Titanfall really is the future of multiplayer, even if it does sometimes only feel like a tease.
Titanfall takes everything we know about the traditional online shooter, turns it on its head, and then carries on like nothing happened. It’s an enthralling multiplayer experience, that much I know from more than 20 hours of play time. Despite this, I still feel there’s more to learn about Respawn Entertainment’s debut performance. Love or hate its obvious inspirations, this is a game that does a superb job of distancing itself from its spiritual predecessors. And yet, while this game certainly seems to set very sound foundations for what will inevitably be a long, successful franchise, this first iteration lacks the flesh that could have made it one of the all-time greats.
Titanfall’s adrenaline-fuelled multiplayer matches are a wonderfully balanced montage of 6v6 conflicts, set across 15 maps and six game modes. This is strictly a multiplayer-only game: only in the game’s wonderful tutorial, which might feel tedious for those of us that blasted through it in the beta, can you go at it alone. Disappointingly, there are no private match options, and the campaign can’t be played alone with AI-controlled friendlies and enemies. Simply put, if you don’t have an internet connection, no titans will be falling for you any time soon.
If competitive multiplayer isn’t your cup of tea, the harsh reality is that Titanfall will offer very little for you. It has a campaign but it’s comically shallow: you’re never playing a story in Titanfall because it simply doesn’t exist. Even if you do trek the strangely unimportant campaign mode, there’s literally no substance to what you’re doing. This makes for one of biggest missed opportunities in gaming in recent times.
Prepare For Titanfall
Battles in Titanfall are balanced between the initial struggle for control, all-out titan warfare, and the final struggle as your team strives for victory. It makes for an enthralling and highly engaging multiplayer offering.
Titanfall has a fresh, exciting lore that simply hasn’t been fleshed out in this game, and is instead told moulded around a bunch of competitive modes and across nine of the game’s 15 maps. It’s difficult to actually care or even understand what’s going on, because as soon as the cutscenes end, you’re back in the thick of battle engaging in multiplayer matches with little-to-no narrative structure. Occasionally during some missions you’ll get an update about how the Militia or IMC — depending on which side you’re playing as — is going with their objective based on your team’s progression, but it’s nothing more than background noise.
It’s encouraging, however, that from the very beginning Respawn has been relatively upfront about Titanfall. And perhaps with this first entry we have a game that is so aggressively focused on perfecting its multiplayer offering. Yet I’m left wanting to know more about Hammond Robotics. About the real beginnings of the conflict. About the people involved. About the 98% of pilots that supposedly die during training (as noted on a pre-match loading screen). That sounds like something I would want to see actually playing out. Two cadets, close friends, training to be pilots. Statistically, both will die during training. In this case, one will survive. How would that be for space opera!? I don’t feel Titanfall’s nonexistent narrative is a deal breaker, although I suspect that for some that wanted at least a little substance added to the game’s premise, there will be disappointment.
Thankfully, the game’s “classic” multiplayer modes are addictive and competitive enough to keep fans of the genre playing for a while. It’s not perfect, and, like the campaign, certainly feels as though it could do with a little extra flavour, but the basics are here to set very sound foundations. However, Respawn will need to add more modes if it hopes to keep the Titanfall experience fresh. Six game modes feels very light for a game with no real campaign, and no alternative co-op or hoarde-like multiplayer mode.
A collection of competitive offerings spread across your standard team deathmatch, domination, capture the flag and last-man-standing make for an enthralling, engaging, challenging and addictive experience, and with every match I found myself scrolling through recorded footage looking for at least one “badass” moment. That’s what defines Titanfall: the watercooler moments, the times you rip a pilot out of a cockpit, or take down a long-range shot while hanging from a wall, or perfectly land on top of a titan for the ideal rodeo.
In that regard, Respawn has nailed it: no multiplayer shooter has felt as exhilarating as Titanfall for a long, long time. Even the game’s satisfying and rewarding progression system seems to throw in its own surprises every now and then, with Burn Cards — Titanfall’s perks — giving players a slight edge on the battlefield as they meticulously plan their next move after every death.
