Titanfall is a testament to what a talented group of people can accomplish when given permission to pursue the very essence of their dream, without any caveats or superfluous decoration mandated by publishers.
Respawn Entertainment's debut is everything it needs to be--and nothing more. The former Call of Duty developers removed any padding and dropped all unnecessary extra weight, leaving behind a lean, star athlete built for the sport of online first-person-shooter multiplayer. In place of a traditional, offline single-player mode in which you're funneled down a linear series of guided action sequences, Titanfall touts a multiplayer campaign that sees nine of the 15 total maps serve as arenas for guerrilla skirmishes between the militant Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation and the ragtag rebels who call themselves the Militia.
The story told over this campaign is a simple one that exists solely to set up im-provisational performances by players, as opposed to a rigidly scripted experience. As the IMC and the Militia wage war over ownership of Frontier planetary systems, players participate in each frenzied 6-on-6 fracas by battling it out as jump kit-enhanced human Pilots with wall-running, building-leaping agility and two-story mechanical goliaths, the game's titular Titans. But unlike Call of Duty or other multiplayer-centric shooters, Titanfall's campaign is not to be ignored. It serves as an extended tutorial that helps familiarize players with the bulk of the game's maps and its systems, as well as a means to level up and unlock additional weapons, abilities, and gear for Pilot and Titan alike. It's also the only way to unlock the second and third Titan chassis--the heavily armored Ogre and the much swifter Stryder--one awarded for completing the campaign as IMC, the other as Militia.
Across both the campaign and the classic multiplayer, there's a level of respect to balance and fairness that borderlines on religion. Because development saw no division of resources between single- and multiplayer, Respawn had the time to attend to each map lovingly, patiently whittling away until every detail was just right. In a game populated by players that can bound between walls and jump across buildings, giant mechs that drop out of the sky, and a number of Al combatants to pick off at leisure, it's kind of amazing that no map feels inadequately designed for one or the other. Of course, some maps favor Pilots while others are more suited to Titans, but this simply compels players to change up tactics rather than fall into typical routines.
Instead of an overabundance of weapon selections wherein the first assault rifle available feels like the one you're stuck with until you unlock the next iteration, the hardware in Titanfall--all slickly designed to resemble our collectively understood schema of "assault rifle," "shotgun," "SMG," and so on, but with just a hint of a sci-fi facelift--each represents the expected archetypes, but their perfect form. Every weapon handles like the end result of exhaustive research into the most popular, best-feeling versions of videogame firearms, but no one gun is decidedly superior to another--just different.
Of course, the weapons--regardless of how distinctly great they each feel--are hardly what sets Titanfall apart. Nor, for that matter, are the industrial combat machines that lovingly pluck you out of the sky and insert you into their cockpit belly. No, the real star of the show is the jump kit nestled on the lower back of every Pilot. They're what make Titanfall--more than any of its other notable elements--a game-changer. They turn battles into matches defined by momentum and make aggression the key to victory. As a result, Titanfall is familiar in the inescapably fundamental way any first-person shooter is, but markedly unlike its competition experientially--and that's invigorating.
Respawn's debut is, unquestionably, worthy of all the praises sung about it. The team looked up one day and wondered why we weren't spending more time exploiting the Z-axis in videogames--and decided to do something about it. Titanfall proves that we're all the better for it. This may not convert FPS nonbelievers, but it does tap directly into the veins of those already on a steady first-person-shooter drip who've long since built up a numb tolerance to what, in the wake of Titanfall, will seem like rote alternatives. For them, Titanfall is the 151 proof version of their favorite liquor: familiar in taste, but so much more potent.
As someone who groaned through an era where multiplayer games mercilessly pillaged Call of Duty 4 for inspiration, I'm happy to report that Titanfall captures the intense, digestible fun of Modern Warfare while being a fundamentally much better game. Doing away with moronically brief lifespans and the imbalancing positive feedback loop of killstreak rewards makes for a more rewarding, less frustrating experience from top to bottom. Whether lightning will strike twice for Vince Zampella and company is anyone's guess, but if it does, you can be certain the industry will spend the next decade aping Titanfall. From where I'm standing, that's not such a bad future.
Will Titanfall be the Halo or Gears of War of the Xbox One generation? So far, I'm not certain that it will be--and maybe it's unfair to the game to heap that huge responsibility upon it. Thankfully. Titanfall also isn't just Call of Duty with giant robots. There's a great dynamic between being on foot and in a hulking mass of metal after it's dropped from the heavens, and each offers enjoyment in their own individual ways. At the same time, I'm not sold on all of Respawn's design decisions. I'm fine with 6-versus-6 matches; I despise having bots then thrown into the mix. The full game might change my mind, but for now, Titanfallis an intriguing evolution of the genre--just maybe not a revolution.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP