The Titanfall beta has been and gone. It's time to open the curtains again and maybe, just maybe, step outside once more. Be careful, though, Matt tried to rodeo a double decker bus this morning and it didn't go so well.
The hype train for Titanfall has been rolling steadily onwards since people first went hands-on with the game last year, and there were hour-long queues of just industry reps before the big conventions opened. It's been the game on everyone's lips, it seems, but has that hype been justified? Is the game genuinely exciting, or have we simply been told that it is? Have Respawn simply made COD with big, stompy mechs?
Here's what we made of the Titanfall beta:
Titanfall doesn't really do anything new, not really. We've seen jetpacks and parkour and mechs and domination modes and temporary perks and customisation before. But they've perhaps never quite been bundled up and balanced so impressively in a single game before.
A new console generation is often rife with hyperbole, but it's no surprise that Titanfall's beta has confirmed for many what the press were raving about after convention season last year: that Respawn's new shooter has quality in spades. Much of that has to do with Titanfall's accessibility. The tutorial is thorough but fairly swift, and the game itself packs a variable, dynamic learning curve thanks to the way matches are fleshed out and balanced with AI. Somehow, Respawn have managed to deliver a game that renders K/D pretty unimportant, and allows casual shooter fans to make a meaningful contribution (and to feel like awesome badasses) alongside genre veterans.
There's a new FPS party in town, and everyone is invited.
For me, Titanfall felt at its strongest in the Hardpont missions, where the ebb and flow of battle is constantly changing, and how you use your Titan becomes crucially important to taking and holding domination points. If Respawn can expand upon this in the final game with more modes that add in context and strategic nuances to the fast, frenetic action, then that'll only help the game's longevity.
But to be fair, whatever game mode I jumped into in the beta, I had an absolute blast. You can see the flair for slick, tight controls, and superb balancing that made the names of many of these developers back in the early days of Modern Warfare, and it's that capacity for making every detail fit in the right way that has made this beta so fundamentally enjoyable that I'm to really miss it over the next few weeks ahead of the game's release.
After months of hearing about how good Titanfall was, to finally get hands on with the beta proved one thing – that the praise was entirely justified. While I shouldn’t be too surprised considering the pedigree of the development team behind it, I was impressed by how slick and natural the controls were, both on-foot as a pilot and as a giant war-machine of a mech. In terms of this accessibility, it bodes well for both core and casual gamers who want some shootery fun, and that in turn should hopefully translate in a healthy and well-populated multiplayer community.
While I only saw a small portion of the progression available in Titanfall (I only got to level 10 or so) the systems such as unlocking new weapons and loadouts, as well as the Burn Card system, came across as promising for the long term, ensuring that (to borrow a phrase Jon has used a number of times) “everybody gets to play with all the toys” whilst still not feeling overpowered. It’s the one thing that always put me off in recent COD games, as the veterans who know the maps inside out would trounce a newcomer repeatedly, and while yes, I did have my ass handed to me many a time in the beta, I always felt it was a fair defeat. To me, that is perhaps Respawn’s most impressive feat.
Of course, we only got to play with a few modes and maps, but if Respawn have an array of maps that are as balanced as the ones in the beta, and throw in a few more interesting game types (I personally think a MOBA-style mode would work really well with the AI as minions and Titans charging in as champions) then Titanfall might well be one of the few recent AAA games that can meet the expectations put upon it, regardless of your chosen platform of choice.
Titanfall is casual, addictive, inclusive and most of all fantastic fun. Respawn are clearly at the height of their powers, capable of making a PvP game feel like an epic battle, and impossibly balancing a pistol that automatically aims for the head. Witchcraft!
I'm sure my colleagues have done a fantastic job of explaining all that. They're not wrong, either. But as the only member of the team with an Xbox One, my limited column space is probably better spent talking about the two versions, and how they stack up.
There's no denying that the PC beta runs at a more consistent clip, boasts superior tweakable visuals and V-sync that actually works. The full game will be considerably cheaper too. Having levelled both versions up to 14, I can attest wholeheartedly that the PC beta did the business, often with more gusto than its flagship console counterpart.
So you might find it odd, then, that I actually preferred to play Titanfall on Xbox One. Because... and let's just rip the plaster off... it's a console game.
I do mean that very literally. Like Modern Warfare, Titanfall has been built around the limited inputs of a console controller, putting its effortless parkour and Titan controls at your fingertips. What's functional with a mouse and keyboard feels infinitely more slick, fluid and satisfying using its intended control scheme, helped by gratuitous rumbling at all the right moments. If you need further proof of its console heritage, look no further than the lack of server browsers, or controller-optimised menus that feel like eating soup with chopsticks if navigated with a mouse.
What's more, Titanfall's entire casual, inclusive, accessible, quick-to-play philosophy is designed around that home console ideal: flopping down on your sofa after a long day, saying "Xbox On" while cracking open a real ale (or Mountain Dew, if you enjoy ingesting irradiated piss) and kicking back with a few frictionless, effortless, instantly gratifying games. It's a testament to Respawn that Titanfall works brilliantly on PC, but its home is on Microsoft's big black box. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.
That said, for £26, I could just plug one of my Xbox 360 controllers into my PC every now and again. Oh. Now that's happening.