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Titanfall Review: An Incoming Titan
With every generation of consoles, we find new intellectual properties that come along and change how we fundamentally think of the genre within which they exist. From Super Mario 64’s revolutionary take on 3D platforming, to Halo’s unquestionable success in making first person shooters a viable reality on consoles, to the cinematic brilliance of the Uncharted series, every console generation brings games that break the mold of what we thought was possible within a given genre. Titanfall is the first game of this generation of consoles to do so.
Where Titanfall achieves this success is not immediately evident. It’s easy to look at the number of modes available, or to look at the 6-vs-6 player count and write the game off as just another FPS game that decided to forgo a single player experience all together. It will not wow you with its detailed graphics, and it does not feature destructible environments or realistic physics that make the player calculate distance to target and approximate bullet drop. Instead what is offered is one of the most balanced competitive multiplayer experiences that I have ever played, with some of the greatest player freedom of any game to date.
To accomplish this, Respawn appears to have designed the game around one key concept: that the player should be able to play the game how they wish, with few sacrifices to individual play styles. The only real limit on how a player can approach the game is in the player’s creativity. Pilots can utilize their anti-titan weapon or rodeo a titan into submission with their primary weapon. Any pilot can choose to use the active camouflage ability to become less visible to other pilots or completely invisible to Titans, allowing them to sneak around. Any pilot can utilize extreme freedom of movement to climb onto buildings and pick enemies off at a distance. The manner in which the pilot kits and abilities are set up is meant to allow for customization to play styles, and creates a balance between mobility, lethality, and stealth. Setups that have a distinct benefit toward one aspect have a drawback in another, and I often found myself looking at the skills available and questioning which would be better suited for me.
Then there are the titans. Deadly but vulnerable, quick but constrained, the titans add an element that just isn’t seen in other FPS games. Upon the start of a match, the player has a 4 minute timer until they are able to drop in a titan. Killing bots, hitting or killing enemy pilots, or hitting and destroying titans will all reduce the time until you can drop your titan in. Once the timer expires, players can either direct their titans to drop at a certain location, or can spawn in their titan after their next death. When and how to take your titan into combat can be a key decision for controlling the tide of battle. If you call in your titan too soon, you might be left without a titan against multiple titans. If you call it in too late, you might be outnumbered and having to hold off multiple titans. This forces pilots to assess the flow of battle constantly, and to adjust strategies as needed.
Once the titan is on the ground there are multiple ways to utilize them. For instance, they can be used as a distraction during hard point domination to keep pilots away from points inside of a building. They can be piloted by the player and used for precision strikes on enemy positions. They can also be used in suicide runs where the player charges into a group of titans with the Nuclear Ejection kit equipped to try and take out multiple titans at once. There are also 3 different chassis for the titans with varying degrees of speed and vulnerability. This freedom of choice in play styles compliments the freedom of play as a pilot well, and excels at creating memorable moments where you find yourself astonished at what you just managed to do.
Player freedom is the foundation for the combat in the game, which provides some the most fast paced, yet easy to manage battles. One moment you might be in close quarters combat with enemy pilots, while the next you might be wall running and climbing to get onto a building, where you can provide support against enemy titans. Shortly after that, you might be calling in your titan and battling against enemy titans, while watching for pilots that might try to jump on yours. Finally, when your titan is taken out, you might eject up into the air, and come down onto an enemy titan, where you rodeo it into submission. Because of specific design decisions, such as making mounting titans an automatic thing that does not require a button press, combined with responsive controls, this series of events is something that just about any player can accomplish, and it feels amazing when you pull it off.
Additionally, there are AI combatants on the battlefield. There are two types of AI combatants, grunts and spectres. Grunts can be killed with one or two shots, and generally only pose a threat to Titans, as they often carry rocket launchers that they will fire at opposing titans. Spectres, on the other hand, pose a bit more of a threat, as they are harder to kill and are capable of killing you if you are not careful. Spectres can also be hacked by the pilot, effectively switching which side they fight for. These AI combatants provide a unique element to the battlefield, as you won’t always see them in combat. Frequently, you will see a grunt attempting to drag another wounded grunt to safety.
I also had one encounter in which I came across a friendly spectre which had been crouching over a body. As I approached, the spectre stood up and started to walk toward me. Suddenly the body it had been crouching over started to move, and without turning back toward it, the spectre reached back with its weapon, shooting and killing it. I later tried to see if the sequence would play out again, while playing a new match on that map, and it did not. This leads me to believe that these sequences are not scripted to occur the same way every time, and it makes the battlefield feel even more alive because of it.
