Why are you a pilot if they can’t even fly?
Titanfall is the first game from Respawn – a studio founded by devs who used to work on Call of Duty. The legacy is obvious, the tight controls, powerful guns and excellent map design are all present and correct, along with a progression system that keeps the game addictive.Leaving Infinity Ward has allowed them some creative freedom though and they’ve chosen to express this through giant murder robots. Who can blame them?
A strictly multiplayer 6v6 FPS, Titanfall gets it right on so many levels that it’s almost easy to take it for granted and focus on the negatives. Yes there’s no single player at all – there’s two campaigns but they’re simply multiplayer matches with narrative going on in the background. It doesn’t even matter if you win or lose, the story will carry on regardless. They’re a nice touch and definitely do a good job of explaining the maps and why they’re important within the lore, but it’s no replacement for a strong single-player story mode and that is completely absent from this title. Thankfully that’s where the shortcomings end, there’s a healthy roster of 15 visually distinct maps that all feature a variety of engagement types, bringing to mind Battlefield more than Call of Duty in some ways. There’s always some long sight lines but there’s also interiors and corridors for CQC, none of the maps feel particularly geared towards a single playstyle. The player count too raised some eyebrows with only six pilots on each team, but this seems balanced perfectly for the maps. You wouldn’t want the maps to be any bigger or getting to the action would be a chore, any smaller and they’d be too chaotic. There’s always plenty to shoot at with twelve players in the match and once you all start getting Titans even that might seem a little excessive. Turns out the number of players in a game is pretty much irrelevant as long as the map design is good.
As a pilot this is an experience like no other, echoing what was promised from Brink with a little bit of Mirror’s Edge and a lot of Call of Duty. You can customise your class but essentially you pack an anti-personnel weapon like a rifle, a pistol, an anti-titan weapon like a rocket launcher, some grenades or C4 or mines and then a couple of bits of kit that give you some kind of advantage like allowing your pilot ability to last for longer. The pilot abilities will mostly dictate your playstyle, from the sneaky cloak, the adrenalin rush of stim or a simple maphack ping that feels considerably like cheating. The weapons are mostly what you’d expect with a single exception – the smart pistol locks onto targets (including players) and then a single pull of the trigger kills them, no aiming required. It seems overpowered but the time it takes to lock on to a pilot is ridiculous so unless you have the drop on them you’ll be toast before you get a shot off. Where it excels is running around the map killing npcs – all of which only take one bullet so the Smart pistol can easily drop four in a single burst. Killing the npcs like grunts and spectres (robot versions of the pilots) gives you points in attrition and speeds up your Titanfall so it’s well worth doing.
The mobility afforded to pilots is absolutely insane and within minutes of playing you’ll be bouncing between walls and crossing the map in seconds. It’s almost too easy to forget how powerful you are in the air, reverting to CoD style run and gunning, only to be outflanked by a player hopping around like mad. Once you get good at it there’s no better feeling, it’s an exquisite ballet akin to Tribes where careful planning and deft movements allow some truly amazing feats. As a pilot you are far from underpowered – the anti-titan weapons can do a real chunk of damage to the robots and by jumping you can even climb on the titans’ backs and open up a panel to shoot at their innards. Of course after a few levels the titans have defences against this but with a bit of luck you can catch someone unaware or find an auto-titan and bring it down in ten seconds or so.
While playing as a pilot is undoubtedly fun, the true stars of the show are clearly the titans themselves. After a set timer (that can be sped up by getting kills on enemy players and NPCs) you press down on the d-pad and call in a twenty-foot robot that can either protect you with its basic AI or you can jump in to wreak some havoc. The animations for the Titans are spectacular, with some scooping you up to put you in the driving seat or simply pounding the ground with their fist as they land. They look impress and feel genuinely powerful – with thick armour, a heft shield and some weapons that can take out pilots in a single hit. Of course there’s counters to everything and you’re never truly invincible, but there’s a real feeling of weight and importance in piloting a Titan and there’s always fun to be had.
The game feels designed for the Xbox’s DVR and streaming features with amazing moments happening nearly every game. Maybe you’ll snipe a pilot out of the air with a 40mm cannon turning them into pink mist – maybe you’ll jump kick someone who was climbing on your friend’s Titan, maybe you’ll drop a Titan on a pack of the enemy, flattening one and then take out the other two as soon as you activate. It’s always thrilling and you’re rewarded for everything with not just XP but burn cards – a replacement for kill streaks that can be stored between games and then 3 can be used in each match. They range from calling in a Titan immediately to simply more powerful or different versions of guns. They’re creative and have some great flavour text but there just might be a few too many fillers – especially when your deck is full because you have 20 amped pistols clogging the space.
Overall Titanfall is a spectacular achievement. It’s a shame there isn’t a real single-player as the world is calling out for some real narrative and set-pieces, but you’ll easily get your money’s worth if you’re at all interested in multiplayer FPS games. This is the start of a series and we can wait to see where it goes next, for now this is the killer app for Xbox One – something next gen desperately needs.