STAFF REVIEW of Titanfall (Xbox One)

Friday, March 14, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

Titanfall Box art It’s not very often that a brand new studio’s first game will have a critical amount of hype behind it before it even releases. Then again, not every new game studio is quite like Respawn. With a veteran team, Respawn is looking to change the face of competitive online gaming once again, just like they did previously with the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series. With the co-creators leading the helm, Titanfall amassed an enormous amount of hype once it was shown for the first time, and now the release is finally here.

Titanfall is a unique blend of high paced action, not only on foot as a pilot, but as your massive and armored Titan as well. Titanfall excels at allowing you to play how you want, and doesn’t force you to into a specific role or position that you might not enjoy. Sure, having a team of friends that all focus on something different or has a range of weapons will help, but there’s a lot of things Titanfall does right that even the lesser skilled players will still be able to help the team.

Usually in a AAA title you’ll get a campaign to play through, then once done you hop into multiplayer for the rest of its shelf life. Titanfall sees things differently. As Respawn is mostly made up of former Call of Duty guys, they knew exactly how many people actually completely ignored the single player and jumped right into multiplayer as soon as they got it home. Because of this, the campaign has been melded into the multiplayer in an interesting way. Essentially you’re just playing multiplayer, but sprinkles of story will be thrown in before the match in the lobby and with a quick event to watch just before the match begins as well. You play as either Militia or IMC factions, though you’ll eventually want to play through both as doing so unlocks new Titan chassis for you to customize your loadouts with.

Each faction’s campaign consists of a handful of missions, usually just a simple Attrition or Hardpoint match, but gameplay doesn’t deviate from the normal multiplayer at all, as you’ll even play with the Titanfall standard of 6 versus 6. So while there may not be a ‘true’ campaign as we’ve become accustomed to, there is some story contained within if you want to play it for more than simply unlocking the new Titan chassis. Regardless if you win or lose these campaign matches, the story pushes forward, so really you’ll only have to play the campaign missions once on each side. The only issue I really had with the campaign, is that because much of the story gets played out vocally during lobbies and during ingame, you’re going to miss a lot of the chatter if you’re in a party with friends and talking overtop of the audio. Trying to pay attention to the small monitors that appear in the corner of your HUD while you’re trying to kill pilots and Titans in the heat of battle is a lot harder than it appears.

Like any good shooter, Titanfall has a handful of different modes for you to enjoy, depending on what you feel like playing at that time. Your typical Team Deathmatch is called Attrition and the winning team simply needs to amass enough points to reach the limit first. You do this by shooting any Grunts, Specters, Pilots, and Titans you see. Hardpoint has your team tasked with trying to capture and keep three separating hardpoints on the map to earn points. Simple and easy to understand, the more of a team on a specific hardpoint, the quicker it will capture (or defend). Last Titan Standing is a unique mode, where everyone starts out in their own Titan from the beginning of the match and you need to defeat all of the enemies Titans to win, hence the modes name. This mode is played best out of five and offers for many varying strategies, as I tend to keep my Titan on auto pilot as I try and take out enemy Titans on foot. There are a few other modes, such as Capture the Flag, but I found Attrition and Hardpoint were my go-to. The issue I had with Capture the Flag is that it can be incredibly difficult to score a flag, as all you need to do to return your flag back to your base is touch the dropped flag.

There are two ways to get around in Titanfall, and that’s on foot as a Pilot, or inside your personal Titan. Pilots are extremely nimble and are equipped with a jetpack that allows you to double jump, scale walls, and have a wide array of parkour movement to traverse the stages vertically and laterally with some decent speed. As a match begins (other than Last Titan Standing), you have a certain time limit until you can call in your Titan. Get kills and objectives and that timer will count down quicker, allowing you to call it in sooner. So while most people will feel at home on foot as a Pilot, there’s a lot of new skills to master and you’ll have to start thinking vertically and how to get up and over buildings quickly and efficiently.

Pilots have a wide range of weapons available (once unlocked via player level) that range from a shotgun, to a single shot carbine, sniper, LMG, and even a unique Smart Pistol that can auto lock-on to enemies for quick and easy headshots (don’t worry, it’s very balanced and not overpowered). The more you use a weapon and complete specific challenges, you can earn new mods for your weapons such as bigger magazines, new sights, and more. There are only three sidearms to choose from, but I can probably count the times I’ve had to switch to my pistol to get a kill due to being out of ammo on my main weapon. Every Pilot also comes equipped with an Anti-Titan weapon so that you never really feel completely outmatched by a Titan, as long as they don’t see you coming of course. Some of these Anti-Titan weapons range from a lock on rocket, a magnetic grenade launcher, and even an electrically charges beam rifle; it all depends on your play style.

