In the weeks and months since its initial unveiling, the words TitanFall and Game of [insert show here], have hardly been estranged bedfellows.
So keen was I to see if there was more to Respawn‘s debut effort than merely hyperbole flavoured bollocks, I queued up for something approaching two, nearly bowel compromising hours. Thankfully, the wait was more than worth it and made something abundantly clear in my mind; it won’t be Battlefield that will steal away the Call of Duty crowd, it’ll be TitanFall. With ease.
Beyond all the spectacular destruction that you could sow with the titular mechanized Titans, always my biggest concern with Titanfall was how it would feel to be in the near-future jackboots of the game’s pilots; the immediate impression being that it would amount to little more than Call of Duty with jetpacks.
In practice, comparisons to Activision‘s annual money printing machine are revealed as wide of the mark; TitanFall’s on-foot gameplay is already a great deal more versatile and fun than popular twitchy military shooter, even in its pre-Alpha state.
Enabling the sort of verticality and acrobatics that Call of Duty’s staunchly modern setting could never fully realise, Titanfall introduces the likes of wall running, jumping between structures, double jumping and jetpack boosting alongside the retention of the tremendous responsiveness and immediacy which have long been the hallmarks of Infinity Ward‘s current-gen defining franchise.
This newly realised physicality has very real ramifications to the run and gun formula too. The longer you sprint along the side of all wall, the farther your double-jump will be, allowing you to cover great distance in an extremely short period of time. The maps themselves have actually been tailored to leverage all this jetpack powered tomfoolery also, with the developer bullishly claiming that you could start at one end of the map and reach the other without even touching the floor once.
I would have put the merits of such a boast to the test but frankly, I had more pressing matters to worry about, chiefly among them; not taking a rocket to the face.
Naturally, the best way to mitigate this sort of rocket on face action is to make sure you do unto others before they do unto you and in this case, the game offers you three classes of pilot and Titan with which for you to do so with aplomb.
Pilots are essentially the foot soldiers of TitanFall’s battle-scarred realm and as such players are able to choose between the Assault, Tactical and CQB classes with each packing a main weapon, sidearm and a special cloaking ability which makes them invisible to other players. For reference purposes there were another five empty slots to allow for additional classes, so expect even more variety in the final game.
As you might reasonably infer by their monikers, each class has its function; the Assault class is geared towards longer range combat by virtue of its assault rifle, while the Tactical and CQB variations are tailored towards closer, more personal encounters with the smart pistol and the EVA-8 shotgun belonging to the former and latter respectively.
Speaking of these guns, some of them are pretty nifty too. The smart pistol for example, allows you to track, target and kill up to three enemies in separate locations with its secondary fire mode; the squeezing of the trigger resulting in the dispersal of corner-dodging projectiles that each hit the mark in glorious, satisfying unison.
In the event that you have a pair of working eyes and have seen the smattering of media previously released for TitanFall, you may have gathered that its not just other pilots you’ll be scrapping with and that more often than not, you’ll come to face-to-knee with one of the game’s titular Titans.
A sodding great big stomping mech with a vile, murderous bastard trapped inside, Titan’s are notoriously difficult things to kill in spite of what the media released to date might suggest. Luckily, Respawn have balanced all the pilot classes well enough that they at least have a chance against these towering nightmares as each class possesses a unique anti-Titan weapon to even up the playing field.
Fancy weapons or not though, taking on a Titan without being in one yourself is to invite the sort of long and protracted battle that you probably won’t survive without decent tactics or some other folks to back you up. Sure, you can time a perfect jump so that you land on its head and try and shoot out its circuitry as the videos have shown, but again in practice, this proves to be a much more difficult feat than the promotional materials infer.
Of course, evening up the odds by clambering into a Titan yourself is probably your best bet; with the hulking mechanical behemoths summoned from orbit to a space of your choosing when the option becomes available.
As with the pilots, Titan’s come in multiple flavours, namely the Main Battle Titan, Heavy Weapon Titan and High Explosive Titan. Though I did not get to grips with all of them, I did get a chance to see some of the abilities which distinguish them.
The Main Battle Titan for example, can create a force-field which stops bullets in their tracks and allows you to return them to sender so long as you release the field in time (not doing so causes the bullets to hit you instead). The Heavy Weapon Titan on the other hand can conjure up an electrical storm which can slow down Titan’s and royally screw up their UI; providing vital moments of distraction for you to make good your escape or press the attack depending on your circumstances.
In a game where death can come from and be dealt from more angles and avenues than you can count, TitanFall seems to neatly balance the instantly gratifying chaos of combat while allowing for enough tactical latitude to ensure that teams that work together, win together too. While it may seem to be a mess of stomping robots, explosions and XP accumulation prompts to observers, the developers have really hit the sweet spot between accessibility and mastery that only those who have experienced the game first hand can fully appreciate.
Furthermore, while the map on display at Expo didn’t engender the sort of epic theater of Battlefield’s more open engagements, it nonetheless feels like a much more active, more immediate conflict where literal and figurative ascension doesn’t solely fall into the purview of those brave enough to grip the flight controls of the nearest helicopter or fighter jet.
The map wasn’t just a static host to a singular mission or set of objectives either.
Respawn’s game you see, boasts a dynamic narrative mission structure which changes depending on where the momentum of battle lies. In the Expo demo, one side had to rescue a pilot who was captured behind enemy lines while the opposing side was tasked with foiling the attempt. During my playthrough however, we failed to rescue the pilot and the mission goals spontaneously changed on the same map to an extraction objective where we all had to escape in space transports before the enemy was able to overrun us.
Sitting alongside the progressive elements seen elsewhere in the game, these dynamic mission objectives are just one more example of how Titanfall is looking to not only distance itself from its contemporaries, but further the genre at large.
All of this chaos wouldn’t be possible without a robust chunk of middleware to support it and a heavy modified version of Valve‘s Source Engine proves to be a more than worthy suitor. TitanFall effortlessly and frequently summons breathtaking scenes of carnage and furious conflict layered over by some incredible effects (the electric storm especially) and hugely impressive animation of the Titans themselves which never fails to distract with the appropriate awe.
Crucially, everything runs at a buttery smooth sixty frames per second which is key to maintaining the sort of low latency intrinsic to the game’s smoothly responsive gunplay. If there is any complaint to be made regarding the aesthetics, it would be that the character models look a tad dated; their facial details and animations betraying the nearly ten year old origin of the graphics engine which renders them.
As of right now, TitanFall stands as a revelation of innovation in a genre that is usually accused of suffering a complete lack of it, but more importantly than that, its absolutely fucking good fun.
Next year cannot come soon enough to see if it delivers on the remainder of its dizzying promise.
Published by Electronic Arts and developed by Respawn Entertainment, Titanfall will release early next year for PC, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.