AusGamers flew to San Francisco courtesy of EA to review Titanfall.
As a result, this review was conducted in a near ideal environment. We had sub-20 pings and there was very little network congestion (there were, in fact, occasions when the servers were too empty to properly accommodate people).
Keep that in mind as you read this review, but with the expiry of the embargo I can reveal that Respawn Entertainment and EA are working very hard to have servers located in Australia available for the launch of Titanfall. It's circumstantial, but the EA South Africa Facebook page illuminates the fact that EA fully expects these servers to be live for launch (or very close to launch) in Australia (otherwise they would have pulled the game from the regional store.)
Movement in first-person shooters used to be the single greatest element to separate the good from the great. A player who could rocket jump, bunny hop or ski had an advantage over their opponents because it forced them to be better. Executing a perfect rocket jump was worthless if it put you in a worthless position in the map, so people who mastered movement also mastered map control, they mastered snap-aiming, they mastered everything.
And although camping existed for a long time beforehand, locking down the rate at which a player could move on each axis is arguably what made it prominent -- a much less agile form of map control, but a form nonetheless.
In a way, the blame for the rise of camping can be placed at the feet of Infinity Ward. In its quest to popularise the first-person shooter it levelled the playing field by keeping everyone grounded, and as time marched onwards the Call of Duty games flattened more levels until, with Ghosts, we have maps which rarely breach a three storey ceiling.
Still, the horizontal style of play of the Call of Duty games has been trending downwards and games like Tribes Ascend and Shootmania Storm have inspired a resurgence in the skill differentiator that is movement -- gamers want to move again, even if they're forced to work within the boundaries of the game's rules (the skiing of Tribes was a glitch in the game's physics engine before it became an active element of the series).
Respawn Entertainment, many of its staff formerly of Infinity Ward, has latched onto the Movement movement
, and so Titanfall is a game where competent players aim well, complete objectives and call in their Titans at appropriate times; while good players will master the art of the wall-run and the double-jump to find themselves (typically) at the top of the Leaderboards.
My favourite moment in the game so far was playing CTF on Lagoon, a map set in a fishing village founded at what seems like the mouth of a canyon, the colour pallette all greens, blues and light browns. I popped a burn card that gave me unlimited Stim Pack -- a Rare card, valuable because it let me move at a Sprint pace at all times while also allowing me to pop my other ability (my cloak) -- and headed straight for the enemy flag at the start of the match. Wall-running moves players faster still, so I bounced from village hut to canyon wall and back again, moving as fast as I could towards their flag until I was about 10 seconds away. I leapt to the ground and activated my cloak, sprinted into the flag area and kept moving in the same direction, jumping out of a window and then double jumping back the other way, onto the roof. I sprinted towards a zipline and used it to tear quickly away from the cap area and back towards my own flag, jumping off halfway to wallrun again, using the curve of the wall to put me on a direct path to my goal. By the time I launched myself back down to my cap area, the enemy team had just reached it -- I'd made a circuit of the map before they'd made it halfway round.
Burn Cards -- like the Rare Card I used in the scenario above -- are a way for players to augment their game in between rounds, but they also serve as rewards for completing challenges. A mini-achievement style system, Challenges allow players to track their stats without paying much attention. At the end of each round you're told about the six Challenges you're closest to completing, letting you know you've run 1km in a Titan, or spent six minutes Cloaked -- the sort of pointless gamification that endeared Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare to players, only now with randomised rewards in the form of Burn Cards.
Superficially Titans seem to be the stars of Titanfall. Their arrival is right there in the title and they command attention whenever they are present. There are three variants of Titan: The Atlas, The Stryder and The Ogre. The Atlas will be familiar to anyone who played the beta -- it's the default Titan, with two Dash moves, moderate armour and a Damage Core, which allows it to deal double damage for around 30 seconds.
The Stryder is the speedy Titan, equipped with three Dash moves, SFA armour and the Dash Core, which allows it to push itself at speed around the map without exhausting any Dash moves at all. The final Titan, The Ogre, is the tank variant. It can only dash once but can take a shitload of damage -- and if it pops its Armour Core it can remain practically invulnerable for a fairly lengthy period of time.
They're definitely awe-inspiring weapons. Seeing a Titan "fall" for the first time is certainly a special moment, especially if it's an enemy. I imagine it would be a little like seeing a Tank for the first time, all weapons and armour, nigh invulnerable to your puny attacks. This wears off quickly, however, and it reinforces my belief that Titans are a sideshow to the real stars of the game -- the Pilots themselves.
