I never got down with Call of Duty
, the franchise Respawn's lead designers turned into a juggernaut before their messy public split with Infinity Ward. The heady fumes of dude-bro machismo associated with the series bummed me out. Besides, I'd always enjoyed the frenetic craziness of oldschool arena shooters that had you rocket jumping everywhere, or the bombastic spectacle of something like Battlefield
, where infantry is backed up by columns of tanks and swarming helicopters. I like the high-speed action in the former, the tactical depth and constant upsets of the latter, dudes with guns seem kind of boring in comparison.
is a game that takes the best of both of those worlds, adds the silky smooth gameplay of the CoD
series, drops dude-bros in favour of stompy robots, and cleverly borrows from other genres to create an entirely new experience in the well worn FPS space. It's magic space-candy for the brain that tickles my tingly bits in all the right ways.
Needless to say, I like it.
If you were one of the few people to enjoy Brink
or really got attached to the Scout class in TF2
(like I did), you'll feel right at home in Titanfall
. Pilots can fucking MOVE. Aided by a jet-pack that acts like a doublejump, a suite of parkour tricks, and some forgivable laws of physics, Titanfall
is one of the most mobile and crazy games I've ever played.
The first habit you have to break in Titanfall
is walking anywhere. That shit is all played out. If the other Pilots see you walking through doors or climbing up staircases like a schnook, they're gonna laugh at you (and then blow you in half with a shotgun). You need to clamber up the side of a building, hop in through the skylight. Wall-run off another building, pop off a billboard, and fling yourself through the window - bonus points for taking off a Grunt's head with a flying spinkick while you do it. Or be sneaky, hook into a wall over a contested pathway, gun trained on an entryway ready to kill - like if Frank Castle had been bitten by a radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker.
It cannot be understated how dramatically this freedom of movement affects the gameplay. There is an incredibly high currency placed on situational awareness, creativity, and mind-games. Some of the most satisfying moments I've had with the game have involved cat-and-mouse engagements with other players as we jumped inside, out of, and up the side of a building, trying to get the drop on one another.
Shockingly, all of this crazy mobility works seamlessly. It's all streamlined controls and practical execution here. After a few hours you'll be scaling buildings, hoping onto enemy Titans, and popping fools mid-air with the tastefully curtailed selection of firearms available. Instead of wading through umpteen identical rifles, the Pilot weapons in Titanfall
all fit a specific individual niche that supports a particular playstyle. Nothing is wasted, even the shotgun is surprisingly viable. With all the mobility options available, there has never been another game that rewards getting in someone's grill (and quickly rearranging it with a single blast) better.
But who cares about weak, squishy, meat-bag humans when you've got goddamn giant robots? As impressive as all the jet-pack insanity is, for me, the Titans are the absolute stars of the show. Massive, fast, death machines that sling futuristic artillery pieces and can stomp, punch, and rip the opposition apart with their dexterous metal limbs. They are just as fun to play as they sound.
There are three types of Titan to choose from, the Stryder, Atlas, and Ogre, (you have to play through the underwhelming multiplayer campaign to unlock all of them, but more on that later) and they run the general videogame balance tropes of a fast-but-fragile speedster, a balanced middle-ground, and the lumbering tank. Each of these chassis are fun to romp around in and fit their roles nicely without being too pigeonholed by them.
There is a good selection of weapons and kit pieces to customize your Titan, without being overwhelmingly complex. From duck-billed grenade launchers used to clear cowardly Pilots out of buildings, to superheated railguns specifically designed to fuck up rival Titans, each weapon has it's own place in the murderous ecosystem.
Titans are the clever answer to the killstreak system in CoD
– a kind of egalitarian and evenhanded way to support murder and mayhem. Everyone starts on foot while a timer governing the construction of their Titan ticks down. Scoring kills and completing objectives shaves precious seconds off that timer letting you get your Titan faster than the other guy. Like killstreaks, the Titans bring a sort of focus and reward system to the proceedings, but without overly rewarding twitch-shooting savants - everyone eventually gets to play with the cool toys. Unlike the orbital missiles and marauding dogpacks of CoD
that could feel arbitrary, or cheap, to be on the receiving end of, Pilots on foot can effectively avoid, dodge, and even engage Titans. Perhaps too effectively.
While great at shredding up other robots or hapless groups of stationary AI Grunts, many of the Titan weapons have trouble nailing the incredibly fast and agile Pilots. On the other end, the Pilot's anti-Titan weapons are surprisingly effective – the heavy Archer missile gouges huge chunks out of a Titan's health bar, while the smaller spammy weapons like the rapid-fire rockets and magnetic grenade launcher are so forgiving that they could be used to good effect by a blind man nursing his third gin and tonic of the evening. EMP arc-grenades fuzz out a Titan's cockpit view for a few seconds, making it pretty easy for a Pilot to bombard you with impunity. I wouldn't want to see Titan's utterly dunking on Pilots, but I think there is room for some tweaking. Humans should fear their robot overlords.
That might just be my personal taste showing.
Rather than dump untold development hours and truckloads of cash into a flashy 6-hour singleplayer campaign many of their core players won't even touch, Respawn has made the rather daring move to try and bring the story into the multiplayer fold. I'm part of the reason they did that, I'm totally that dude
who ignores all the singleplayer stuff in a shooter, so I want to applaud and support them for the attempt.
