Titanfall Review

[As Read on GIO.]

The stories are true. Titanfall really is a different beast, a new breed of classic mixed with advanced multiplayer combat and integrated story. There really is a somewhat seamlessly integrated campaign and multiplayer transition present within the game, which is certainly an interesting aside to delve into when you aren’t specifically pursuing straight up multiplayer objectives. Where Titanfall breaks molds however, it also flails under the whip of convention and repetition. Interestingly enough, though there is a story to be found amongst the framework established by the literal clash of titans and two private military corporations on alien worlds, it isn’t so much the narrative that is told that grips me and should enthrall other players, but that which isn’t expanded upon. Confused? I wouldn’t blame you for not understanding exactly what that seemingly paradoxical statement means. Although there is most definitely an established narrative threaded through Titanfall’s brief (nine missions or so to be exact) campaign of sorts, and a narrative similarly set for each of the two opposing forces, it is the backstory and the story of the powerful technology they now wield that interests me more. Sure, we don’t know all the details, yet this mystery actually makes it all the more intriguing to me, at the least.

Interestingly enough, as though they set each multiplayer match to have specific guidelines yet still seem to freely move about and morph for their duration, it is neat to see how the matches themselves draw upon classic mission and level setups in most conventional games, while still remaining true multiplayer matchups in their own right. There is of course a telltale beginning and ending to each match, as is common, but there is also a veritable climax and heightening of tensions normally around the middle of matches or at the final quarter, where things heat up once more before exploding into victory or ruin, dependent upon your compatriots and their actions. As a story-driven narrative, Titanfall fails, however as a truly frenetic and dramatic shooter and multiplayer destination for a new console, it succeeds beyond even my expectations, leaving me pleasantly surprised and interested to see what becomes of it as the year progresses. Asking all sorts of questions like “What kind of DLC support will it have?”, “What level of player feedback?”, etcetera etcetera.

The playing modes of Titanfall are actually pretty sparse, as is the brief collection of maps thus far available to consumers, however, coupled with the smaller number of players in matches this actually works quite well to press the game’s advantages and unique combat encounters. Each mode is significantly different, although they all focus around the core principles of varying degrees of teamwork (unless it is deathmatch, essentially) between pilots and mechanized titans. Your pilots drop in a la ODSTs or HALO jumpers and from here on the battle rages after defensive positions are taken up or sporadic charges are made towards enemy positions. Eventually, orbital silos deploy titans to the battlefield, both remotely called in and randomly generated, to wreak havoc through their ‘titanfall’ and through damage they deal afterwards. There is a certain air of strategy to some game modes and a reckless, action-packed abandon for kills and few deaths in others. Balancing between these two fine lines is one of the more well-handled aspects of each game mode, as with the exception of Pilot Hunter (essentially DM), most modes require objective-based combat and teamwork. The winning team can shift at any particular time, especially in close matches, and the randomness you will encounter on the battlefield simulates exactly what I would imagine a futuristic, large scale assault would.

By the end of the match, losing players will be rushing for their departing dropship in retreat, and your team- assuming you’re the winning one, can choose to press the advantage in an attempt to destroy your fleeing adversaries or pause and lick your wounds before the next match. The gameplay may be action-packed, but the ever-shifting core dynamics of each match and mode type ensure that it is just as strategic as a full-blown role-playing simulation strategy title as something like Star Craft or Civilizations, to a certain degree. One of the most well-done aspects of the game I mentioned has been balancing, and I can think of no greater example than the simple fact that titans are gigantic and pilots are tiny in comparison, and yet the maps work well catering to large and small scale assaults, and the gameplay never comes across as unfair towards either side. Pilots gracefully thrust across the map- double jumping and freerunning to their heart’s content, dodging the titanic mechs barbecuing their friends, and mostly relying on stealth and the element of surprise in encounters both against the larger foes and other pilots. You shouldn’t just focus on avoiding or taking out titans as a pilot however, as you’ll constantly be assaulted by powerful close quarters foes with the ever-annoying yet pretty epic hand cannon that auto-headshots pretty much anything (yet somehow doesn’t entirely ruin balancing) or a good old trusty shotgun.

Titans on the other hand make the player feel empowered and like a true machine of pure destruction with a small payload and ability to annihilate nearly any opposition, even other titan types. Crush your freerunning pilot adversaries, blast them out of the air, blow up strategic areas of the map, shoot other titans, or even using your falling titan called in moments ago as a satellite guided missile to destroy another hulking behemoth- it’s all at your fingertips, potentially. Somehow, Respawn has worked magic and made it possible to navigate maps quickly and efficiently as both small pilots in more vertical close quarters areas, and as hulking monstrosities in more laid out open expanses, and each approach is equally fun and a blast- sometimes quite literally. The action will stay fresh match after match, pretty much regardless of what game types you choose or which ones you enjoy the most, mainly because these dynamics keep them going and really keep players invested and interested- not only in the frantic and empowering yet not overpowering action, but also in the upgrade tree and systematic unlocks that go hand in hand with it.

