EVER SINCE ITS RELEASE Titanfall has been one of the most anticipated Xbox One game titles. There are plenty of reasons for this, not least the fact it was built by Respawn Entertainment studios. For those who don't know, Respawn is the brainchild of Jason West and Vince Zampella, who formerly were responsible for development of the Call of Duty franchise at Infinity Ward.
Titanfall borrows elements of the Call of Duty gunfighting gameplay West and Zampella helped create and pushes it to the next level, adding a SciFi setting complete with giant battling mechs. Interestingly, unlike most shooters, outside of a very short training mode, there is no single player gaming in Titanfall. Instead Titanfall is purely multiplayer, which means you will need an Xbox Live gold membership to play all the modes.
The game is split into separate Campaign and Classic gameplay sessions. The Campaign mode is the only part of Titanfall with a semblance of a story and sees you fight through individually crafted multiplayer games that chronicle the war between the Militia and IMC factions. The Classic mode is a matchmaking mode that lets you set up or join six on six multiplayer matches.
The Campaign mode matches see you start off playing as the Militia before replaying the same set of nine missions from the perspective of the IMC. Both modes see you take the role of a pilot. Pilots are elite soldiers in the war that get access to advanced giant robotic fighting mech suits, known as Titans.
Jumping into the Campaign mode, we found that the missions on offer included basic Attrition and Hardpoint objectives. Attrition is Titanfall's deathmatch mode and simply tasks your team to reach a preset kill count level before your enemy to win. Hardpoint is Titanfall's equivalent of King of the Hill, and requires you to capture and control key points of the map for a certain amount of time to win.
The Classic mode features a more robust set of match options and adds Last Titan Standing, Capture the Flag and Pilot hunter modes to the basic Attrition and Hardpoint games. Last Titan Standing sees every player enter the game in their Titan with only one life. The game tasks you to kill all enemy Titans. Capture the Flag is a basic mode that challenges you to steal your enemy's flag and bring it back to your home base. Pilot Kill is a tweaked version of Attrition where only pilot kills count towards your team's score.
Playing in Campaign mode we picked up very few details about Titanfall's main story. The only information we got is that the conflict - which is between the local inhabitants of human colonies, who are represented by the Militia, and IMC - revolves around how the central human government is treating distant world citizens. This is because the campaign has only a few bare cut scenes explaining the story and most of it is told through video chat feeds that appear in the top right of your screen during gameplay. This makes them difficult to follow as they generally appear when you're in the midst of combat and are focused on surviving your enemies' onslaught.
While some gamers will be disappointed with this, considering Titanfall's multiplayer focus we didn't find it too much of an issue. This is because, from the moment we jumped into our first Titanfall mission, we found ourselves wholly engrossed with its gameplay.
Gameplay in Titanfall is split into two distinct categories, pilot and Titan. You start most missions as a regular pilot, while you wait for the engineers to build and air drop your Titan midway through matches. Pilots are designed to be nimble foils to the hulking 12-metre tall Titans they face.
Pilot gameplay is very similar to that of Call of Duty, to the point that it features a nearly identical control system. At a basic level pilots are just regular soldiers and fall into battle with basic primary and secondary weapons and a set of grenades, meaning that on paper they are woefully ill-equipped to fight Titans.
To help with this, Titanfall pilots come equipped with jump kits. The jump kits make pilots seriously nimble. The jump packs create a first-person perspective, free-running mechanic similar to that seen on Mirrors Edge and make navigating Titanfall's complex multilayer maps an absolute joy. They let players instruct their pilots to sprint along walls and jump up to high ledges using the thrust packs simply by clicking the A button.
We also found that the pilots' advanced movement speeds help encourage players to avoid adopting the "camping" gaming style that has plagued other online shooters, making it so there is never any one place a player can sit still and snipe without fear of being flanked.
Titanfall further encourages players to stay mobile during matches by arming each side with an army of computer controlled soldiers. The AI controlled squads appear from drop crates during matches and act as cannon fodder for Titans and pilots. Their presence is important, as from a distance they can be confused with enemy pilots and they are also fairly deadly in their own right if left unmonitored.
The addition of the AI controlled grunts is doubly welcome, as it makes Titanfall matches feel fairly epic. The inclusion of the grunts makes maps feel heavily populated and more action packed and ensures that there are never more than a few breaths between fights before you're drawn back into the action.
Titanfall's epic nature is further aided by its stellar next-generation graphics. Reviewing Titanfall on the Xbox One, and running on Valve's Source engine, we found it is one of the best looking console games we've ever seen. Playing through Titanfall's extensive array of multiplayer maps, we were astounded by how good the game looks, featuring full bump mapping, wonderfully detailed textures and particle lighting effects that make Call of Duty: Ghosts, look downright dull.
Pilots also come loaded with a special Tactical Ability, which can be set using the game's varied upgrade and loadout systems - more on this later. Special abilities are activated using the LB button. You start the game with a basic camouflage ability that lets you make yourself close to invisible for a brief period. The game also features more advanced options, like a Stim ability that rapidly improves the pilot's health regeneration rate and speed, and Active Radar Pulse that lets you spot enemy players through walls. Playing Titanfall, we found that the abilities were great additions to the game, and our camouflage capability regularly proved to be a lifesaver while trying to sneak past a hulking Titan or hide when wounded.
