A game has to be something special to be marked as one of the key early events in the latest generation console war, yet that is undoubtedly how Titanfall, for better or for worse, will be remembered. Titanfall has indeed baited the breath of gamers the world over, yet it is also a massively anticipated title for the industry bigwigs as well, with Microsoft securing console exclusivity and pouring millions of dollars into its promotion. A four day beta test released a few week prior to launch only served to further the expectations for one of the biggest shooter releases of 2014. Now finally released, Titanfall is underpinned by the hopes and fears of worldwide gamers and company CEOs alike. No pressure then, Respawn Entertainment.
The fundamental gameplay of Titanfall functions like your standard fast paced FPS. However, this is but a thin veneer that covers the bulk of what makes Titanfall the fantastic, oddball multiplayer shooter that many gamers will come to love. Movement is probably the most immediate aspect that separates Respawn Entertainment’s debut titles from its peers. Each player (or “Pilot”) has the full ability to perform dizzying complex parkour abilities including wall running, wall jumping and the ability to cling to almost any surface and fall from fantastic heights without injury. These unique abilities blast open new tactical possibilities. A sheer wall becomes a running track, a jump point, and even a hidden sniping nest with enough skill and practice, which makes map traversal in Titanfall feel more slick, stylish and satisfying than just about any other shooter around. Gunplay is largely conventional, and perhaps the most pedestrian of all the gameplay mechanics in Titanfall, with access to the standard arsenal of assault rifles, SMGs, and sniper rifles. The Smart Pistol is the only addition that stands out from the crowd, which exhibits a unique lock on targeting system which is both a satisfying and, crucially, a well balanced mechanic.
The Titans themselves, however, are clearly where Respawn has poured the lion’s share of its love and attention into. Once called in, Titans become the crux of the gameplay, with the ability to set to follow, guard a point or take direct control of your very own two-storey killer robot. The weapons they sport range from standard rifles to exotic energy-based railguns and gargantuan grenade launchers. However, despite their intimidating presence, the developers have put considerable effort into ensuring that Titans do not become the overbearing focus of gameplay. The ability for each Pilot to carry a powerful Anti-Titan weapon keeps the power of the mechanical colossi in check, making the choice to remain on foot as Pilot a valid tactical option, and maintains the masterful fair balance in gameplay that Titanfall should be extremely proud of.
Rather unexpectedly, it becomes clear over time that the real star of Titanfall is its spectacular map design. A fantastic variety is offered with the initial fifteen maps on release, with the tense room clearing and rooftop hopping on offer in Colony contrasting drastically with the wide open plains of Fracture that, like its fellow larger maps, lends itself more naturally to epic Titan-on-Titan battles. Each map feels vibrant a frenetic whilst avoiding the pitfalls of overly clustered layouts and an over reliance on verticality that often plagues bad map design. Titanfall‘s artistic direction should be commended too, as your journey through all fifteen maps will take you from sprawling urban environments, to desolate wastelands, Arctic bases and even a huge wrecked space cruiser. Many of the maps are also littered with dynamic aspects that develop throughout game play, applying unique twists that further the uniqueness of each map. A personal favourite are the “Flyers” that inhabit Boneyard; these winged NPC beasties will swoop around the map, plucking hapless grunts and spectres from the battlefield.
These maps have clearly been designed by a team who know what it takes to make a great multiplayer game, which must be why the “Campaign” mode feels tacked on and awkward. Titanfall forgoes a traditional single player story experience and instead attempts to weave the narrative into a sequence of nine of the launch maps across two gameplay modes, Attrition (Team Deathmatch) and Hardpoint Domination. Unfortunately, the story unfolds with no real impact or engagement whatsoever, as it progresses during conventional multiplayer gameplay, reducing the perfectly acceptable voice acting and plot devices to mere background noises. Unconventional gameplay epilogues, such as a gigantic explosion that takes place on the map Demeter, become the only fleeting reminders that feel like Respawn is indignantly bleating “Hey! Don’t forget, we’re trying to tell a story here!”. After finishing both the Milita and IMC campaigns, I’d be hard pushed to recount the main plot, let alone individual character bios and motivations.
Final Score: 8/10
Titanfall is a superbly crafted, innovative, mainstream multiplayer shooter that showcases the very best that that the next generation shooter has to offer. It may not be as visually stunning as some had hoped, but the varied map locales and fanatical yet surprisingly tangible looking Titans shows that the art direction certainly isn’t a failing. Perhaps it’s not the total evolution in gaming that we were hoping for, but it certainly is a marked step forward in the power balance of online gameplay, giving the overdone “modern military shooter” genre a reason to be worried that it might be starting to overstay its welcome. Titanfall should be praised, yet its lack of both a single player option and (perhaps more importantly) any form of co-op PvE content is almost unique within its contemporary FPS peers, and maybe be a cause for concern over Titanfall‘s longevity. For those of us who want nothing more than a fantastic fast paced multiplayer shooter, however, Titanfall is quite simply as good as it gets.