Review

Titanfall

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It’s rare for a new videogame franchise to be announced less than a year before it’s released, but that’s exactly what has happened with Titanfall and the debut game from Respawn Entertainment, a company formed by the leadership and top talent from Infinity Ward, in partnership with EA.

Created under the duress of lawsuits and after years of secrecy, has the next game from the creators of Call of Duty finally managed to push the online competitive multiplayer genre forward in meaningful and important ways?

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What You Need to Know

At its very core, Titanfall is an online-only military-themed multiplayer first-person shooter, and despite the inclusion of a ‘multiplayer campaign’ that sets the stage for the fight between the IMC and Militia forces out in the far-reaches of space, you’ll be spending the vast majority of your time playing in any of the five online game modes that pit two teams of six players against one another.

All comparisons to most other games fall down there, however, because in Titanfall you’ll be playing as a highly trained soldier, or ‘pilot,’ with the ability to perform parkour-like abilities such as wall-running and climbing, and together with the pilot’s jetpack double-jump, infinite sprint and chances to zip along fixed lines, you’re put in control of an ultra-manoeuvrable avatar to help get you from the ground up to high spaces very quickly (and stylishly) while shooting down enemies and accomplishing objectives.

That on its own might have been a solid enough premise for a new shooter, but as the title suggests the game also lets you jump into one of three different ‘titans,’ controllable robots that tower over the pilots (and some buildings) that come complete with their own incredibly powerful armaments with rocket launchers, wieldable flak cannons, shields and more explosive equipment to unleash on opposing titans and pilots.

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Titans themselves are very manoeuvrable, too, and can dash back and forth to avoid incoming fire, and with three different classes available (the all-round ‘Atlas,’ the faster ‘Stryder’ and heavier ‘Ogre’), you can choose one that suits your playstyle. Extra abilities like materialising a temporary shield, popping up damaging electrical smoke and catching expended bullets and rockets (before sending them back at your attacker) round out what are overall extremely potent and imposing forces on the field of battle.

Also as the title suggests, the titans of Titanfall are called in by pilots after a set length of time, and that timer can be shortened with on-field antics like whittling down the health of your opponents. Once a titan is available, you can call it in (almost) anywhere on the level which is when it crashes – or ‘falls’ – to the ground in spectacular fashion from a friendly drop-ship orbiting the planet’s outer atmosphere.


Important Note for South African (and Other Server-less) Players

I played Titanfall on the PC using a region-free download code, which is redeemable on the South African Origin store (despite the game not being available on that store). While Titanfall has no official server support in the country, I was able to connect to European servers without any hassle with an average ping of about 230 (while others on the servers enjoyed sub-80 pings).

In my experience with the game, the lag wasn’t noticeable until that number crept up to 270 and above (not a wide margin), but my connection remained very consistent and stable throughout the review process with momentary spikes up to 300 and beyond kept to a minimum.

As far as I’m concerned, Titanfall is very playable on PC in South Africa.


What’s New?

The refined manoeuvrability of the pilots is new on its own and reminded me of the rapid environment traversal of the Crysis series, while calling in titans to wreak further havoc adds a wonderful extra layer and combat phase to matches, but Respawn has also added a few other interesting elements to the standard multiplayer shooter formula.

While you can still earn and equip perks and abilities for both your soldier and titan, Titanfall introduces the concept of ‘Burn Cards’ that you earn for in-game performances – before a match, you can equip three Burn Cards and call on their specific allowance before you respawn. Everything is temporary, though, and range from giving you improved versions of weapons, reducing the time it takes to call in a titan, letting you sprint faster, go invisible, track enemy movement, and even call in a titan immediately at the beginning of a round. Once you’ve amassed enough Burn Cards, the decision over which to bring into a match – and at which phase of the match to use them – adds strategy to the game before it’s even begun.

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Titanfall also spawns in a number of expendable AI-controlled soldiers for both sides every few minutes which simultaneously act as ways to earn some extra experience points to level up if you take the out, but they also busy up the battlefield with a lot more activity than you might get with ‘only’ twelve players overall – these soldiers are basically harmless, though, and can be shot down in one or two bursts.

In addition, instead of the round simply ending in victory or defeat at the end of a match, the game enters an ‘Epilogue’ phase where the losing side has under a minute to get to a designated zone and jump aboard an evacuation ship to at least save a little face. The problem is, the winning side will be doing its best to make sure the defeated enemies don’t make it to the ship and can even destroy it before it takes off – it’s a brutal and exciting phase of the game and kicks everybody into a frenzy.

What’s the Same?

As you might expect from the creators of Call of Duty, Titanfall includes all the trappings of a traditional competitive multiplayer shooter with experience points to earn, levels to rank up through, unlocks like custom loadouts, weapons, equipment, abilities and attachments, as well ‘Challenges’ to complete during matches to net you bonus XP.

The unlocks are of course suited for Titanfall and abilities like cloaking, extra sprint speed and an aptitude for seeing through walls to spot enemies are matched with anti-titan weapons for pilots (like laser canons and rocket launchers), with a full complement of equipment options to choose from like rifles, shotguns, SMGs, grenades and electrical explosives.

The five multiplayer game modes are familiar, too, with Attrition (eliminate the opposition), Hard Point (capture three objectives) and Capture the Flag, as well as ‘Last Titan Standing’ (everybody spawns in a titan and must destroy the opposing team’s titans) and Pilot Hunter (kill the other team’s pilots) rounding out the list. Choosing the ‘Variety Pack’ option, however, will cycle you through the different modes every match.

