No game can ever live up to the kind of hype generated by Titanfall. The beta only enhanced feelings that the game could be something special, and pushed anticipation to fever pitch. This is the game to save the Xbox One, or so they say. The game that revolutionises the genre.
And you know what, as crazy as it sounds, they may not be entirely wrong – at least in some respects.
What makes Titanfall so good is how it’s balanced. I’ve played First Person Shooters for longer than some gamers have been alive, but I’ve never been good at them. Both Call of Duty and Battlefield feel impenetrable to me, because I don’t have the time or inclination to make either the only game I play, in order to get good enough to compete and have a good time. Titanfall must have some kind of voodoo magic under the hood, because it makes you feel like a supreme badass, and even the most average shooter player can top the leaderboard on their day. There’s pedigree here, and it doesn’t take long to reveal itself.
Although there’s no real pretence that this is anything other than a multiplayer-only shooter, every match includes AI grunts to kill and earn points from. This means that even if you’re not killing other human players, you are still contributing to your score, and thus levelling up doesn’t require you to only compete with the very best out there, which gives the less skilled players a chance to still enjoy every match.
It’s also worth saying that you should never underestimate what a good jump mechanic can do for a game. The smooth frame-rate combined with the double jump means that you can zip around the maps outside of your Titan; the speed is breakneck compared to the other shooters out there. Wall-running means that you can get around the map really well, and verticality makes for a great time, too. Without even thinking about it, you’ll double jump into a wall, run along it and then spring back to a rooftop, before pulling out your anti-Titan weapon and destroying a huge enemy mech. Satisfaction guaranteed – and you’ll hardly believe that you were the one doing it. There are even zip-lines you can grab hold of to extend your motion – it feels brilliant.
Performing a rodeo never stops being immensely satisfying, either. Put simply, this involves either jumping on a friendly Titan for a ride-along, or mounting an enemy Titan and ripping them open, before firing directly at the “brain”, to destroy it. Of course you can be spotted by enemies and put down, and it’s even more satisfying when roles are reversed and you realise someone is on you, so you jump out and destroy them before hopping back into your Titan and raining bullets on your opponents.
The Titans feel good, too. The tutorial tells you that they are designed to feel like a natural extension of the Pilot, and they really do. You can charge around in your mech if you want to, but you can also get out and engage auto-Titan mode. This causes your metal behemoth to follow you around engaging enemies while you do the same. You can jump back into it whenever you fancy it, but they aren’t invincible, and if you lose one you’ll desperately want to kill more enemies to shorten your cooldown for the next drop.
In a nutshell, Titanfall is full of these moments that you’ll talk about with friends, and that’s a good thing too, because in places it is rather bare bones. Currently there is no option for any kind of private match – in fact, you simply pick a mode (there are five: Attrition, Last Titan Standing, Capture the Flag, Pilot Hunter and Hardpoint – though there’s a sixth option called “Variety” that cycles the modes) and it’ll automatically match you into two teams of six players. Playing pre-release meant that the servers were empty until just before launch, though this did give the opportunity to see the matchmaking in progress. I’ve ended up in a 3v6 and 4v6 match, which is odd, to say the least. It’s worth noting, however, our review process was conducted entirely on retail servers, and we tested before and after (USA) release and noticed no hiccups.
It’s really up to you to decide if there’re enough modes on offer, though. Personal preference means that I’ll spend most of my time in Last Titan Standing (you all start in Titans, but you only get one life) and Attrition (a team-based in which you need to reach a set score), with objective based Capture the Flag and Hardpoint not really being my thing, though the Titans themselves do make these modes more entertaining than in other titles that offer them. Pilot Hunter mode sounds more interesting than it is, as it’s just a case of the primary objective being to kill pilots, with less emphasis on killing grunts.
On top of that, while the map selection is more than adequate and offers plenty of visual variety, there seems to be no way to choose a map, nor even vote on a choice of maps – it’s just a cycle. Nexus stood out to me as an excellent arena, and Boneyard is another one full of verticality, as weird alien creatures fly around the centrepiece of a huge dead beast you can clamber atop of. Maps like Corporate offer a more industrial feel, with action taking place inside and out, though the inside seems a little busy and too easy to get distracted. In fact, some battlegrounds feel as though they were designed for more than twelve players, so vast are their designs. Most importantly, the action is so frenetic that you never feel constrained by the maps in any way; they are very cleverly designed.