As for the combat itself, Respawn shows its pedigree by making the gun play simple and easy to use. Weapons tend to not have a ton of kick to them, and those that do have unlockable attachments to lessen the effect. This lends itself well to the fast paced nature of the game, and also makes the game easier to just pick up and play.
There are ten primary pilot weapons, three secondary weapons, and four anti-titan weapons. The primary weapons feature your typical offerings: a full auto assault rifle, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, an SMG, an LMG, etc. The only truly unique primary weapon is the Smart Pistol, which has the ability to lock onto multiple enemies, or one enemy multiple times. This weapon is very good at taking out multiple bots at once, but requires a bit more skill to use effectively against pilots. It can also be used in creative ways, such as locking onto a grenade as it is in mid-air and blowing it up early.
Every primary weapon has at least one set of attachments or mods. These can be better optics for your weapon, extended magazines, suppressors, or stabilization devices. When you first use the weapon, you will have to use factory settings, but as you rack up kills with the weapon against grunts, spectres and other pilots, you will unlock new gear that will make the weapon better to use.
Titans on the other hand have six primary weapons (which like the pilot’s primary weapons, have the ability to be upgraded), three tactical abilities (such as the vortex shield which will stop incoming bullets before firing back out again), and four different ordinances. Each weapon, ability and ordinance has its strengths and weaknesses that lend themselves to different play styles. Choosing which tactical ability to use is particularly important, as the three abilities are geared toward fighting titans with the vortex shield, defending against pilots with the electric smoke, or both with the particle wall.
All of these parts come together very well for the game’s five game modes across 15 maps. Attrition pits two teams against each other in a deathmatch style. However, it adds a twist in that AI minions and titans count toward the point total, with pilots and titans awarding more attrition points than the bots. Hardpoint is similar to Domination mode in Call of Duty, with 3 points on the map that must be controlled. Each hardpoint awards the controlling team with one point per second and the first team to 400 points wins. Capture the Flag is a fairly basic game mode for the genre. However, the inclusion of titans add an element of strategy, as players can take the enemy flag and then hop in their titan to transport the flag back to their base. Because of this, keeping titans in play is crucial. Then there is Pilot Hunter, which is a team deathmatch style mode where, unlike Attrition, the only kills that count are pilots. The final game mode is Last Titan Standing. This game mode is played out over several rounds, with the first team to win four rounds winning the match. Each team starts in their titans and must either eliminate all enemy titans or kill all enemy pilots to win a round. This was my favorite mode, as there was a lot of strategy that goes into winning a round, and teamwork is a must.
In all of these modes with the exception of Last Titan Standing, after victory has been decided, there will be an extraction phase where the losing team must reach a drop ship. The victors will have to try and eliminate the opposing team, preventing their escape. This can be done by either killing all opposing pilots, or by destroying the drop ship. This adds a fun and often exciting final bit of gameplay that gives the losing team a chance at still having a small victory.
When it was initially announced, Respawn made a point of stating that there would be a campaign to the game, but it would play out through multiplayer matches. After playing the campaign, I can’t help but feel that it was a waste for the developer. The campaign plays out over nine matches, with six attrition matches and three hardpoint matches. Regardless of the outcome of any of the matches, the story continues on the exact same way. The only variance is that depending upon which team you are on, you will get that side’s view of the conflict. The only benefit of playing the campaign is that completion of the campaign will unlock the Stryder chassis of titan for the militia campaign, and the Ogre chassis for the IMC. Otherwise, the experience feels tacked on and thoroughly disposable.
Finally, the game does have some systems of note outside of the core combat. The game has a feature called burn cards. These cards are unlocked by completing different in-game challenges, and can be equipped between matches. During matches, they can be used at the start of a life to give a wide assortment of bonuses. However, as soon as the player dies, the burn card is cancelled. The game also features an experience system that allows players to level up, and unlock new gear to use in combat, such as weapons, kits, and equipment for titans. Upon reaching level 50, players will have the opportunity to regenerate, and reset back to level 1. Doing so also resets all challenges and grants the player an increasingly greater XP bonus depending upon which generation the player is at. These systems may not seem like much, but their inclusion keeps providing incentives to the player for continued play.
In the end, many of the features from Titanfall can be seen in other games. From the progression system, to the MOBA elements with the AI minions, to the fast paced action, Titanfall borrows many of its elements from a variety of different genres. However, Titanfall manages to bring all of these different elements together and blend them perfectly into a unique and undeniably fun experience. Its only blemish is a throwaway campaign that players will not care about, but will be forced to partake in if they want to unlock other chassis. Titanfall delivers upon the hype and is a must own game on the Xbox One and PC.