Next: The Titan experience.
The Titan experience
While the pilot sessions are fun, for us they paled in comparison to the raw joy you can experience playing as a Titan. You start the game waiting for your Titan to be built and will get voice alerts from your team's central command giving you updates about how close to ready it is. When built you can call your Titan into the fight by marking an airdrop location using the down key on the D-Pad. Once it has landed you can choose to enter your Titan and control it yourself, or keep traversing the map as a pilot and have the Titan fight as an autonomous AI controlled ally.
Gameplay in the Titan is very different than the pilot section of Titanfall. Titans are split into separate Atlas, Stryder and Ogre classes. The Atlas class is the middle of the road option that is good, but not great at everything. The Stryder is a lightweight Titan that sacrifices armour and health for speed. The Ogre is the tank Titan option and features the highest health meter but is also the slowest moving.
Each Titan comes with a primary weapon that can be fired using the RT button and a secondary explosive weapon that can be fired using the RB button, plus a single activatable special ability that can be activated using the LB button. Titan on Titan combat is a much slower and more strategic affair than pilot on Titan combat fights. Titans' movements are slower and more methodical than those of pilots. This means that unless you're playing as a Stryder, entering into combat with another Titan usually results in do or die showdown, as you physically cannot escape from combat fast enough to survive a retreat.
A skilled pilot can also present a problem for an unwary Titan. While physically feeble and easy to kill as a Titan, pilots are not entirely helpless. For starters each pilot comes equipped with a custom anti-Titan weapon. The weapon can be equipped by pressing right on the D-Pad. Weapons on offer include everything from a powerful lock-on rocket launcher to a mini-missile machine gun. While the weapons generally aren't powerful enough to let a player defeat a Titan on their own, they are good enough to turn the tide in favour of an ally in a Titan versus Titan fight.
Thanks to their jump kits, pilots also have a particularly dangerous Titan Rodeo ability. Approaching a Titan from the back a pilot can vault onto the Titan's rear and attack weak points in the mech's armour at close range. The tactic is particularly effective, as attacks mounted by the rodeoing pilot can bypass the Titan's shields.
Playing Titanfall, we were very impressed by how balanced the game felt and found that the physical power of the Titans is wonderfully tempered by the speed of the pilots and creates a gameplay experience that always feels fair.
This fact is aided by Titanfall's impressive level design. Titanfall comes with a large array of map options that range from high tech military bases in the sky to desert townships. As well as looking great, each of the maps is designed to be as open as possible and cater to a variety of play styles. Each map features multi-layer elements designed to let pilots take advantage of the game's free running mechanic, but counters them with more open regions that are designed for Titans. The mix ensures that one player or team can never completely swarm another team or take control and camp in one area in order to win.
Next: Customisation and matchmaking.
Customisation and matchmaking
We were also pleased to see that Respawn worked to improve Titanfall's long term appeal by adding character and Titan customisation options. Titanfall lets you customise your pilot and Titan using a level system. Players start at level one with a single loadout and a basic portfolio of weapons and upgrades to choose from. Further weapon, equipment and loadout options are unlocked by increasing the pilot's level.
Pilots raise their level by earning experience. Experience is rewarded at the end of each map. The amount of experience earned is based on how well they performed during the game and is acquired by doing things like killing enemies or achieving mission goals.
As a pilot, the system lets you unlock new primary, secondary and Titan Killer weapons as well as Tactical Ability, grenade type and tier one and two upgrades. Tier one and two upgrades are passive abilities that improve things like your pilot's shield or Tactical Ability recharge times. The Titan loadouts offer a similarly diverse set of customisation options, letting you pick what type of Titan you want to play, your primary weapon, ordnance, Tactical ability and tier one and two passive abilities.
Sadly we found that Titanfall doesn't let you customise your pilot's or Titan's appearance. Instead the game will automatically assign you one of three skins it feels most accurately portrays the loadout's playing style. These include basic soldier, shock trooper and sniper skins.
The only other serious issue we've noticed playing Titanfall relates to its matchmaking abilities. While the game in general finds games quickly enough, it oddly doesn't let you set up or host private games. Instead it limits you to recruiting six players from your friend list to create a team for a match on its public servers. This means that if you have a particularly large group of friends playing Titanfall you can't have one big game and will always be forced to play strangers.
Titanfall is without a doubt the most entertaining multiplayer, first-person shooter we've played in a long while. Featuring balanced gameplay, superb graphics and intelligent level design, Titanfall is the shooter next generation console gamers have been waiting for. Our only real qualms about Titanfall are minor ones. On the one hand we'd have liked the ability to customise the appearance of our Titan and pilot. On the other hand, considering the game's multiplayer focus, we'd also have liked the ability to set up 12-player private matches where we could play against, as well as with, our friends. However, these are minor crosses to bear and we'd still recommend that any gamer looking for their next shooter fix check out Respawn's stellar new game Titanfall. µ
Great graphics, balanced gameplay, thrilling multiplayer matches.
No private match option, can't customise pilot or Titan appearance.
The carcass of anyone stupid enough to get in the way of a Titan on Titan battle.