The appeal of Titanfall is simple – stompy robots wreck each other while jet-pack wearing soldiers play parkour cat-and-mouse with them. That pitch alone makes it something I NEED to play.
Maybe that's what Respawn is counting on, since they don't seem too concerned with explaining much else about their game to people.
For all the hype surrounding one of the most anticipated titles of the year, I keep running into people who fundamentally don't understand what Titanfall is. While I can appreciate a big name title that doesn't feel the need to release daily dev-logs or nonstop re-cut trailers (looking at you Assassins Creed 4), given the level of confusion out there about core features of the game, I think Respawn might be playing their cards a little too close to the chest!
I think Titanfall is going to be something special. From everything I've read and watched, it looks like it will be THE system seller for the XboxOne, and amazing on PC. I want my friends and everybody to understand why I'm so excited for it (you know, aside from the whole "jet-packed soldiers plus killer mechs from orbit" thing). So here are some cool features you may or may not know about Titanfall (and one big concern hanging over the whole deal).
Multiplayer Only -
Remember Battlefield 3's amazing single player campaign? Yeah me neither.
Playing through your typical Call of Duty campaign is a roller coaster ride of flashy cinematics, dubious plot devices, and tepid gameplay. They cost millions to make, take up boatloads of development time and effort, and after all that, only a small percentage of the playerbase actually bothers with them.
They are bloat, pure and simple. Fat. A vestigial remnant of a genre that has moved beyond them, ready to be cut from our gaming diet.
And Titanfall is holding the knife.
There is no gassy campaign sucking up resources in Titanfall. Instead, Respawn is folding story elements into the multiplayer game itself.
"Campaign Multiplayer" frames each match with a story vignette detailing the struggle between the scrappy Frontier militia, M-COR ,and the corporate powerhouse IMC. The Angel City trailer is a good example of how they'll implement the idea. A little preamble, an objective, and a wrap-up when it's over.
Typical FPS objectives are gussied up with a story based context, so you'll have a better reason for holding points or trying to wipe out the enemy than just "it's death-match". You'll get to know some characters and learn about the background lore of the Titanfall world while still playing with friends. When you're done with the story, there are other more traditional game modes to play as well.
It's kind of a trick, a bit of cladding to dress up the normal multiplayer experience. But it's a trick I welcome with open arms. I would much rather play a multiplayer FPS that enjoyed the full attention of the development team, with a bit of story tastefully attached, than sleepwalk through another singleplayer campaign's helicopter boss-battle or a bunch of interminable turret sequences.
Also, I really like watching the soldiers fiddle with their gear in the dropship before the match starts. It's still a "waiting for players" screen, but it's a damn sight cooler than staring at a scoreboard for 40 seconds.
AI Cannon Fodder -
You wouldn't feel like you were in command of a multi-ton death-machine unless there was a good amount of cannon fodder to go through. Fortunately, we'll have plenty of meat for the grinder in Titanfall thanks to AI soldiers.
Titanfall makes use of so called "popcorn" enemies to pad out the scene. AI controlled units that are generally less dangerous than a real player and reward less points. These NPC troops could be used to grant a cool sense of scale or theatricality to the Campaign Multiplayer. Add some more bodies to turn a skirmish into a battle, or crank up the spawn rate of dummy soldiers for one side, making it a pitched-fight for the other team.
It also gives less skilled players a chance to get out there and do some damage. One of the design goals of Titanfall is to curtail the insta-death tendencies of other modern shooters, where you respawn, blink, and die again.
While a noob is still likely to get wiped out by a real player, they probably stand a better chance against a bot or two. The more of them on the field, the greater the chance a new player will at least feel like he's contributing to the effort before being splattered on the boot of a more lethal player's Titan.
Maybe that won't be a selling point for hardened vets, but I think it's a smart move by Respawn. It brings more players into the fold without alienating anyone else. In fact, for more advanced players, the AI troopers could be a resource.
AI enemies come in two flavours. There are rank-and-file grunts that are deliberately difficult to distinguish from real players at a glance. Then there are doofy looking battle-drones called Marvins. These human sized robots are the disposable mooks of the Titanfall world. Worker-bots that occasionally swap out a mop for a rifle. Gameplay wise, they act like regular soldiers, but with a unique weakness – they can be hacked.
