Futuristic sci-fi action, cool weapons, and of course, gigantic fighting robots – this is Titanfall, and it’s brilliant. Sure, it’s not without its faults, and to not compare it to Call of Duty would be a failure on my part, especially considering the developers, Respawn Entertainment, were founded by ex-Infinity Ward employees Jason West and Vince Zampella. But, we’ve seen FPS titles come and go, and CoD has remained the Goliath to all the FPS Davids despite its re-hashing of the same old same old every year. However, Titanfall brings a fresh perspective to the FPS genre, and it’s ever-so welcome.
Titanfall’s story is not the main event. Sure, there is mission build-up whilst waiting in the match lobby by way of comms dialogue, giving you a loose grasp on where you’re heading and why. And, once you load in, you’re given further audio feedback over comms whilst playing the mission. But it’s clear to see that the gameplay and aesthetic are the stars of the show, with the story taking a somewhat sideline seat.
It won’t take you long to play through the first faction’s story in campaign mode, probably two hours maximum, dependent on how long it takes to match you up to other players hitting the campaign too. That’s right, the campaign mode is online, so if you’re expecting an in-depth story-driven experience, you’re not gonna get it. You’ll simply join a lobby with a bunch of other players who’re also hitting the campaign and hear a mission build-up by way of audio dialogue, giving you a loose grasp on where you’re heading and why. Once the match begins you’re fed further info whilst you’re waiting to disembark the dropship, and when the match is playing out you’ll hear more story-based info as you fight. But that’s alright, if Titanfall had zero story, I don’t think it would take much, if anything at all, from my overall view of the game.
Playing through the campaign mode first it allowed me to learn the ropes and ease myself into what, on the surface, seems like you’re average futuristic FPS experience. But, by the time I’d played through the first faction’s story I had discovered exactly what Titanfall was all about; fast-paced traversal and using your Titan as best you can to aid your end goal.
A Pilot overlooking a battle between two Titans - nothing short of epic.
For those interested in the story, it’s basically set in the future where humanity has expanded to the far-reaches of space and set up colonies on various worlds. Known as the Frontier, this region of space is ripe for the picking, with rich deposits of resources ready to be taken by whomever has the means. The first of the game’s factions, the Frontier Militia, are a ragtag group that claim to defend the Frontier colonies and are bent on taking down the game’s other faction, the IMC (Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation). The IMC are a high-tech corporation that will use force where necessary to access and defend the resources its stake a claim to. Whilst fighting over an IMC refuelling station in the first mission, both factions hear a distress call from a man once thought to be dead, and from here to story develops into a space hop from one world to the next. If you can make sense of the story in your first play-through you’re much better than I, as trying to fight other players, complete your objectives, whilst also listening and fully taking in a story isn’t that easy, and this is where Titanfall comes up short.
The campaign basically takes you through a series of different multiplayer mode, all of which are open to you in the specific multiplayer mode. You can choose from Attrition - basic team deathmatch, but AI-controlled enemies that are killed also count towards your team’s score; Last Titan Standing – starting the match in a Titan, each player must take out opposing Titans or Pilots to win for their team; Hardpoint Domination – a three-point capture mode where points are awarded more quickly the more hardpoints you hold; Capture The Flag – take enemy team’s flag and drop it at your base, a classic; and finally, Pilot Hunter – only kills against Pilots count towards your team’s score.
All of the match modes are pretty standard fare, with the addition of non-player AI enemies, which when killed count towards you and your team in one way or another – like decreasing the time you have to wait for your Titan to be called into battle, or adding to your team’s overall score in Attrition. The AI enemies do add to the overall feel of each battle’s scale, but by sheer headcount alone, their AI isn’t great, and they can be easily eliminated. That being said, at least for new players it gives them something else to shoot at which contributes towards the end goal, so they won’t feel completely useless as they learn how to play.
Despite the pretty standard game modes, Titanfall excels in its gameplay. Pilots are quick and can use the environment to great effect – double jumping using their jetpacks, and wall-running to make traversing the map a much more fluid and enjoyable experience. Once the maps have been engrained in your mind after multiple matches, the momentum and cadence you can muster through your parkour-style movement will bring a real sense of adeptness.
A Pilot being picked up by his best mate, his Titan. Aww.
As you kill enemy Pilots, and AI-controlled units such as the human grunts or robotic spectres, you’ll knock precious time off how long you have to wait to call down your Titan. The first time I called down a Titan it was like an epic scene from a movie – a hulking bulk of a metal war machine being dropped from the skies into the ground, and it’s all yours. Your Titan is your armour, your heavy-hitter, your bodyguard, and your friend. After time I got a real sense that my Titan had my back, and I began to discover how to use it in different ways; simply using it to get across the map more quickly, provide cover to teammates when piloting it, having it set to guard mode whilst I’m trying to capture an objective, or just as a safe haven to climb into if I’m being shot at. You can even call it down on top of your enemies to damage and kill them, like a missile-strike in the shape of your giant metal friend.
