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Titanfall Hands-On Preview – Bring It On

by on September 9, 2013

To say anticipation is high for this game would be an understatement. Some of us have been waiting to see what Respawn Entertainment would produce since Vince Zampella and Jason West’s controversial departure from Activision a few years ago, along with the majority of the Infinity Ward team.

The combined experience on the team at Respawn Entertainment is impressive by any measure, with the ex-IW guys having created Medal of Honour: Allied Assault and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, arguably two of the most popular first person shooters ever developed on consoles. This is the team responsible for making Call of Duty the most popular entertainment franchise by innovating a somewhat stale genre. With the addition of Hollywood animation veterans, this is what we call the dream team. But is that the case, or could it be that too many cooks spoil the broth? We got a world first hands on with Titanfall at Gamescom to find out…

As you jump into the game you’re given the option to select a pilot (your player character) loadout, similar to what you would expect from any typical class based game (i.e. Battlefield, etc), but with the choice being based on the weapon type, with the selection on our early alpha build being: Medium-range rifle, Lock-on pistol and semi-automatic shotgun. After selecting a pilot loadout you’re given the all important option to select your Titan. Again, on our build there were 3 choices at this time, but it was evident more units will become available to unlock via some kind of progression system. We chose the X0-16, which featured an automatic battle rifle, a 40mm cannon with semi-automatic explosive rounds, and the Rocket Launcher, which fires 4 rockets.

The gameplay mode on show at Gamescom this year was a cooperative-style “Multiplayer Campaign Mode”, which Reswpawn are touting as their alternative to a single player campaign, with cinematic sequences and the whole shebang. Based on a Team Deathmatch gameplay mode, with the enemy team being completely made up of AIs, the idea is for your team to take out all the enemy grunts within a set time limit. Once the round is over, the losing team, be it yourselves or the enemy, will have around 30 seconds to evacuate the level by aircraft pick-up. Here, the winning team has a chance to take a few more enemies out, scoring extra bonus points. In this mode, players will be given separate points for killing Pilots, Titans, and Grunts.

When you first jump into the game, quite literally as your pilot dives out of a millitary vehicle, it’s hard not to be blown away by the ultra-sharp visuals. As your pilot hits the ground and you start to get a feel for the game, everything seems so crisp – the controls are tight and the animations are spot on. In fact, the general feel is a little reminiscent of early Modern Warfare titles. But as you traverse the urban environment by wall-running and double-jumping onto rooftops for a higher vantage point using the jet pack you’re reminded this is no standard current generation shooter. It’s also very intuitive: it’s a case of picking a control pad and jumping straight into the action – things like climbing into your Titan are mapped to exactly the buttons you’d expect them to be.

Of course, the key aspect of Titanfall is the Titan itself. Mechs aren’t exactly a new feature to video games, but Respawn have taken a totally different approach to what we’ve seen in previous games. As we played through the level, it was clear that there were big battles going on between Titans and little battles taking place between pilots and grunts, but all the conflicts kind of conjoin into one. There’s no separation of the two; this is not just a mech game, but nor is it a shooter – it’s a great combination of the two. You never feel overwhelmed when on foot, which is a problem often felt in the massive landscapes of the Battlefield games, for example. Although, when it comes to a soldier versus a military vehicle, the odds are strongly against you, in Titanfall it’s very easy for a soldier to get involved in a fight with Titans. The weapons are powerful, the armour is heavy enough, and there are inbuilt mechanics to take them out directly. If a player gets close enough to the top of a Titan, you can jump onto their back and strip off part of the armour, allowing you to shoot directly into their inner workings.

On the other side of the coin, the Titans feel powerful when you’re in one, but they’re still quick and nimble enough to get around the levels with speed. A well-placed rocket can easily take out half a dozen camping enemies, but watch your back as you could quickly become the victim of rodeo attacks. The enemy jumps onto the top of your Titan and rips it apart and, as they begin shooting at your Titan’s innards, you’ll get sirens and flashy warnings all over the screen, until it’s time to eject.

Ejecting from a Titan is fantastic: you get some great height and you’re still in full control of your fall – you could even attempt a mid-air headshot if you wish, or if you’re skilled enough. One technique we adapted quite early on when ejecting from an exploding Titan was to land on the nearest enemy Titan and take them down too, leaping from Titan to Titan like Spider-Man through Manhattan. Another defence against rodeo attacks is the smoke grenade. It offers a smoke cloud that generates electric currents, causing EMP damage to enemies and temporarily halting them in their paths.

It’s not only enemies that can mount a Titan from the rear, though, as you can actually jump onto a friendly Titan and catch a ride through the map. This offers an interesting vantage point to take out a few enemies, as well as covering your team mate’s back.

Every player gets the chance to call in their own Titan during a match. It usually takes a couple of minutes for it to become available, then it’s just a case of tapping the D-pad and directing its drop. If you do, you also get an option to spawn directly inside your Titan. When your Titan is called, it’ll have a protective shield to prevent enemy abduction, and you can either jump right in and begin stomping around, or you can issue your Titan remote commands. You can set Titans to Follow or Guard, which can become particularly useful, as the Titan will shoot on its own accord, offering a second pair of hands in combat situations.

Pilots have a few tricks of their own, too. The Cloak mechanic can be really useful for escaping situations where you may find yourself surrounded by a number of enemy Titans – you just tap the D-pad and stealth away. It’ll only last about 30 seconds, but that’s enough to find cover and quickly reload.

From what we’ve seen so far, Titanfall is immensely impressive. It genuinely feels like Respawn are re-invigorating FPS games again, providing some innovation to a rinsed-out genre. This could very well come head-to-head with the Call of Duty release of 2014, assuming there will be one (and there usually is). Whether Titanfall steals the crown or not, it’s still going to be interesting to see consumer reaction to something so fresh and exciting.

Bring on the Titans!

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