I just wish they did it a hell of a lot better.
For all of Respawn's impressive command of visual style and expressive gameplay, they tell a weaksauce story. After completing both sides of the campaign, I honestly couldn't keep track of which characters were who, what side they were fighting on, or why I should care. The IFC, a generic evil space-corporation, is led by a badguy (who you know is a badguy because he's British), and his obviously evil AI partner. On the Militia side (think Rebel Alliance), they introduce two potentially intriguing characters, a chubby Asian dude who is orchestrating the rebellion from his laptop, and a hard-as-nails lady soldier who looks like Rosie The Riveter in space. They seem like they could have been a cool pair to experience a story with.
Their first order of business is to find a Caucasian dude with short brown hair to fight the war for them. Yeah about that...
That said, I love the cinematic presentation of the game. While the story is flaccid, each individual match feels like it's own self contained and exciting battle that somehow seems to matter more than the typical FPS bloodbath. Even outside of the Campaign mode, Respawn goes the extra mile to make the game feel cooler than cool, and it's much appreciated.
Rather than have you stare at a loading screen while players ready up, the game has you and your jumpmates shifting around nervously in a dropship, waiting for the order to leap into certain doom. The end of every Hardpoint and Attrition match is capped off with the losing team making a mad-dash to an evac ship, a final gasping stab at some kind of consolation victory. Losers try to hightail it out of there, while the winners get their last kicks in. The matches themselves have a building tension marked by different stages of combat. Going from a scattered packs of Grunts and Pilots fighting it out, to the arrival of the first imposing Titan, escalating into squadrons of robotic troops teaming over the battlefield, and often culminating in a massive brawl of several fucked-up, burning, near-critical Titans, desperately duking it out under an evac ship that is all too eager to GTFO.
It's madness and horror, and oh sweet Jesus I can't get enough of it
Much of the wonderful chaos comes from the inclusion of AI Grunts - disposable cannon fodder whose sole purpose is to die in horrible, humiliating ways to pad a player's score. They're walking resources, ready to be capped in the dome to shave a second off the construction of a Titan, or in the case of the robotic Spectre troops, hacked by your Data-Knife (!) to temporarily bolster your numbers. The mental leap between the Grunts in Titanfall
and the Creeps in DoTA
is not big at all, more of gap to step over than a cliff to hurdle. Respawn has reached outside of the filmy, stagnant waters of the FPS genre to adopt something new, and like all fantastic ideas, it's blindingly obvious in retrospect.
While not much of a threat themselves, the Grunts do make the battlefield feel alive, but without making the game overwhelming. Their frantic cries and occasionally helpful observations make you feel like a part of a huge battle, and it's hard not to feel like a badass when you dunk on them from three stories up. Casually squishing a squad of Grunts under your metal boot while you stride towards another target certainly helps sell the Titans as fearsome harbingers of death. While I don't believe the high-flying parkour action and massive mech brawls could stand any more actual players getting in on the mix, the Grunts do a good job of making up for the relatively low player count and providing a uniquely addicting spectacle.
More than the cinematic appeal of obliterating scores of these goons, they also provide some interesting game mechanics. The emergence of some MOBA-like tactics, such as avoiding the real and more threatening players to farm Grunts for a faster Titan, put an interesting new spin on the largely traditional FPS gamemodes. And while "accessibility" might be a dirty word to bloody knuckled shooter vets, the presence of a few soft targets on the field is a welcome treat for the more occasional FPS player. If anything, I hope they lean into the MOBA elements a little harder in the sequel.
(Notice how I danced around the words "hardcore" and "casual" like Fred Astaire there.)
Anyone who has played a modern FPS will be familiar with the gamemodes available in Titanfall
. Hardpoint is a traditional domination match that has players fighting over control of three separate objectives, made more interesting in that not all of the points on a map are accessible by a Titan. Attrition is a ticket style affair that has teams racing to score damage and kills, with Grunts providing weak minnows to easily chum through, while more shark-like players angle to land the bigger Titan and Pilot kills. Pilot Hunter is the same, with only Pilot kills counting towards the score. It seems like an afterthought concession to players who abhorred the idea of shooting AI bots for whatever unknowable reason. Capture the flag is capture the flag.
The final mode is Last Titan Standing, and while it seems to be the red-headed stepchild of the gamemodes so far, it's actually one of my favourites. Eschewing the usual game flow, everyone in this mode starts in a Titan and only gets one life – last team to still have a Titan on the field wins. It's a 6-on-6 robot beat-down, and while the focus is on the metal, players who lose their Titan early can still be a thorn in the enemy's side jumping around as a Pilot. I love the high-stakes engagements and emphasis on positioning, knowing when to commit to a push, and when to get the hell out of dodge. Aside from being an excellent chance to test out various Titan set-ups, it's basically everything I always wanted from a MechWarrior
game and never got.
Glorious, glorious, robot carnage.
might not be for everyone. If you really love the roller-coaster stories of the CoD
series, or bear some kind of horrible grudge against anything with the wiff of MOBA, you may not find enough here to be worth $60. I get it. But if you're like me, if you love your shooters fast and have an insatiable hunger for stompy robot action, you cannot miss this title. To me, $60 is a fair price for a game I'll likely be playing and enjoying for months, if not years, to come.
Bury me in my robot.