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Titanfall

On foot I am a nuisance. A pilot on the space frontier, I use my exceptional mobility to clamber from street level to rooftops in a matter of moments; my jet-boosted belt and wallrunning proving useful tools to escape the barrage of death awaiting at the hands of the Titans. These heavily armoured robots drop from orbit on a whim, armed to the teeth with explosive weaponry ripe for killing. But atop the rooftops there’s little these hefty mechs can do unless I’m careless. So I keep my wits about me, peppering their mechanical skulls with grenades from a guided launcher, retreating a few steps back to reload and avoid the extensive firepower most assuredly coming my way.

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With so much else happening, from rashes of Titan-on-Titan violence, to AI-controlled players firing rockets of their own and other players jumping from roof to roof and in and out of windows, this Titan has little chance of avoiding destruction at the hands of my pesky pilot as I dash from place to place, never attacking from the same spot twice. It’s a David versus Goliath battle with the same outcome as the timeless tale, my grenades eventually destroying the mechanical beast as sirens whirl and it assumes the position of elimination. With an enemy defeated and a smile on my face, only a swift bullet to the head could put an end to my joy. David didn’t have to worry about the pilot ejecting from a fallen Goliath.

“Instead of a plethora of scripted set pieces, Titanfall has the systems in place to make these sorts of moments occur organically”Titanfall is a game chock full of moments like this. A unique balancing act that allows regular soldiers and giant mechs to coalesce in one frenetic battlefield without anyone ever feeling cheated.

It also features a campaign but no single-player mode, avoiding the kind of rote, predictable shooter campaigns we’ve grown accustomed to over the past few years. Instead of a plethora of scripted set pieces, Titanfall has the systems in place to make these sorts of moments occur organically, within the heat of battle. There are few sensations as great as the first time you manage to drop your Titan on another, or the first time you hitch a ride on an enemy Titan, destroy it from atop and then launch into the air with its pilot, killing them in mid-air. It’s a highlight reel of fantastic moments, feeding off of familiar concepts and presenting them with an air of confidence that could only be born from the minds of Modern Warfare’s creators. Like that game, Titanfall breathes new life into a stilted genre without doing anything particularly groundbreaking.

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Take the campaign as an example. A novel concept, sure, but it boils down to a batch of regular multiplayer matches with some brief cutscenes and a radio-play to listen to as you zone out and get on with all the shooting. It’s a clichéd narrative about a conflict between two warring factions that you’ll play to unlock some extra Titan chassis and then be done with. Will you remember any of the details when all is said and done? It’s highly unlikely. This is shallow, predictable drivel, but at least you’ll have fun playing it.

Plus you’ll still gain levels and unlock a deluge of customisation options available to both your pilot and Titan. Some will cry foul that Titanfall is just Call of Duty with robots but that’s as disingenuous as saying Fallout 3 is just The Elder Scrolls with guns. The most striking similarities between the two are buried within the menus and how you outfit your character. As you play, level up and complete challenges you’ll unlock new guns, attachments and recharging abilities like a cloak for your pilot or a one-way shield for your Titan. It’s the type of consistent unlock-stream you would expect from a contemporary shooter.

Where Titanfall differentiates itself is with its burn cards. These are unlocked fairly frequently as you complete myriad stat challenges, and you can equip a maximum of three before each match. While CoD would often skew its matches by rewarding the best players with powerful kill streaks and perks, in Titanfall anyone can easily gain access to burn cards, giving each player a chance to gain a slight advantage with a one-time use item that will only last until the game ends or the player dies – whichever comes first. It’s a much more balanced system, granting players brief advantages rather than permanent ones, whether it’s allowing access to a souped-up version of their primary weapon, a chance to respawn where they previously died, enhanced speed and so on.

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Titanfall is also a much more welcoming experience elsewhere. Respawn have gone out of their way to ensure everyone has fun, win or lose. You only need to look at the Titans to see that. You could have no kills but once that build-timer ticks down to zero you’ll be able to drop a Titan out of the sky no matter what. Of course, those who perform better will be able to cut into that build-time, reducing the initial three minutes and earning their Titan that much faster. But piloting a hulking mech isn’t a guarantee of success either.

“There’s no understating how much fun it is to navigate each map with this kind of agility”Titans are designed to fight other Titans. While their heavy weaponry and plodding footsteps can crush a pilot in an instance, that’s easier said than done when you consider each pilot’s agility, the verticality of the maps and the various ways they can fight back. With a specific anti-Titan weapon slot and the ability to “rodeo” atop an enemy Titan and destroy it from up close and personal, Titanfall is balanced in such a way that everything can kill everything else, no matter how big or small.

This injects each match with a kind of chaotic beauty, with each system weaving together like clockwork despite how it might look to the untrained eye. Both mechs and parkour are known quantities in the realm of videogames, yet Titanfall is unlike anything I’ve ever played before, combining the two in an exhilarating multiplayer space that’s surprisingly cohesive. There’s no understating how much fun it is to navigate each map with this kind of agility, hopping from the ground to a second floor window to kick an enemy combatant in the face, only to jump out another window and into the cockpit of your own personalised Titan to reign rockets down upon another. You might not even want to pilot your Titan, setting it to auto-pilot and having it follow you as you jump from rooftop to rooftop, providing a big mechanical distraction that can more than hold its own in a fight.

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Titanfall’s appeal comes from the way all of these systems are intertwined, granting you the freedom to adopt various playstyles with your weapon choice and how you use your Titan. Unfortunately, not all of its game modes tap into this potential. While both Attrition (Team Deathmatch) and Hardpoint Domination serve their purpose – the latter being a particular highlight, presenting three points on each map that must be captured and defended – Pilot Hunter and Last Titan Standing land on the other end of the spectrum. The former only rewards kills on pilots, not for demolishing Titans, while the latter does the opposite, locking both teams in Titans until only one remains. Forcing players to focus on only one aspect of Titanfall’s design in this way leaves these modes feeling unsatisfactory, like you’re missing half the fun. Capture the Flag is the only other game mode and this works well with some mech-action thrown in, letting you jump on the back of a teammate’s Titan to give the flag carrier a mechanised escort.

However, it’s hard not to feel disenchanted by this smattering of game modes. Not only is the quantity light but it’s all very familiar. Titanfall’s unique approach does refresh this tired approach somewhat, but there’s a missed opportunity to do something only Titanfall could do. Something to redefine the genre, rather than relying on the well-trodden alternatives. You could say the same about its arsenal of weaponry, too. Despite this future warfare there’s still the usual assortment of assault rifles, SMGs and shotguns. They get the job done and are mostly enjoyable to use, but it feels like Respawn were hesitant to move too far away from their Call of Duty roots. The thrill of the unexpected – of that highlight reel moment – should still keep players coming back, but there will probably be many who reach the level cap and feel like they’ve had their fill.

With no private lobbies or mod support this issue is only exacerbated. Matchmaking also needs work, often pitting teams of high levelled players against newcomers, or starting matches with unbalanced teams as players drop out over sustained periods. No doubt Respawn will be working to fix these early problems, but in its current state this isn’t ideal.

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With these issues and a lack of true innovation elsewhere, Titanfall isn’t quite the revolution the senseless hype train painted it as, and that’s fine. It’s still the flag bearer for a new generation of shooters, finally giving players a different way to shoot the living hell out of each other and doing so in the most enjoyable way imaginable. The shortage of content might be a tough sell for some, but if you’ve grown tired of this current shooter rut then Titanfall is the perfect game to make you fall in love with the genre all over again.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

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