Pacing of the matches I feel will help define Titanfall the most, however. Attrition feels like a Team Deathmatch mode, and kill counts generally replicate those we see in other shooters with similar modes. But Hardpoint Domination helps separate the objective-based conflict from the all-out kill or be killed Attrition, something shooters like Call of Duty simply haven’t been able to do. Rarely do I see kill counts trek above 15 in this mode, and even then those players are generally placed low on the leaderboards unless they have a high defense or attack score. Titanfall does a great job of keeping reward balanced across the modes, which I feel encourages players to keep their eyes on the objectives.
Further to that, with the game’s titan countdown timer, it’s in a team’s best interests to get the upper-hand as quickly as possible: the last thing you want is the opposition to control two points, spawn trap you and quickly fill the battlefield with multiple titans. That won’t help your cause, and if you are simply going for kills, going on the all-out offensive without worrying about the objectives will hurt your team immensely. Titanfall does that superbly.
As for the titans themselves, they are surprisingly effective as AI counterparts. It depends on the map, but I often found myself ordering my titan to guard a point while I captured a hardpoint, or even follow me while I moved around the map. Hearing “your titan is engaging another titan” generates a sense of urgency, but not because I fear the AI can’t look after itself — it’s very capable against other AI-controlled, and even human-controlled, titans — but rather because I don’t want it to sacrifice itself for my pilot.
It is in this strange sense of personality and affiliation that the game generates between pilot and titan that also helps set Titanfall apart: the titans don’t just seem like they’re there, as some sort of worthless piece of metal. Instead, they are contributing elements of the battlefield that, if used wisely, can be especially helpful for you and your team. And with three different designs, multiplayer weapons and loadout combinations for both pilot and titan — think twice as big as anything you’ve seen in a Call of Duty game when you combine the two — and you have a very varied experience waiting to be explored.
The maps are designed with multiple play styles in mind: some are tight and dense, with buildings to run on, across and in, while others are large and open, perfect for long-range and close titan battles. None of the maps really stand out (yet) as being iconic like that of the early Call of Duty game maps, but they are all competent and well-designed to keep the action and progression smooth and engaging.
There are a few bones I need to pick with the multiplayer, though. For one, not being able to organise a private match with friends at launch is a damn travesty. Respawn needs to hurry up and bring this feature to the game, stat! Secondly, I can’t compare my stats to my friends or anyone in my lobby, which was a great addition to later Call of Duty entries. Even still, the game seems severely lacking on the worldwide leaderboards front. Titanfall certainly seems less intent on individualising stats too much — it doesn’t give you a definitive kill-to-death ration, that is, with your actual death count — but being able to compare my progression with friends, and to a lesser extent with those in my lobby, will certainly help ramp up the game’s competitive edge.
Further to that, I want to know how I’m going globally in Hardpoint Domination. I can’t see where I rank, which is a bit of a downer. All I have is my personalised stats, which is disappointing. Finally, it seems like an odd omission not to be able to vote on which map you want to play next. Granted the maps are great, but some are far better than others, and I’m sure the community would embrace the option.
On the presentation front, you have a pretty sleek and clean game, although the framerate does occasionally drop to below 60fps on the Xbox One version. Conflicts look impressive and the game rarely stutters, which is impressive considering you can often have multiple titans vying for control of the battlefield, explosions and just a real cluster of action with little change to the game’s visual fidelity. Titanfall most definitely doesn’t set the bar very high, but it still looks good. For an idea of how the game runs on East-Asia servers, check out this article. Australian gamers can expect localised servers soon.
The Final Verdict
Titanfall’s the greatest travesty is that it feels … well, lacking. But not on the gameplay front. Certainly not. In that regard, Titanfall is infinitely enjoyable and addictive, and will definitely be turning heads and selling consoles for a while. As far as setting the foundations, it sets the bar high, but reachable for future iterations to improve upon. Some added modes, private matches and improved leaderboards couldn’t go astray, but balancing, pacing and core gameplay is truly wonderful as is. Titanfall really is the future of multiplayer, even if it does sometimes only feel like a tease.