Much like how Call of Duty allows for Perks, you can customize your Pilot to have special abilities and other choices that will cater it to your preferences. First you pick which ordnance you want, such as Frag Grenade, Arc Grenades, Arc Mines (Proximity based), Satchel Charges (C4), and more. You pick a Tactical Ability such as Cloak (invisibility for a short time), Radar Pulse, or Stim which gives you a big speed boost and regenerate your health. You then have two Kit slots, the first Tier that can range from enhanced parkour abilities, accelerate your Tactical Ability quicker, increase your ordnance capacity, or even a Stealth Kit. The Tier 2 kit choices vary and allow you to hack turrets and Specters quicker, display Grunts and Specters on the minimap, increase your Auto-Titan accuracy, and more. So as you can see, there’s a good selection of abilities that you can customize however you like and enhance your skills or help the areas you don’t excel at.

Pilots’ abilities with their jetpack is what makes Titanfall feel so different than other shooters. Because you have the ability to easily run along walls, double jump, and mantle up and over buildings, the game becomes much more vertical than most. You’re tremendously versatile on foot and getting to any place is very simple once you get used to the mechanics and don’t have to think about it anymore. It will take a few matches to wrap your head around thinking to go on top of buildings and traversing the maps without even touching the ground, but once you understand it, there’s nothing quite like hopping along building to building, gaining speed boosts, then latching into a zipline only to land on top of an enemy Titan and take him out.

What really sets Titanfall apart though is the Titans themselves. Yes, I’ve heard the argument “It’s just Call of Duty with mechs”, but this isn’t true. Not only does it not simply play like a standard Call of Duty, but the Titans feel like a natural extension of your Pilot. Sure, in these building-tall robots you won’t be jumping or scaling buildings, but instead having the ability to dash proves that twenty foot tall robots can be agile and not slow moving tanks. Titans are essentially exoskeletons and will feel very natural to play, even in the first person view. Obviously the Titans have much heavier firepower, given simply by the sheer size of their weaponry, but surprisingly Repsawn has found a way to keep the game very balanced. Even as a simple Pilot, you have the tools at your disposal to take out an enemy Titan if you’re smart about it; and as a Titan, you can take on enemy Titans and Pilots with strategies as well.

As matches begin, you’ll have two minutes before you can call your Titan in for support. If you rack up some kills against the AI and players, the timer will shave seconds off your wait time, but it’s not behind a skill based kill streak system like previous Call of Duty’s. You also don’t have to worry about anyone stealing your Titan either, as only its registered Pilot can get in and control it, which is a great design decision and takes away a lot of the frustration that Battlefield players know all too well. When you suffer too much damage, your Titan will be doomed and will explode, though you can eject, shooting your Pilot sky high to safety, allowing you to aim your landing, hopefully on an enemy Titan or somewhere safe.

There are three Titan chassis you can choose from, each with their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. The standard that everyone has access to instantly is the Atlas. This is essentially the balanced Titan with a decent amount of speed and defense. Complete the campaign mode described above and you’ll eventually have access to the Stryder and Ogre Titans as well. The Stryder is the very quick but low defense option, where the Ogre is the opposite and has massive armor but moves extremely slow. Each Titan has the same core abilities such as being able to dodge (Stryder can do it more), punching other Titans and Pilots (which feels awesome to do), and can eject when in a doomed state.

Just like the Pilots, you will also customize your Titan’s loadouts as well. Your Primary weapon can be a 40mm Cannon for those long range shots, Quad Rockets, a Chaingun, a Railgun, and even more. Some weapons are better suited for certain Titans, but again, it will come down to your specific play style. Where I like to use the Stryder to take a few long range shots and dash out of combat, maybe you find using a heavy Quad Shot close up is better for you. It’s all about customization and just like the Pilots, you’ll also pick an Ordnance and two Tier kits. Ordnances range from a Vortex Shield that can catch any incoming fire and shoot it back at the enemy, a Particle Wall, Multi-Target Missles, and more. Tier 1 kits can be a Dash recharger, Regeneration Booster, or even my favorite, the Nuclear Ejection, which causes your Titan to blow up its nuclear core when it’s wrecked, blowing up any enemies nearby. Tier 2 kits can enhance your skills such as a more powerful melee attack, an auto-eject when your Titan is doomed, among others.

