The divorce (trivorce?) of Call of Duty creators Jason West and Vince Zampella from Activision and Infinity Ward caused quite the stir in videogame land. Call of Duty, after all, is the big cheese in online shooters. Infinity Ward, the studio that West and Zampella established and ran, saw a huge hemorrhaging of talent when it all went down. Where would they all go? What would they all do? Well, a lot of them went on to form Respawn Entertainment, and Titanfall is that studio’s first game. There is a lot riding on its shoulders too. The console version is exclusive to Microsoft, making it a big feather in the console war. Oh, and it’s on PC too. That’s the version I went with, because I’m not spending $500 for one game. So how is it?
Right off the bat anyone, who has played Modern Warfare will immediately feel at home with the interface and progression systems employed here by Respawn. I say this because the interface is just a new skin on top of the old one. 5 custom classes and two perk slots. The only difference would be the lack of care packages, and really, the Titan is just a massive care package isn’t it?
Titanfall feels, at times, like a small evolution from what you might find in a typical Modern Warfare game. Take the basic run and gun gameplay of Modern Warfare and combine it with wall running, double jump jet packs, giant mechs and bots. This is the combat of Titanfall. To begin with, your chosen pilot (all gamer characters are pilots) can wall run. Not forever, as gravity will assert its domination eventually, but for short bursts you can run along a wall and then hop over to another wall to continue wall running. This makes it possible for a person to hop from one wall to another until they have climbed to the roof of a building. Added to this is a jump pack. I say jump pack and not jet pack because the uses are minimal. You cannot, for example, fly around the map. Instead, you are given the ability to double jump, thus extending the range of how far you can leap.
The basic match is 6 vs 6. You and five others on one side against 6 enemies. That would begin to feel a little sparse after a while on maps that are big enough to hide two story tall robots, so the developers have included AI bots in the game. They don’t do very much, getting killed by one takes a special breed of indifference to your surroundings, and killing them doesn’t earn you as many points as killing a pilot, but for something to do it’s handy.
Lastly, we come to the name of the game, the Titans. Giant lumbering metal beasts equipped with numerous ways to kill your foes. Robot mechs have been around for quite some time in the public mind, but I cannot really recall a game where the combat wasn’t all mechs or all infantry. The melding of the two offers some interesting gameplay, but also some game design problems.
After the requisite time has elapsed, you are given the option to call down your Titan of choice. If you don’t call it down right away, you will be subjected to the game incessantly telling you that you have a Titan ready for deployment. The game will continue to remind you about this Titan that is ready for deployment. In more than a few rounds where I wasn’t really in the mood to run around as a Titan, I just deployed it and set the thing to guard mode, just to shut the game up. Now, I will admit that deploying a Titan to act as nothing more than a glorified turret is a waste of a giant robot, but if you’re going to insist that I deploy it, don’t come to me complaining when I do.
If you do want to use the Titan, you can call it down and it will drop out of the sky like a meteor before firing its air brakes and landing wherever you told it to. You then run up to it and enter it by allowing it to grab you and shove you inside the cockpit. It’s cool to watch, but I don’t think I’d be letting some robot manhandle me like that. Once inside the Titan, you have access to a primary weapon and a secondary weapon. The primary weapon is some variation on a huge frigging gun, and the secondary weapon is what you are supposed to use if you encounter an enemy while reloading your primary. I find that the secondary is often more effective at taking out ground troops, but to each their own. You also have access to a countermeasure. Some countermeasures have an offensive capacity, like the Electric Smoke, which is used to blind enemy Titans that are firing on you but which is also deadly to enemy ground units and Titans if they are low enough on health.
