I used to be good at Titanfall. Namely on two occasions: 1) at E3 when seemingly no one else knew you could summon Titans, and 2) last week before the twitched-trained hordes gained beta access. Since then, I’ve been getting trounced. Not terribly, but enough to make me remember why I tend to avoid fast-paced online first person shooters.
And yet I haven’t been able to stay away from Titanfall. Respawn Entertainment’s upcoming debut, it has made a lot of headlines by simply existing. The first game from then unemployed Infinity Ward founders Jason West and Vince Zampella, the decision to skip the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 generation, West’s departure from the company. But it stayed in the headlines by making splashes everywhere it went with available gameplay. People couldn’t get enough of it.
For good reason, as it turns out. Now that I’ve had more than sporadic bursts of opportunities to play the game, I’ve had the opportunity to fully steep in what Titanfall has to offer. It is an incredibly fast game, for sure, but friendly at the same time. It offers a large open door for you to walk through to the realm where kills off of wall runs and single-handedly destroying Titans reside.
As strangely rote as Titanfall may seem (mechs, multiplayer shooter, future soldiers, etc.), the game had an original vision underneath the veneer and Respawn succeeded in accomplishing it. Game director Steve Fukuda says it’s full of opportunities to play out choreographed, martial arts film-like fights. Producer Drew McCoy said they wanted the “merging of cinematic design with fast-paced action.”
Through the combination of swift on-foot running and gunning with the incredibly bombastic and oversized mech half of the game, they deliver in full. Situations emerge that you would never have thought to try simply because you’re so used to playing shooters that limit you to crouching and shooting with the option to dive a superficial afterthought. The entirety of Titanfall is structured around the incredible opportunities the building-sized Titans wreaking havoc amidst nimble and equally deadly players provide.
The game is only six-on-six, a paltry number compared to the likes of Battlefield 4, but it never feels anything less than jam-packed. For one, Titans. (Duh.) For two, there are a lot of AI-controlled bots roaming the maps, pushing the number up to 50 or so. At the outset, they are incredibly pointless. They are the equivalent to fodder enemies in a single-player game; dying to one is often the result of carelessness/late night drunkenness.
But when you treat them like a resource, it becomes a much more interesting game. Killing them helps you by goosing up your point count but also by reducing the time on how long before you can summon your Titan. And make no mistake: the ability to call your giant mechanical friend is absolutely key to this game. This adds a layer you’re far more used to seeing in RTS and MOBA-style games, killing creeps and harvesting resources, and it succeeds in creating a fun, novel complexity.
Once you call in the Titan, any number of things can happen, and they all play out a specific strategy you really only can count on actuating in the heat of the moment. For instance, dropping your Titan on top of another is an instant kill, so if you manage to hammer an enemy mech into a corner and you make the call, you could clear out a high level threat in a matter of seconds. If you are caught unawares, a Titan is deployed with a bubble shield that will protect you and it until you tell it what to do.
Or you can throw it ahead off a roof and dive free into the air and let it catch you as you turn around and blast the one chasing you. Or just turn it into a mobile or stationary sentry, effecting doubling your firepower in any given battle. Whereas games like Call of Duty demand you to throw your raw talent on the line with a modicum of strategy (a heavy reduction, but you get the point), Titanfall opens many more gates and you have to decide which are the right ones to go through.
Luckily, Titanfall is, for the most part (and for a beta), rather balanced between the effectiveness of a soldier and a Titan. You have an anti-Titan weapon that, given your impressive mobility, can be used to solo an enemy mech with proper care and strategy. With your ability to double jump and wall run your way up three or four-story buildings—which feels amazing—and duck in and out of structured cover, you are just as deadly to them as they are to you.
It’s because as many ways as there are for you to use a Titan, there are just as many methods to take one down. Some do involve being in one yourself (my favorite is punching into one and grabbing the pilot inside), but you can also rodeo one and blast it in the head. I imagine the only time anyone has ever felt cooler was when Legolas was doing, well, anything. And then you can blast into the air from the explosion, turn invisible, and blast another to smithereens as you come crashing back down.
Oh yeah, you can turn invisible. Through your loadout, you can choose tactical abilities like the aforementioned cloak, but you can also choose Burn Cards. Earned by playing the game, they’re one-use items you equip and use in a match that allow you to do any number of things including inflict extra damage in your titan, gain extra experience, or simply run faster.
It’s a neat way to introduce variety to the game, so not everyone single player you meet is commensurately equipped. It also introduces the idea of expertise, as you will be rewarded amplifier Burn Cards to weapons you use often. It’s actually noticeable when most of these effects are active on other players, creating the necessity to mentally track responses to particularly empowered foes.
A nice little addition is the epilogue. It’s a post-game scenario that has absolutely zero bearing on the actual outcome of the match, but it does add a bit of levity to the incredibly intense proceedings. The losing team has to escape to a dropship, but the winning team can prevent that by either hunting them down or destroying the dropship. It reminds me of Team Fortress 2, but with at least some opportunity for the losers to save face by going down with a fight.
There are also a fair number of auto-aim weapons like the Smart Pistol that simply lock onto enemies and require little to no precision. Created with the intent to facilitate the repetitive action of killing grunts, it also provides a bit of tiered hand-holding for novice players. But it also opens the possibilities for achieving kills while pulling off incredible maneuvers like sliding in under Titans and rapidly wall running up between a narrow alleyway.
That, perhaps, is the calling card of Titanfall. For everything that seems to have an express and obvious purpose, there are actually many other utilities that lie behind it. You just have to discover them, and that process of discovery is often the most fun part. The first time I decided to see what would happen if I tried to land on a Titan was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever attempted or accomplished in a video game.
The concern, however, is that these actions will eventually become less and less exciting as all of the finite possibilities get dug up and brought to the surface. Obviously it will happen at some point or another, but how long exactly will determine the longevity of the game. It could be one week or one year or one decade.
But just remember how cool it was the first time you saw a cross-map knife throw kill in Call of Duty. Now think about how cool it was after you saw it happen for the twelfth time that week. But until then, Titanfall is an incredibly exciting, open, and surprisingly complex stab at the first person shooter. And I can’t wait to play more.