Another aspect Titanfall does well is it’s sense of victory, even in defeat - if you lose a match you get the opportunity to evac the area, a dropship arrives at a certain location on the map giving you, and the remaining Pilots on your team, a last ditch attempt at sticking two fingers up at your opponents. Don’t be too hasty in victory, if you get there, because your enemies can still destroy your dropship before it leaves. But it’s a nice touch, and makes you feel like you’ve at least achieved something even though you lost the entire match’s objective.
Burn Cards are like the game’s perks, which you unlock after matches, using them when you die to give you a unique boost the next time you spawn, for one life only. Some simply give you a more powerful version of a specific weapon, whilst others will reduce the build time on your titan, or even give you a permanent cloak ability. They’re a nice little twist on the ‘perk’ mechanic, and as you’re only allowed to take three into battle at once you’re best using them strategically.
The weapons you can wield as a Pilot are also fairly standard, with assault rifles, a beefy shotgun (which is a joy to use compared to other lackluster attempts in other games), SMGs, a sniper rifle, and a LMG. You’ve got your various scope attachments and add-ons to unlock, like silencers, faster rate of fire, extra big magazines etc. So, nothing too exciting is going on here, apart from the Smart Pistol, this little fella can auto-lock onto enemy infantry and Pilots to easily deliver you a kill, although you need a triple-lock-on to take down a Pilot in one go.
“So, Adam, how is a Pilot meant to go head-to-head with a Titan?” I hear you ask, well, I’ll tell you. Anti-Titan weapons – Pilots carry these around should they need to fend off one of those metal behemoths, or even if they’re feeling brave enough to dance toe-to-toe with one of them. You’ve got your good old rocket launcher, with a lock-on function, which deals high damage but can take a little time to reload and lock-on. Or there’s the Charge Rifle that fires an energy beam at long-range, and can be charged up before firing, for extra damage. On top of the anti-titan weaponry, you add in a Pilot’s swiftness and ability to traverse buildings, you’re going to see plenty of Titan vs Pilot battles which are definitely not one-sided.
On top of loading out your Pilot with their weaponry, you also have tactical abilities to choose from such as a cloak that allows you Predator-style invisibility for a limited time, or Active Radar Pulse which temporarily gives you vision of enemies through walls. Plus there’s your Ordnance, like frag grenades, the EMP-like ARC grenade, satchel charges and ARC proximatey mines.
The Tier 1 and Tier 2 kits further add to your Pilot’s repertoire of abilities, and act more like your standard perk system. There’s ‘Enhanced Parkour’, allowing you to wallrun and wallhang for longer periods, or a ‘Warpfall Transmitter’ that speeds up the Titanfall timer, meaning your Titan will be with you on the battlefield more quickly.
Some Pilots taking on a Titan - you can jockey onto a Titan's back to mess with it's circuitry and put it out of action.
Like the Pilots, the Titans also have customisable loadouts. Their weapons range from the ‘XO-16 Chaingun’ that’ll rip through Pilots if you can get the slippery beggars in your sights, to the ‘Plasma Railgun’ that can be charged for increased damage and fired at long-range. You have your tactical abilities, ordnance and tier 1 and 2 kits, similar to the Pilots. There are tactical abilities that give you a ‘vortex shield’ for blocking projectile fire, then flinging it back in the direction you’re aiming. The ordnance focuses on missile and rocket loadouts which either fire in the direction you aim, or come with a lock-on function. The tier 1 and 2 kits are interesting – if you find yourself inside your Titan and you’re taking hits from multiple angles, once your Titan is doomed (it’s health has dropped to its lowest and a self-destruct timer begins) and you successfully eject, the Nuclear Ejection kit will trigger a nuclear explosion of your Titan’s core which damages all nearby enemies. There are also kits which allow for faster reloads of weapons, increased health regen, and an auto-eject once your Titan is doomed.
There are three different Titan chassis to choose from; Ogre – the heaviest and slowest; Stryder – the least armoured and quickest; and Atlas – middle-ground of the previous two. They each come with their own Core Ability, Atlas’ being increased damage, Stryder’s is an infinite dash, and Ogre’s is an increase in shield capacity. The core abilities take a while to charge up and only last a limited amount of time. Each of the chassis can be loaded out with any of the Titan weapons and abilities I talked about above. My favourite of the loadouts I created was a Stryder Chassis wielding a Plasma Railgun, with an Electric Smoke kit – this loadout allowed me to sit back from the fray and hit other Titans with high damage from my railgun, but meant that if I were to be engaged up close I could quickly drop my smoke to block my enemy's view and then dash away quickly. A cowardly loadout perhaps, but it worked really well.
Whilst Titanfall’s roots are firmly grounded in the FPS genre, you have to give it props for mixing things up. There’s plenty for FPS newcomers and seasoned veterans alike, plus stomping around the maps in a 20-foot metal robot is way too much fun. Even going all Iron Giant and having your Titan follow you around, watching your back, will endear you to that massive chunk of metal like no other FPS before. This game is a must buy for FPS fans, and a must try for everyone else.