Landing in a crater of hype bigger than any imprint left by the plummeting robots of its title, Titanfall is the biggest game of the new console generation so far. But does it live up to expectations? Just about.
It's raining 'bots
Titanfall is an online-only first-person shooter, with the added bonus of large robots periodically falling from the sky for you to climb inside and wreak havoc with – think Battlefield meets MechWarrior.
It begins with a vague story about a war that broke out after humans colonised a far away system of planets. You can skip this bit, or go and make a cup of tea while it plays, it’s largely irrelevant. All you need to know is you start off on foot and after a few minutes you’ll be able to summon your robo-pal.
A campaign unworthy of the name
The game is split into two modes. Campaign mode attaches vague narratives to two of the standard game types: Attrition and Hardpoint. You can happily ignore the story without any detriment to the game – it's all gravel-voiced thugs calling each other son-of-a-bitch, hardly Citizen Kane – but it works well as an extended online tutorial, introducing you to the basics of actual gameplay over nine different maps.
It’s all over in under two hours but you can play through again as the other side if you so wish (there’s the IMC and the Militia but they’re two sides of the same macho coin). By the end I’d leveled up enough to unlock Burn Cards, which give short-term power-ups to your player, such as faster sprinting, or a more powerful Titan.
However, once you’ve tried Classic mode chances are you’ll never touch the campaign again.
Classic mode ditches any sense of narrative and just lets you get down to business, adding Capture the Flag, Last Titan Standing, and Pilot Hunter to the Attrition and Hardpoint modes introduced in the Campaign. They’re pretty familiar FPS game modes, although the traditional character upgrade system offers all the incentive you’ll need to keep playing. Hardly groundbreaking, but if it ain’t broke, blast it to smithereens with a massive robot.
Attrition is well named. For someone like me who’s never going to top the leaderboard on kills alone, it removes most of the nuance involved in other game modes and retreats back into a standard FPS reaction test. The fun starts when you add in extra gameplay dimensions, such as flags to capture or bases to infiltrate and defend.
Tackling the Titans
Titanfall’s biggest strength is its many opportunities to earn points. You can go around killing AI-controlled grunts for easy points, although that feels slightly against the spirit of an online game. It won’t make you any more deadly against human opponents either, and you’ll still periodically get shot by human Pilots or squashed by Titans. The latter are mighty powerful but you’ll be rewarded handsomely for felling one, which makes it an exciting gamble to take. There are also challenges that award points for number of kills, distance travelled and time played.
The balance between Titan power and vulnerability is spot-on. They’re big targets that attract attention from both the other Titans and the much more nimble Pilots and their shields wear out with surprising speed. The maps offer very few places to hide a massive robot and most give Pilots multiple levels from which to mount an attack. That means boarding your Titan isn’t necessarily a huge advantage, just a different approach.
Silver linings Epilogue
To be successful in Titanfall you need much more than just the faster trigger finger. Using all the tools and power-ups available to you is crucial, particularly the short bursts of cloaking that you get by default. This isn’t a game of cover and fire – it’s about varying your attacks.
Maps are well designed to stop people camping, plus the choice to limit matches to teams of six means you have to keep moving if you want to find anyone to shoot. That means vertically, as well as laterally, with plenty of walls and windows to jump through and bounce off, using your Pilot’s jetpack to find areas other shooters can’t reach.
Each match also ends with an Epilogue, in which you either need to reach a dropship in order to escape, or stop the opposition from doing so to earn an extra few points. Leapfrogging a Titan into the waiting getaway vehicle (or shooting the enemy as they do so) is one of those 'Did you see that?' gaming moments that Titanfall seems to throw up with grin-inducing regularity.
If you've been put off by multiplayer shooters before, Titanfall is unlikely to turn you into a Red Bull-chugging, anti-glare spec-wearing FPS junkie. But for shooter fans left unconvinced by COD’s juvenile environment, it makes fragging fun again.