Titanfall Hands-On Preview (PC)

Stomp stomp stomp parkour!

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At Gamescom 2013 in Cologne EA have brought their biggest future title in playable form to the show floor. I’m not talking bout Battlefield 4, or Fifa 14, or even The Sims 4, I’m talking about Titanfall. Evidently the focus of their attention, taking literal centre stage with a towering life-size Titan guarding the entrance, the booth is amazing before you even get inside to play the game.

Before we played we were treated to a series of videos including instructions on how to play. The demo featured three titans and three classes to try, although it appeared that the classes were in some way arbitrary as many of their skills overlapped implying that they are actually user-defined. The three titans were all also noted as being ‘Atlas class’ hinting that there might be different classes in the final game. I can imagine smaller titans spawning on faster times and being more manoeuvrable or larger Titans that you only get to use once but can deal a massive amount of damage. The video was somewhat intimidating as it showed players freerunning their way across entire maps with the simple instruction that to freerun you just jump at a wall and run, it couldn’t be that simple could it? We also had the game mode explained to us. It was framed in what is called ‘campaign multiplayer’ where the multiplayer match has a storyline to go along with it. Ostensibly one side was searching for a certain soldier while the other side where there to stop them, but in essence it was Team Deathmatch. The missing solider wasn’t actually on the map, you were just fighting while that search was happening, providing a handy explanation for the time limit. There were two factions, with one supposedly the attacking force and the others defending, but this was in no way important to the gameplay, with both factions playing identically as they do in games like Call of Duty.

After the training videos were over we were led to our stations where we had a card with all the controls on and a choice of Razer keyboard and mouse or an Xbox 360 Gamepad. I opted for the gamepad assuming the movement controls would be easier with twin sticks and face buttons than with a combination of key presses, but saw people using both and no-one seemed to have a considerable advantage over the others. We could get straight into picking our classes and Titans and we could learn a lot about the game from this menu.

First, every character carries two main weapons as well as an anti-titan weapon. This means no character is defenceless against the mechs unlike in a game like Battlefield where you need to rely on those with C4 or engineers to take out the vehicles. The anti titan weapons consisted of an armour piercing machine gun, a tradition lock-on guided rocket launcher and a magnetic grenade lobber. The other weapons were full of the usual suspects like shotguns and machine guns, but there was also a pistol that let you lock on to up to three targets and then shoot with the bullets being able to veer around corners. Each class also had a special ability that was always a cloak but obviously there’ll be more in the final product.

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You pick your titan before the match begins and then it’s on a timer until it’s ready to deploy. The three titans in the demo each had different weapon loadouts and were clearly designed for different purposes. One could fire four rockets at once and create a cloud of ‘electric smoke’ that could disorient and damage players and titans, one had a 40mm cannon that served as a semi-automatic rifle (albeit one that could reduce a soldier to a pink mist with a direct hit) as well as the electric smoke and one with a machine gun that could deal out a stream of damage that also had the ability to capture bullets fired at it for a short period then release it as a targeted attack. All titans also had a shoulder-mounted rocket that could be fired with a tap of ‘RB’, on a cooldown but useful while you are reloading your main weapon.

One the game begins, you see yourself in a drop ship in a brief cut scene and when you hit the ground there are already troops and a titan there. Due to the ‘campaign multiplayer’ environment, there’s actually events that happen in-game that serve the story more than anything else. So for example as soon as I took control, a soldier yelled at me to get down and a titan provided cover for us from a rocket barrage that hit an apartment block directly in front of us. Little moments like this can happen throughout the matches and there are teams of AI soldiers that are worth less points for killing but play surprisingly well as grunts while the players are the elite soldiers.

