I played Titanfall, and I loved it.
I haven’t been this genuinely giddy after experiencing a much-anticipated game for the first time since E3 2004, when I initially got my hands on Halo 2 multiplayer in CTF matches on Zanzibar. That year, I kept going back to Microsoft’s appointment-only booth again and again, begging the PR reps to sneak me in on their packed schedule so I could have one more turn. And that’s exactly what I’m doing with Titanfall here at Gamescom.
Vince Zampella and Respawn Entertainment’s fast-action on-foot/in-mech first-person shooter lives up to the hype through its brilliant feel for pacing and keen sense for balance in all offensive and defensive aspects. But how is it so enrapturing? When it was first unveiled at E3, its action was so frantic that it was almost too much for my eyeballs to process.
It is, in fact, that “almost” that holds the secret to its genius.
You almost never stop moving in Titanfall. Ever. You walk, you run, you jump, you double jump, you wall run. You hop in your Titan mech. You dash in your Titan. You do all of those things in a row or in various combinations. Then you’ve got your objective. And don’t forget about summoning your Titan once it’s ready. It’s a lot to process. In fact, it’s borderline sensory overload…borderline. Somehow, Titanfall confidently walks the line between holding your attention and making your head explode. In short, you’re always on the edge of your seat, almost ready to fall off. But you never will, nor will you ever slouch down comfortably.
Call of Duty players will be right at home here. The core feel is similar, though my initial impression is that using the iron sights in Titanfall isn’t nearly as critical to success as it is in the Modern Warfare series Zampella left behind. And everything is free and easy in the heat of the moment, too. You won’t have to fiddle with any clumsy QTE rituals in order to do cool things like hop on the back of an enemy Titan and begin shooting its brains out. Instead, a simple press of the jump button from behind your gigantic foe (it was the spacebar during my PC hands-on) automatically clambers you up onto its shoulders, where you’re free to start tearing into its fiber optic neurons until it explodes. Same goes for the wall-running and double-jumping too. Just aim, jump, and/or move in the desired direction and the game instantly translates it into a badass move. And to be clear, you still have full control over your actions; you’re still playing the game rather than watching it play itself. It’s that Titanfall’s hero movements are intuitive, just as they should be.
Multiple loadouts are on tap for both your soldier and your Titan. The standard assault grunt gets a CoD-esque machine gun along with a smart pistol and an anti-Titan ballistic firearm to wield when necessary. The CQC kit, meanwhile, includes a potent semi-automatic shotgun that’s fatal at close range but, naturally, almost useless from farther away. It’s also packing a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher that serves as a capable anti-Titan piece. It must be aimed down the sights, where it will lock in on your target.
But my favorite was the tactical loadout, solely because of the giggle-inducing Smart Pistol. Keep up to three enemies in your sights at once and you’ll lock onto them all, meaning one trigger pull will result in three one-shot-kill headshots – even if your targets duck around a corner, since the bullets curve. At one point I managed to get behind five rivals who’d just spawned in, and so I had plenty of time to lock in on three, pull the trigger, then hold steady again until I got the second lock-on, at which time I fired again and dropped the other two. Five kills in about five seconds! The trade-off, if you’re wondering, is that the lock-on takes a few moments – more than enough time to get gunned down if you’re staring down an armed opponent.
The Titans, meanwhile, have similar outfitting choices. I didn’t care much for the first class’s giant automatic rifle, but I had a ball with its magnetic field ability that lets you stop incoming ballistics like Neo in The Matrix and then fling them back at their point of origin. I had a nice kill streak with the missile launcher-launcher-equipped Titan, who chewed through infantry but would quickly be taken down by a fellow Titan who could either dodge your rockets or, as would sometimes happen, if I’d simply sometimes miss.
The end takeaway from my initial impression of Titanfall is that it’s a rush – right down to the post-match Epilogue mode that saw the victors try to hunt down and kill the losers as the latter attempted to flee to a dropship and escape the battlefield.
Of course, there was no way I was going to pick up on all of Titanfall’s little tricks and nuances in just a few play sessions, and sure enough I learned of a couple more slick features once I spoke with producer Drew McCoy after my demo. He informed me that you don’t have to hop in your Titan as soon as it’s summoned, which I’d just assumed was the best course of action. Instead, you can use it as an autonomous robot, like Tony Stark’s army of Mark suits in Iron Man 3. In other words, it can be ordered to guard an area – like, say, an objective – while you run off to a sniper’s perch or employ some other strategy. It can also serve as a watchdog to follow you around and defend you while you take care of other business, like some sort of 20-foot-tall metallic pet. And if the enemy Titan I boarded had been wise enough to deploy its electric smoke grenade, I’d have fallen dead off of its shoulder to the ground like a mosquito in a bug-zapper.
Clearly, Call of Duty co-creator Zampella holds the magic formula to this type of game in his head – the Coca-Cola recipe of first-person shooters, if you will. It’s vital that he somehow translate it into words, write it down, and secure it in a safe somewhere in case (god forbid) anything ever happens to him, because what he does to multiplayer FPSes is something the gaming world should never lose.
This is Microsoft’s killer app. You will buy an Xbox One for Titanfall, and you should. Sure, you’d have a good time with it on PC if you’ve got a capable rig, but your couch and the Xbox Live community will be the ecosystem it’s best enjoyed in. It likely won’t decimate Call of Duty’s market share anytime soon – particularly since it’s a platform exclusive – but once Titanfall releases this spring, I guarantee you that word will spread amongst the hardcore CoD community. “Have you seen Titanfall?” they’ll say. And little by little – or maybe in droves, who knows? – they will flock to Titanfall, and they will never go back. Not after this. Titanfall is the next great evolution of the twitch-action first-person shooter. Believe the hype.