At this point, you’re probably wondering about the player count and several other bold decisions Respawn made when approaching combat and online play, and only recently announced shortly before actually releasing the game from its Beta. Well, first I’d like to tell you to pretty much disregard whatever it is you’ve heard up until this point concerning these factors, and to read what is coming in the next section of this review, as it should clear most things up for you in a relatively concise manner. Yes, the matches are only six versus six, with the exception of additional non-playable characters who make up the rest of the impressive roster. However, were there to be any question of them not being energetic enough or large enough, I would scoff because these are easily some of the most action-packed matches I’ve played in any shooter and the fact that it offers more with literally less is quite astounding in all honesty. Despite the maps being on a larger scale, there isn’t a lack of close quarters combat or enemy encounters as there may be in really grand-scale maps such as in expansive shooters in the Battlefield series (I’m thinking Caspian Border here). There is only you and your titan, and the other players have the same tools or capabilities at their disposal, albeit with a few upgrades. Then of course you have a few non-playable extras with grunts, spectres, cannons, and the likes of other interesting weaponry.

It’s not too terribly difficult to maintain a good kills, deaths, and points ratio, as Respawn’s larger conflicts actually keep cautious or at least strategic players alive for longer times than you would at first think. If you pace yourself and work together, alternating between titan and pilot, and even helping out teammates, you’ll survive for several minutes- highly unlikely in most other, smaller scale shooters. The enemy AI isn’t always the greatest and could certainly use work, however it never really detracts too much from the experience as they are usually fodder for extra experience and kills, adding some breathing room in between encounters with living, breathing players. However, don’t scoff at the AI and brush it off as incompetent, or you’ll be sorely displeased when they take advantage or your not paying attention and kill your titan with you still in it with very low health.

I mentioned previously that there are only a few different match types and that they aren’t entirely customizable. Well, some of this has and will continue to be changed as DLC packs release I am sure, and with the announcement of customizable titan features I am sure that will only increase in magnitude. However, the major game modes available at this time are Attrition- large scale team based combat, Pilot Hunter- kill enemy pilots for team points a la TDM/DM, Hardpoint- grab and hold territories for points, CTF- pretty much traditionally ruled, and Last Titan Standing- try to kill the enemy titans while staying alive (everyone starts as a titan). Although there are only a few modes to play, the replayability factor maintains the freshness and action across a plethora of matches and means you’ll constantly be getting upgrades and enjoying yourself despite good or lackluster performances. However, what does kind of suck is the campaign’s unwillingness to move ahead past anything encountered throughout the normal multiplayer matches and a lack of truly different scenarios in the campaign to set it apart from the multiplayer. The only difference is that there are special intro and outro scenes for each of the battles and voice overs for some non-playable characters and speeches as well.

The progression system inevitably feels similar to Call of Duty- understandable considering many of the folks at Respawn came from Infinity Ward, and yet the progression also maintains a different feel as well. You’re constantly being offered more loadout slots for pilots and titans, new upgrade kits, new weaponry, mods, and other small arms. Whereas some mod additions are in short supply and are game changers, others are more commonly found and easier to unlock as well. Once you’ve unlocked everything and made it through fifty levels of experience, you are given the ability to essentially prestige and get to a Generation 2 pilot. Do the same thing again and you’ll make it to Generation 10 by the end, and be rewarded soundly for your efforts through experience and growth as a player and pilot. Unlike Call of Duty, there aren’t many unlocks after each generation, so you may be tempted to stay as a high level and not regenerate considering your only reward is essentially a few achievements. Burn cards serve as short use and rapid fire armaments and bonuses and are constantly piling up between matches, adding a little more unpredictability to the mix and making things more frantic than ever in upgrades.

Because Titanfall is only an online game, obviously that factor is very important to the overall presentation of the finished product and the quality it shows. So far, a little over a month in, I’ve been impressed by how it has held up and how well the server has done despite a few crashes and notable glitches in need of fixing. Respawn has thus far handily addressed most issues as of now and I can only imagine this will motivate other players to join the ongoing battle and cash in to buy the pretty good quality of game they’ve released. It’s been a massive risk to create such an online reliant product of a game, yet it has worked thus far and seems to be ready to for the foreseeable future. It’s good to finally see something equal parts unique and familiar on the market without an all too overbearing series name to put behind the tagline. Entertaining, quality, and new.

Concept: Titans and pilots alike battle it out over large scale maps that push equal parts vertical assault and expansive land battles, testing your wits and your ability to think fast and on your feet as you run through chaotic attacks.

Graphics: Especially for a multiplayer only title, the graphics look crisp and framerates run pretty well across all consoles (next gen and current). Sure, there are noticeable differences, yet they do not detract from the experience as a whole.

Sound: The voice work, where it is found, is professional and spot on in the moments. The ambiance is also excellently sounded out and soundtrack of accompanying noises of battle work fantastically as well.

Playability: The amount of control given to players is astounding and the fact that there are so many things to do and yet the controls still feel tight and not sloppily packed together is pretty amazing. Each button does a specific or even multiple tasks, and works well.

Entertainment: Definitely an entertaining experience on the whole, and a fun evolution of multiplayer combat- however slowly it may be reversing the directions we’ve had to constantly travel with well-known series.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.75

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