The genesis point of Titanfall can be traced back to 2010. This is when two former Infinity Ward employees, Vince Zampella and Jason West, alleged that Activision unfairly fired them and did not pay them $36 million in unpaid bonuses. Soon after, the duo filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Activision and founded a new studio, Respawn Entertainment, which Activision says was a ploy to force themselves out of the mega-conglomerate and join up with another - Electronic Arts. The legal battle eventually settled out of court in 2012, but it was one of gaming’s biggest stories during that timeframe and the chaos eventually led to Jason West leaving Respawn.
Now, with all the legal and personal chaos finally subsiding, Respawn has released its first big game, sci-fi first person shooter Titanfall. The title has gone a route not often seen in “AAA” FPS games, eschewing single player in favor of an online multiplayer experience. While that may turn off solo player enthusiasts, Titanfall’s multiplayer prowess allows it to stand tall amongst the vast crowd of shooters.
Titanfall matches are 6-on-6 team battles between the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) and the Frontier Militia. Which team you are placed on is irrelevant, as each team plays identically. The battlefield includes AI controlled grunts and spectres that are easy to defeat but their presence still has an impact on the overall battle (similar to minions in MOBA titles like Dota 2). Player characters are called Pilots and are much more durable than these grunts. They can hold three weapons from a variety of different weapon choices, including sub-machine guns, pistols, sniper rifles, and shotguns. The smart pistol is the Pilot’s signature weapon. It can automatically lock onto any grunt or Pilot on the field and immediately kill them with one pull of the trigger. This makes it a good weapon for cleaning up grunts, but it becomes a challenge to use on other Pilots, as it requires multiple locks, which occurs only after several seconds of targeting the enemy. Pilots also have excellent mobility, as they can double jump with their rocket backpacks and run along walls for a few seconds. This makes Pilot battles more exciting – when you’re chasing down an enemy Pilot and they are jumping away and running off while peppering you with bullets, the action gets intense. Pilots can also use grenades or mines to take out enemies and tactical abilities such as cloaking or speed boosts that can help them get a leg up on the competition.
The main attraction of Titanfall, however, are the Titans. Pilots can call for a Titan during battle. This Titan has an independent AI which can be set to attack, defend, or follow its owner, but will most often be controlled directly by the player. When in a Titan, the player has more powerful weaponry and has shielding that can be recharged if not damaged for a few seconds in addition to a separate health bar (akin to the original Halo’s health set-up). Titans typically battle other Titans in heavy duty combat. In addition to guns, they have secondary weaponry and special powers of their own, such as capturing all bullets fired at it and then reflecting it back. They can dodge in any direction, but only twice in a row, then the ability needs to recharge, and the behemoths cannot jump. It becomes important to team up with other Titans to take out the opponent’s gargantuan threats while ducking out of the line of fire when your shield goes down, otherwise your health will be depleted and you’ll have to eject your Titan before it explodes, taking you with it. Titans clearly outclass Pilots in direct combat, but Pilots are not completely defenseless. They have an Anti-Titan Weapon which does heavy damage, they can use a specific type of grenade that scrambles the Titan’s vision momentarily, and they can jump onto the Titan and rodeo it, allowing them to damage the Titan’s internal mechanics directly. Each map is designed to accommodate both Pilot and Titan play, though some maps may be easier for one or the other to maneuver on.
There are five game modes in Titanfall. Attrition is Titanfall’s Team Deathmatch mode, where players will eliminate each other to rack up points for their team. One key difference in Titanfall is that the battlefield is littered with weak grunts and Spectre troops. These troops only minimally effect the action (grunts are especially weak, while Spectres can launch rockets at a Titan if they are given time), but killing them is worth points towards the team’s total. Because of this, it is to the team’s advantage to have at least one member mowing down the grunts and Spectres to keep the point total rising. This role works well for new players, who can avoid dying in the firefights and focus on taking down the weaklings while honing their skills. Pilot Hunter mode is very similar to Attrition, but only awards points for killing enemy pilots. This mode is better for those who don’t find the idea of killing grunts and Spectres a worthy venture.
Two variants of capture and defense gameplay are also included. Hardpoint tasks players with capturing and defending three specific points on the map. The act of capturing is worth points to the team and the longer a point is defended, the more points will be earned. Teams must constantly move between hardpoints to capture and re-capture them, as the fighting for each hardpoint is fierce throughout the entire battle. Capture the Flag is the standard Capture the Flag mode you’ve come to expect from many other first person shooters. Teams must enter the enemy base, take their flag and return it back to their own base without being killed. If the player drops the flag, the other team can return it to their base simply by touching it. Shrewd players sneak into the base, grab the flag, and then hop into their Titan, which leads to intense Titan battles with the flag on the line.
