Titanfall

Titanfall is a 2014 first-person shooter developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts exclusively for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The footage shown during this video is the PC version, with all graphical settings on “high”. There is an ultra setting, but unfortunately that asks a bit too much of my PC. Maybe after all that sweet internet YouTube money starts rolling in and I can buy one of the computers they use at NASA, I’ll revise the video accordingly.

Titanfall is an online only first person shooter. There is a quote-unquote “campaign” mode, but in all practicality it operates exactly like the multiplayer mode. The only difference is that a predetermined number of levels serve as a backdrop to the story, rather than random matchmaking. The story, if one can call it that, is presented to you through the course of various multiplayer matches. A brief scene, usually involving someone yelling at you before you jump out of a spaceship and into battle, is shown at the beginning of each level, and then during gameplay the story comes through as a series of comm channel updates. A talking head appears in the upper right hand corner of the screen to tell you something of dire importance, and then you quickly forget what was said and continue battling on.

While people have complained about the lack of a true campaign mode in what is being retailed as a $60 game, I find the Titanfall campaign to be just what I need in a FPS. I almost always find FPS stories to be a combination of nonsense and confusion; while I think video game stories are enormously overrated in general, first person shooter stories are dramatically affected by how little I care about anything that’s happening in terms of story. I play these games to chew bubblegum and kick ass, not to listen to half assed philosophies about existence. I suppose that I appreciate Titanfall’s politely tongue in cheek attempt at shoehorning a story into what is a purely multiplayer experience.

The meat of the game is, of course, the multiplayer. Two teams of six battle each other in various desolate and post-industrial maps, each side aided by additional non-player controlled units. Grunts and Spectres, as these NPCs are called, serve to make the battles seem larger than a 6v6 experience, but they also serve as fodder for XP. Grunts and Spectres are technically armed and dangerous and are sometimes able to kill player controlled units, but they mostly just march out onto the map, take a knee, and then take very poor shots until they’re killed. The XP they provide when killed, however, is vital and I’ll discuss that shortly.

Titanfall

The gameplay of Titanfall is split into two distinct experiences. The first is when the player is controlling human pilots, which are nimble, quick soldiers armed with a variety of weapons. Most game modes start with your team’s pilots leaping into battle and trying to hunt down the enemy pilots who spawn on the other side of the map.

Pilots are quick, fleet footed and small. Beyond the usual array of weapons which includes pistols, sniper rifles, shotguns and carbines, each pilot is equipped with a jetpack. The jetpack functions as a double jump, which gives the pilots a very high degree of mobility and an opportunity to get to anywhere on the map. Rooftops are the playgrounds of pilots, a safe haven from the dangerous and crowded streets of most levels. In addition to the jetpack’s double jump function, pilots are also skilled in the art of parkour. If you’re not sure what that term means, you must have missed the parkour craze that happened on the internet a few years ago, so just think of wall running in the Prince of Persia and you’re on the right track. Combining parkour with the jetpack’s double jump grants the pilots an unmatched ability to cover a lot of ground, much like your mother.

Playing as a pilot in Titanfall is a pretty stereotypical FPS experience. The additions of the jetpack and wall running add a notion of freedom and occasionally impart some grace to people jump kicking others in the face, but the experience in largely similar to FPS of the recent past. While weapons function as expected, perhaps the addition of the smart pistol is biggest change. The most drastic weapon evolution in the game, the smart pistol is a natural reaction to the new found Grunt and Spectre horde. Get close enough to a group and your smart pistol locks on to all enemies. A single pull of the trigger and you dispatch a number of enemies in one fell swoop. Efficient and powerful.

However, as enjoyable as the pilots can be, there’s a reason the game has the title that it does. And the game’s namesake comes from the second gameplay experience…

Titans.

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Titans are giant mechs that the skilled pilots can wear like an oversized suit of armor. Remember how I mentioned the XP you gain from killing enemies? That XP ties directly into how quickly you’ll be able to summon a Titan, which will crash down from the heavens like a big metal asteroid with a gigantic machine gun attached to it. Though the Titans are more powerful and able to take larger amounts of damage than pilots, they are more limited in their movement and their sheer size tends to draw the attention of enemies more quickly. It’s pretty nice to own the only Ferrari in the neighborhood, but eventually everyone else will notice it and decide that they want to key it.

Titans, like pilots, have their own set of customizable abilities and weapons. Before each match, you’re able to customize your pilot and Titan. You’ll find that if you don’t spend this time customizing and clicking through the various menus, you’ll spend a lot of time… waiting.

Titans are more prone to getting stuck in places they can’t escape, and they cannot wall run or jump, but what they lack in coordination they more than make up for in sheer destruction. A primary weapon, such as a chain gun, is supplemented by a secondary weapon, such as a missile barrage, which slowly recharges after use. A third customizable ability serves various purposes, from creating a shield which absorbs enemy gunfire and fires it back at them, to creating a forcefield that operates like a one way mirror: you can fire at them, but they can’t fire at you. If anything, you must admit that Titanfall has created a vast array of shielding options for you and your loved ones.

Unfortunately, even the best Titan will eventually crumble under enemy Titan fire (or attacks from pilots wielding special anti-Titan weapons). A warning appears on screen, and your pilot has a few moments to do a bit more damage before ejecting from his doomed Titan and flying through the air, hopefully to land somewhere safe and continue the fight. An unlucky few will serve as unwilling clay pigeons for enemy pilots.

I think that the beauty of Titanfall can be found in how wonderfully the game balances Titan and pilot gameplay. Previous mech games never really interested me, because the feeling of being in a mech was one of simply being a slow moving human who had a rocket launcher for an arm: you never felt like you were inside a giant war machine. Titanfall fixes this by augmenting the Titan gameplay with that of the pilot: a nimble fighter to which the player can relate gets a few chances each match to hop into a giant robot and kick some ass. The experience of moving from one character to another allows you to really feel the difference in play style and to treat each section of the game differently. Pilot tactics do not work for Titans, and vice versa. While Titans can easily crush pilots, the pilots mobility is a huge advantage over the Titans, so neither side feels imbalanced in relation to the other. They simply feel like two sides of the same blood drenched coin.

Titan Explosion

I haven’t been this enthralled with a FPS since Halo 2. I never got into the Call of Duty franchise, I think mostly because I like my shooters to be a little “out there”, I don’t enjoy the realistic shooter all that much. Titanfall, however, has created my ideal FPS: a game that’s quick to play, unique and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s arcadey enough to not be overwhelming to the casual FPS fan and I’m sure that advanced FPS players (of which I am not a part) will find enough meat on the bone to keep coming back.

There’s just something about giant mechs that seems to really hit the g-spot of male gamers. There’s probably a Freudian or pseudo-religious connection to be found here, and someone could write or say something interesting about that. I, however, won’t be doing that. Instead, I am going to kill some grunts, look to the sky and giggle as an enormous killer robot crashes onto an enemy who’s trying to kill me with a smart pistol.

Pilot, prepare for Titanfall.

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