Titanfall Review17 Mar 2014  by
I’ve spent far too many words discussing Pilots and Titans, and there are still at least two things I have to talk about. Alas, then, my lengthy diatribe on how fantastic the auto-targeting Smart Pistol is (and how surprisingly balanced it is), and on the joys of Burn Cards, will have to be dismissed in favour of Other Stuff.
One bit of the Other Stuff is the emphasis this multiplayer-only game places on AI, which might be a bit of a surprise. Titanfall offers a maximum player count of 6v6, which may sound miniscule in this age when developers champion 256v256 player combat, but it really doesn’t feel it. Part of this, certainly, is down to the map design, but a lot of it is down to the fact that any given map is also being fought over by swathes of AI soldiers.
There are Grunts, which are basic soldiers that provide almost no opposition whatsoever, and there are Spectres, which are robots that are very occasionally a bit of a pain. These AI goons run around and shoot at each other, providing both a nice bit of scenery and a nice bit of camouflage (it’s hard to tell the difference between them and Pilots until one of them starts double-jumping around). Killing them reduces the time to call down your next Titan, and Spectres can even be hacked to switch them over to your side… although, uh, that doesn’t really mean much, considering how weak these enemies are.
If there’s one area where Titanfall trips and slams its face into the door, though, it’s the campaign. Alright, yes, nobody’s buying this for the campaign, but I’m finding it impossible not to be massively disappointed by what was actually done.
The campaign was touted as a multiplayer-only thing that would provide a storyline context for the battles being waged. What it actually is, is nine specific multiplayer matches with a couple of little scripted setpieces (which you likely won’t see, because you’ll be focused on shooting other players) and a lot of overlaid dialogue (which you probably won’t hear, because you’ll be focused on shooting other players).
Worse still, nothing you do feels like it means anything. One mission revolves around the IMC defending a base from the Militia. Win or lose, you’ll be told that a splinter team broke through an area outside of the playable map and they’ve blown everything up. Considering the potential for a short campaign that branched based on wins/losses, that’s a bit sad. You’ll play through it twice (once on each side) to unlock the final two Titans for customisation, and you’ll get a load of level ups from doing so, but it feels a lot more staid, banal, and unoriginal than just diving into regular multiplayer – which is a shame, considering the level of raw potential inherent in this.
And, despite my championing the balance here, there are a few bits of which I’m not a huge fan. I’m not talking about weapon balance – it’ll take a few weeks for the community to sort that one out – but just general gameplay stuff. The low player count, combined with the massive impact each individual player has, means that a match with imbalanced teams will be a one-sided stomp, and this happens more regularly than you’d think. And, honestly, I wish there was a bit of a delay on the jump/double-jump, because far too many Pilot on Pilot battles devolve into both people hopping around like jackrabbits fitted with springs.
Still, I can’t help but be amazed by Titanfall. It’s a game that absolutely, positively, should not work. It pits puny humans against giant walking death machines. It ramps up fast-paced shooter action with free running-styled movement. It has a plethora of abilities and weapons that should be game-breaking, ranging from the wallhacking sonar ping to the auto-targeting Smart Pistol. And yet, for the most part, it works! And when it works – when you wall-run into the sky, look down, lock onto an unsuspecting pilot with your Smart Pistol and loose three bullets into his head with one click, and then land on an enemy Titan for a rodeo attack – it’s beautiful.
For all of this, it’s still a little raw. Bits and pieces like the AI soldiers could really do with a bit of rebalancing, if only to make Spectre hacking worthwhile, and a few elements – like the campaign – simply don’t work. The actual options for multiplayer matches are also depressingly sparse, essentially boiling down to picking a game mode and then hoping you get a map you want to play; there’s no voting for maps or modes here, and no option for private matches. Hell, the modes themselves are fairly sparse with the only real innovation offered in things like Last Titan Standing, which gives everyone a Titan and… well, yes.
So no, Titanfall isn’t a triumph because of the breadth of its game modes or options, and if you’re after dozens of different modes and maps to run, jump, and shoot your way through then you’ll leave disappointed. If you want something significantly slower than Call of Duty, you should look elsewhere. If you want a complete reboot of the multiplayer shooter genre, you won’t find it here.
But if you want a fast-paced, frenetic shooter with a set of mechanics that mesh surprisingly well; a strong David vs Goliath vibe; and a ridiculously polished experience? If you want a really good multiplayer shooter – and that’s coming from someone who generally gets bored with most after a few days? If you want a game with a design ethos that isn’t focused on just aping what’s already there, and – while not revolutionary – shakes things up enough that it feels wholly unique? If you want these things, Pilot, then prepare for Titanfall. It’s got a few issues, but you’ll have a hard time noticing them when the game is in full swing.