- Street Date:
- March 11th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Trevor Ruben
- Review Date:1
- March 13th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox One
- Electronic Arts
- Respawn Entertainment
Xbox One version reviewed. Online experience was stable with only the occasional hiccup. These hiccups were minor and are not a factor in the review score.
'Titanfall' has been synonymous with the Xbox One since the game's introduction, and it is seldom been far from any discussion of most-anticipated games. Thus, it could be said, We were prepared, ready for 'Titanfall,' as they say, and now the day has come. Veteran-filled Respawn Entertainment seems to have been established solely to make this game/franchise after a mass defection from the lead 'Call of Duty' studio, Infinity Ward. Though clearly residing as part of the first-person shooter genre, 'Titanfall' looks to legitimize its own identity (and perhaps even that of the Xbox One) and take a massive bite out of the 'Call of Duty' and 'Battlefield' audiences by introducing mechs and a blossomed system of traversal mechanics. These flashy new features have been promoted along with the run-and-gun, 'Call of Duty' sensibilities that were cultivated by the Respawn founders back in the beginning of the last console generation. As a multiplayer-only title, 'Titanfall' took every industry event by storm. It wowed audiences and press under controlled conditions, but does the final product deliver?
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Back when 'Titanfall' was first being previewed, the glowing word was fluid gameplay and long-sought FPS innovation. At that time, one of the developers said something along the lines of: we want those epic moments from your common single-player campaign to show up in multiplayer. I wrote it off at the time as marketing speak – an attempt to curb skepticism over the lack of a single-player campaign.
I was mistaken. I get it now. Today it sounds more like this: we want our players to experience the exhilaration of a conventional campaign set piece through the emergent systems of 'Titanfall's exclusively multiplayer experience. In that sense, mission accomplished.
A part of me feels obligated to begin this review with an anecdote, something explosive, resulting in my jovial surprise as an embattled pilot in this world of Davids and Goliaths. I might even point out this moment, say when I sprang atop a titan and shot its electric guts out or ejected from my own titan and watched it explode and obliterate the surrounding enemies, and expect that moment to color clearly the reason why I can't put the controller down.
But that's too restrictive. These moments are happening all the time, in every match, and they aren't a cheat made-up of fancy visuals or hackneyed manipulations. No, these moments are a result of innovative and intelligently coordinated gameplay mechanics that, on top of impeccably polished first-person shooter regularities, relentlessly motivate the player to be daring and creative in his or her quest for titan domination.
It starts with movement. The ability to wall-run, double-jump and vault yourself over and up any ledge (explained away with jetpacks) combine to exponentially expand your options as a meager little pilot among titans. Intuitive and seamless as a press of the A button, you're never helpless, not a roof is out of reach and so neither is the bare back of a hulking beast, where you can perform that aforementioned gut shooting. More than the titans themselves, the most viscerally refreshing thing about 'Titanfall' is the absolute sense of freedom. No longer confined to the floor, each of the 15 maps are playgrounds and you're the daring kid who leaps from the jungle gym to the bridge and then down the slide just before going right back up.
And then, of course, if there happened to be an adult-sized mechanical robot on that playground, you would also be the kid who jumps in it and gleefully harasses everyone else. You're a king with several Achilles heels – titans are vulnerable to each other and pilot-wielded anti-titan weapons - and it's now your job to do as much damage as possible before inevitable ejection.
It's a testament to Respawn's presentation skills that pocketing yourself into your titan friend doesn't feel like a different game. You're more powerful, more capable, and yet still vulnerable in this chaotic battlefield with everybody else. It's distinctly different from the tanks and helicopters of 'Battlefield' in that you aren't choosing to fulfill a role, you're inhabiting a natural evolution in each and every match. And as the matches ramp up and more titans plummet from the sky (everyone gets a titan after a certain period of time, though individual time is reduced for most positive actions), those moments I mentioned before start happening with alarming regularity. This is every match, whether you're wall-running your way to victory in capture-the-flag or dominating a hardpoint in, you guessed it, hardpoint domination.
I once tailed an enemy pilot up and down several rooftops after we both ejected from our titans, never quite getting a clear shot, and finally approached a perfect opportunity for a neck-snap melee kill. I accomplished the feat only to discover that someone had been tailing me as well. As he made sure I followed my kill to the temporary thereafter, the bigger picture revealed that just around the corner there were a multitude of titans punching, shooting, electrocuting, and exploding each other in a similar mode of gratuitously satisfying metallic violence.
The whole of these refined attributes means more as, surprisingly, the game is comparatively, a frustration-free competition. Even in the rare occasion that I found myself at the bottom of the team come match's end, I felt fulfilled and successful, as weird as that sounds. Maybe it has something to do with the armies of bullet-eating NPCs fighting alongside you in any match. There's always something to shoot. But Respawn deserves an immense amount of credit not just for reviving and modernize the presence of bots, but for making it work for the average player. The bots are key to the game's accessibility, and not just another FPS aspect to feed the ego of the elite players.
Which brings us to balance. Titans and pilots miraculously coexist in just about every scenario the game offers up. As long as you're aware of your surroundings as a pilot, the four anti-titan weapons make the level's verticality your anti-titan friend. On the titan side of the dynamic, as long as you're aware of those dangerous little bugs scurrying around you, you can counter their speed and small broadsides with brutal but efficient employ of your titan. You ought never feel hindered or disadvantaged and never as though you chose paper against scissors. You are in control, and you have the tools to face the situations brought on by the titan-pilot combat.
The Class Customization
Part of it is the movement, part of it the excellent map design, which opens up space for the Titans while giving pilots their own paths to follow, and yet another part has to do with the game's customization. Employing a similar class system as 'Call of Duty,' only for titans and pilots individually, 'Titanfall' seems to have a gun for every scenario, but not a bullet too extraneous. Instead of filling in a non-gap with endless customization options, Respawn showed some impressive restraint. There aren't a bucket load of them, but pilot and titan abilities and weapons are all immediately useful and well-balanced, in stark contrast to the minutia of other AAA shooters.
In the name of sanity and, more importantly, balance, one assault rifle has full-auto, one has burst fire. Those are the only two assault rifles. Get it? Abilities don't mess in the drivel of statistics and augmentation. Rather, they allow the pilot to do very cool, very useful things, like temporarily turn invisible (cloak) or see enemies through walls. Even weapon mods are similarly restricted in a positive way. There is a use and an application for every item, specific and empowering, allowing every player to carve out a style that's both recognizable and emergent.
Titan customization, in particular, allows for a real expression in play style. The more methodical standoffs between titans are often a battle of wits and clashing strategies. I found myself leaning toward the more agile Stryder chassis, equipping a rocket launcher and damaging electric cloud as quick in-and-out options against my opponents. Trading out a weapon or an ability always seems to encourage new plays, new moves, against the high-health enemy titans. Some combinations even cater to pilot or AI grunt killing over titans, which, again, is a choice of play style (and a little mode optimization).
Like the weapons, the modes are few but effective. Pilot hunter, which only awards points for killing other pilots, is the closest 'Titanfall' comes to team deathmatch. Attrition, on the other hand, awards points for any kind of kill, whether it's a titan you've "doomed" (the death state during which a pilot must eject or die with his machine), a group of NPC grunts or another pilot. Capture-the-flag and hardpoint domination fulfill expected objective-based roles, the latter akin to 'Battlefield's' conquest mode, while Last Titan Standing mode spawns everyone in a titan for a round-based, one-life rout of titan deathmatch. As you might expect, that one requires a good, cooperative team and some strategic thinking. Then again, you can always get out and wreak havoc from the rooftops alongside your auto-titan.
Old game types excel with the inclusion of titans and jetpacks. Protecting a hardpoint with your auto-titan (it will follow you or defend a spot if you get out) or planning your titan spawn for a flag capture means going back into these modes feels new and fresh.
Less successful is Respawn's attempt to contextualize all this craziness with an actual story. Campaign mode peppers a set of nine multiplayer matches with yapping characters, pre-match exposition and reasons for accomplishing your various objectives. Hardpoints are turned into fueling stations. Attrition matches are reasoned as distractions for some important dude to do some important thing.
