In case you’ve been living under a rock, the beta of a little known game going by the name “Titanfall” was unleashed upon the world last week. It’s the first game from phoenix-from-the-ashes studio Respawn Entertainment as well as being the headlining title for Microsoft’s Xbox One console.
As a first person shooter (FPS) the game isn’t overly reliant on story line. You play a Titan pilot on either the side of the corporate overlords, Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) or the rebels fighting to save their outlying worlds from pillage known as MCOR. As a pilot you posses the ability to request the dispatch of a mechanised exoskeleton—around four storeys tall—that you can quickly jump in and impose large rampageous amounts of damage to all those near by. Boy becomes soldier, boy calls in mech from orbit, boy lays waste to the land with mech weaponry.
Classic fairytale stuff, really.
There’s been a lot of marketing hype around the title. Microsoft have been pushing it ever since the Xbox One launched even though it wasn’t a launch title. Others have been put off with the multiplayer only mode or restrictions on player counts in match, but having had the opportunity to spend a little over nine hours in-game with the beta I’m can honestly say the hype is well warranted and I’m going to tell you why.
“Boy becomes soldier, boy calls in mech from orbit, boy lays waste to the land with mech weaponry. Classic fairytale stuff, really.”
It’s Call of Duty, but not. In a good way
There’s a reason Titanfall at its core feels like a multiplayer match of Call of Duty (CoD). It was created by the same guys that operated one of the CoD developers—Infinity Ward—before it was purchased by Activision. Then (in a story that’s since become gaming folk lore) co-founder Vince Zampella and president Jason West were escorted by security guards from the building and quickly formed the aptly named Respawn Entertainment. But it wasn’t just Zampella & West, 38 other Infinty Ward employees also left to join Respawn.
So it comes to reason that if you’ve played any of the CoD titles since Modern Warfare the structural ingredients of Titanfall’s mechanics will seem extremely familiar. The included game modes in the beta of called “Attrition” and “Hardpoint” bear a more than stronger resemblance to CoD’s Team Deathmatch and Domination modes. Add to that the ability to create custom load outs (for your pilot and Titan), a player level progression system, standard array of weaponry categories and player challenges and you’ve successfully followed the same winning FPS multiplayer systems that have been in place since these guys first created them all in CoD.
“If so much sounds the same then how can it be different?” I hear you asking. Well for starters, there’s giant robots that you can climb into! The Titans serve as a bigger version of your pilot self. They’re relatively agile, not the clambering mechs from the days of MechWarrior, far closer to the more recent Hawken (for those who’ve played the excellent PC shooter). Limited to one model of Titan only in the beta, the full release will see a variety of models differing in stats and abilities relevant to load outs, armouring and agility.
The Titans can also run in an auto-pilot mode should you not wish to control it yourself. Set it to “follow” and the hulking beast plods its way around the map doing it’s best to keep up with you tussling with whatever foes it encounters along the way. They’ll also run in a “defend” mode, ideal for those domination style game modes, the Titan staying put engaging anything that comes near.
As a pilot you’re far more nimble. Equipped with a short-burst jetpack enabling you to double-jump & wall-run, it all adds a refreshing new degree of verticality to the level design. The added jump boost the jetpacks provide are the perfect match to the speed at which you navigate intricate interiors of amazingly well thought-out level design. Unlike previous iterations of jetpacks in other titles like Halo and Killzone, Titanfall’s is an extension of the pilot’s natural movement and speed. Think of it as sci-fi parkour with guns and a mech for a pet.
Multiplayer only? But I suck at multiplayer
Yes, Titanfall is indeed a multiplayer only game. For starters that means you’re going to need an internet connection and a gold Xbox Live account to play it, but a far scarier proposition for many is exactly how completely affronting CoD multiplayer can be. Many won’t play it at all, buying it purely to play through the single player campaign, the idea of jumping into a multiplayer match and being killed twenty times in about two minutes without firing off a single round far from appealing. So what’s in it for them?
Well, there is a campaign, two in fact. There aren’t a lot of details and they’re still multiplayer but it was revealed during the beta that there would be a campaign from the perspective of each faction telling their stories and piecing together how the war came to be. I’d expect the matches to be interlaced with a series of cut scenes or narrated animated comics or video as medium to tell the story with the played levels a forced series of match types. It will be interesting to see how they handle failure and if the story merely continues to roll on or adapts in some way. Here’s hoping it’s not simply a requirement to win and forces a replay. We’ll have to wait to see come March 13 (11 in the USA).
Campaign aside Titanfall is ultimately a multiplayer game and Respawn have done an incredible job of balancing it in a way that allows non seasoned FPS multiplayers to play and still enjoy themselves. It’s done in a few different ways, the Titan’s for a start are available to everyone, it’s just a matter of waiting a designated time (which can be sped up by a variety of methods) before you get your pet to pilot and destroy.
Another is the low real player limit of six per team. Many gamers cried blue murder when this was first announced. How could a game of this size for the next-gen of consoles only have twelve player maps when titles like Battlefield 4 were doing 64! It’s self-imposed, and with good reason. The player limit is perfect for the very reason of allowing non regular players to enjoy the ability to move around the maps without encountering other whom may be more skilled and quickly inflicting death.
The gap in players is filled by AI. Throughout each match a continuous stream of pods fall from the sky with extra canon fodder for all to pick off. A combination of human and robot AI litter the landscape with a relatively inept attitude towards killing any of the real players with any conviction. They provide an important ingredient in continuing the action, portraying the illusion of constant engagement and in the process allowing experience to be racked up by players of all skill levels. It’s probably one of the smartest elements of the game. Without engaging any of the Titans or other pilots one can still attain a top three finish on the leaderboards at the end of a match. Sure you’re likely to be picked off a few times as the other players whizz by but it’s not a requirement to run into battle like in a CoD only to be killed a second later. It’s a brilliant mechanic.
Can it be the Xbox One’s saviour?
Sony’s Playstation 4 has outsold the Xbox One nearly two to one, shifting just over 5 million units to Microsoft’s 3 since going on sale late last year, leaving the Xbox really needing a winner here. Ideally you’d see this as an Xbox One exclusive but with Respawn being funded through EA’s publishing partnership program Microsoft should consider themselves lucky to have gotten any exclusivity at all.
Microsoft have been in a similar position before. The original Xbox was an entry into a battleground ruled by powerful forces that saw it as no more than a hobby for some bored engineers that was until a certain game by the name of Halo came along. Can lightning strike twice? Microsoft are surely hoping so and I think they’ve put their eggs in the right basket on this one.
Here’s the bottom line: I will be absolutely giving Titanfall a red-hot crack come launch day. I suggest you do the same. It’s a day-one purchase for me and a system-seller for many more down the track.