Developer: Respawn Entertainment
As I leap from the exploding carcass of my massive exosuit after crushing an entire squad of enemies underfoot, wall-run across the side of a building, jump several stories into the air and kick an opposing player in the back of the head in the space of ten exhilarating seconds, I can't help but wonder where Titanfall was all my life. It promised to be The Next Big Thing, a new FPS paradigm from the creators of Modern Warfare, replacing traditional military ground pounding with enormous mechs, parkour-enhanced mobility and verticality we've rarely seen from the genre. We were so ready.
Well here it is, and we've finally got the measure of it. Titanfall doesn't do anything truly revolutionary, but Respawn's rollicking shooter delivers a welcome shot of adrenaline directly into the heart of the genre, packaging familiar components in a truly satisfying and accessible way. More importantly, though, it's fantastic fun, regardless of whether you're a hardcore FPS gamer or just want to blow off some steam. Every match feels like an epic battle, from first charge to desperate extraction, set throughout some of the best maps that we've rampaged through in years.
However, The Next Big Thing probably should have been bigger in a few key areas.
We're getting ahead of ourselves there, so let's pull things back. On a basic level, Titanfall is more than 'Call Of Duty with mechs," but the slipper fits well enough for our purposes. Once again we find ourselves scampering around some tightly-designed maps with responsive and weighty controls, either as the corporate IMC or heroic Militia fighting for their independence. It's as solid and satisfying as you'd expect from the original Infinity Ward architects, handling much like any conventional shooter with a non-existent learning curve. We've got ADS, instant-kill melee, sprinting and a selection of oft-used team gametypes such as domination, TDM and capture the flag. Familiar stuff, but you'll only need a few seconds to realise that nothing will ever be the same again.
Nimble 'pilots' can double jump, run across any surface, grab onto any wall and leap extraordinary heights, allowing players to make full use of the stage in three dimensions. Doing so is child's play thanks to slick and generous mechanics, meaning that you'll soon find yourself racing across rooftops, leaping through windows and crossing entire battlefields without ever touching the ground. Each of the fifteen excellent maps embrace this newfound freedom of movement, offering multiple levels of elevation, avenues of attack, zip lines and opportunities to breach into objectives from above or below, linked together by a perfectly-designed network of corridors, open spaces and oh so tempting wall-run friendly geometry. You'll almost never run into a dead end, while battle lines flow organically across the level, not constrained to a single plane.
It's intoxicating, truly a new benchmark and a breath of fresh air, and I'm not sure if I can ever go back. I don't want to go back. I won't go back. You can't make me.
Titanfall's infantry weapon selection is surprisingly derivative by FPS standards, conforming to traditional SMGs, pistols, shotguns, rifles and suchlike, with a couple of noteworthy exceptions. The impeccably balanced Smart Pistol will surely become a true videogame icon; a sidearm that automatically locks onto enemy targets, allowing both newcomers and veterans to land perfectly-placed headshots without receiving an undue advantage. Levelling up and completing challenges unlocks a selection of situational attachments and perks that compliment your chosen playstyle, but there's a distinct lack of exotic technology to compliment the futuristic setting.
This might sound slightly disappointing on paper, but in practice Titanfall lets us experiment with each weapon and perk, using them in exciting new ways. You can grab onto walls above a capture point, hosing down erstwhile attackers with shotty or SMG fire, or cling to the side of a skyscraper with a rocket launcher. You can push objectives while cloaked, hammer towards them with amped movement speed and assault rifle blasting, or tactically pin foes down in mid-range combat, covering your flanks with mines or remote explosives. There's a role for everyone. If the best shooters let us express our own personality and play styles through gameplay, Titanfall is an absolute masterpiece.
And, of course, you can stomp around in a 20 foot-tall war machine. It's time to talk about the enormous hulking robot elephants in the room. The Titans.
Racking up kills, assists and objectives gradually shaves seconds off a construction timer, after which your personal Titan is ready to deploy. A quick tap sees your mech hurtle through the atmosphere like a meteorite, slamming into the Earth and crushing anything underneath it. This, as you'd imagine, never gets old, and jumping into the hotseat provides a fantastic change of pace.
Piloting a titan is functionally no different from a traditional FPS, yet the handling offers a feeling of satisfying weight and heft as you stomp across the battlefield throwing out insane amounts of firepower, and ripping opposing pilots out of their mechs in brutal beatdowns. Titans have their own custom loadouts, boasting a selection of versatile weapons and equipment, from chainguns and quad-firing rocket launchers to nuclear post-mortem detonations and a vortex shield that lets you catch and throw back incoming ordinance. You'll frequently find yourself cracking a smile as you crush foes under armoured heel, or cackling insanely as entire squads of infantry fall under your ruinous barrage. Titan-on-Titan brawls are spectacular, especially when multiple players get involved in a battle royale.
Titans aren't indestructible, though. Their hulking frames make easy targets for dedicated anti-titan weaponry, while canny pilots can effortlessly leap onto the back of hostile mechs to rip off their armour and blast away at their internal components in a ridiculous rodeo attack. Yes, this really is as epic as it sounds. Since Titans will automatically target enemies, canny players will often disembark to use their metal pals as watch dogs or diversions while pushing the objective.
