Titanfall is a game with the weight of the industry riding its steel-plated shoulders. Respawn Entertainment's mech-and-parkour first-person shooter has stockpiled awards since its E3 2013 reveal, and the hype escalated tenfold after a brief beta test this past February. Microsoft hopes that Titanfall will help push Xbox One units, and Respawn Entertainment hopes the title will be its first blockbuster. The new studio was founded by people who worked on the wildly popular Call of Duty series, so there's some proven talent behind it.
Does Titanfall meet all these expectations? In a word: Yes. Titanfall (also available on the PC and coming to the Xbox 360 next week) is a marvellous multiplayer shooter that manages to satisfy FPS diehards with its intense and varied gameplay modes, and also manages to ease newcomers into its world of guns, mechs, and jetpacks, without too much handholding. In short, Titanfall is a game you should sample if you own a Microsoft gaming platform.
The facts behind the fall
Titanfall chronicles two warring factions – Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation and Militia – as their pilots and mechs battle on a desolate planet. The generic party names are perfect representations of the ho-hum multiplayer campaign (that's right, there's no true single player mode) that simply serves as a skeleton to support a reason for fighting. Most gamers will explore it simply for the unlockables and will never return once a mission's accomplished. The game's meat lies in Titanfall's "Classic" mode in which two teams of six shred each other in a near-story-less environment spread across five game modes (Attrition, Capture the Flag, Hardpoint Domination, Last Titan Standing, Pilot Hunter) and 15 maps.
Some gamers gave Respawn Entertainment heat for limiting human battles to six-versus-six action (Battlefield 4 has a whopping 64 players on screen at once), but that was a premature judgement. Titanfall's battlefields are bursting with activity. Besides the human-controlled pilots, Titanfall features several AI-controlled grunts and the Titans themselves, which can be set to operate independently of their human owners. It's obvious that Respawn Entertainment took a long, hard look at what works in a multiplayer shooter environment – I didn't encounter any extended lulls despite the "low" player count. The maps are nicely populated, and death can come from a variety of directions, thanks to Titanfall's level layout and verticality.
Super-soldiers and iron giants
There's an impressive combat flow when you're on foot as a Titan-less pilot. The maps are designed to keep you moving at a fast clip as you wall-run, double-jump between large gaps, and climb obstacles. This means FPS veterans will need to rethink how they approach battlefield tactics.
The impressive environments are detailed, but the firefights don't put a scratch on the in-game structures. There are no collapsing towers, burning shrubbery, or exploding earth. The epic battles have no impact on the game world, most likely in order to preserve pilots’ ability to freerun through maps. Still, I would've appreciated something toppling over at some point.
An AI Titan dispatcher will chime in every now and then to update you on how much time remains before your mech is ready to deploy. Your Titan becomes available for use roughly 3 minutes after you start a match, but you can reduce its build time by being an effective player who claims hardpoints and kills Titans, AI grunts, and human pilots.
The giants, thankfully, aren't slow-moving hunks of metal. Titans are relatively fast-moving, and have an effective rechargeable dash move that helps you evade firepower (particularly dedicated anti-Titan weaponry). You can even have a Titan guard specific areas and fire on enemies. Alternatively, you can order it to follow as you trek across the landscape on foot. This has the potential to open the door to many fresh gameplay strategies (for example, placing a Titan in guard mode to safeguard a hardpoint from capture).
Although the Titans are bullet sponges that can also dish out big damage, players who control pilots are not at an inherent disadvantage. Pilots have cloaking devices that make them invisible to Titans (but only blurred out to pilots on foot), the ability to duck into buildings, and anti-Titan weaponry designed to bring down the big guys. There's something particularly thrilling about turning a corner, spotting a hulking Titan a short distance away, firing off homing rockets, and staggering the machine as a setup for a kill. You can even "rodeo" Titans; that is, jump on their backs, rip off their heads, and air-vent the rival pilot. For more on this and some basic pointers in general, see our 10 tips to help Titanfall novices improve their game.
Experience points and load-outs
There are multiple pilot and Titan classes designed to appeal to different players, and you can unlock more – as well as additional weaponry – with experience points (XP) earned on the battlefield. Fortunately, Respawn offers ample opportunity to collect XP. Every successful action, including melee-attacking pilots and destroying evacuation ships, puts XP in your pocket.
Customisation options let you select a pilot's main gun, sidearm, anti-Titan weapon, tactical ability, and more. Likewise, you can select a Titan's load-out both before and during matches. Titanfall's classes aren't as rigid as, say, the ones in Team Fortress 2. Teamwork will help you dominate an opponent, but it isn't fully necessary here because of the flexibility of pilots.
Burn Cards are randomly supplied in-game bonuses that add limited-use goodies (XP multipliers, faster pilot foot-speed, and much more) as players complete challenges and level up. You can equip a Burn Card before the start of a match, but if your pilot dies, you immediately lose the bonus weapons/abilities. You start with the ability to play a single card, but as you level up, you can equip multiple cards. Burn Cards add an addictive collectible element to the game, as well as additional customisation options to help further differentiate pilots.
Titanfall is the first-person shooter for people who see the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises as the “same old same old.” Certainly being the first entry in a potential new franchise helps, but Titanfall is more than that. The freshness really stems from the Titans themselves and the innovative pilot movements. Titanfall tickles that special place in geeks' brains where fond memories of Gundam live, and it’s a highly enjoyable shooter that makes the Xbox One an attractive option if you're thinking of making the next-gen leap.