For the uninitiated, Titanfall is the upcoming first-person multiplayer shooter from from-the-ashes studio Respawn Entertainment, headed by Vince Zampella and formerly Jason West, the original masterminds behind the now-empty shell of Infinity Ward. Though the title went hush-hush for the longest time under the watchful shadow of publisher EA, the Microsoft platform exclusive title is due to drop early next year.
Having seen the mech shooter behind closed doors at this past E3 alongside partner-in-crime and regular podcast cohort Jen Bosier, my excitement was clear as the fine folks on the Respawn development team showed us what Titanfall was all about. A long series of animated gestures and delighted cursing spewing from my being certainly showed my eagerness for the title, all the while Jen was laughing under her breath at my youth-like enthusiasm.
The fast, multiplayer action both on foot and inside the giant mechanical suits is sure to be a hit with those that have long enjoyed the Call of Duty games and the incredibly plebeian Transformers live action movies from Michael Bay, but there’s something to be said about the possible lack of that je ne sais quoi.
For example, have a gander at this gameplay video from IGN.
Damn, that looks awesome, doesn’t it? The jetpacks and the parkour-esque movement on foot, up and through buildings, along walls and such. Things get even more intense when the mechs get involved, as the titanic figures fall (DOOO HO HO HO) from the sky to make battle far more interesting. Bigger, more powerful guns take down your foes, an electromagnetic shield turns bullets into reverse bullets, and the ability to straight up trample puny humans beneath your massive metal feet—all these features change the battlefield into a spectacle of carnage.
Moreover, the Titans change the dynamics of the human warriors, as they can eject from their giant metal shells (and be gunned down in the air as a result), the greater mobility as a pedestrian offers opportunities to assault mechs with tactical flanking, and the contrast in firepower is scaled in the idea that humans can take down mechs with the right combination of skill advantage and well-placed shots.
In turn, humans change the dynamic for the Titans, having scurrying threats around the battlefield that can mount your mech and sabotage you without your knowing. Grenades and rockets at a distance can be devastating, and multiple moving targets will easily take down a distracted mech pilot with the greatest of ease, despite the height and armoring advantages.
Take what you know about Battlefield‘s coordinated military movement and combine it with the giant robot action of Hawken and the result probably looks a lot like Titanfall. Throw in a dash of upgraded paths that will likely be available for weapons, humans, and mechs alike and Titanfall seems quite appealing.
Everything is apparently in place to make an amazing multiplayer game, but that’s just it—a multiplayer game. Despite having a narrative woven into the gameplay through character chatter and non-player character interaction, that’s all Titanfall will ever be; a series of multiplayer matches with a semblance of plot threaded into them to give the illusion of progression when, in the end, you are just running and gunning in and out of a giant metal suit with such and such objective.
While multiplayer is certainly an attractive aspect, selling millions of copies of Call of Duty every year, it is only part of the package experience, with some players being drawn to a single player experience (like yours truly), or a cooperative game type which has become more prevalent in recent years. Furthermore, selling straight up multiplayer games is a “ballache” to sell. It’s a gamble. On one hand, you could have a great product that players could enjoy for many moons to come. On the other hand, with the lack of a forward-moving narrative and potentially sluggish install base and likely lack of cross-platform play, the barriers become larger to overcome.
Launching simultaneously next year on the Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Windows PC seems like a dangerous endeavor, especially when the appeal to sell a new platform, the One, will be ever-so-high in Microsoft’s eyes. That said, it’s unlikely a great deal of users will plunge for the Xbox One to take advantage of the cloud computing potential of the system, leaving a massive install base for the 360 and more-than-ready gaming PCs to enjoy the multiplayer shooter. Why abandon a platform that is readily available to you and has the capability for features that aren’t likely to sell you anyway?
It comes down to the idea that a multiplayer-only game has no lasting appeal in the grand scheme of things. While multiplayer is certainly a draw to many, it often isn’t the only dynamic that people look for in a title. Exampling Call of Duty once more, how many players who religiously play online against others took the time to explore other game modes, including the single player and cooperative campaigns? A safe guess would be upwards of 90% of players, which seems generous, but when you’re shelling out $60 and tax for a game, why wouldn’t you want to get your money’s worth and explore all your options?
In contrast, we have games like Team Fortress 2, another multiplayer endeavor, that still has a strong install base with many players to this day, but constantly has game updates, introduction of new modes, and loads of game updates that keep it feeling fresh, even though in the end it feels just like the same kart pushing game you’ve known and loved throughout the years.
This troublesome ideal ties back to the thought that EA is the publisher and, well, they’re known for laughably being the ‘Worst Company in America’, though some of their policies are questionable. From spearheading online passes to weaving in microtransactions into most of their games, what’s to stop them from turning Titanfall into a nickel-and-diming machine? Hawken, as fun as it is, already has that problem where slow progression despite dozens of matches will “encourage” you to put some money into the game.
Mech customizations, from superficial bits to firepower, will more than likely be part of the EA Money Machine outside of the occasional map pack to expand both your battlefields and the storylines for, again, the illusion of progression.
Lastly, and most importantly, those who did not follow the Activision/West-Zampella drama from a bit ago will see Titanfall as a no-name company with a brand new, never-before-seen IP. Respawn Entertainment, despite having the powerful hand of EA supporting it and several important industry veterans behind it, have zero commercial success to speak of, unlike the time-and-time again successful Call of Duty titles from Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer, and Treyarch, each with a fantastic amount of steam behind them and years of credibility crafting their niche as multiplayer juggernauts.
Titanfall just readily doesn’t seem like something to commercialize. We’re unlikely to see troves of Titanfall beanies or posters make their way to shelves at electronics stores because of demand. Multiplayer-only sequels to Titanfall, should they be realized, will be an equally hard sell, especially if this first title sees poor sales in the long run. Taking the multiplayer ideas and crafting a single player for a potential future title seems to negate the original premise of the title to be a multiplayer-only affair, compromising the integrity of the developers’ vision. Any way you slice it, it becomes a hard sell.
Now, all of this isn’t to say that Titanfall will be bad. No, Titanfall will most certainly be awesome. Titanfall will be a hoot to play with friends and strangers alike, with all the frustrations that accompany a multiplayer title. However, you’ll soon forget about it for something more demanding of your time and Titanfall will just be a distant memory with several hours of fun poured into it. A one-trick pony if there ever was one.