You’ll Enjoy Titanfall If You Liked…

… the freeform environment navigation of Crysis 3.

… working through ranks and unlocks in Call of Duty or Battlefield.

… the first-person parkour of Mirror’s Edge.

… witnessing ‘emergent’ moments in Battlefield.

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What I Liked

- 5.) Most of the levels take place in military facilities and outposts, but some arenas (and one in particular) hint at the fact that you’re fighting on a strange, alien world with flying creatures (that swoop in and snatch up grunts) and the bones of ancient, gigantic animals littering the floor.

- 4.) The battle chatter from the grunts and the communication from the pilot operators became very important indicators of the different phases of a match and let me know where I was, how the battle was going and what to look out for without looking at the heads-up display, all while adding important aural busyness to the game to keep focus and excitement high.

- 3.) The Challenges of Titanfall (tasking you with meeting in-game requirements like a certain number of headshots or hours played) were very clearly displayed and easily understood – the Challenges I was closest to achieving always showed up at the end of a match making it too easy to spend an hour more than intended chasing down requirements to earn extra XP. Very addictive.

- 2.) The fact that Titanfall ‘only’ includes a small set of weapons, skills and perks to choose from was a relief for me, and because each is different enough from one another it became a very definite decision over which combinations to use and experiment with without getting overwhelmed.

- 1.) The mobility of the titan and the pilot in particular was (mostly) a joy to get to grips with and the enhanced freedom of movement (and the level designs that expressly encourage freeform traversal) was very refreshing compared to other shooters.

Favourite Moments

Like Battlefield, the moments I enjoyed the most in Titanfall were born from the game’s myriad of gameplay elements that combine together to create ‘emergent’ (there’s that word again) and repeatable moments that have to be seen and played to be believed.

While witnessing a half dozen pilots hopping in mid-air and running along walls before disappearing into different areas of the map is an impressive sight, seeing a handful of those selfsame pilots calling in titans and leaping into them to unleash rounds of explosive weaponry in the middle of a city street is awesome – watching as four titans dash and strafe around one another while punching with tons of force and unloading cannon fire directly into another titan’s chest looks like something out of a movie.

Personal glorious moments abound in Titanfall, too, and just after dropping a titan on an enemy mech to instantly crush and destroy it, you might be able to hunt down another hostile titan to scrap with it and just after it enters its ‘doomed’ state (where it’s condemned to explode), releasing one final punch on your prey will rip the pilot from its seat before you casually toss the body aside. If your titan is doomed to die, however, ejecting from your robot sends you hundreds of metres into the air allowing you to land on an enemy titan and shoot out its mechanical brain.

In Titanfall, moments build on moments, and it’s outstanding.

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What I Didn’t Like

- 5.) The Campaign Multiplayer requires other online players to work through the nine story chapters with you, but if the game can’t match you with enough players it’ll kick you back to a chapter that is populated, meaning you could end up replaying the same chapter multiple times which is painful considering they’re only glorified multiplayer matches with dialogue and talking heads overlayed on a regular match.

- 4.) Other than mission objectives, Titanfall doesn’t do a lot to encourage teamplay so most players will usually run off on their own leaving you to your own devices. Playing with friends will remedy the situation, but if those are in short supply online you might end up feeling a little lonely.

- 3.) For a full-priced game, the number of modes and maps is pretty limited, especially when the modes are so familiar and the maps are so similar to one another. Including a few modes that played directly to the game’s focus on speed and movement would have been great.

- 2.) Even though I like that the range of unlocks is limited compared to other games, I found the lack of depth in customisation of these unlocks limiting without the chance to really hone in on my particular playstyle preferences. Also, where’s the chance to create custom decals for your titans?

- 1.) My absolute least favourite times playing Titanfall were when my pilot operator was voiced by a South African (or someone with an OK approximation of a South African accent). Apologies to the voice actor, but hearing the accent played up so heavily so as to reach levels of affectation was cringeworthy.

Least Favourite Moment

I haven’t played a more complex multiplayer shooter with a keyboard and mouse combination for many years which meant relearning some skills (and contorting my left hand more than I’m used to), but other than that I found that the pilot’s wall running and double jumping was a bit jittery at times requiring a bit of button mashing to get to where I wanted to go.

When in a wall run, the pilot is ‘locked’ onto the surface so it’s not easy to change direction or pop into an open window while engaged in a run – sometimes the pilot ‘connected’ to a vertical surface I had no intention of running along, leaving me stuck for a second and open to enemy fire. There were times I felt as though I was breaking the way the pilot is meant to move by brute forcing the movement to get to higher spaces, so I hope Respawn is able to help the game more intelligently determine a player’s intentions in the future.


Titanfall Launch Trailer


What’s Extra?

You’ll work through a number of Titanfall’s in-game ‘Challenges’ simply by playing the game, with specific experience points rewards set up for using a certain weapon for a set number of time, completing kills in various ways, using different titans, travelling specific distances and more, but the more esoteric Challenges will keep you busy for a while should you wish to unlock particular weapon upgrades.

You’ll also need to complete the multiplayer campaign at least twice to unlock the Stryder and Ogre class titans, and with five loadouts per pilot and titan to unlock and dozens of Burn Cards to try out, there’s a lot of different combinations and strategies to experiment with in the weeks and months to come.

The Bottom Line

It’s not worth buying a new console or PC just to play it, but if you’ve been looking for an exciting evolution on the well-worn Call of Duty multiplayer formula that rewards you for skill and strategy, or you want a unique, fast-paced alternative to the sandbox action of Battlefield, then I can highly recommend Titanfall.


Titanfall was reviewed on PC


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