Last week I spent two and a half hours playing Titanfall – EA’s six-a-side, multiplayer- and Microsoft-only shooter.
It was enormous fun. In fact, I can think of ten things right now it was better than: sitting on a larger than average pine cone without any trousers on, eating a raw hammer, doing some proper work... I won’t go on. But when I put the controller down I was left feeling that it wasn’t quite the FPS awakening the hype had led me to expect.
Titanfall is a game about being a big robot (a Titan). It’s also a game about not being a big robot (a human pilot). Learning the relative strengths and weaknesses of both and making the most of them is crucial to avoiding titanfail, and I’d read that this double-pronged approach to online fragging breathed new life into a world dominated by teenagers with too much time to practise. I had high hopes.
It all starts off well. The first time you watch a Titan fall to earth like a meteorite and then ‘mount up’ – a bit like Warren G and Nate Dogg (RIP) from the year 2203 might – feels brilliant. Grasped by your robo-chum, you’re shoved inside his metal torso, ready to lay waste to all around you.
Titans are slow and cumbersome, with only short dashes in each direction possible. They’re also restricted to terra firma, meaning they can’t jump or climb stairs. If it’s not wheelchair accessible, it’s not Titan accessible. Apparently the Daleks taught them nothing.
But what Titans lack in mobility they make up for in firepower, with the kind of weaponry that makes ED-209’s cannons look like spud guns. You can customise the loadout of both your Titan and pilot, with new weapons unlocked as you level up. There are also added perks that often don’t come into play until death, such as auto-eject, or a nuclear self-destruct mode that turns anything in the vicinity to toast when your Titan expires. Their arsenal also includes a Vortex Shield, which can be used to halt incoming bullets and missiles in mid-air, Magneto-style, before flinging them back the way they came.
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Keep on running
Playing as an organic, fleshy human is a vastly different experience. Nimbly scampering around between the feet of massive mechs while they do battle above you is also pretty awesome (until one of them treads on you), while each pilot’s wall-running and jetpack-assisted jumping abilities mean clambering around the map is a joy. Where Assassin’s Creed often feels like a set of predetermined moves strung together, Titanfall’s parkour gives it the freedom of a 3D platformer.
On foot you also have the advantage of being able to sneak down alleyways and hide in buildings; safe places where Titans can’t go (just stay away from the doors and windows). Rooftops also provide a good high vantage point from which to attack the more vulnerable points around the robots’ heads. If you want, you can even jump on a Titan’s back to hitch a ride, or unload a clip down its neckhole.
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Tactical layer cake
Dotted around each map you’ll also find computer-controlled enemies that function largely as cannon fodder, but can act as all-too-tempting distractions in the heat of battle. It’s all very well gleefully gunning down a grunt for a few easy points, but you won’t be so smug when a human opponent shoots you in the back as you do so.
And therein lies Titanfall’s biggest strength. You do battle on multiple levels: robot to robot, human to human, and various combinations of both. You can abandon your Titan at any time, instructing it to guard its position or follow you around. Unsurprisingly, using a 20-foot robot as a decoy while you activate your cloaking device and sneak about on ground level can be a very effective tactical weapon. After all, you can’t just hide a massive mech in a cupboard; this isn’t Metal Gear Solid.
These tactical layers are far more pronounced than any FPS character class system (although there’s one of those too) and it does help to level the playing field – but only a bit. I still found myself propping up the bottom of the leaderboard in a lot of rounds and the people I was playing against can only have played the game once or twice before too. The only game mode I did well in was Hardpoint, which, aside from the killing, rewards points for going to a place and standing there for a bit without dying. I was pretty good at that.
A next-gen game-changer?
Rather than being an entirely new FPS experience, Titanfall ultimately reminded me most of Battlefield 4. Switch the robots for tanks and choppers and you’ve got EA’s COD rival, just on a smaller scale (plus you won’t need to spend hours learning how to pilot the Titans without embarrassingly crashing into a radio mast). And that’s not a bad thing.
I’m not saying Titanfall is a poor game; far from it. It’s the Xbox One’s first designed-for-next-gen shooter and it’s a vital weapon in its fightback against the PlayStation 4’s initial dominance. We’d take it over Killzone any day of the week. It’s just not the gaming game-changer you might’ve been led to believe.
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