Bombastic, ridiculously fast paced, but surprisingly full of heart, Titanfall 2’s single play campaign will grab you - but it's the multiplayer that'll keep you hooked.
One of the biggest shocks, and indeed, greatest achievements of this game is that over the 6-7 hour campaign it manages to make you care about a futuristic, giant mech soldier-suit you can get inside. With the pedigree of a development team made up of ex-Infinity Ward members (and thus making the team behind Titanfall partly the team behind Modern Warfare), it’s only right that they should return to reclaim their throne as king of the first-person shooter campaign.
It's a far cry from the first game, in which the single-player mode was little more than an extended tutorial to push you into the online multiplayer arenas. While that's still the overall objective here, you get the feeling that there's been a lot more care put in this time.
The catchily named Vanguard-class Titan BT-7274 (BT to us) is arguably the star of the show, though the player takes control primarily of Jack Cooper, a would-be grunt in the Militia (The Good Guys) thrust into becoming a fully fledged Pilot early.
Cooper's unexpected promotion comes as the result of BT’s original owner - Captain Lastimosa, who just happens to be his mentor - being killed in action right at the start. But that bad luck for Cpt Lastimosa is good luck for you, with the opening act thus serving as a very brief tutorial as to what it means to be a Pilot, and what it takes to keep a Titan running. Which is... well, it’s batteries, basically. That and not getting shot to bits.
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As you progress, weapon pickups unlock new Titan loadouts, meaning that by the end of the game, you’re fully trained to hit the multiplayer - a clever move by ReSpawn, and one that means you already know which Titans you favour. For me, that meant staying well clear of Scorch (the fire-type Titan) in favour of the awesome Ronin, a Titan class that has a sword which makes it lethal up close, but weak against gunfire.
It’s an early indication of a supremely well-balanced game. While piloting a Titan is tremendous fun, the most exciting moments are often on foot as a Pilot. There’s been a clear shift over the last few years (perhaps since Titanfall first hit shelves) towards making shooters focus on movement, but Titanfall 2 nails it, perhaps more so than any other game.
The stringing together of moves is exhilarating: you sprint into a jump that hits a wall; you wall-run along (which gets you to top speed) and bounce off on to another wall, and you keep going; shooting along the way, before landing into a brutal melee on the last enemy.
There are few games that match on-screen movement to what you’re doing with your fingers this well, and it’s all done at a breakneck speed, with a smooth 60 frames per second, looking gorgeous.
After a while it becomes natural, with your Pilot becoming a blur of colour, noise, and killing. It’s exquisite. That’s not to say that the campaign is entirely non-stop pretty explosions. It mostly is, in fairness, but there are a few moments of slower reflection, and indeed there’s an entire level that does first-person platforming so well it’s reminiscent of the Portal games.
Really? Well alright, perhaps not quite that clever, but it's still commendable that a game so dedicated to action even attempts such a move.
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If there’s a major complaint, it’s that it’s a little too easy on the regular difficulty setting. While there’s a tutorial mission (which harks back to Modern Warfare in its replayability) that tests your skills and suggests a difficulty, we’d recommend starting on hard if you’re remotely experienced with games of this ilk. Furthermore, although the Titan-on-Titan boss battles are exciting, some are over very quickly and far too easily, while later ones err towards being frustrating.
On top of that, the story is merely passable. It treads the well-worn road of good guys rebelling against the government military bad dudes, but it’s never overly clear why people are bad, just that they are, and that you need to kill them.
Still, there’s a sense of humour to it that you might not expect and that’s well done, with the chats between Cooper and BT being particular highlights. You can even influence conversation by selecting dialogue options with a simple up or down on the D-Pad. Alright so it doesn’t change the story, but it does make you feel more involved.
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Speaking of being involved, Respawn has taken on the feedback of the player base from the beta tests, and delivered a tight yet deep multiplayer experience. The mixture of Titans, weapons, modes, and skills means there is something here for all types of player.
With the likes of Call of Duty you might feel punished if you’re not dedicating days of your life to improving your skills, but here you can get involved on any level, at any time. The biggest change from the first game is that mounting a Titan as a Pilot doesn’t mean you’ll instantly kill it: it’s now a two-step process.
First you must climb up to remove a battery (and you can drop them to give your teammates health pickups), before clambering on to them again to drop in a grenade that'll finish the job. It’s about the only thing we don’t love, even if we understand the reasoning.
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Attrition mode returns, and is as brilliant as ever. The fact that you’ve got AI-controlled grunts on the field works in so many ways: firstly it means you can gain points even if you’re not able to kill real people online, but secondly it means the AI can flush out snipers.
Sadly, the cloaking ability does mean some of the wide-open maps can become frustrating, but a good team will know how to get around the back and take them out, and Titans have a lot of explosive weaponry, and the game is called Titanfall 2, so, y’know, use them.
Bounty Hunt is a new mode that gives you cash for kills that you need to bank, but we think it’ll get left by the wayside in favour of Attrition and more standard modes such as Amped Hardpoint (capture the point), Capture the Flag, and Pilots vs. Pilots.
Overall, the maps are slightly tighter to allow for more than just open warfare, but there’s nothing bad to note, really. One way or another, the improvements to the Shotgun (now a genuinely viable weapon in this fast-paced experience) and the newly added grapple hook means there’s so many ways to play. On top of that, “Networks” is a new feature that lets like-minded people group up, create a Happy Hour (double XP!) and have fun together.
TITANFALL 2 VERDICT
And that leads us back to that heart again. Titanfall set out its stall in 2014 as an impressive online shooter missing some key components. Titanfall 2 not only brings everything we felt was missing, but delivers in key areas to improve existing mechanics.
Ultimately it feels like a title made by a team that has remembered why we play games at all: fun, escapism, and occasionally, just to blow stuff up and see beautiful explosions. And there's plenty of all those things on offer here.