Developer: Respawn Entertainment Publisher: EA Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One
When we wrote our first Titanfall preview back in late 2013 our response was, like most of the gaming press, overwhelmingly positive with Rick praising the game’s non-stop action, slick gameplay and particularly the free-running freedom its jetpack-toting ‘Pilots’ allowed. We recently got a second chance to have an extended hands-on with the game, playing it both on Xbox One and PC and although there’s still lots to like, we definitely came away with a few more concerns this time round.
The immediate approachability of the game, which is key to its design philosophy, was still in evidence and at first much appreciated. The gameplay is new yet reassuringly familiar and controlling your Pilot or the Titans with either controller or keyboard and mouse is effortless - this is particularly impressive in the case of the Pilots whose wall-running, double-jumping abilities feel completely natural within minutes of first playing the game.
Developer Respawn has also made a real effort to make the challenge of the game very balanced so that newbies and pros can both have fun. One of the chief ways this is achieved is by trying to ensure there is a decent amount of time between deaths, even for new players. The most obvious way this is accomplished is through your Pilot’s agility that makes them a difficult target for even the sharpest shooter. Then of course there’s the titular Titans which every player gets to use every two minutes – players can reduce this time by scoring points but everyone still gets a go.
Perhaps most crucially, though, there’s the fact the game is limited to 12 players with six on each team. This means PvP encounters are less frequent and instead the map is filled up with AI soldiers, called grunts, who provide plenty of easy cannon fodder.
It’s an interesting solution to the problem of satisfying both experienced and new players and of course it plays into this idea that Titanfall is a ‘campaign multi-player’ – a multi-player game that has moments and elements that you’d normally expect in a single-player campaign. However, while certainly effective in making the game approachable it also makes it less satisfying. Instead of feeling like you got one over an opponent the grunts just feel like a distraction. Maybe it would be different if you really are new to FPS but for anyone with a modicum of skill in the genre will find them a little too easy to dispatch. It also doesn’t help that it’s not immediately obvious which character is a grunt and which a real player, so you don’t know who might pose the greater threat.
The greatest joy in Titanfall comes when larking about wall-running and double-jumping as a Pilot.
This tweaking of the conventions of FPS games doesn’t end there either. Respawn has also limited the use of sniper rifles to level 9 and above users. Instead the so-called sniper class starts off with a homing-bullet pistol that can lock onto multiple enemies and dispatch a lethal volley of fire. It’s a really interesting addition to the arsenal but not only did it feel almost game-breakingly easy to use – especially when playing with keyboard and mouse – but we strongly disagree with the approach of limiting powerful scoped weapons because they can be abused: this isn’t sport, it’s war!
The auto-aiming pistol is almost game-breaking - in the above sequence we took out around 10 men in three 'shots'.
In fact, that line could be used to describe the whole slightly odd feeling that Titanfall creates. It’s supposed to be this meld of multi-player fun with single-player theatre all set in a war-torn futuristic world. In reality, though, it feels more like a game of jumpball with guns.
Now there are plenty of games that do ‘fun with guns’ very well, from the likes of Unreal Tournament to Team Fortress 2, but Titanfall was billed as something more than that. Where are the spaceships, the tanks and everything else that would actually make this feel like part of a larger war? We’re not saying it has to offer the scale and variety of Battlefield but a little more of a sense of place would be nice.