Balance is the key, and this is where Titanfall ultimately triumphs. Every approach, tactic or weapon selection is completely valid, but more impressive still, Respawn have managed to ensure that players of any ability can all compete in a rewarding and enjoyable arena. As opposed to outmoded 'killstreaks,' which tend to just reward the best players in the round, timers and temporary 'burn cards' let everyone play with all the toys and feel like a badass without ever receiving an overwhelming advantage. It's unquestionably, undeniably, brilliantly good fun regardless of where you place in the leaderboard. Even if you lose the round, matches end with the opposing team having to scurry to an extraction dropship under the cosh of a tight time limit, allowing them to regain some self-esteem and feel like absolute heroes, no matter the outcome. Wonderful (at least, if you don't suck at it as badly as I do).
I'm also delighted to report that the scoring system and XP encourages team play. Capturing a flag or holding an objective grants massive amounts of bonus experience and guarantees high scoreboard placement, even if it comes at the expense of a lowered kill count.
Much has been made of Titanfall's AI troops, which populate the levels in small squads. They're useless in the main and pose almost no threat to players, yet they do a fantastic job of making matches feel like a real war. Rounding a corner to discover two soldiers grappling in a life or death struggle, or a grunt kicking a downed combat robot to confirm the kill, grants Titanfall a sense of place and context that's impossible to find in all but the best multiplayer shooters. The AI also allows less skilled players to participate and feel like they're making a difference, since killing them adds to the team score while playing the Attrition gametype. Plus, it's thoroughly cathartic, and a great way of regaining some self-respect during a bum round.
Critically, I've never once wished that Titanfall supported more players.
In raw graphical terms, Titanfall is functional, though no looker regardless of platform. The PC version is demonstrably superior to its Xbox One counterpart, both in terms of resolution and V-sync (it suffers from infrequent but noticeable screen tearing on Xbox One), but middling texture work and awkward animations betray its last-gen foundations. Thankfully the art direction is superb, a hard sci-fi mashup of District 9 and Firefly, adding surprising vibrancy and personality to what could have been to be a decidedly brown visual experience. Regulars will know that I personally don't award or detract points for graphics unless they're truly awful or utterly exquisite, so I don't see it as an issue. Gameplay is king, and Titanfall absolutely delivers in that regard, looking reasonable as it does so.
Yes indeed, Titanfall really is the gameplay game-changer we've been yearning for. Quality is undeniably a kind of value, but as far as quantity goes, Titanfall leaves a lot to be desired for its weighty £44.99-£49.99 RRP.
The campaign is a key sticking point. Instead of a dedicated solo offering, Titanfall offers some throwaway multiplayer missions with a forgettable narrative delivered through tedious lobby narration and talking heads during the match. Otherwise it's business as usual - and the storyline remains unchanged regardless of whether you win or lose.
Matt reckons that this featherweight approach is "awesome," and I agree with him to some extent, but it also feels like a missed opportunity. Titanfall's lived-in universe is wasted here thanks to unbelievably awful scripting and hammy voice acting, not to mention a storyline that doesn't resolve in a particularly satisfying way. Worse, you won't be able to select specific missions until you've completed the campaign from both perspectives, meaning that you'll have to play Russian Roulette before finally ending up in the level you actually wanted to play. Respawn had the opportunity to immerse us in the lore, promising to blur the lines between multiplayer and singleplayer, and they blew it.
Titanfall probably should have provided more gametypes, to be frank. Though Hardpoint Domination and Pilot Hunter are both fantastic twists on domination and team deathmatches, with Attrition waiting in the wings as an accessible starting point for new players, capture the flag feels completely vestigial while Last Titan Standing will likely only end up as a breezy diversion. More modes, and perhaps some entirely new options, would be appreciated. A lack of cosmetic customisation will also disappoint many players used to custom reticles, emblems and other accoutrements. Compared to other full-price games, Titanfall feels more than a little flimsy, at least in terms of on-paper content.
I'm also compelled to point out a few annoying oversights. Lobby wait times are far too long in the main, forcing players to wait 90 seconds before loading the next map, despite the complete inability to vote on the next level. A 'ready' option wouldn't go amiss. We can't set up private 12-player matches on custom maps -- though Respawn promises to add this functionality soon via a free update -- and a strong free DLC pipeline will be critical for ensuring longevity.
Longevity is a relative term, though, so once again we have to bring things back to Titanfall's superbly versatile gameplay and the way it makes us feel. Every match feels different. Each map reveals hidden depths and new approaches even after hours of play, feeling fresh and vital. Some players will find themselves hitting a wall when the new unlocks start to dry up, but thanks to its perfect balance and freedom to experiment, the euphoric honeymoon period should last much longer than most shooters, and long enough to ensure decent value for money. Especially if you took advantage of one of the many deals we and the eagle-eyed HUKD community posted over the preceding months. I agonised over the final score for hours, wavering between an 8 and 9, but ultimately I'm going to go with my gut and our review criteria.
As much as anything, I can't wait to play it again. I want to play it right now. Usually I can't wait to be shot of a game after intensively crushing it for review purposes (even the best of them), but here, I'm ready for more.
- Enhanced mobility and satisfying mech action feels fresh, vital and fantastic fun
- Impeccably balanced; accessible to players of all tastes and skill levels
- A generous helping of expertly-designed maps
- Incredibly slick, fluid and polished
- Cohesive art design and AI troops provide welcome context and environmental storytelling
- Bare-bones campaign feels like a wasted opportunity
- Arguably needs more modes, private games and customisation options at full price
- Annoying lobby wait times and lack of map voting
The Short Version: Standby for Titanfall.
A note on PC vs Xbox One versions: We've got a full comparison article in the pipeline, but for now, we can attest that Titanfall is immensely enjoyable regardless of what platform you buy it on. As mentioned, though, the PC version is graphically superior - and can be bought significantly cheaper to boot.
As a general rule, just buy it on the same platform as all your friends.