There is no sense in going over what the recently released Titanfall means to the Xbox One as a whole, as it’s well known that Microsoft has put a lot of stock into this Xbox One (as well as 360 and PC) exclusive EA published first person shooter. What is evident from the industry insiders, as well as the many online forums and publications out there, is that people have high expectations for this game. Well, we here at COG have been anticipating the game’s release since it’s unveiling at E3 last year and after having played it at PAX Prime 2013. Although we didn’t get to attend the review event prior to the retail release we have had the game for a few days and have managed to play a lot of matches. With this in mind, we are finally ready to give you our impressions.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past nine months then you may be one of the few who don’t know that Titanfall is a strictly multiplayer affair. There is no single player campaign, but there is a campaign mode in the game that you may want to play through. The story is such that the IMC and Militia are engaged in a battle against each other. You never really get a true understanding of why though, as the campaign mode is simply a series of multiplayer matches that you play on either side that have some narrative and sound-clips thrown in to reflect the side you are on. To be honest I had a hard time following any semblance of a story as I was focused on killing my enemy or taking a hardpoint. In the end the campaign mode is somewhat moot given it doesn’t do enough to flesh out any narrative that could explain why things are the way they are and how we got to the point of each faction battling each other; however, you must complete the campaign as each faction in order to open up two new classes of Titans.
Respawn Entertainment is comprised of many of the individuals from Infinity Ward who left Activision in a highly publicized split. So to say that they have a lot of experience in the world of FPS games would be justified. If there is one thing I noticed when I started to play is that their CoD heritage is evident. Yes, you knew it would be inevitable, Titanfall compared to CoD. Seriously though, it’s many of these people who did such a good job when engrossed in the CoD series how could one not compare the franchises? Two competing factions, check. Guns, grenades and special weapons, check. Special ways to level up, check. Team based modes, check. Although the list of similarities to CoD, and other standard console FPS games, is noticeable, it’s the new features that manage to catch your attention, including the now familiar Titans (mechs), the ability to parkour , Burn Cards, and the huge number of AI teammates/enemies controlled by the cloud. These are the biggest additions I will speak of as they are what I think make Titanfall stand out.
I want to start with the computer controlled AI. You’ll notice that as you battle on the 15 included maps you’ll come across grunts and spectres, either on your team or those on the team your battling. These AI controlled characters are simply known as minions and they fit a few roles. The most obvious is to fill the levels with more characters to battle it outwith. You can kill the minions to earn XP points, but you don’t get as many points as when you kill another human controlled pilot. I found it amazing how I felt that I was actually making a difference as I killed these AI ‘bots’. This is another key feature of these minions; it lets anyone who plays the game feel like they are involved in the game more than just being there as a bullet sponge. Even a relatively inexperienced FPS player can feel important as they kill copious numbers of grunts/spectres. Sure, you’ll find that these AI aren’t the smartest ‘bots’, but I don’t think they are there to play smart more than they are there to add to the experience of the mayhem.
Titanfall features the newly introduced Titans that you pilot in the game. Every player will get to use a Titan at least once, and you can speed up its arrival by how well you play, especially when you kill everything you see on screen. Kill a lot of minions and the time to get your Titan slowly decreases, kill a few human controlled pilots though and things really kick into overdrive and your Titan will be ready to summon sooner than later. Once your Titan is ready to activate it is as simple as pressing down on the d-pad and it will come rocketing from the sky above, and the first time you hear the rumble of the rockets as it descends and lands with a boom, and you hear the words “Your Titan is ready”, you’ll know that this is something awesome and it is time to kick some ass.
Surprisingly these larger than life virtual robots are more nimble than you’d expect as you traverse the levels with ease. There are three classes of Titans available, with the Atlas class (medium) being available first. As noted earlier, once you complete the campaign mode as both factions you open up new Titans, the Stryder and Ogre classes. The Ogre class is the heavy armoured lumbering beast while the Stryder class is the speedy & lightly armoured Titan. Regardless of which class you choose you get to equip some incredible main weapons (e.g. 40mm cannon, a chaingun, or Triple Threat grenade launcher) along with some useful ordinance (e.g. salvo lock on missiles) and tactical defensive capabilities (e.g. Vortex Shield – collect enemy shots and fire back – or Particle Wall force field). It all really depends on your play style. I found I was most successful using the mid-sized Atlas, but I came across others who were kicking some butt using the lighter and quicker Stryder or those who just came in head first with a heavy armoured Ogre. It’s all a matter of preference.
Titans are not indestructible behemoths either. As a pilot you are equipped with an Anti-Titan weapon to help your cause, such as a Sidewinder gun or Archer Missile System. You can also “rodeo-ride” an opponent Titan ripping off its armour and shooting at the exposed innards. Rodeo-riding is real time and not a QTE. Be forewarned though as an opposing pilot can get out and attempt to shoot you or use their Tactical Ability of Electric- Smoke to shock you off. What is key here is that Titan’s are beatable. Again, this is the beauty of this game as it’s not a particularly one sided affair. Even as a pilot you still stand a chance to take down a hulking Titan, and as a Titan you are a one-bot unbeatable wrecking ball. Once your Titan is about to get destroyed you can eject out and can watch your it explode and take out enemy fighters below, and once you land your right back into the battle.