All my worries about not being able to make the most of the parkour abilities were evaporated instantly when within seconds of joining I was sprinting from wall to wall, crossing the map in mere seconds and able to land behind the enemy team and take quite a few of them out while they were still looking at the controls. When you jump you can tap ‘A’ again for a secondary jump and if you hit a ledge within reach you’ll pull yourself up. If you hit a wall at a suitable angle (the game is very forgiving) you’ll start to run along the wall for a short distance and then you can leap across to another wall to continue. As you chain together wallruns you’ll build up momentum allowing you to reach some ridiculous speeds in a fluid and elegant way. This mobility feels perfect and gives the pilots ( that’s what they call the player soldiers) a real edge on the huge but slower Titans. If a player is standing in a street he’s an easy target, if he’s springing around the level shooting you from all sides, he can easily take you down.

During my initial freerunning adventure an enemy titan spawned right in front of me. Once they are ready you simply press down on the D-Pad and then when they are called ( to a nearby area that’s big enough) they’ll drop out of the sky and be bathed in a giant white/blue orb. This is a kind of shield that allows you to quickly get inside without getting destroyed everytime you call one. The timer seems to be about three minutes and the shield is a genius idea that makes calling your Titan as soon as possible the right thing to do. So a player had called one in front of me, and as he limbed in I happened to leap directly towards it. I mean obviously that’s exactly what I had planned all along, landing on the cockpit and starting a sequence where I didn’t need to control my movements, I was staying on its back, and could fire my main weapon into some kind of core on the back of its neck. To latch onto the titan you didn’t need to do anything clever, you just had to land your jump right and within about twenty seconds I had destroyed the titan with my trusty shotgun. Balance is key to any FPS and I had been worried that the titans would be horrendously overpowered. While they can do a lot of damage they are also extremely vulnerable if they don’t have someone watching their back (literally) so it’s ideal to have a two-titan team or a few pilots on the rooftops around you as you lay waste to the opposing force.

After a lot of sprint, jumping and murder my titan was ready at the same time as many people on my team. We all called them down and hopped in with a press of ‘X’ on the gamepad. Climbing into the titan you instantly feel powerful as you’re twenty feet in the air and holding a giant cannon. You can stomp around the level, sprint with ‘A’ and absolutely decimate anyone foolish enough to get in front of you. Obviously there’s large parts of the map that titans can’t access such as interiors, so its surprisingly tense being encased in the massive metal suit as you’re never quite sure where an enemy attack could come from. As our team had three titans on the go we charged on to the other side of the map where fresh waves of AI soldiers were just dropping from helicopters and coming out of APCs and we absolutely obliterated them. Crushing them under foot, firing cannons all around, the points racked up quickly. In a single game players were getting upwards of 80 AI kills compared to my 9 kills against actual players (for the record I died twice so I count that as a personal victory).

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Before long the ‘Victory’ sign flashed up on the screen but the game still wasn’t over. In a feature called the ‘Epilogue’ in each battle the losing team have to try and make it to an evacuation point to get some extra XP, the winning side have to stop them. This was just as thrilling as the main match as we set up a defensive perimeter around the evacuation dropship, with titans on the streets and pilots on the rooftops and then player after player from the enemy side started trying to rush past us to get to the ship. Very few (if any) made it as we shot them out of the sky, on the floor and melee’d them in chases. There’s something exhilirating about pursuing a foe across buildings, landing just behind them and clicking in the right stick to break their neck and carry on. Once the other players were dead or on the dropship the game finally ended and the score screen came up.

Titanfall is easily the best game we’ve seen at the show so far, and amongst a strong lineup of games that’s high praise. The controls were tight, there was a huge range of strategies available and more than anything it was sheer fun for the whole match. For an early build balance is surprisingly good and while it was playing on high-end PCs it looked gorgeous and ran without a hint of glitches or slowdown. If you’re at Gamescom this weekend go down and play Titanfall whatever the queue is like, it’ll be worth it. It’s going to feel like a long wait until 2014 for the eventual release but this could easily be a game to replace Call of Duty, Halo and Battlefield in many gamers’ lives. We can’t wait.

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