There were a lot of good shooters this year, and the fact that Doom and Overwatch ended up on most bloggers' top 10 lists showed how that genre really made a comeback in 2016.
And while Doom is my personal pick for 2016's game of the year, I do have to lend a lot of praise to a game nobody, myself included, expected to be good: Titanfall 2.
This screenshot isn't as inaccurate as most bullshots would have you believe.
Not that the original Titanfall was bad, but I never played it. For some reason it was Xbox exclusive, but now that everybody is jumping that ship, it was time for Titanfall to show up on other platforms, with a single player campaign too.
I think there was a collective sigh when it was announced the game would have a single-player campaign. Then again, that sigh was also heard when Rainbow Six: Seige was announced to not have a single-player campaign, so the disappointment goes both ways. Personally, I was worried a short and cheap campaign would be tacked on to try and appeal to the single-player crowd, like EA's tactic with Battlefield campaigns. If you've ever played Battlefield 3's campaign mode, you've felt the horror. It's so bland and nonsensical, it's legitimately hard to make fun of because it gives you so little to work with.
Back in 2007 Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare happened, and that modern military shooter has forever shaped the multiplayer scene, turning it into, in my opinion, something far more competitive and less enjoyable. I don't mean competitive in the sense of eSports or tournaments, but in that everyone is so focused on winning or their kill/death ratio, that any sense of enjoyment is lost. The game's mechanics don't promote fun, they promote repitition and addiction, drip-feeding rewards and blasting the player with information every time they get a kill. The games were slow, and focused more on seeing other players first that strategically traversing the environment.
So it was a really pleasant surprise when the game was getting good reviews for both the single-player and multiplayer components. I watched the Two Best Friends play through a bit of the game, and was enamoured with the movement mechanics.
Seriously, solid movement in modern shooters, prior to 2016 at least, were pretty much ignored. Remember Spiderman 2, and how fun that game was? It wasn't because it looked good or had fun combat, but because the team perfected the swinging mechanics and made flying around as Spiderman feel incredibly satisfying. Just the simple act of web swinging, and creating that mechanic set that gels well with the player and feels good to control is what makes Spiderman games worth playing. Any Spiderman game that hasn't done web swinging justice generally reviews poorly, though that's a broad generalization.
But what games should do is what Spiderman 2 did. Make a set of mechanics so elegant, that feel so good in the players hands and sell the feeling of being that character while making it incredibly enjoyable. Do that with the primary mechanic of your game, and you're on the right path. Now I know not every team has the budget to do this, but if your main game mechanic doesn't feel good in players' hands, they're not going to enjoy your game.
Titanfall 2 has amazing movement mechanics. Wallrunning feels great, and the double-jump gives you just as much height as you need. The game's movement is focused around preserving your momentum, and the best way to do that is to keep wallrunning. You can also wallrun into a slide, and slide into a jump to keep that momentum going. Chaining those mechanics together means you move quickly, and you can also melee and shoot while doing this, and some of my most impressive kills were in mid-air during a wallrun or a slide.
The single-player campaign does feel a little cheap. It's rather short and when it runs out of ideas, it ends. I had a ton of fun with it, and the relationship between the protagonist and his titan was really pleasing to see unfold. It's not a storytelling masterpiece, but rather than focus on whatever war you're fighting, it focuses more on you and your mech, as well as the villains you fight. I feel like if the single-player in Titanfall 3 was given more budget and was a bit longer, it might be worth a game of the year award for the single-player alone. That's a big if, but I like to dream.
The single player is pretty solid though, and while it doesn't last long, it gives you enough playgrounds to have fun both on foot and in your titan. I'm glad this game's single player was given some love, because it ended up defying pretty much everyone's expectations.
And now let's talk abou the multiplayer, because it's good.
Titanfall 2's devs were former Call of Duty devs, and you can tell. On the surface, the games carry a lot of similarities, but in terms of how they play they couldn't be more different.
So how does Titanfall evolve the formula of Call of Duty? Well the shooting mechanics are mostly the same. Weapons feel light and fast, for the most part. This kind of felt like the one thing Call of Duty has done really well, and then aimed no higher. It added excessive killstreak rewards and eventually double-jumps, but it never aimed to be anything more than a game with good shooting mechanics. I blame annual releases and a lack of initiative to try anything new from Activision. Why change when what you're doing continues to sell... until it doesn't.
But Titanfall makes every player feel unique and gives them so many tools to have fun. The grappling hook couples well with the movement mechanics, and makes it easy to swing around a corner or zip across the map. Or you can give yourself a shield, a boost of speed, or phase in and our of reality for a few seconds. The players' abilities feel really satisfying and change the game considerably, and since your character model changes depending on what ability you choose, it's easy to identify certain abilities and counter them.
When it comes down to it, in an average match of Call of Duty, you run around the map like a headless chicken and shoot things when you see them. In an average match of Titanfall you're running up walls, climbing buildings, and not just getting into gunfights, but also running from them. Titanfall 2 gives you options to run from fights, if you can survive. Then when titans start appearing in matches, the whole dynamic changes, with pilots trying to wallrun and climb around them while the comparatively clunky titans fight each other and smack pilots out of mid-air. I feel like there's a lot more going on, and it not only plays better, but just looks better. Titanfall 2 matches look a lot more dramatic and skillful than your average Call of Duty match.
I can't say I'm not smiling when I wallrun off a building to hop into my titan.
If you enjoy each release of Call of Duty, I'm not trying to judge you. I'm merely pointing out that, in my opinion, post-2007, multiplayer games felt less fun and more like a chore you got roped into. I played some Call of Duty games religiously when I was a lot younger, and while I fondly remember playing zombies with my friends, I can't think of any memorable moments of the multiplayer. But when I play Titanfall, I feel like I'm exercizing my brain a lot more. I'm consider how to move, how to use my titan, and all of the tools the enemies have. I feel like I'm actually having fun again with multiplayer for the first time since I stopped playing Team Fortress 2 a few years ago.
And as I've said in a previous blog post, I'm glad shooters became fun again. While sales of many of these great games seem to be down, I hope Titanfall 2 gets a sequel, because it remembers what Call of Duty's developers have seemingly forgotten: How to make the players feel good about playing their game.