Developer: Respawn Entertainment
For many, Titanfall was the vanguard of a year of games that didn't live up to their hype. I am not one of those people.
Titanfall has kept me coming back week after week, month after month, because its gameplay is evergreen. I'm not just throwing myself through the grinder for randomised loot or arbitrary metagame levels, rather I'm playing simply because the thrill of snapping necks, dropping mechs and effortlessly traversing an entire map without touching the ground is nigh-on perfect, and worth every minute. The small yet dedicated fanbase clearly feels the same, enjoying the fact that the skill ceiling is as high as the lofty maps themselves.
So the third and final map pack is Respawn's opportunity to go gonzo; to create a crazy, visually diverse and utterly innovative last hurrah before presumably concentrating on a multi-platform sequel.
This didn't happen, sadly, but IMC Rising is still an excellent expansion that subscribes to a familiar template: two undeniably brilliant maps and a third that reveals a unique edge after a few matches.
As per usual, we'll discuss each map in turn based on the order in which I initially played them.
Sand Trap is a class act. Its deep azure colour palette is the first thing that hits you, but the level architecture proves to be even more exciting, presenting two dense clusters of multi-level structures, bottomless pits and interiors separated by an enormous open expanse of sand dunes with a large hill in the middle. This enormous killing field naturally favours Titans that can exploit dashes and vortex shields, leaving Pilots easy pickings for chainguns and and snipers if they find themselves out in the open.
However, canny pilots can stick to the periphery to deliver long-range Archer and Charge Rifle barrages from the safety of doorways and balconies, and exploit a game-changing piece of architecture. Both sides of the maps are linked by a lengthy narrow underground corridor over an instant-death pit, which allows you to quickly and (relatively) safely travel underneath the dunes by chaining wall-runs together, often facing off in desperate mid-air duels with opponents doing the same. Again, over a bottomless death pit. This route is hotly contested regardless what mode you play in, especially in CTF, which forces defenders to keep a beady eye on both the high and low roads.
It's colourful, diverse and provides wildly different pacing on a minute-to-minute basis; a real tour de force even in a game that already boasts some of the best maps in the business.
Speaking of the best maps in the business, though, Backwater is probably the strongest in the entire game. At the very least, the best since War Games. Effectively it's an inverse Sand Trap: compact as opposed to expansive and focusing the action on a vertical stack of agricultural outbuildings, grain silos and gantries on a hill in the middle of the stage, whereas open ground hosts Titan brawls and savvy snipers on the periphery.
The agricultural art design is surprisingly colourful and visually engaging, offsetting the brown buildings with merry bunting and terraced green rice paddies, but Backwater is living proof of Respawn's uncanny ability to create organic and flowing traversal routes. Whether you stick to the interior or exterior of the towering structure, you're able to wall-run and hop your way around without ever encountering a dead end, facilitated by masterful zip line placement that allows you to gain altitude or quickly nip about the periphery at perfect Rodeo height. It feels fantastic and intelligently designed to deliver fast-flowing non-stop Pilot engagements on multiple levels, with Titans having to continually look up as well as out. The compact design also funnels players together with little downtime between respawns and your next kill.
There are no tricks, gimmicks or pits. Indeed, I'm not sure that anything more needs to be said. Backwater delivers pure, honest-to-goodness quality, and a parkour playground regardless of mode. Personally, though, I feel that stock Attrition might actually be the most exciting here, as it allows you to sit back and enjoy the vertical freedom without worrying about choke points and defence.
Finally we come to Zone 18, the grey sheep of the family and by far the least visually appealing map that Respawn has ever produced. It's a dull dense sprawling agglomeration of identikit grey buildings, none of which are more than two storeys tall, haphazardly strewn about with no eyecatching landmarks or particularly interesting features. Worse, the incredibly long sight lines meant that Respawn had to pull a Silent Hill to guarantee stable Xbox One frame rates by wreathing the stage in thick mist that makes an already dreary stage even more tedious to behold.
It makes a truly horrible first impression, but canny players will have already noticed the twist in the tale. "None of which are more than two storeys tall." "Incredibly long sight lines." The fact that the level is so flat presents an entirely new experience for Titanfall Pilots, since Titans now boast the most lofty viewpoint in the level -- especially if you hitch a ride to gain even more altitude while benefiting from shield coverage! -- while rooftops are are now vulnerable death traps rather than vantage points.
This makes for a very different kind of gameplay flow, where chaining wall-jumps between buildings than securing towers, and where rooftops should only be exploited for a few seconds before relocating to avoid withering bursts of chaingun or Hemlok fire. It's nervy, organic and genuinely exciting. By the same token, Titans can be hit from anywhere and blasted out of nowhere, ensuring that they have to keep pushing forwards and even using the crouch key to bushwhack unfriendly foes or avoid taking fire from unexpected angles.
As such, Zone 18 is a perfect fit for objective gametypes, since everyone has to keep moving and stay agile to stay alive and complete their mission. Running the flag through interiors and hopping between walls is immensely exciting, as is the ability to take down enemy Titans from a huge distance if you're accurate enough. Hardpoint is king, though, thanks to the ease of both attack, breach and defence. It's just a shame that the visuals don't match the quality of the design, and may lead players to ignoring what is a totally unique and quirky offering.
- Sand Trap is superb
- Backwater is even better!
- Zone 18 shakes up the formula with its low-slung design...
- ... but is annoyingly grey, dull and foggy despite its unique gameplay
- No new purchasable emblems
The Short Version: Titanfall closes out the season pass with another trio of brilliantly-designed maps. It's a shame that the most unique stage is also visually uninspired, but IMC Rising delivers superb quality without relying on gimmicks or traps, resulting in a parkour playground for those who still put gameplay above all else.
Did Titanfall live up to the hype? That's a question for another article, but if, like me, you're still snapping necks and dropping mechs on a regular basis, IMC Rising is a fitting sendoff that's well worth the wedge.