Levelling up seems friendlier than a lot of online shooters, too. Within your first hour you should be comfortably close to level ten (depending on skill, obviously) and will have unlocked custom pilot and Titan loadouts, as well as challenges and the wonderful burn cards. With up to three of these equipped, after a death you can choose to activate a burn card. They are awarded after every match and you can add them to your custom loadout, but they add yet more support for all kinds of player. From simply reducing your Titanfall cooldown by thirty seconds, to offering you an improved version of your weapon, these last as long as a round, or until you die. It’s a superb idea, executed incredibly well.
There are only three Titans on offer (as well as three base-Pilots), but you can customise them if you wish. Whether you want to have a longer shield upon dropping, or want to auto-eject when doomed, there’s plenty of ways to build a Titan. Weapons play a large part (and I’m a Tank guy, for the record) but there are tactical elements revolving around special abilities that effect the way you build your custom classes.
Starting with a Vortex Shield that can capture bullets and throw them back, and a Rocket Salvo attack, there are further unlocks if you fancy something different, such as Electric Smoke (perfect for getting Pilots off your back) or a Cluster Missile. Likewise, Pilots start with a cloaking device, but can change out to a Stim (health regeneration and quicker movement) or the Active Radar Pulse perk that lets you see through walls for a period, among many other options. These Tactical Abilities add something genuinely strategic to the gameplay, and aren’t merely new weapons or skins. As if that weren’t enough, there are Tier Kits that offer even further customisation, and for the high level players, things like the Quick Reload Kit (guess what that does), or the Guardian Chip (makes your Auto-Titan more accurate) are going to be real game-changers.
The usual unlock patterns apply elsewhere: weapons, sights, you name it. Some weapons are more powerful, sacrificing other aspects such as range or clip size, and this definitely manifests in-game – although it’s hard to know if that’s player skill coming into question, or a dodgy kill-cam upsetting me. What I’m really saying here is that there are already some bloody good players out there.
Challenges round out the hooks designed to keep you returning, and they include a handful of fun ideas that could only work in Titanfall. Fancy getting 500XP for wall-running for a certain amount of time? Check. What about riding on the back of a Titan for a certain distance? Check. Of course, there are more standard ones for kills and so on, but the core design means it’s more than just another shooter, even with the challenges.
The weapons themselves are mostly similar to what we’ve seen before, but genuine innovation comes in the form of the Smart Pistol. Held at a jaunty relaxed angle, this automatically locks onto the nearest enemy, and with one hit of the trigger, can kill them. In the right hands, the Smart Pistol is utterly deadly, and is rewarded as such by being a primary weapon choice. You can’t have an automatic weapon and a Smart Pistol, it’s one or the other. Every player can select an anti-Titan weapon, be it a homing missile, multi-rockets, or a huge machine gun – but if you lock on, the pilot will be warned. While some weapons have been seen before in other games, the differences here are what makes Titanfall so interesting and unique.
On Xbox One, Titanfall looks gorgeous except for one thing: tearing. It’s not horrendous, nor is it as prevalent as in other games, but it is there. I don’t want to be that guy, but it just shouldn’t be there. The game runs so smoothly elsewhere, with no slowdown and no other visual hiccups, that it’s perhaps more noticeable. There are sixty seconds (sometimes more) to wait after each map, and the load times after that are fairly lengthy, too. It’s not a big deal, but it’s worth mentioning. The audio design is spectacular, if understated at times. Music will come and go, but it’s secondary to the action. You’ll constantly be updated on how long you have to wait for your Titan to drop, and you’ll even be updated on how your team is doing overall. It really feels like you’re in a war zone.
There’s been commendable effort made to create a story for a purely multiplayer-based shooter, but it falls slightly flat. It basically amounts to sending the player through the game modes in teams, with a bit of story thrown in. Truth be told, very few will care about it, and splitting the campaign off from classic mode (that’s what Respawn call Multiplayer) is smart. I’d imagine few will bother with it after an initial play to see what it’s about.
VERDICT: When you’re in the thick of the action, Titanfall is like no other shooter. It succeeds in making you feel like a superhero, piloting a giant mech to destroy your enemies with ferocious aggression. The fact there’s no option for private matches is an odd one, and there’s not a huge amount of guns on offer, really, but it’s arguably unfair to come down too hard on a developer choosing to focus on gameplay innovation over peripheral issues. If you own an Xbox One, you already know you’re getting this. If you don’t have one, well, you might be missing out on the most fun I’ve had with a shooter in years if you don’t grab it somehow.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
Review code provided by publisher and tested on retail servers only.