As you may have noticed, Titanfall contains all the ingredients of a perfect hype-storm: it’s the first game made by Respawn, refugees from one of the most-revered developers, Call of Duty’s Infinity Ward; it’s the first game that promise to make anything like maximum use of the Xbox One’s under-the-bonnet grunt; and, most importantly, it adds plenty of next-gen originality to the previously rather stale first-person shooter blueprint. So, is there substance beneath the hyperbole?
In a word, yes. Titanfall is, of course, an online-only multiplayer first-person shooter which also lets you jump into mechs. Normally, that prospect would fill us with trepidation – our FPS skills are sufficiently mediocre that we tend to get blasted to smithereens every 15 seconds when we take them online, and we’ve always thought that mechs are, well, meh. But Titanfall is so beautifully balanced, matched and structured that even if FPS games ordinarily leave you cold, you will still find it rewarding and insanely addictive. It really is one of those games that you’ll find nigh-impossible to set aside.
At first, mind, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. Titanfall’s Campaign mode provides its best entry-point, but in many ways fails to impress. You can play through it twice – as the military IMC or the rebel Militia – and we’d recommend that, since it will level you up so that you’re sufficiently well equipped to tackle the game proper, aka Classic mode. But Campaign’s attempts at chiselling out some semblance of a story – confined to audio from your commanding officers while you’re sitting in the lobby, plus wretched but mercifully short cut-scenes as you’re dropped into the maps – are so pathetic they might as well not have bothered.
Not that you’ll mind once you taste the heat of Titanfall’s battles. You start off on foot, as a Pilot; after a pre-set amount of time, you’ll be able to summon and climb into a Titan. Choice of load-outs is important – for those with accuracy issues, you can select an auto-aiming pistol, and more conventional assault rifles, shotguns and snipers are also on offer. You have a jet-pack which lets you leap prodigiously, and can wall-run and cling to the side of buildings. In your Titan, you can choose between various heavy weapons, each with a trade-off in terms of ammo capacity, reloading and so on, and must judiciously employ a shield which collects enemy ordnance and fires it back at them, as well as a destructive but slow-to-replenish rocket attack. Brilliantly, as a soldier, you can jump on enemy Titans and shoot into their cockpit, and you’re given time to eject if your Titan is fatally wounded.
The Campaign mode confines itself to the two least hardcore game-modes: Attrition, which is a simple free-for-all Death Match, and Hardpoint Domination, in which you try to make sure your team is in control of three designated areas. Classic mode adds several gameplay types. There’s Last Titan Standing, in which everyone starts in Titans and takes part in mini-matches until only one Titan remains, then goes through the process again, pausing only to swap factions at half-time. Capture The Flag is self-explanatory – and the mix of Titans and footsoldiers adds a gloriously tactical extra dimension. Pilot Hunter is Attrition, except with a narrow focus on Pilots (a key part of Titanfall’s appeal to those who aren’t FPS-ninjas is the presence of AI-controlled grunts acting as cannon-fodder). And Variety Pack mixes and matches all the modes. Structurally, that’s all there is to it – a collection of modes – which, in the past, you would have said amounted to half a game.
But what keeps you playing and, indeed, ramps up your enjoyment then sucks you ever deeper into Titanfall is the genius way in which its levelling-up and upgrade systems have been designed. So, in other words, it’s a game that will make uber-geeks of us all. Every time you level up, you’re given something useful – initially, basic things that you might elsewhere have been expected to be given from the word go, such as the ability to customise Pilots and Titans, or a choice of special Pilot abilities. Get to level 4, and Challenges come into play: these are numerous, and achieving them brings large amounts of XP, which in turn keeps you levelling up when you would otherwise reach the limits imposed by your skills.
Burn Cards, which give useful temporary boosts, add an extra twist. You can only employ them when you respawn, and they only last until your next death – plus you get a maximum of three Burn Card slots, so it pays to use them tactically. Countless cute touches abound, such as the ability to build Titans around different chassis (speed, all-round or tank), or to replace their shields with a kind of electrically charged fog. Of course, it’s all magnificent to behold – the graphics are truly next-gen, the level-design is jaw-dropping and the whole spectacle magnificent to behold even if you’ve just been slaughtered in an abject manner.
Titanfall, then, provides our first glimpse of the true possibilities of next-gen gaming. But there’s one caveat – it’s so games-geeky that, if you show it to a non-gamer in an attempt to convert them, they will probably fail to see its appeal, and it’s a very tricky game to explain in layman’s terms. But for the console connoisseur, it’s nothing less than a glimpse into the future.
Reviewed by Steve Boxer