A Titan is simply a Pilot powerup guaranteed to everyone in the game -- eventually your Titan build timer will expire and you'll experience the power for yourself, but the Titan's themselves are merely distractions -- a momentary way to soak up and dish out a lot of damage. Most maps don't allow for Titans to access Hardpoint Domination cap zones, and I didn't see a single map where a Titan could readily access the Flag Capture.
Good pilots, then, won't focus on getting a Titan like it is the end-game for a player, instead they will only use it in specific situations -- a handy tool, but a tool nonetheless. Once you work out just how simple taking a Titan down can be, the hulking bipedal machines lose their lustre a little.
Titans continue to lose their reverent sheen the better you get. A player can take down a Titan in about 15 seconds if you can get close enough to it, and in the midst of a firefight there's very little the pilot of that Titan can do about it (with the exception of electric smoke). By rodeoing an enemy Titan you can fire directly at its engine systems, doing damage to its core and bypassing any armour it has.
Of course, outside of a firefight the enemy pilot can simply jump out of their machine and shoot you -- and if you're not paying attention they might even get a kill on you. As you begin to understand how Titans move though you'll also understand the telltale signs that a Pilot has abandoned ship, allowing you to attack them when they do.
The customisation options -- different Titans, shield abilities, weapons etc -- are actually fairly lacking. There are no options for customising aesthetic elements of your Pilot or Titan (except for the ability to change a Pilot's gender) and there are only a handful of weapons for both Pilot and Titan. Most of the weapons are only slight variations, too. Two sorts of automatic rifle, two sorts of sniper rifle, three types of pistol -- it all makes the distinction feel primarily pointless.
It points, I think, to the way Titanfall plays it very safe. There are just five game modes, and two of them are Team Deathmatch variants (Pilot Hunter is a straight TDM mode, Attrition puts a tiny spin on the concept). The other three are Capture The Flag, Hardpoint Domination and Last Titan Standing, a single life mode that exhibits the only real creative vision out of all of them. Why not have a mode where Pilots are forced to wall-run everywhere
? Where players can't touch the ground -- something akin to the Team Aerial Combat mod for Tribes (but without the aircraft).
There are 15 maps, but I only felt like three took full advantage of the player's extreme ability for movement. In one map -- Angel City, which you might have played in the Beta -- I was able to lock down hardpoint A and attack B without touching the ground by taking advantage of the walls and visual cover between the two, but attacking C was out of the question. On the C side of the map the roads are wide and the cover is all but non-existent, so attacking it is complicated and typically involves walking on the ground for at least some time. So instead I'd bounce between A and B, calling in my Titan and leaving it in AI mode to guard point A -- knowing to return to the main hardpoint when I was told my Titan was engaging with another pilot.
The Epilogue, a sequence at the end of most rounds where the defeated team is given the opportunity to escape, is also a safe play, allowing the losers a small sense of victory (provided they happen to be capable enough of getting away). Of the challenges I saw, none seemed like stretch goals. Shoot 100 people with the R101C Carbine, hack 20 Spectres, commit genocide on 100,000 Grunts. These things all seemed like inevitabilities, as do the movement-based challenges.
The campaign is pointless too, doing very little to develop the universe or compel the player. The voice-acting is well done, but that's all the story is -- voice-over communications from otherwise unseen characters. Your success or failure in a campaign mission has no impact on the way the story plays out, and the only reason people will play the campaign is because the Stryder and Ogre chassis' are gated behind the completion of it -- you can't customise your own version of either of these Titans until you've finished the story missions for both sides of the conflict.
It's odd to say that Titanfall feels unambitious, because it tries some very bold things. Seamlessly shifting perspectives between Pilot and Titan is technically challenging and beautifully executed here. The hordes of AI exist as a curiously effective attempt to adapt MOBA elements into the game (instead of receiving gold for last hits you knock off time from your Titan Build timer). I still feel like these aren't risks for a company built of veterans like Respawn is, however. Instead I feel they're designed to draw in as many players as possible.
Titanfall is a very good shooter, and I'm always a fan of any game that lets players use movement to separate themselves from the herd. Nevertheless, I feel like Respawn is simply setting the foundation here -- what they really want is for us to prepare for Titanfall 2.
Joab "Joaby" Gilroy is a huge fan of sports games, racing games, first-person shooters and 4X strategy games. He's awful at fighting and real-time strategy games although he'd love to get better. He thinks the Halo universe is hollow and that Arkham City was the real game of the year in 2011 and that AusGamers' managing editor Stephen Farrelly only gave Skyrim the nod because he is a filthy Marvel fan. His top three games of all time are (in no particular order) Deus Ex, GTA: Vice City and DayZ.
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