Charged by some with essentially saving the Xbox One and hyped to heaven and back from the media, does Titanfall deliver or is it more of a Titanfail?
An Unbiased Review: Respawn Entertainment
Much like Killer the Dog in Half-Baked, to understand who Respawn Entertainment is you gotta understand who Respawn Entertainment was. Founded in 2010, Respawn Entertainment is comprised mostly of defects from Infinity Ward. That studio is responsible for a nice little franchise you might have heard of, Call of Duty. Infinity Ward itself began much like Respawn did. In 2002 a developer named 2015, Inc. released a highly acclaimed, massively successful PC title called Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. It really pushed the franchise into new grounds, particularly in the areas of SP campaign and presentation. Afterwards, members of that team jettisoned from the company and formed Infinity Ward. Now those same developers detach from the diseased teat of Activision and return to the succulent, nutritious bosom of Electronic Arts, who they'd originally released Medal of Honor for.
They soon find themselves short staffed and poorly funded, so they team with EA and sign a deal to join their partner program. They seek a compatible environment for their game idea to blossom, and find a suitable partner in Microsoft. They then get hard to work creating what they believe will be the next evolution in the modern shooter, Titanfall.
Titan-ic Levels of Hype
Titanfall was revealed at E3 2013. And right away people understood this game was not just good, it was damn good. The game won a record six E3 Critic Awards en route to nearly 80 overall E3 awards. And as time went on the hype kept growing and growing. Hype can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. Personally I think the main factor that determines which way the hype goes, is where does the hype come from? Does the hype originate from a good place? Is it based on reality, what someone knows the game to be? Is it based on something potentially bad, like what someone hopes the game might be? Like a reporter writing that Sony's new IP Killzone just might be the "Halo killer"? Or maybe it is based on something completely unrelated. We see this with licensed games all the time. Hey man, The Matrix was fucking awesome. Enter the Matrix has to be good. Or you know, those South Park dudes do an awesome job on the show, South Park 64 is gonna be awesome!
Luckily, Titanfall hype was based (mostly) on the first one. Journalists played it and had nothing but positive things to say about it. Gamers played it at shows and conventions and had nothing but great impressions. Then came the alpha. The hype survived. Then the beta. Like a deep hemroid, the hype persisted. And now release. So the big question is, does the game live up to the hype? Lets find out.
Well, it's really just Call of Duty with mechs.
Titanfall is a twitch based competitive shooter, much like virtually every other shooter around nowadays. It's also a military shooter set in a fictional future setting, again, much like virtually everything else nowadays. There are some core differences though. For starters, Titanfall is MP only, online only. There is no single player campaign, there is no bot matches or practice mode. The other thing that separates the game from the competition are its mechanics.
The most glaring departure from Call of Duty, even moreso than the mechs, is the verticality of Titanfall. You achieve that verticality by wall running and/or double jumping with jetpacks. This opens up a whole new layer of gameplay from your typical military, corridor driven shooter with copy and paste MP map design. I am using 0% hyperbole when I say sometimes it's just as much fun to try and fly around the levels as fast as possible as it is to actually play the game. And Respawn does such a good job with the map design to incorporate this element. Billboards, walls, well placed debris, ingeniously designed compartments allowing you to hop back and forth to climb up an area. These are littered across every single map. I have spent over 20 hours in the game and I can honestly say there isn't a single map where I think I know the best route to get to one specific objective or one best hiding spot on any map, because you are always finding more.
And you need that verticality, speed, and increased movement capabilities as a Pilot thanks to the other ace in Titanfall's deck: the Titans. These are big, lumbering mechs with immense firepower. The best route to take down a skilled Titan user is to escape, get up high and in cover, and destory it. What can you do in Battlefield or CoD if you're confronted with an overpowered vehicle or some bullshit streak reward? Kiss your ass goodbye. There are other unique elements to Titanfall, we'll touch more on them later.
