Of all the games I saw at E3 this year the one I wanted to play the most was Titanfall. It was a tantalising experience watching other people get to enjoy the rapid-fire action of sprinting along walls in a wartorn city and clearing buildings with quick hops while scooting to the next skirmish. It was a near torturous ordeal seeing someone other than myself call in one of the giant mechanical titans and romp about the battlefield raining down explosions on the tiny soldiers below.
So after an in-depth chat with Titanfall producer Drew McCoy at gamescom 2013, and after finding out about the game’s inspirations, iterative design and a surprise South African connection, I quickly made my way to the demo room to go hands-on with the action and see for myself how fun and satisfying it is to play.
Suffice to say, I had a great time but there are still a few reservations lingering in my mind that I hope to clear up when the game is out next year.
The mode on display at gamescom 2013 was ‘Campaign Multiplayer,’ a game type that includes a few story-based cinematics involving characters and factions important to the Titanfall universe. In essence, these are missions with some semblance of a narrative that you will play out over a series of levels, but all online in a multiplayer environment.
The setting was Angel City, a desolate metropolis on the frontier of an on-going war between the forces of the IMC and the M-COR. In this particular mission, the M-COR needs to extract a soldier by the name of Parker from the level and out of IMC-occupied territory, and after hearing that M-COR is in the area the IMC is naturally trying to crush their enemy’s attempts to infiltrate the city.
We were playing a six-on-six game mode called Attrition, which is basically team deathmatch where you’re awarded point for kills, but interestingly Titanfall’s battlegrounds won’t only be occupied by players but also by what developer Respawn refers to as ‘popcorn’ soldiers, weaker allies and enemies that will zipline into the arenas and fight for or against you and your mission. These soldiers can be taken down in only a few shots and contribute to your earned points, but you’ll be more healthily rewarded for taking out enemy players on the ground or in their titans.
To start with, the demo included three different types of class load-outs each with their own weapons and skills for your soldiers, as well as three different titan load-outs (all apparently in the ‘Atlus’ class). The weapons for the soldiers, or pilots, are already sounding fun and exotic with the Sidewinder (an explosive anti-titan weapon), the Smart Pistol (which locks onto multiple enemies and finds targets around “impossible angles”) and a magnetic grenade launcher (which can be devastating to a titan if the explosive finds purchase).
Other regular side arms, rifles, rocket launchers and shotguns are also available, while I was able to use some sort of cloak ability that temporarily made it tough for enemies to see me.
As far as the titans’ weapons are concerned, however, things get much more powerful when getting to grips with the Battle Rifle titan and its Vortex Blocker (which can suspend enemy rockets, gunfire and grenades to let you throw them back at your attacker), the Heavy Weapons titan and its 40mm semi-automatic cannon (with electric smoke to daze and confuse your foes), and the High Explosive titan with the ability to fire off four spiralling rockets at targets with every shot. When all else fails, you’ve got a shoulder-mounted cluster rocket launcher to help out when you’re reloading or you want to add a little extra firepower to the situation.
We were encouraged to mix and match pilot and titan load-outs to settle on the best combination to match our playstyle, and I went with an ‘Assault’ class soldier and a good old-fashioned Battle Rifle titan.
If you’re unfamiliar with the basic conceit of Titanfall, as a regular soldier you’re equipped with a jetpack that allows you to perform double jumps and reach high out-of-reach areas very quickly, and combined with the ability to run along walls, you can chain your movement together to very rapidly get from the ground to rooftops and inside builds. As you move uninterrupted, you gain speed and momentum.
As you play, a timer ticks down to your opportunity to call in a titan, an enormous mech that you can then climb into and control. If you jump out of the titan, it then becomes an AI-controlled unit on the battleground until you decide to hop back in again. You’re able to hitch a ride on the back of an ally’s titan by jumping onto it, or destroy an enemy titan by latching onto its back and shooting out its circuitry. If a titan becomes too damaged for a pilot to control, it’s time to eject and rocket high into the sky before finding a new pocket of action to invest some time – and bullets – into.
The latest Titanfall trailer demonstrates the absolute speed and fluidity of the game perfectly and in it, you’ll also see just how agile and mobile you as a pilot can be by making full use of your movement abilities:
Titanfall – Official gamescom Gameplay Demo
While playing Titanfall, I found all of these actions and mobility options to be very easy to harness – it’s thrilling to be able to almost effortlessly scale a sheer building wall with a few jumps and clamber onto a ledge up above, quickly get a grip on the situation and a find path forward before hurtling off again by wall running and jumping from one vertical surface to another. Once your momentum is going, it’s even possible to jump clear across a wide street and onto an adjacent rooftop as a skirmish between pilots and titans erupts below.
When it came time to call in my titan I immediately hit the button to see the machine come crashing down from a supply ship above. As I sprinted towards the hulking mass of metal and machinery it scooped me up and slammed me into the control seat. After a brief moment I was solidly in the cockpit ready to deal some serious damage with my newfound explosive rounds and using the Vortex Blocker is an excellent additional combat option to use when the going gets tough – a tap and hold of the left bumper stopped bullets dead in their tracks.
The maps in Titanfall have all apparently be made with the pilot’s increased mobility in mind, and for the most part this is true, although there were times when it seemed as though the fastest way up into a building was by taking the stairs. Certain structures at this point seem just a little too high to begin an effective run and I generally had to find smaller buildings further down a street or alleyway to hop up onto in order to get a height advantage and continue running.
This can be at least a little frustrating when you see an enemy titan barrelling down towards you and all you want to do is get up above and fire down onto it, with a chance of shooting out its back panel. I’m sure with more time playing and learning the maps I’ll be able to work out effective tactical routes, but in the demo I spent a good portion of time away from fights impotently trying to find a path up.
I’m also a little concerned about the longevity of the experience at this point. It’s a given that we’ll be seeing a customisation and progression system in Titanfall, with more game modes and perhaps even different styles of titans to choose from, but when a game burns this brightly in short bursts because of its initial overwhelming assault on the senses, I do tend to feel a little sceptical over whether or not that shockingly exciting and fluid first impression can carry the experience into the future.
Maybe that sounds like an irrational concern, but I am hoping there’s more beneath the surface to keep the matches fresh with opportunities to extend and evolve my own skills and understanding of the game long into the future – from what I’ve played, Titanfall is too good to allow it to burn bright and burn out.
Titanfall is out on Xbox One, PC and Xbox 360 in 2014, so while we wait why not peruse El33tonline’s already extensive current and continued coverage of the game for more videos, screenshots and details.
Also follow our coverage of gamescom 2013 for our continued impressions from the show this year, with photos, sights, sounds and more to come.