There's a whole war going on, but all I cared about was my score. Were the writing not hokey and ridiculous, Respawn might've broken important new ground with this little story experiment. It took Telltale ages to get people to notice their style until 'The Walking Dead,' but 'Titanfall' is no epic tale. It's an excuse to kill things, and the story simply checks a box. Still, it's clear Respawn devoted its time and its passion to creating a world-class multiplayer experience, which is exactly as it should be.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Much fuss has been made over the game's low, 792p resolution (mostly 60 fps). Too much, in my opinion, but it is noticeable. 'Titanfall' is no 'Ryse: Son of Rome.' Minute details are in short supply- You won't see metal chips flung off your titan's exterior, but what it lacks in visual fidelity it more than makes up for in presentation and flair.
Each titan chassis has a different finishing melee strike. The Ogre rips another titan's arm off and smashes the pilot within, where as the strider yanks that pilot out and simply squeezes him into a bloody fountain. Much of 'Titanfall's' personality emerges through animations vicious and exciting, all presented seamlessly in first-person. Respawn is endlessly adamant that the player remain in the first-person view, and the results are admirably immersive. It's a wonderfully direct philosophy that pays off, especially when you're erupting from your exploding titan or leaping into the evacuation vehicle during an end-game sequence. You always feel the motion of your pilot's actions. It keeps your eyes peeled to the screen.
Environmental design varies pretty widely from map to map, and not in the typical military shooter revolver of disaster zones and neighborhoods. A massive carrier rests atop a lagoon. Pterodactyl-like creatures pick off NPCs as you rush through a desert. A city becomes a vertical mouse maze with titans acting as massive, deadly bowling balls crashing through. It might've been nice to embrace a larger spectrum on the color palette, as titan battles can get a little muddled visually now and again.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The audio plays a surprisingly important role in the moment-to-moment gameplay of 'Titanfall.' Within your titan, an on-board CPU will often warn of enemy titans in the area, even going so far as to tell you you're outnumbered. Warning buzzers and clanking sounds tell you if an enemy pilot is "rodeoing" your titan, giving you ample opportunity to react. On the ground, approaching a hardpoint, s radio squawk will let you know if enemy pilots are nearby. The natural and immediate delivery of this information makes listening integral to success.
Of course, the sound design goes beyond dialogue and warnings. The titans, in all of their motions and abilities, sound massive and dangerous. Their weapons are even more intimidating, the rail-gun, in-particular, audibly intimates its looming threat as it charges up.
Guns shrieking, pilot jetpacks purring, NPCs fist-fighting in the corner. It all combines to deliver context and atmosphere which the campaign missions only to detract from.
At fifteen maps and deep, if not particularly expansive, customization on both the titan and pilot side, learning and mastering 'Titanfall' is going to take some time. As a multiplayer shooter it's quite full of content, but as a $60 game some people might feel peeved at the lack of something else, whether it's cooperative play or even the chance at bot-run single-player matches. I'm good without those things, really. As a matter of fact, I attribute much of 'Titanfall's' polish and various successes to the game's distinct lack of anything else. This is the cost, the acceptable cost, of focus. 'Titanfall' is exactly what is was designed to be, and it excels for that reason.
Naturally, A season pass is available for purchase. Three map packs and other miscellaneous content will be available sometime down the road.
Zip-lining, jump-kicking, dash-crushing and punching pilots into nothingness with metal fists. These are all things I didn't mention, but they're just a few of the many details that add to the game's allure and make those emergent moments happen. You might chain some of those things together after wall-running across an entire map or leaping into your titan from a rooftop. You might prefer to equip a sniper rifle and climb the highest possible point. Just remember, an enemy pilot might follow you up there and snap your neck. You're a camper, so you deserve it.
But, and here's the important part, you'll be laughing on either side of that exchange. That it all comes together in a way that makes us enjoy our time, rather than fluster over missed opportunities and sub-par performance, is a miracle in today's market. 'Call of Duty' players are among the angriest people I know. 'League of Legends' players are among the nastiest. There's an anxiety to online gaming that, up to this point, I assumed was just a part of it, a part of people. Respawn proved that wrong. 'Titanfall' is so explosive, so surprising, so intuitive and so rewarding, in and out of the titular beasts, that you'll only ever be screaming at the screen in glee.
Well, maybe that's just me. At the least, 'Titanfall' is the next-gen shooter to beat.
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