Ok so aside from the massive amount of hype, the other most controversial element of Titanfall was the complete and utter lack of a SP campaign. Why does Titanfall have no SP campaign? Respawn has made top notch campaigns in their games, whether you want to go back to their CoD days as Infinity Ward, or MoH days as 2015, Inc. So the ommision here is questionable on one hand, but understandable on the other. Respawn is a very small team. They could not even be bothered to make the 360 version of the game. I think the lack of a campaign mode is due to a three pronged trifecta of elements. One, the already mentioned size of the team. There simply weren't enough people on board to make both elements of the game. Two, a release deadline. This could have been imposed by EA or simply a result of Respawn's own funds, no one can say for sure. But they simply might not have had time to include a traditional campaign. And three, most definitely the most important, quality. If you want to ensure the highest quality, you spend as much time balancing and refining one element. Respawn opted for the highest quality MP possible, at the expense of their campaign mode. So lets talk about the results.
The MP campaign in Titanfall is a mixed bag. I almost want to say disappointing, but honestly, I wasn't expecting much going in. Respawn said before release that the campaign matches are basically glorified MP matches, and CEO Zampella said before release it's something you can knock out quick and never touch again if you want. Neither are things that really instill high expectations.
What we essentially get is a handful of MP matches for the IMC and Militia, each with unique story dialogue before, during, and after the missions. Some of it is about as bare bones and simple as you can possibly get, to the point where you might not even know it's a campaign mission. Like the Militia side is told we need fuel, then you repel down for a Hardpoint match. Some of it, though, is far more engaging and actually distracting from the MP games. I've played MP shooters for nearly two decades and have used every excuse under the sun to justify getting killed. The light was in my eyes, my controller died, I hit the wrong button, my brother is at the controller, afk. Not until now have I used "I was watching the campaign feed".
As cool as some of the moments are, the campaign itself can almost be thrown away. It is something you will literally probably only play once and only do so to unlock Titans. The main issue with a campaign like this, is you don't really connect with many of the characters. The only character in this campaign that they really try to push on you is MacAllan. And in that, they succeed. I loved him. When he was leading me into battle on his Titan I was thinking "fuck yeah!". And there are other moments with him where you will be immersed into the story. But the rest of the characters, who gives a shit? Who is Sarah? Or Bish? Why are they in the Militia? Why are the IMC so brutal? Nothing is told of this really. You get ten times the backstory reading the Titanfall website than you do playing the campaign.
Is this really a bad thing though? This is what Respawn said the campaign would be. While it might be disappointing if you put a big emphasis on campaigns, was it a worthy tradeoff for a more refined multiplayer? Is this something Respawn will improve on for the sequel, or will they include a proper offline campaign? As cool as I think some of the moments were, the campaign left me hoping we get something more for the sequel. I want to see the sprawling space battles shown in the game. I wanna know why MacAllan left the IMC. Who did he bury in the game, and break his promise to? The IP is ripe with potential for an epic campaign. What we get in Titanfall is pretty ho-hum. The MP better make up for it.
The Multiplayer Makes Up For It
Shit yes it does! If I had to use one word to describe the MP in Titanfall, it would be balanced. And that's about the best thing I think you could say for any MP shooter. Everything has just been play tested and refined down to a perfectly balanced science. Every weapon has advantages and limitations. Every equipment item is useful in their own way. Each pilot ability has a cooldown to prevent spamming. Every Titan class has a use. Even the map designs themselves add layers of depth to an already incredibly deep game, which certain objectives and choke points utilizing one style of play over another.
There is an incredible balance here between Titans and Pilots. It must be tough for a developer to create a game where Titans are powerful yet can still be easily dispatched by a good Pilot, but Respawn succeeded. You never really feel helpless as a Pilot when you sprint into an opening and see a Titan. In fact for me it's typically the opposite. I go into full "challenge accepted" mode and make it my mission to fucking kill that Titan until it dies from it.
