After hearing every other games journalist at this year’s Gamescom gushing over Titanfall like the cast of Sex In A City over a handbag full of cupcakes, after Microsoft VP Phil Harrison called it “a moment that will define this generation”, I shuffled into EA’s busiest booth with a full clip of scepticism. Can it really live up to the hype?
After all, it’s just a multiplayer-only deathmatch. I’ve spent plenty of time getting blown up and sniped by people who are much better at Battlefield and Call of Duty than I am. If you don’t have the spare time to get good at those games, the relentless respawning can quickly wear thin.
Who needs reality?
As you begin playing, though, it’s clear that Titanfall is a faster, more futuristic experience, with less concern for realism. You start out as a ‘pilot’, a regular human soldier with a small jetpack that enables you to perform double jumps and the ability to bounce and scramble onto ledges and rooftops. The parkour-style movement is slightly reminiscent of Brink, but without the distracting arm-scrabbling stuff.
As a pilot you hit the ground running and continue sprinting and firing until you’re dead, which normally happens with the help of one of the Titans, 25-foot-high mech warriors that stamp about the place firing rockets and man-sized guns at you until you explode. At this level it’s a superb fast-paced fragfest, but this is very much a two-level game.
Punching enemies with giant mechanical fists
After two minutes, a voice in your ear announces that your Titan is ready. You pick a spot, and the giant warsuit is beamed down for you to climb into. Although my headphones were full of frenetic explosions and gunfire, I became aware that I was cackling slightly too loudly for the crowded booth. I may also, to my embarrassment, have said “ohohoh yeah”.
What follows is a couple of minutes of absolute joy, as you stamp about the place hosing the enemy with heavy munitions and punching them into pink mist with your giant mechanical fists. Your killing spree doesn’t last long because your Titan, being huge and extremely noisy, is also a bit of a bullet magnet, but getting blown up in a Titan is almost the best bit: hit the ejector seat, shoot vertically out of your burning, exploding mech, land on a rooftop, and resume combat.
If you’ve really been practising, land on an enemy Titan, shove your gun between thick cables of its neck and unload a clip into its central nervous system.
Giant robots for the win
The graphics are superb, the Source engine is perfectly suited to this sort of fast-paced fun and the sound is huge, but what really makes Titanfall such enormous fun is its type-switching combat system. It levels the field enough that even if you’re rubbish, it’s fairly easy to get a few kills, because as a Titan you’ll always take out a few pilots, and as a pilot you’re manouverable enough to get on top of a Titan now and then.
It removes the frustration of constantly being killed by better players, without ever notching up any points. Also it has massive robots. I kept playing until I was asked to leave, and then I snuck back in later and just sat down and played it some more.
I do still have a couple of questions regarding how long the love affair will last once the initial fervour dies down, and whether it’ll be as good on the less powerful hardware of the Xbox 360 - but otherwise, I'm hooked.