A sneaky player that catches a Marvin from behind can stick a Data-Knife in the back of their head, like they were some kind of dime-store Robocop. One encryption melting moment later, and that Marvin will be fighting for you.
It's too early to know how big an effect that might have in matches, but I love the idea. It rewards the aware and crafty player with something aside from mere points.
Plus, the phrase "Data-Knife" is just too silly not to love.
Killstreaks Are Dead, Long Live Titan Drops! -
I never really liked the way Killstreaks worked in CoD. I can appreciate the concept in theory - rewarding skilled players for an impressive performance. But the way they went about it always seemed off.
A reward or perk for a strong performance is one thing, team-wiping super weapons are another. Missiles from the space, gunships with thermal vision, dog packs that insta-kill with a touch. Yeesh. All these random crazy deaths that the other players often couldn't avoid. Fun when you're the guy in the gunship, but lame for everyone else.
At the same time, it was one of the core elements of the game. They were an aspirational goal that pushed players to excel. If you wanted to play with the cool toys, you had to do well. While I think the implementation of Killstreaks were deeply flawed throughout the series, I do understand how they created such an addictive gameplay loop.
Titanfall has an elegant solution to this – the Titans.
Everybody gets a Titan, everybody eventually gets to play with the cool toys. At the start of a match, a countdown begins while your Titan is being constructed. However, every kill you make and objective you complete shaves time off the countdown. Skilled players who are out there mixing it up and contributing to their team's success will get their Titan quicker. Getting one before anyone else could be a big advantage.
But not TOO big an advantage. Titans are powerful, no doubt about it, but they aren't a missile from space. The other team can see it and react accordingly. Getting out of its way until they get their own, ganging up on it with other Pilots and their anti-Titan weapons, or running out blindly and getting squished (there is a reason the other team got a Titan quicker after all).
Good players still get to assert their dominance, but it doesn't completely wipe everyone else off the map. Respawn is taking the lessons they learned back in the CoD days and refining them into something better.
The EAlephant in the Room -
While I'm obviously stoked about the game, there is one dark shadow looming over the title. EA.
Let's not mince words, EA sucked in 2013. If they weren't releasing games that were broken at launch (and continue to be broken) like Battlefield 4 and SimCity, they were busy mucking up beloved franchises like Dead Space with micro-transactions and gameplay changes designed to bring in a larger audience at the core fan's expense. With a track record like that, it would be naive not to worry about their future prospects. Not to mention having to use Origin instead of Steam on PC, ewwww.
Sadly, there is little we can do but wait and see how it goes. We won't know if EA botches Titanfall's launch until it's out. But that said, I am optimistic that Titanfall will avoid the pitfalls of EA's recent crop.
Respawn has already gotten out there and said that the game won't feature day-one DLC or microtransactions. A refreshing change for those of us getting cynical about big games nickle-and-dimming the playerbase, and an excellent sign that Respawn is confident in their product.
In the broader sense Titanfall is a make or break game not only for EA, but for the Xbox One. After a year of public apologies, refunds, and even class-action suits, EA desperately needs a win to reestablish some consumer trust. The Xbox One, still trailing behind the PS4 is counting on Titanfall as a system-seller. With both consoles featuring soft launch line-ups, Titanfall's March release date will be the first big chance Microsoft has at a heavy-hitting exclusive title (no, Ryse does not count).
I'm hoping that given what's riding on Titanfall, EA will have the good sense to back off and let the folks at Respawn do their jobs without a lot of meddling. It would be in their best interest to just give the devs the support they need to deliver an excellent working product to the consumer; without worrying about selling a bunch of premium accounts.
Did I Mention Stompy Robots and Jet-Packs? -
I think Titanfall is doing something new and exciting in a genre that has been stale for years, reintroducing mobility and asymmetrical gameplay in way the FPS world has forgotten about. I really do believe that features like the Campaign Mulitplayer and popcorn enemies will pay off, people will end up liking that stuff more than they think they will. But this is all academic.
At the end of the day, Titanfall is a game where a robot can fall from space, pick you up, and tuck you neatly into it's chest cavity in one fluid motion. Where jet-pack wearing soldiers can jump from wall-to-wall, land on a mech, and rodeo ride it to victory. If that doesn't bring a smile to your face, I don't know what will.
- Notice the lack of jet-packs on those soldiers marching with the Marvins? I'm pretty sure only player controlled players will get jet-packs. All the better for squishing those NPCs when you get in your Titan.