Developer: Respawn Entertainment Publisher: EA Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One,
Of all the games we saw at this year's Eurogamer Expo, there was one that stood out by a clear-cut mile. Perhaps it shouldn't have come as a surprise, given the enormous, two-hour long queue that snaked around the game's booth for the entire duration of the show, but it did. That game was Titanfall, developed by Respawn Entertainment, the company founded by the former heads of Call of Duty developer Infinity Ward. It's an apt name for their company, as the first-person shooter hasn't looked this fresh and invigorated since the original Modern Warfare.
In fact, for the next paragraph I'm going to break bit-tech editorial protocol, because I desperately want to tell you how excited I am, personally, about this game. While queuing to play Titanfall I was stood with Alan Williamson, editor of videogame culture magazine Five Out Of Ten, and an old friend of mine. We were joking about how sad it was that, after their break with Activision and Infinity Ward, and getting the chance to start afresh with their own company, the game Respawn had decided to make was Yet. Another. First-Person Shooter. Put it this way, you get a blank cheque from EA to create whatever you want, and you decide to add to the mass of grey-looking multiplayer gun-orgies populated by hormonally unstable adolescent boys?
Nonetheless, we sat down, and played a match that lasted maybe ten minutes. Once it was finished, we put down our gamepads, removed our headphones, and looked at one another:
"That was incredible."
"Yep. Absolutely amazing."
It's not that Titanfall does any individual thing, or has any single standout feature, that sets it apart in this most crowded of gaming genres. Instead it seamlessly amalgamates many disparate elements that have cropped up in FPS' over the years, single and multi-player, old and new. You've got mechs, you've got jetpacks, you've got a campaign and objectives, you've got team-deathmatch, you've got killstreaks and perks. But all of these are moulded into one single, cohesive experience that feels radically different from any FPS we've played in years.
Ok, let's break this down a bit. The demo we played began with a scripted sequence for both teams outlining the objectives of that particular mission. No wait, actually it began with us selecting one of three classes of soldier (known-in game as Pilots) to play as, alongside one of three classes of mech, (known in-game as Titans) to use in-game. Both scripted events and class selection will be familiar to anyone who has played Call of Duty in either single or multiplayer before. Except of course this was all multiplayer. Those introductory sequences, whether it's being shipped into the battlefield by a dropship, or sneaking a few pilots into the area via a drainage system, add a sense of purpose to the multiplayer that hasn't been there previously. It's somewhat reminiscent of Unreal Tournament's Assault mode, except there's a team-deathmatch sandwiched in the middle.
Once both teams are good to go, they make a direct dash to the battle-zone. In this case it was a map called Angel City, the same one you see in the debut video for Titanfall. It’s boxy futuristic condos, neon signage and tight-twisting alleyways. This rush into combat doesn't occur just at ground level, however. Every Pilot is equipped with a short-range jetpack that allows them to double-jump and run along walls. Again, this is somewhat similar to Tribes: Ascend, but there's no long-distance jetpacking here, instead you're scrambling along structures and billboards, pulling yourself onto rooftops or hopping into second-story windows. It's less about speed and more centred around using the map's architecture in all three of its dimensions to get around, above and behind the enemy.
Movement in Titanfall feels fantastic. It's also remarkably easy to get to grips with. A sad fact of playing games at an expo like Eurogamer is that you tend to have just about got a feel for the controls by the time the demo finishes. With Titanfall it took all of a minute, maybe two. Also, speaking as primarily a PC gamer, playing an FPS with a gamepad usually feels as effective as hammering a nail with a tomato. With Titanfall, however, this wasn't the case at all. The game felt remarkably at home on a pad, and that it wasn't a hindrance to somebody used to the immediate responsiveness of a mouse is quite an achievement.