The beauty of Titanfall, is how do I kill that Titan until he dies from it? Maybe I hit and run with my anti-Titan weapon? Maybe I attack, let him kill me, and equip a burn card that gives me an amped up Titan weapon to more easily dispatch it? Or how about I rodeo it and destroy its innards with bullets? Is that good enough or should we go deeper? Maybe I call in my Titan and then shoot at the enemy Titan, drawing him to me so that my Titan drop smashes him? The depth is incredible. And when you're inside of a Titan the gameplay is no less satisfying. Battling enemy Pilots is an exercise in patience as you wait for him to make a mistake and then you make him pay. And Titan vs Titan combat is worth the price of admission alone. It's an incredible chess match of Titan classes and weapons and ordnance packages and terrain. And everything is perfectly balanced. The most damaging Titan weapon is the railgun and it also takes the most skill to use.
Adding to the fun are burn cards. Imagine streak rewards or perks from Call of Duty, only evolved. None are overpower, and all are one time use and are erased when you die. You get a deck of them to maintain, and you collect cards for various acts in the game. They really just up the strategy and tactics in an already incredibly deep MP game.
You get the usual modes for multiplayer in Titanfall. Attrition is basically TDM, where AI creeper kills count a small amount towards your score. Pilot Hunter is TDM where only human kills count. Hardpoint is basically Domination. Last Titan Standing is a one life mode with no respawns where everyone spawns with a Titan. First team to destroy the other Titans, wins. First team to 4 rounds won, wins the game. Most definitely the most fun I have had in a shooter since Search and Destroy in CoD4 and World at War. It's amazing watching the strategy other teams try to employ to win the rounds, changing up which chokepoint they attack, or hanging back in the spawn, or bum rushing the enemies. The last mode is CTF, which I originally hated, but I now enjoy playing. You can grab the flag and then hop in your Titan, adding another element to a classic game mode.
The last gameplay area I will touch on is the AI creepers. The game features 6 vs 6 gameplay, and each map is flooded with these guys. There is confusion on their purpose. Some complain that they are "too easy" and are there to replace human players. Not the case. They are absolutely crucial to success in every single game mode. In Hardpoint they can capture and hold objectives. In Attrition, killing them counts towards your team score. In CTF I love to use them as a sort of radar. If they are shooting or being shot, I know an enemy is near. In Pilot Hunter you can quicken your Titan access by killing them. And in Last Titan Standing you can speed up your core ability being ready by killing the creepers. I hope other developers take notice of what Respawn did here. What they did was brilliantly blend the FPS and MOBA genres. It's fresh, and very innovative.
A Titan Indeed
Overall, it's impossible for me to come away from the game anything but enthralled. All the bull shit aside, the hype, the expectations, the weight of the Xbox One on its back, GOTG, remove all of that. What you're left with is an incredibly good game that even with some small (to me) flaws, is this generations first real killer app and is a great example of what can come this gen. What we saw at launch were a few generic, by the books shooters which had a lot of people worried the genre might continue to be stagnant into next gen. Titanfall has changed that. It's a must buy for ANY fan of the genre, and will be a force in the industry this gen on whatever platform it releases on. It's a very rare thing that a game is so good that I actually miss playing it. As an adult with a job, a business on the side, a wife, and 4 kids, sometimes I find my gaming time dwindling. Titanfall is one of those games so good, you find yourself actually trying to set aside time to play it, and getting a huge grin on your face when you say "Xbox, go to Titanfall" because you know what happens next.
Incredibly deep, perfectly balanced gameplay
Wealth of great maps
Classic game modes with Titanfall twists
Silky smooth Azure servers
Campaign mode is some hit, mostly miss
Frame rate can drop some (only on Lagoon for me, and in Last Titan Standing, but others have reported it on other maps/modes)
Content may be lacking for some
Replay Value: 10
Overall Score: 9.0
BONUS J_ALLARD TITANFALL TIP!
Hey Pilots, have you ever been cruising along in your Titan and get rodeo'd by an enemy? Before you disembark or pop off your electric smoke, try this J_Allard Titanfall tip!
Stop moving and crouch down, then look at the ground. This simulates the act of you hopping out of your Titan. Your enemy, 9 times out of 10, will then jump backwards off your Titan. You then dash forward, turn around, and obliterate them!
Oh if only you could then see the look on their stupid face!
You're welcome! Thanks for reading.