There’s another addition in Titanfall that really makes it stand out from the overcrowded genre of shooter, and involved cards. Yes, cards is a mechanic that can vastly change how you play Titanfall. Called Burn Cards, these are cards that you’ll use for temporary abilities, weapons, upgrades, or boosts once used, for a single life. You gain access to three Burn Card slots, so before battle in the lobby you decide which three cards you want to bring into battle to give you a competitive edge against the opposition. Upon start of the match or after every death, you can choose to use a new Burn Card if you choose. You need to choose your cards wisely, but you also need to be careful when you’ve activated one, as you lose the bonus once you die. And yes, you’ll have times where you use a Burn Card and die instantly, essentially wasting the card.

Cards can range from powerful versions of a specific weapon, enhanced abilities, bonus XP on specific kills, to even really rare cards like being able to call in a Titan (extremely handy at the start of a match). You can only hold a certain amount of cards in your deck (but three can go with you into matches), so you need to keep tabs on your card collection, or else any new cards will simply be discarded (a mistake if you earn rare cards). Burn Card strategy can turn the tide of battle quite dramatically if used correctly or help your progression as well. Using the Burn Card to earn extra XP while fighting Titans can be very helpful in a Last Titan Standing match for example. Or if you’re trying to complete some specific weapon challenges, using the Burn Card to get the more powerful version of that weapon can heavily help. You earn new cards from completing challenges and leveling up, so don’t worry about any microtransactions, as you simply earn them by playing the game more.

While the core game supports 6 versus 6 players, you might think that that sounds very low, and on paper it does. But Respawn has done something clever in adding AI bots into matches that fill up the battlefield as well, which serve a few purposes. That being said, there’s so much action constantly happening that I’ve’ never finished a match and said “man, I wish there was more players in these matches”. These AI, Grunts and Specters, aren’t all that bright and don’t pose too much of a threat to you, but they’re not supposed to at the same time. They are there to add accessibility for the lesser skilled players. Obviously players in Titans and Pilots bouncing around from wall to wall are quite difficult to kill, but should you choose, you could simply hunt these bots all match if you wanted. This allows for the newer players or lesser skilled to still help the team out and not become totally frustrated by dying from players over and over without getting any kills themselves. Many of your weapons challenges will revolve around getting a certain amount of bot kills as well; so while killing bots won’t net you as many points as player kills, at least the option is there if you’re a newer player or just having an off-night skill wise.

While I was taking my notes for Titanfall, I kept writing down bullet points into the pro column. After twelve hours of almost continuous play, I only had two notes written in the con section, and it’s by no means a deal breaker. There are some minor performance issues, albeit far and few in between. When everyone is in their Titans and missiles and explosions are all around, I’ve had the odd framerate drop, though it’s only momentarily. I’ve also had some minor screen tearing, also generally only in the very chaotic sections, but it’s there every so often but doesn’t make it unplayable. That being said, it was quickly forgotten as I was constantly moving or doing something awesome.

Balance in a competitive shooter can make a huge difference on a game’s longevity, and I’m happy to report that everything feels very balanced as a whole. There’s not that one weapon that feels cheap whenever you die to it and every ability, action, and weapon has a counter balance, so nothing really ever feels overpowered. If you keep dying to the same weapon or ability, you simply need to figure out how to counter it. Some will instantly complain about the Smart Pistol’s auto lockon, but there are many easy ways to counter that as well. The same goes for Titan’s and their loadouts. There’s not one weapon that I’d always choose over another aside from personal preference.

Titanfall is filled with “Oh my God, did you see that!?” moments, one after another. You’re constantly in the action and there are many different strategies to play well. Map design is very vertical and opens up a whole new way to play. You’re not confined indoors with small corridors and depending on how you play, seeing a Titan will either make you run away or you’ll run towards it because you know you can outwit the Pilot controlling it. Halo is known for redefining console shooters, and Call of Duty did it for online multiplayer. While Titanfall may not completely redefine the genre, it definitely improves many things about it and does it very right. More importantly, it’s easily the most fun I’ve had with my Xbox One to date. If you’ve been on the fence about getting an Xbox One, this is the reason to take the plunge. If you already have one, this game should be in your library. Prepare for Titanfall.

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.7 / 10
Visuals: 9.3 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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