TitanFall 2 is the kind of game that takes a while to click. After being trained in the art of ducking, sighting, strafing and sliding in various other shooters over the last ten years, learning to include wall running, wall-hanging, double-jumping, boost-sliding and an eclectic collection of buffs, boosts and gadgets takes time. It’s not the first game to feature any of its various movement mechanics, but it is the first game to blend them all together so seamlessly in both solo and multiplayer modes. Call of Duty may well have been using exosuits and fancy acrobatic mechanics for a while, and Destiny has a selection of different jump combos to get to grips with, but never before has movement been so integral, so fundamental, to a first-person shooter.
In TitanFall 2, momentum is everything. There’s a fluidity to it that is unique, and elevates it above almost every other shooter this year. Once it clicks, once that movement becomes second nature and you’re chaining moves and kills together with more style over practicality than a Jason Statham movie, you realise that there’s nothing else like it. There’s a balance between movement and survivability that isn’t immediately apparent, and the Time to Kill (TTK), somewhere between Destiny’s bullet-eating meat shields and Call of Duty’s split-second insta-kills, feels almost perfectly weighted. You can weather a few shots from most weapons at reasonable range and keep going, the colour draining from the world as you desperately knee-slide your way to cover.
What makes the multiplayer so much fun is the instant-action feel of it, the intoxicating cycle of hit and run, hit and run, die and respawn, hit and run. When you’re in the flow and the bodies are dropping at a rate of knots, there’s nothing like it. And hearing the words “Pilot, your Titan is on standby; call when ready!” never gets old. Hitting that D-Pad is a rush of blood to the gut, and shit’s about to get real.
Swapping finesse for brute strength and aggression, Titan vs. Titan combat is no less reliant on momentum but much less about harrying the enemy. If the Pilot is a wasp, the Titan is a Rottweiler, and the different classes make for some truly diverse battle tactics. I personally favour Ronin, whose weaker chassis allows for lightning-fast strikes and whose ridiculously huge sword can carve even the toughest opponent to shreds of sparking metal in seconds.
The reason I’m so enamoured by Respawn’s sequel goes beyond the innate coolness of giant robots beating each other to death, though, and is more to do with the fact that the developer listened to the fans of the original. People wanted more; more unlocks, more maps, more Titan classes, more to do and more reasons to play. And that’s what we got. A game that feels vaster than the original, in which the Regeneration system encourages you to play with different loadouts and experiment with different Titans and Factions. You’re always earning something, whether it’s a new weapon or modification, or a new camo pattern or Titan decal. It feels full.
Perhaps the saddest thing is that TitanFall 2’s greatest enemy is its own publisher. EA took the ridiculous decision to release it smack bang in the middle of the two biggest shooters of the year, perhaps relying on its unique appeal to pull it through. The result? 26,000 active Xbox One users during peak hours. At what point was the release date discussed and considered a good thing? A delay, even just to January, would have done wonders for that player count – not dropping it on a week when people have either just bought Battlefield 1 or are hanging onto their pennies for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
And the infuriating thing is that TitanFall 2 deserves your time. It deserves your attention – not that Battlefield 1 or, to an arguably lesser extent, Infinite Warfare don’t. While few will argue that DICE’s shooter has perhaps the most affecting campaign mode of any shooter in recent years, TitanFall 2’s solo mode is still fantastic. It’s not clever, or emotionally deep, or even particularly original – but it tells a good story and offers up some of the best mission and level design seen this year. Who will quickly forget fighting through a colossal factory as it fabricates small worlds, or time-hopping between the present and the past to solve environmental puzzles – or battling, Titan to Titan, atop an airborne warship? Call of Duty usually flies the flag for balls-out cinematic action in a campaign, but this year TitanFall 2 just about has the edge.
It’s gorgeous, slick and fast, and for me it’s 2016’s biggest surprise, because I went into it expecting more of the same, a quiet smattering of unlocks, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “campaign” (yes, with inverted commas), and a lack of real content. What I got was the opposite, a 6 – 7-hour campaign, a wealth of variety and a ton of rewards to shoot for.
I’m a shooter fan anyway, which helps, but while I’ve enjoyed every other blaster this year, TitanFall 2 supersedes them all by being so much fun to play. It’s not the smartest, the deepest or the cleverest, but it’s the quickest and most diverse campaign shooter of 2016 – and that’s why it’s at the top of my GOTY list, and at least deserves a place on yours.