Titanfall is one of those games that cannot be played within its own merits. As soon as gameplay footage was shown it was called “Call of Duty meets mechs.” Like many before it, it is instantly judged by what it looks like, what it might play like, and what it ripped off from another game. Much akin to all of the “WoW killers” in the last decade, many have looked to Titanfall hoping it can be the “CoD killer”, the game that finally dethrones CoD from the most played FPS. After having played the beta, I can honestly say this: Titanfall has a good chance of being the first CoD-like that actually takes off.
To begin with, Titanfall is made by Respawn Entertainment which consists of a few Infinity Ward veterans, who of course worked on several Call of Duty titles with Modern Warfare 2 being their last. To say that Titanfall evokes CoD on a mechanical level would be a lie, this game is CoD. The way the player moves, the way the guns handle, the spread patterns of weapon, the audio/visual feedback, the loadouts and perks; it all feels like CoD. I’m pretty sure that there if were a mode that eschewed the mechs, leaving pilot only deathmatch, that most people might even mistake it for Black Ops 3(note: the speed of the game is closer to Black Ops than Modern Warfare). For fans of the Call of Duty series this isn’t necessarily a bad sign. For gamers looking for a new experience, well, this walks a fine line between original and familiar.
The biggest change is the inclusion of double jumping and wallrunning and I will admit that not only is it fun to perform but it also completely alters the way a player has to view the battleground. Where as most military shooters have relatively flat maps Titanfall’s maps seem huge. The maps themselves are about the same size as the medium-large maps from Modern Warfare 3 in terms of flat area space but the ability to climb anything makes them feel expansive. Having played for several hours between the two maps in the beta I still feel like I haven’t explored either of them completely. There are still little secrets that they hide; tiny crevices perfect for creating an ambush or a great sniper spot high atop the map that I originally believed to be unreachable. Watching other players expertly use the acrobatics in this game to traverse the map is a spectacle in itself. There is a level of finesse to using the acrobatics effectively. While most will simply use the double jump and maybe attempt some wallrunning, the gamers who dig in will quickly learn how to make the mechanics work for them. Coming from a platforming background I immediately set about seeing if there was anyway to reset the double jump, and find I did. Any time a wallrun/slide is performed the double jump is reset. Exploiting this can have the player climbing buildings that originally seemed impossible. Even something as simple as double jumping against a wall, wallrunning a little, pushing off of the wall and then double jumping back towards the roof and hoisting myself up is extremely rewarding and something I have seen so little of in my matches. There is also a bit of a Tony Hawk Pro Skater feel as you unconscionably create lines to fastest transverse the maps based on your skill level with the acrobatics.
An interesting twist is the inclusion of AI in every match. Team Deathmatch and Domination are both 5v5 affairs, much smaller than a lot of the online shooters we are seeing lately where server size is a selling point. To remedy this, two types of AI fill in the remainder of the team: Grunts and Specters. Grunts are your standard CoD marine, outfitted with simply an assault rifle and their stupidity. They usually pose no threat and die in one or two hits. The Grunts usually spawn into the game via a dropship in groups of 3 and have a tendency to stick together. They also do not have the jetpack that allows the player to do their acrobatics, resulting in them being easy targets. The Specters are identical to the Grunts but are robotic instead of human resulting in the ability to hack them. Holding the use key while next to one will result in it powering down, rebooting, and then becoming an ally that follows you until it’s death. Unfortunately, in the current state, the AI grunts do nothing to change how the game is approached since they lack any sort of presence or threat. My first game gave the illusion that the battle was larger than I originally perceived, as I didn’t realize it was 5v5. Once I understood there were AI players and that they posed little threat I mentally viewed the game, again, as 5v5. This mixed with the large maps means you’ll kill 2 or 3 times more AI than player in any game. The only reason I can think of for the player cap is to keep the number of potentially active Titans low. The maps lend themselves to larger team pools and I hope future game modes bump this up. Even a hard restriction on active Titans per team at one time could keep the chaos down while allowing the large maps to not feel so empty.
Other than that, the other new ideas aren’t as revolutionary. Killstreaks have been replaced with a cooldown timer for your Titan. Where as CoD traditionally has a “rich getting richer” effect in pertinence to the killstreaks, Titanfall rewards cooldown reduction for a wide assortment of actions, including simply hitting your target. The Titans themselves are, surprisingly, pretty well balanced. The only time when I have felt overwhelmed by Titans is when the enemy team has 2-3 and we have none. Every pilot has an anti-Titan weapon, though, which does a pretty decent job of damaging the Titans, though guerrilla tactics work best as Titans can kill pilots in a much fast manner. Attacking Titans is best done in groups and 2-3 pilots can destroy a Titan in just a few seconds. I have found that actually being in the Titan is the least useful way to utilize one. Each Titan has an AI core that goes into effect when the pilot is not in it. You can switch between Guard mode and Follow Mode, both pretty self-explanatory. Guard mode is quite effective for keeping a hardpoint protected while attempting to take others while Follow mode is perfect for fighting other Titans. Not only do most players in a Titan ignore you since there is another Titan to attack, you have double the firepower since you can attack with your anti-Titan weapon.
While all of this is interesting, I think my favorite aspect of the game is actually losing a match. Upon the match ending you’ll hear a voice announce, “Alright team, lets head back to base to regroup,” or something to that effect. A dispatch then radios over, “There is no time for that. Head to the evac point for dropship extraction.” The match is technically over but the game isn’t. A new objective point appears on the mini map where the dropship will land. This area is always atop a pretty tall building so acrobatics are needed to get to it. After 30 seconds a dropship appears and walking up to it will put your player in one of the seats. After the 30 seconds the door closes and the ship prepares for teleportation. 10 seconds later the drop ship warps out of the battlefield and, through the windows, you can see you are in space. What makes this part of the match so fun is that death is permanent for both sides and the ship can be destroyed with enough damage. It creates this tension where you want to get into the ship before it leaves but also defend it before you get in.
While mechanically this game has a ton going for it I can’t finish this post without talking about the way the visuals feed into the narrative. They don’t. I don’t seem to recall any year that this game takes place in, and I can’t seem to find any information online, but the Titans, Specters, and jetpacks effectively make this a sci-fi shooter. On the other hand, the Grunts, Players, and most of the guns point to modern weapons. The only Pilot weapons that are futuristic are an auto-lock pistol and a fully automatic rocket launchers. To make this more jarring, most of the environment in the game is modern as well. This game doesn’t fit inside of any specific period of time. The best I can guess would be an alternate timeline, similar to ours, but with an emphasis on AI war machines. This emphasis is so strong that while pumping tons of money into the Titan program, very little time was spent upgrading infantry weaponry. While I’m sure most gamers won’t even give this a second thought it was quite a dissonant experience for me after a few matches. I can only hope the single-player explains things a bit better, but knowing the history of Respawn I haven’t put my hopes too high.
Titanfall has a lot going for it in terms of rethinking what an online FPS could be in the post CoD world. Despite it’s many similarities in terms of gun mechanics with CoD, it is clear that Titanfall is a game that is not content with simply sitting atop the laurels of its past. The influences are clear but there is enough new content for it to be a strong competitor against the CoDs and Battlefields.
It has been brought to my attention that Titanfall matches are actually 6v6, not 5v5. After having played several matches, enough to hit level cap in the beta, it’s strange that I never picked up on this as this wasn’t a typo. I genuinely cannot recall any time while I was playing that I believed it to be anything other than a 5v5 affair.