The problem with combining mechs and infantry is the maps. They aren’t really suited for the Titans. Lots of things get in the way which you cannot leap over. Your Titan is equipped with maneuvering jets, but not, it seems, jump jets. This limits you to dashing here and there with your limited but regenerating fuel supply. To me, a person who grew up on Mechwarrior games which rewarded pilots who could jump a mech and land it on an enemy for a kill based on the physics alone, this is very disappointing. The maps are designed in a way so that the infantry will be able to survive on the battlefield against the Titans. Lets be honest here, on an open field, the infantry will get slaughtered. So they place buildings in the way, buildings that the infantry can climb up and use to vault on top of your hard earned Titan and attempt to kill. Be glad when you unlock the electric cloud, as there is no other way to remove your enemy short of hopping out of your Titan and shooting your unwanted hitchhiker off until you do unlock it.
The other problem is one that has carried over from Call of Duty and been magnified hugely by the addition of the Titans. Specifically, I’m talking about the lack of environmental destruction, which is absurd. It was a small leap for me to accept that C4 wasn’t going to vaporize a wall in Modern Warfare. It’s quite a massive jump to imagine that the firepower the Titans are dishing out isn’t going to damage the surroundings. I’m just not quite sure I’m willing to swallow that anymore. Not when games exist where entire levels can be demolished.
This is a multiplayer only game. There is no single player campaign, but there is a campaign mode, such as it is. It tells the story of the Militia, a rebel force trying to get away from the grasp of an East India like corporation. It’s bare bones in the extreme, and the story progresses even if you lose the battle. The story changes a little to incorporate the fact that you achieved victory or not, which I found to be a novel way of getting around the fact that you are fighting against other players to continue the story. Once you complete the Militia story, you then go back to the beginning and play it from the IMC side.
Graphically the game looks pretty damned good. It’s running on a highly modified version of the Source engine, so hurray for graduating from the Quake 3 engine. The levels all have a lived in feel to them that is appreciated if you stop to look around long enough. There are three types of Titans, and while they fall into specific stereotypes (small and fast, average all rounder, heavy tank) they each look like some thought has been put into what it would be like to pilot them, would they actually work, etc. They aren’t the coolest looking mechs I’ve seen, and having one called an Atlas is sure to get FASA’s attention, but they do the job.
With close to 40 gigs of uncompressed audio on the 3 DVDs that the game came on, you might find yourself expecting an awesome degree of immersion from the game’s sound. I know I sure was. Thankfully, the sound actually does manage to earn those 40 gigs that I grudgingly surrendered. All of those bots that exist to flesh out the levels do a good job of yelling things back and forth, letting each other know that a friendly Titan is here and to bring the fight to the enemy, for example. For somebody who considers themselves to be a bit of an audiophile, it’s quite pleasant to turn a corner and catch the end of a message that was being relayed to someone and have it sound completely natural. The game also has a lot of dialogue from the people leading your army. During battle, you will see video windows pop up with people telling you to go here or do that. It’s all very well acted, even if the story doesn’t exactly always make sense.
The various gametypes that you will encounter will, again, at least partly feel very familiar to a fan of Call of Duty. Attrition is just Team Deathmatch, while Hardpoint is three flagged king of the hill. Capture the Flag magically survived the transition to the new game with the same name, and then you have Pilot Hunt, and Last Titan Standing. Pilot Hunt focuses specifically on killing enemy Pilots, while Last Titan Standing removes the ability to respawn and only gives you one Titan per round. There is a sixth game type, but it just randomizes the other five.
Have I mentioned yet how closely this game resembles Modern Warfare? I hate to continue comparing this game to it’s spiritual predecessor, but honestly, they left me no choice here. Under different circumstances, I could very easily have seen this game released by Activision as Call of Duty: Future Warfare. Much like what happened when Harmonix moved on from developing Guitar Hero to developing Rock Band, Respawn have taken what they know and evolved it just enough to call it a new game.
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So is Titanfall worth the full price of admission? Looking at the full package, it could be if you really liked its predecessors. For me, 6 vs. 6 matches with bots to fill out the levels and no single player campaign? No thank you. It’s a decent start for a franchise and it’s a pretty enough game, but I need more than this to justify full price.