Man and machine, a union forged in the fires of the industrial revolution, and one which has shaken known existence to its very core, upending economies, blackening the skies and taking us far beyond, up into the cosmos. Looks like these machines have a lot to answer for, but they’ve only just gotten started.
The anticipation for Titanfall is reaching a fever pitch and EA are sure to be out in full force to sling it in the direction of Xbox gamers far and wide come release on March 14th. It’s been called a COD-killer, and in our first look preview we spoke of how this is the chance for the guys at Respawn to have a crack at former employers Activision following their exit from Infinity Ward. But is it going to live up to the hype that gamers and the games press has been blanketing it with?
In short, if you can’t handle a long read, I’ll be totally transparent. The answer is a resounding yes. The game’s not without room for improvement, and there will always be niggles, particularly with an exclusively multiplayer title, but from what I got my hands on at the London preview event, Titanfall looks set to fill a gap that has been opening up in recent years as gamers tire of the Call of Duty formula and yet still thirst for a more casual shooter that spews pyrotechnics from its every orifice.
The premise, known to most by now, is based around two warring factions battling for control over outlying planets, being strip-mined by a greedy faceless corporation (read: The Man). The selling point? Simply the fact that the battlelines are peppered with giant mechanical behemoths, or Titans.
So it’s a story of revolt, a peasant’s uprising for modern times, except these peasants seem to have found themselves in possession of a fairly admirable arsenal. Bully for them I suppose. The M-COR have taken it upon themselves to preserve what is left to their colonies for those that live there, whilst the IMC fight to capitalise on their planets’ resources, to be converted into cold hard cash for the benefit of rich Intersetllar Manufacturing Corporation shareholders dwelling safely out of reach, laughing into their cocktails and dreaming of zeroes. Okay, so I have a little bias, but who doesn’t love an underdog?
After being helped to acclimatise to the controls with a comprehensive if lengthy training section, Titanfall presents itself as a highly intuitive and simply-graspable game experience, though one with more than a few blatant nods to the dev team’s Call of Duty ancestry, though this is hardly a criticism for a button layout that has been so broadly accepted by much of the industry, particularly in the shooter genre. The action is bisected, shared between play as a Pilot and play as a Titan. Both are nuanced and flexible platforms and there is space for any experienced schmup player to slide into a role that is perfect for them. The range of weapons and customisation available feels simplistic in the early stages, however this feels more like streamlining than a poverty of content and will presumably be fleshed out greatly as the game advances and when the retail version ships. This simplicity has the effect of forcing the player to engage with the different aspects of play on offer and to begin, immediately upon entry, on crafting and honing their own personal style.
Across a series of modes the prevalence of Titan warfare varies. In the hands-on there was a selection of game modes to tinker with: Attrition, which is your basic kill anything that moves mode, each team facing off in a race to 250 Attrition points, accrued through the destruction of other pilots, grunts and Titans. Hardpoint Domination is essentially identical with Domination modes seen across various other shooters, with battle and victory focussed around the capture and defence of strategic ‘hardpoints’, the more time spent with the most hardpoints under your team’s control, the higher and faster your points rise, up to the victory limit of 400.
The final mode that we got to play with, and the last that will be available for testing in the upcoming beta is Last Titan Standing, wherein each player spawns with a Titan and the team that sustains the loss of all of their Titans loses the round, the first team to three wins takes the match. These game modes took place on the maps Fracture, a hostile and unstable terrain, littered with abandoned structures in the wake of disastrous and aggressive mining programmes by the IMC, and on Angel City, a dense urban sprawl that can be tough to navigate as a Titan and leaves the metal giants vulnerable to attack from its many hideaways, secreted away in shadowy corners and through windows, a nest of vantage points sure to get the pulse pounding.
In the build we got to play with, we only had access to the multipurpose Titan, the Atlas, though two other models, the Ogre and the Stryder, have already been confirmed and will ship at retail. The Atlas is a well rounded machine, its ability to temporarily hold incoming projectiles before firing them straight back at your aggressors is particularly entertaining and well-implemented. I can only imagine how much more fraught the action will become when the balance is being modulated by the presence of the other more specialised Titan classes. It is only after the servers open at release that the game’s true idiosyncrasies and exploitable features will come to light and I’ve every faith that the online community hungering to play will come forth with the answers a matter of hours after those first boxes are opened.
Visually there’s a lot going on, and in conjunction with the AI-controlled grunts and spectres this really helps to give the war you’re waging a towering sense of scale. She’s a pretty creature too, with a crisply implemented modified Source engine providing the set for the carnage, though upon close inspection some environment textures can tend to look fairly low-res, though this is easily forgiven and forgotten when stuck deep in the bowels of battle.
The ease of play inherent in Titanfall ensures that this is to be a beacon of hope for the multiplayer shooter market. At no point is there an overawing sense of frustration, and controller-throwing tantrums are eschewed in favour of wry smiles and moments of genuine respect in appreciation of how your foe dispatched you. Of course there will always be gasps and shouts, but Titanfall sets its stock far away from the boggy, inescapable cycle of spawn, die, spawn, die by providing more extended skirmishes, the Titans’ armour capable of sustaining sizeable chunks of damage before entering their ‘Doom state’, where they are beyond repair and it’s only a matter of time before self-destruct. Better hit that eject button, pronto!
The refreshing gameplay is certainly aided by the ease and freedom with which the player is able to navigate the map. Playing as a Pilot on foot there are few limits, most structures are scalable, aided by your personal mini-jetpack which allows for double jumps and opens up the rafters, allowing the location of the perfect vantage point to deploy a stealthy cheapshot with your Archer Heavy Rocket, straight to the back of a faltering Titan’s shiny dome.
Class customisation and its interface is intuitive and clearly modelled closely on those still used in the COD series, so migrants to Titanfall will feel comfortable and at ease from the off. Class customisation extends as far as offering a slot each for a Primary Weapon, an Anti-Titan Weapon, a Sidearm, and a Tactical Ability which offers a boost to a specific stat area, such as the ‘Stim’, which augments speed and your rate of health regen. Also open for selection is your type of ordnance, specialised either for Titan demolition, anti-personnel or disorientation. Each tier in the kit slots alow for a range of gamechanging ability improvements, for instance the Enhanced Parkour Kit that increases your agility and proficiency when using the jetpack unit to wall-run and double jump. As more of these unlock, the scope for player differentiation is sure to open up broadly, allowing gamers to specialise and develop a definite role within their squad. Other aspects worthy of mention are what appears to be a fairly chunky challenge system, to motivate exploration of the various class types and discovery of new techniques to aid you in your incessant mangling of foes.
Endlessly entertaining, Titanfall is sure to be a timesink of epic proportions. Keep an eye out for our review as release grows near and until then keep your gears oiled and your finger on the trigger, Titanfall is imminent.
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Genre: 6 vs 6 Multiplayer Shooter
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Release: March 14th 2014