The other new feature is the parkour ability. You are able to jump, double jump (jet pack), and wall run throughout every level you play on. This gives this FPS a sense of freedom that I have not experienced before. The level design plays a very important part here too as there are key areas that just scream for you to jump, wall run, and jump again to another building or wall. You will be amazed with how much time you can spend exploring the environments, going in and out of buildings and running along so many walls. There is no doubt that as time goes by you’re going to see some pretty good wall runners in this game.
The final gameplay item is the use of Burn Cards. These are a collection of cards that you earn and each one is a one-time use buff/perk that expires once you are killed. They vary in their uses too. For example, you can get cards that give you an enhanced weapon, ones that cut out precious time for when your Titan is ready to summon, ones that double your XP earned, and ones that hack into the full mini-map. What I noticed was that these cards did not make those who played to be an overly powerful killing machine and they just enhanced things enough to feel like they were very useful and not a gimmick. In the end I found they added a slight bit of strategy depending on what class and weapon set-up I was using for that match.
As would be expected in an FPS made by so many of the same people that perfected the CoD franchise is the fact that there is incentive to keep on playing. As you level up you open up new weapons, new attachments for your weapons, new pilot skills, new ordinances, new explosive devices, and quite a few new features that make you a better pilot and make your Titan more effective. It brings about that “one-more-game” feeling. As you play you complete various challenges, which increase in level, such as using one gun for a specific period of time, killing so many grunts/spectres with a specific weapon or ordinance, to how many times you call in a Titan. You can level up to 50 and once there you can start over as a new pilot (generation two) without any of your past weapons or abilities. You can feel free to make your way through the ranks up to 10 times (generation 10).
There are a total of five different multiplayer modes for you to enjoy including Attrition (Team Deathmatch) and Capture the Flag, which are self-explanatory. Attrition is the best place to get your feet wet as it’s a simple kill or be killed mode that allows you to learn the levels and get accustomed to everything the game offers. Another mode is Hardpoint Domination, which has you trying to take control of the three specific points on any map. I thoroughly enjoyed this as it took communication to be successful. Next there is Pilot Hunter, which only allows kills of actual human controlled pilots to count towards the overall team score. If you kill grunts, spectres, or Titans after a pilot ejects, you still get the XP towards your ranking up. Finally there is Last Titan Standing, which pits everyone in a Titan and it’s an all out battle as each team tries to take down the opposing group of Titans. This last mode really makes you appreciate what is available in weapons and classes of Titans and can be a great training ground for Titan use. It should be noted that there is a “Variety Mode” available that combines all types of play modes in an endless amount of games. I found this a nice change of pace as I never knew what mode was coming next.
Although the modes and matches are enjoyable, the total number of modes available is concerning. There is not a lot of variety here and my biggest fear is that the modes will become stale in the long run. For reference sake, CoD: Ghosts has 12 different multiplayer modes. That is seven more modes than those found in Titanfall. In a day and age when there is a glut of shooters on consoles, and given Respawn Entertainment’s heritage, I have to be honest and say that I expected a bit more here. There is also a complete lack of ability to create a private room for you and up to 11 friends to play in a private match with settings akin to how you like them. Our community here at COG could easily fill a large room and play amongst ourselves. I can distinctly remember many late nights on the Xbox 360 playing in a full room of our community in Rainbow 6 Vegas 2. This kind of experience for online friends and communities is important and I hope to see this feature patched into the game sooner than later.
For those wondering, I played the game on the weekend before the game was launched, as well as on launch day. Overall I was surprised to find very little connectivity issues, especially on launch day. There was a well-documented issue with Xbox LIVE as a whole, but it was not attributed to Titanfall. Overall the experience online for me has been pretty darn smooth and I was impressed with the lack of issues. I guess EA’s use of Microsoft’s Azure servers may just pay off for the Xbox One version of this game.
Presentation wise Titanfall is a winner. Although the dreaded debate about resolution is once again a factor for fanboys everywhere, the game looks good. Stated to run in native 792p and upscaled to 1080p, the game is visually pleasing. You’ll find so many different types of levels to play on, from those based in tropical lagoon settings to those in a sandy, dusty and desolate setting to those of a war torn village or a futuristic but industrialized city; variety is not an issue here. With some great lighting, wonderful special effects (e.g. explosions, rocket trails, burning Titans) and great level design, you’ll enjoy every one of the 15 different levels available. Technically speaking the game is pretty darn solid. Sure, I hit some noticeable slowdown a few times during the days I played, but to be honest it was far and few between. I was actually amazed how buttery smooth the framerate felt most of the time and how good navigating my character around the level felt, from running on the ground, through windows and buildings, to scaling to the top of a structures. As for the audio, it complements the game’s visuals. From the sound of each weapon (pilot or Titan), the minions chattering on the battlefield, to the sound of distant battles across the level or Titans exploding, it’s pretty awesome. The first time I heard my Titan’s nuclear core charge up and explode, as I was high above it after ejecting, brought a smile to my face. There is no doubt that your TV speakers, headphones or home theatre set up is going to get a work out.
Respawn Entertainment has managed to take new gameplay ideas and mix it in with what we have already come to expect from first person shooters making Titanfall a game that definitely stands its own. Sure, there are some oversights that I think could have made it an even better game, but as a whole it is very, very good game. It is my hope that with DLC and some simple patches that they fix the issues noted above to make it the genre-breaking experience so many people wanted and that it is so close to being. In the end if you own an Xbox One, or have been on the fence to buy one, this game should give you the justification to have Microsoft’s newest console in your home and have you utter the words “Xbox, Record That” as you play.