I'm not even supposed to be here.
No getting around it: Titanfall is totally a shooter. Respawn Entertainment’s answer to Call of Duty doesn’t completely escape the design aspects that have made Call of Duty both loved and reviled across the globe. However, it does eclipse its predecessor in some important ways, resulting in an excellent refinement of the fast-paced multiplayer shooter concept that also happens to be a tad light on content. Titanfall doesn’t reinvent the assault rifle, it just hands you a better one.
Believe it or not, Titanfall actually does have a campaign mode. Essentially, you just play some regular multiplayer with some fairly dull sci-fi trimmings. In the future, humanity discovers a cluster of resource-laden colony worlds dubbed “The Frontier.” Some other things happened that nobody cared to properly explain, and now there’s a corporation named the IFC and a Militia that doesn’t like the IFC because of reasons. Perhaps some of these aspects were better explained while I was blasting rockets at giant mechs, but it all becomes white noise after a while.
The voice acting isn’t too bad, and the dialogue, while utilitarian, wasn’t outright awful. It just felt like a waste of resources, even if what I know about game development disproves that notion. If anything, it felt like a waste of my time. There are a handful of short cutscenes and in-engine moments where you aren’t shooting, but it’s all in service of a story that one might charitably describe as “boring” and doesn’t really explain anything I wanted to know. Who cares about this drunk guy some other boring guy apparently served with in the “Titan Wars?” Are we not fighting in the Titan Wars?
This problem doesn’t really have an easy solution. Titanfall’s mechanics would not fit a traditional “pop & shoot” campaign, and the campaign feels more like an earnest effort to build this world Respawn has created than a cynical obligation. Giving some fun context to a multiplayer match isn’t the worst idea, but it’s not properly utilized in Titanfall. If the game didn’t lock two major customization options behind the campaign, I wouldn’t have bothered.
You probably aren’t coming to Titanfall for the single player, and that’s probably the right call. The multiplayer isn’t exactly stacked with modes and unlocks, but the folks at Respawn have successfully tweaked what is there.
The core of Titanfall lies in the parkour mechanics. Pilots (player characters) have jetpacks, the ability to wall-run, and zero fall damage. There’s even an “automatic sprint” option in the menu that keeps your Pilot constantly on the move. As a result, the skillset Call of Duty and Battlefield players have honed in their respective games will absolutely not work here. I was delighted to see that campers were almost immediately snuffed out. In most modern shooters, fanatics would find exploits in the map and abuse them until another fanatic took their spot. But in Titanfall, everyone can get to any spot in the map.
If you think you’re safe with your sniper rifle in that little nook, know that everyone on the opposing team knows exactly where you’re hiding and they are coming to wreck your shit.
This turns matches into a war of genuine skill, not a battle of attrition between the pros and the obstinate new players rushing their foes in the hopes of catching them with their guard down. Titanfall is about moving fast and shooting faster. This is where the game’s relatively low player count becomes important. With six players on each side, the matches feel appropriately exciting and chaotic. If the game had too many Pilots, it would’ve been a recipe for constant death since it doesn’t take many bullets to down a foe.
In addition to players, the maps are populated with AI opponents broken into two distinct tiers: Grunts and Specters. Grunts are the mooks of the IFC and Militia. It’s easy to guess which enemies are player characters, because Grunts often take a couple seconds before shooting. Specters, with their bright glowing eye, are obviously AI, but play a bit more like a human. These bots exist to fill the void between player skirmishes, provide XP, and help players summon Titans.
The eponymous mechs of the game are almost flawlessly incorporated into the design of a match. Titans have a cooldown meter that can be sped up by killing enemies. After a certain period of time, you can finally summon your Titan and wreck havoc. In a lesser shooter, Titans would be flashy killstreaks that would almost immediately end a match. But here, they feel natural.
Pilots have ways to combat Titans on their own, and there’s very rarely a Titan summoned in the early stages of a match. If you leave your Titan, it can follow you around and engage foes or defend your position. Thankfully, Titans are not invincible, and can be taken down by a single, crafty pilot. But if you’re not crafty enough, you will be obliterated in a second. They’re a blast to mess around with, but they’re also totally optional. I went through entire matches where I actively decided to not use my Titan, instead keeping my eyes on the ground.
Much has been made of the game’s Burn Card system, and it’s not difficult to see why. By completing in-game challenges (use a certain gun for x amount of matches, the usual stuff) and regular matches, players earn Burn Cards: one-use powerups they can activate before a respawn. There’s a nice range of Burn Cards available, and you’re likely to find a couple favorites that fit your playstyle. Also, there are no microtransactions attached to Burn Cards. You can only get them by playing the game. That’s legitimately surprising, but not unwelcome.
Titanfall has five modes: Attrition (team deathmatch); Last Titan Standing; Hardpoint (go to the place and stand in the place until it’s your place); Capture the Flag; and Pilot Hunter. Of the five, the modes that feel the most unique to Titanfall are Last Titan Standing and Pilot Hunter.
In Last Titan Standing, each player drops in their Titan, and the match ends when all the Titans on a side have been destroyed. This mode is less about the players, and more about the Titan-on-Titan combat. If your mech is destroyed, but you survive, that still counts against your team. I saw a couple enterprising Pilots actively leave their Titan and sabotage the opposition from the sidelines while their Titan distracted the bad guys.
Pilot Hunter is a twist on Attrition. In vanilla Attrition, killing Grunts, Specters, and destroying Titans all counts towards a team’s Attrition points. But in Pilot Hunter, all that doesn’t matter: you’re looking to eliminate player characters. This changes the flow of the match from carefree jetpack gunfights to a tense series of jetpack gunfights. It’s still fun, but it’s also a bit more engaging.
Each of the available modes are definitely worth checking out (some more than others, Capture the Flag is not well-suited to Titanfall’s sprawling maps), but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Titanfall could’ve benefited from one or two additional gametypes. Five is not a lot, especially when three of the available modes are fairly commonplace in modern shooters. For a game that lacks real single-player content, Titanfall is disappointingly stingy in this aspect.
Titanfall comes with 15 maps out of the box, and each one feels expertly crafted. Like I said earlier, there’s no room for camping. The maps are packed with wall-running opportunities, and tons of ledges that are practically begging you to jump off them. I played Titanfall almost like a very small open-world game; running from place to place and seeing what adventures I could get into along the way. The maps have indoor areas, but since Titanfall deals mostly in big outdoor skirmishes, Call of Duty fans looking to sit in a corner and snipe will be highly disappointed. Even when people do go inside, they’re moving so fast that it’s almost difficult to get a lock on them.
One thing Titanfall does lift from Call of Duty is the unlock progression. You get XP from kills, doing mode-specific things, doing Titan-based things, and completing aforementioned challenges. You get abilities, equipment, the usual stuff. Using certain guns nets you add-ons for the same guns. This isn’t new, and the formula still works. However, much like Titanfall’s mode selection, the available unlocks feel sparse. The unlocks do feel more useful, which preferable to most other shooters where you’re getting absolutely useless garbage with every level. Each gun feels satisfying to use, and they’re diverse enough to fit different players. But it’s hard to not look at the available content and wonder just why there isn’t more.
Titanfall has one hell of a solid core. It’s some of the most fun you can have with a shooter these days, and it’s probably the best game on the Xbox One (at the moment). For that reason alone, early adopters should definitely pick this game up. But the available content is just a little too sparse to be easily recommendable to everyone else. If you’re looking for a great new shooter and don’t mind downloading Origin, Titanfall more than satisfies. Just don’t buy an Xbox One for this game alone.