capture the Flag’ as the game’s most traditional modes. They’re welcoming to new players but rely on the game’s mechanics a little too heavily to differentiate itself from the competition. ‘Last Titan Standing’ on the other hand, is unique in the fact that the final score rests on the number of Titans left on the battlefield. This mode is a visual spectacle–six on six Titan brawls are undeniably crazy, and can occassionally take its toll on the frame rate. It is however, very frustrating. As I mentioned previously, teamwork is key. A match can be over very quickly if people don’t stick together and makes the game’s only unique game type unplayable due to the amount of players who think themselves the new Rambo.

Additionally, Respawn incorporated a Campaign mode in to Titanfall. I’m running out of words and quite frankly, I don’t think it’s a problem at this point, as there really isn’t much to say. In fact, I can’t even tell what happened. You play the campaign alongside other Xbox Live players, as one of two factions – the IMC and the Militia. The story is told through briefing sequences before you’re dropped into the action, and you’re given small snippets of context via NPCs throughout the match. If you’re like me, you play the campaign before heading in to multiplayer, for any game. Herein lies the problem; there is so much going on and everything is so overwhelming, that it’s impossible to pay attention to anything else happening around you. How can I concentrate on an exploding ship in the sky which is (apparently) very important to the story, when my Titan’s face is being pummelled by a tirade of bullets? The campaign is completely unnecessary-I took nothing away from it, apart from a smattering of Achievements. Thanks Respawn…

Despite a few shortcomings, Titanfall represents what’s exciting about the new generation of consoles. It might not be the prettiest game in the world, and it might not have the most inventive game modes, but it does have a seriously large set of balls. It has crashed onto the multiplayer scene and provided us with a new franchise fully aware of its status. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It’s not an emotional story of warring factions and carefully crafted characters. It’s not an intelligent shooter for a new breed of gamers. And it’s most definitely not a blip on the radar. It’s dumb, it’s explosive, and it’s the most amount of fun you’ll have on Xbox One. It’s here to stay, and I for one cannot wait to see more.

Prepare for Titanfall.

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