Last Titan Standing is the gameplay mode with the most intrigue. Each player starts out with one Titan and it is the only Titan they will receive in each round of the match. The two teams will then battle each other and whichever team loses all their Titans first loses the round. This mode encourages team play – running head-on into the enemy forces not only gets you killed immediately but does severe damage to your team’s chance of winning the round. All hope isn’t lost if your Titan is defeated, as pilots can still run around and attack other Titans as long as their team has at least one Titan alive. If you’re not sure what mode to pick, you can choose Variety Pack, which randomly selects one of the five gameplay modes at the start of each match.
Each of these gameplay modes can be played on any of the game’s fifteen maps. Maps include both indoor and outdoor areas and provide ample cover and areas for players to execute whatever strategy they desire. Some maps include interactive elements such as taking control of heavy-weapon turrets or sliding across ziplines.
While Titanfall does not have any single player support, the game does feature a campaign. The IMC and Militia are at war and players will get to take part in their battles. Each level in the campaign is an online match in one of the gameplay modes. It plays just like a standard multiplayer match but includes story characters chattering over the radio and video feeds of what’s occurring on the battlefield. The story is not particularly memorable, but it is cool to watch story events unfold in the corner of your screen while you focus on the match. The campaign can be played as both the IMC and the Militia, and completing each side will unlock a new Titan build for use in-game. While winning the match is certainly the goal, you can advance through the campaign even if your team is on the losing end.
Customization is a big part of Titanfall as it lets you play the game the way you desire. You can save multiple Pilot and Titan loadouts and choose different loadouts at the start of each match. Pilots can choose a weapon from three groups: primary weapon, side-arm, and anti-Titan weapon. They can also choose their type of grenade or mine, tactical ability, and kits that suit their playstyle best. A run and gun player will opt for speed boosting abilities and quick firing weapons, while a sniper will be more stationary and grab a rocket launcher for attacking Titans and a cloak to remain undetected while sniping enemies.
Titan loadouts start with the chassis. The Atlas loadout is an all-around chassis and available from the start. The Ogre loadout is slow and defensive while the Stryder is quick but frail – both are unlocked by completing the campaign. From there, you choose your Titan’s weapon, tactical ability, ordinance, and kit - much like the Pilot loadout. You could choose a high fire-rate weapon with a Titan visual scrambling smokescreen and boosted damage, or maybe you’ll opt for a powerful, low ammo weapon with a bullet absorbing shield and a nuclear ejection that causes a massive explosion once the Titan is defeated. Or maybe you’ll choose something else entirely, as there are many different loadout options. Not all choices are available at the start, but as you play matches you’ll gain experience points for completing tasks and achievements. More abilities will unlock as you level up.
Another tactical addition to the game is the Burn Card system. Burn Cards, once unlocked, grant temporary upgrades or perks that can be played before each respawn and last until your next death. Such upgrades include boosting the length of your tactical ability, changing weapons, immediate Titan spawn, and double the experience points. Though the combination of unlockable loadout options and burn cards would seem to make some players too powerful, their boosts are small enough that you won’t feel like it’s an unscalable wall – I was able to hold my own even without burn cards and took down plenty of enemy Pilots that were using them. Titanfall’s customization options and burn cards give it many similarities to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, but Titanfall offers a new take on these features and makes them very compelling.
On the visual front, Titanfall is not going to be the game that pushes a high-powered PC rig to its limits. Respawn was committed to making this game play well first and foremost, and it accomplishes that with aplomb on the PC, which avoids many of the framerate dips and instances of screen tearing that have been reported for its Xbox One brother. But it still looks good and the core game excels enough that not having top of the line graphics is arguably not much of an issue.
Dedication to multiplayer is a major strength of Titanfall, but it could also be its biggest weakness. If the thought of a well-balanced, competitive multiplayer shooter does not interest you, the lack of additional features or single player could discourage you from buying the game. Even those who want to play have to take Titanfall’s small number of gameplay modes into account – players who don’t get hooked by the game may not play it long enough to justify a purchase. Respawn has promised additional gameplay modes as free DLC and will add both paid and free DLC in the future. For now, the content that is available is excellent, but could cause many players to become fatigued over time.
Titanfall can be viewed as the result of economic specialization. Respawn understood that what they do best is multiplayer and focused all of their efforts to create the best multiplayer shooter they could. Instead of including a single player mode just to check off that box on a features list, they stuck to one thing and the result is spectacular. Those without an interest in online multiplayer shooting may not find this to be their cup of tea, but those who do enjoy this kind of game will herald this as one of the best such games ever released. Titanfall deserves the many accolades it has received and stands on the shoulders of titans.
This review is based on a digital copy of Titanfall for the PC