As much as you may find yourself relinquishing your hard won chips to the grasping hands of EA a loathsome task, and come away with a vast sense of unfettered guilt and self-pity, as with all pacts Faustian, there is a certain element of reward to your deliverance of one gamer soul, right on the dotted line. By supporting the ‘Big Boys’ we are propping up an entrenched base of control, one that’s becoming ever more in vogue to publically despise, but also one that continues to occasionally drop a quality title into the mix, a Titan from the sky, if you will.
A muscle-tranquilising dart of ecstatic shmuppy love straight into the larynx to leave gamers far and wide speechless and with jaws akimbo. We may have landed amidst a flood of hyperbole, which won’t help given we’ve been drowning in floods of Mountain Dew-tainted gamer saliva in the months leading up to launch, but the excess and the excitement should inform us of one thing: there’s a reason we keep going back to the publishing giants, and it’s because now and then, they’ll drop a title like Titanfall.
This hypebeast has surely been brought onto the battlefield by enormous slave-armies of marketing bods, PR apes and design gibbons, with every other imaginable kind of corporate simian and primate making up the rank and file, arriving with such pomp and ceremony as might befit the arrival of a minor royal or even next season’s Game of Thrones premiere, such pomp and ceremony indeed that would demand years of practice in the ostrich art of burying one’s head in the sand to even consider ignoring.
It’s beyond argument that with all the marketing they’ve done, the monkeys have played a blinder. The intertubes are aflame with discussion, Twitch sessions and so on, as is to be expected with a title so enormously garbed with anticipation, and though expectations are rarely met when marketing and media collides in such a frenzied orgy before release, the fantasy too often proving beyond the capabilities of reality, it’s fallen to me for Console Monster, to fill you in on how near to those great expectations Respawn Entertainment’s little mech that could has landed.
Visually, despite scaling issues on Xbox ONE and the boatload of screen tearing that comes packaged with when things get frantic, Titanfall is a rather pretty specimen, and a varied and colourful one at that, which makes for a welcome departure from the endless seas of grey and brown that for some time have dominated the FPS genre.
Developers have gradually been wising up to the notion that the “gritty realism” of a colour palette limited exclusively to hues found in toilet bowels, burst water mains and Thames-water bear a finite appeal, and Respawn, wielding the creatively liberating torch of futuristic sci-fiction, have acknowledged a much broader swathe of the spectrum to serve up a lovingly crafted visual feast that, when unrestrained by technical limitations, immerses and enthrals. A raft of intricate character models, particularly the impressively sculpted titans, and fluid context specific animations accompany the heavily modified Source engine to slam a glut of information into the player’s eyes, for Titanfall is certainly a rather busy spectacle to look upon.
The density of this visual traffic can drive the tired gamer to insanity. With a lot going on for it, Titanfall is far from a relaxing late-night romp and will require an input of concentration before it offers the greatest of its rewards, what initially appears to be a deranged flurry of manic destruction will, in time, reveal its true nature – a nature demanding tactical application of strategy, an intimate knowledge of the maps and patience bordering on the saintly. Upon attainment of Titanic enlightenment, the game will appear changed entirely and the thoughtful player will find in their hands the keys to valour and to victory.
The formula that many will have experienced was fairly comprehensively exhibited in the open Beta, and for the most part the full game is just an expansion on that, with an exponentially increased level of carnage. The robust selection of fifteen maps at launch holds forth a plentiful array of environments to get your chainguns rattling, and though the slightly limited array of game modes here may grind some gears, the nature of Titanfall’s gameplay prevents, or at least hugely forestalls the onset of boredom and this, along with the divergence of gameplay between the on-foot Pilot and the mechanised Titans serves to shield the experience from frustration (particularly when your Titan gets logjammed against another), breaking it up into manageable fast-food bites of action. Even the closing minigame in certain matches, where the player must either flee or sweep up, depending on their team’s performance, serves to maintain Titanfall as a crisp and fresh casual shooter that will deliver time and time again.
The sound work is worth a mention, also. Too often ignored, sound is what pulls the visuals and the gameplay together to render (if successful) a sense of immersion, and Titanfall has you sucked in from the off. Well mastered sound effects and top drawer voicework, with a great range of character accents for depth and scope does itself justice throughout, and the accent differentiation lends credence to the notion that this is a battle between a humanity in fragments, man versus man, titan versus titan.
An unusual attempt by Respawn to integrate a storyline into the multiplayer experience here falls a little short, with nine missions for the IMC faction, and nine for the militia, consisting of story and cutscenes tacked onto either end of the match and some narrative dialogue carrying on in the background amidst the rumpus. There’s a reason this formula is so rarely seen and I would hazard that it has to do with the mind-set necessary to engage with a story jarring so terribly with the mind-set necessary to fully engage with multiplayer. Of course there will always be exceptions, and this is only a general rule, however with artillery salvos and endless swathes of hot metal shredding the air all around, it is quite a tall order to concern oneself with the corporate politics of a galactic mining corporation and the picture in picture narrative unfolding can prove quite the distraction. When you’re really in the thick of it, all you want to do is kick ass and chew bubblegum.
It’s really neither here nor there, though, as realistically no one is buying the game for its narrative potential. What everyone wants is a fast paced, visceral shooter that integrates an intuitive and crisp gameplay experience with a novel concept that hasn’t been mined to the point of sad impotence in years gone by, and with Titanfall that’s exactly what we’re getting. The boxes are all ticked and on that basis it’s hardly a detractor for the title that Respawn’s attempt at shoehorning a storyline in where it was neither wanted nor needed, and the effort deserves some credit for guiding players into the context and offering a quick burst tour through all the game’s modes and maps. Playing through the campaigns will yield a firm grip on all the game has to offer and it does help to flesh out Titanfall’s wiry frame.
The art direction is polymorphous and has contributed a wonderful selection of terrain features to interact with, and the innovative parkour system by which your pilots navigate the environments is worthy of the highest praise. It totally inverts the drudgery of charging through corridor after corridor and metamorphoses each map into a playground, just waiting for you the player to unleash whatever wanton destruction you may contrive.
Titanfall demands little but gives a lot. Whilst a greater selection of gunlocks and customisation may be demanded by those reared on recent iterations of the Call of Duty franchise, there’s enough here to set to work at. Level design of master quality, chaotic adrenaline-inducing gunplay, visuals to set the eyes alight, we may not be entering a truly next generation evolutionary stage of the first person shooter, but Respawn have definitely reached somewhat of a zenith with their little metal brainchild. If there’s a game so far to justify investing in an Xbox ONE, it’s Titanfall, so have your wallets at the ready. As the marketing minds have told us, life’s better with a Titan, and as loathe as I am to admit it, I’d probably have to agree.
Thanks to Xbox for our review copy of Titanfall.