Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Release: March 2014
Philip K. Dick posed the rhetorical question “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” with his 1968 book of the same title. Gamers are offered a similar query: “Do Gamers Dream of Big Dumb Mech Fights?” I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I love a good robotic slobber knocker every now and again. Nothing like a good old fashioned mechanical donnybrook to really get the motor running…
Moving on from my dodgy word play, I present you with Titanfall, a game devoted to pitting Man vs. Man, Man vs. Mech and of course, Mech vs. Mech across a variety of maps and game modes. Normally at this point in my strict reviewing formula, I’d mention the story, but this game has about the same level of exposition and major plot points as a walk to the shops, and any “twists” having about the same impact to you as the shop being sold out of milk. What a game-changer… The whole campaign aspect could be completely disregarded or even non-existent, and it wouldn’t really matter to the overall game.
If you must know, the plot is about some evil empire overseeing a far-away galaxy, and a ragtag group of rebels. The two factions then engage in some Wars amongst the Stars… I’ve heard this somewhere before… Don’t help me out! I’ll get there… SPACEBALLS! Knew I’d figure out the resemblance.
The reason why the main story fails is because it’s so poorly integrated. It’s hard to convey plots with any real meaning and consequence when you also have to account for a winning side and a losing side. This on its own wouldn’t necessarily be a big problem if the campaign adapted to the win/loss record of both sides, but it stays the course: unfeeling, unflinching, and inconsequential.
I’ll give you an example: the campaign opens with the Militia on the run from the IMC. Now, according to the Militia, they need fuel otherwise they’re royally boned, and the only way to get it is to win the mission… supposedly. Something to do with capturing objectives activating fuel points around the map. So what happens if the Militia lose? Nothing, everything is fine and progression continues as normal. Where’s the consequence? What would have been wrong with some kind of five match series with a branching story arc depending on wins and losses, like Max Payne 3 or Evolve?
I guess I’m being too harsh, but when you tout an integrated campaign as a cool feature, you could at least make it good. Titanfall doesn’t so much fail in this regard. It would be more apt to describe it as a Laurel and Hardy-esque comedic blunder, where the story is a total disaster, but it sure is a lot of fun.
This is the key thing that redeems Titanfall in a big way; it’s such a joy to play. As a human, the game is based around a core tenant of “freedom of movement”, utilising a free-running system that makes traversing a level look effortless. You jump at a wall, maybe even double jump if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, and your guy then wall runs. It’s simple, effective, and most importantly, fluid.
The maps offer a good mix of wall-running corridors and verticality for you to make the most of being a super powered parkour master, along with some big open spaces for when the Titans come out to play. Titans, in small, medium and large varieties, act like they should; hulking behemoths that require the efforts of a few players/another titan to take down. In the meantime, you’ll laugh as you crush your enemies underneath your giant robot boot. Maniacal laughter is optional, but preferred.
What makes Titanfall so good, as a game and not a narrative, is that it’s really accessible to new players. After a lengthy tutorial shows you how the free-running, Titan and weapon controls work, you’re free to tackle online. Whilst it sounds daunting, you’re still given enough help to feel like you’re making a contribution. In Attrition (Deathmatch) and Hardpoint Domination, the two main modes for the discerning Titanfall player, the arenas are populated with computer controlled Grunts and Spectres, or as I refer to them “Mobile Shooting Galleries”. It allows the less experienced player to gain experience points, contribute to the team’s score and feel like a worthwhile member of the team, all the while improving their overall abilities. I can’t understate how much an inclusion like this helps both the new player and any players with potential rage issues. Keep getting killed? Let your frustrations out on the hapless grunts. They won’t know what hit them.
Admittedly, the loadout options are thin on the ground, when compared to more recent Call of Duty games, but the simplicity again feeds into the idea of an accessible multiplayer shooter, and there is enough there to suitably cover a wide variety of play styles, where that be close range, sniper, and objective based for both attack and defend etc. Just like the rest of the game too, there’s even weaponry crafted for the new player, in the form of the Smart Pistol, which locks onto any enemies within your HUD. You can’t help but feel like a space faring bad ass when you walk into a room and everything just drops dead.
I don’t know what else to tell you all really, except that Titanfall is an excellent multiplayer shooter, for everyone. That’s the significant part; it can be played and mastered by anyone. The lack of either a single player campaign or a campaign that you’d actually care about does affect the quality of the overall game, mainly because there was potential there for it to be so much more, but on core gameplay alone, this is truly brilliant.