I've been playing a fair bit of Titanfall this week now that the game is done and dusted and good to go, and have been checking out the campaign component to the game that adds a few talking heads and gravelly voices over loading screens in between matches to give players a little more context to the free-running, mech-strewn, jetpack-aided violence.
Titanfall has always been a multiplayer-only game, and that's actually a position to be admired. I wish Battlefield had done that with its most recent instalments instead of trying to out-COD COD. That Battlefield 4 -- a multiplayer-focused game -- barely works online is a travesty, and one I would gladly have traded for the team spending more time on that part of the game and not releasing an all-in-one content package with completely forgettable offline components.
Knowing what you have, pushing the limitations that you set for yourself as a creator, and making the best game you can within those parameters -- this is a tried-and-tested approach that has seen many games logged in the annals of this industry's hall of fame.
Titanfall's campaign is likely to prove a little divisive. It's pretty thin on the ground, very bare bones indeed. The game's opening cinematic does a mild job of situating you in a frontier environment betwixt the two warring factions of the IMC (the Alliance) and the Militia (the Browncoats). There are contextual voiceovers during the interminable wait between the nine levels that make up the campaign trail for either faction, but I can't help but feel that a little cinematic or just something a little more visually stimulating than the matchmaking screen would have helped a little bit more.
This kind of continues in-game. The campaign doesn't shake up the basic formula too much, using light narrative elements to frame what's already there rather than dictate the pace of things. Little chatty avatars will pop up in the corner of your HUD, but I never really paid them much attention because, quite frankly, there were significantly more important things going on at the time, like trying to blow the brains out of a Titan after an epic rodeo, or trying to evade the machinations of a Pilot in pursuit.
Some might feel that this is a bit of a waste, particularly when you look at some of the concept art, or swing your camera to the heavens and take in the vistas and some of the slightly scripted elements happening in the background. Respawn have implemented an it's there if you want it policy when it comes to the game's lore and context, but what is there is fairly limp and unassuming, or else relatively inaccessible and detached. To be honest, having heard reports to that effect going in, I was expecting to castigate the campaign. I do love a bit of well-woven story, after all.
But the fact is that Respawn have balanced it wonderfully, as with most of the elements in Titanfall.
We often criticise games for shoehorning story into places where it's not needed. If you're going to make a story-driven game, then build it that way from the ground up and make it good. If you're just shoving a plot into proceedings half-heartedly to justify some action, or bending elements to suit a substandard narrative, don't bother. You're only making it worse.
That comes from understanding the nature of the game you're developing and playing to your own strengths, and that's exactly what Respawn have done here. Titanfall is not, and has never been, about a scripted storyline. It's all about the emergent narratives that we create for ourselves as players. By gently framing things rather than crowbarring a plot into the action, Respawn let the action breathe and speak for itself. If you've spent several years crafting a finely balanced, expertly tuned multiplayer experience, why would sabotage that? You wouldn't, and so Respawn don't.
Instead they choose to sprinkle what's already there with a little reason and rhyme, providing a little context for the maps, for the AI troops (who make real sense against the backdrop of the campaign), and for the reason behind the struggle between the IMC and the Militia. It's not there to win prizes, but rather to make the experience just that little bit more immersive, shading in little areas here and there, and situating you more fully in that frontier warzone.
And it works. That doesn't mean that there isn't space to expand, nor that we wouldn't welcome something a little more taut and focused. But here, the campaign does its job just fine. And it's actually a little refreshing to feel like a lone soldier in the midst of a great war. There are no hero moments dished out by the game's writers, and though that perhaps removes some of the bombast of other genre shooters (and that's not necessarily a bad thing), it makes every sweet and satisfying moment utterly yours. Which is brilliant.
We'll have lots more Titanfall coverage for you over the next few days, Jon is already hard at work on the review, we'll have a mini-series of Mr. Lester and myself romping through the campaign, and you'd better believe that next week's Game Night is going to be all about jetpacks and mechs.