Titanfall is all about fantasy wish fulfilment. Within minutes of its campaign starting, you’re gleefully running around on walls, jet-packing between vertical surfaces and doing other gravity defying stunts that genuinely make you feel superhuman. Importantly, it lets you do this in a way that’s immediately intuitive and seamless, without the sort of pretzel-making finger gymnastics most other games require of players.
With a focus on speed, momentum and fluidity, Titanfall 2’s superlative traversal has you double-jumping, sliding, double-jumping, vaulting ledges and wall-running and then cloaking as you flank over and around enemies before putting a well-placed bullet in their craniums. It’s so easy to pull of frankly ludicrous manoeuvres, that it all becomes second nature by the end of it. And that’s just when you’re on foot.
Of course, the whole point of Titanfall is about climbing inside an AI powered mech and blowing even more stuff up than you’d be able to outside of the cockpit of a great big machine. But the game’s about more than just being a super hero who climbs inside of a weaponised tin can. It’s about the bond between man and machine. And though the game utilises just about every tired cliché that you could imagine given its setting, it’s all deftly and expertly done.
It’s almost like Respawn is showing off; the stock standard tropes and a dull-as-dishwater protagonist deliver a middling narrative, but that hardly matters because it’s so much fun to play.
The game puts you in the boots of Jack Cooper, a rifleman in the Militia – the group that’s trying to rebel against the great, big bad Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation. All his life he’s wanted to become one of the elite soldiers; the Pilots that get to strap on jetpacks and ride in sentient Titans. A botched mission on the planet of Typhon gives him the break he wanted, when his Titan-riding mentor transfers control of his own Vanguard class Titan – BT-7274 – to Jack, moments before he snuffs it.
It all starts out slowly, but the action increases in pace and later, scope, as it all ramps up to deliver one of the most frenetic action experiences in a first person shooter campaign. Though it’s filled with “Holy shit!” moments, it doesn’t rely on set-piece after bombastic set-piece, slowing down to create quieter moments. You’re not shooting things all of the time; often having to disembark from your AI to engage in parkour platforming that makes other games that are built around those mechanics look silly in comparison. Yes, I’m looking at you, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
Parkour isn’t even the only conceit; just about every level takes on a theme, with new mechanics and features thrust in and wrapped around it. It reminds me of Super Mario Galaxy in that effect, constantly adding new levels and ideas before unceremoniously yanking them away before they become humdrum. You’re never bored of your Titan’s abilities either – as you’ll be picking up new loadouts during the course of the game that let BT-7274 act as any of the Titans you’ll find in the multiplayer. You usually find them shortly after beating some or other boss with those abilities, so it starts feeling a bit like a new-fangled Mega-Man in that respect.
Detailing specifically what these ideas are would be a disservice to potential players – but suffice it to say that it’s all delightful, cleverer than you expect, and pulled off with finesse. It’s such a nebulous and obtuse concept to even quantify, but Titanfall 2 just feels amazing.
The writing may border on being daft, and the sentimental humour derived from the interchange between Cooper and the perpetually logical AI BT starts wearing thin, but there’s a genuine emotional connection that happens – and I ended up caring for a damned digital robot more than I have just about any game character in recent memory. The whole thing comes to an abrupt halt, leaving you wanting more. There’s no filler, and it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome – but it definitely leaves a lasting impression.
While the single player campaign is indeed welcomed this time around, it’s built on presupposition of the first game, which may leave newcomers wondering just what on earth is going on. I’d hoped that the new story would fill in some of the blanks left by the first’s Titanfall’s “Campaign multiplayer,” but it carves its own path.
Brevity aside, Titanfall 2’s single player campaign is a shining example of how to make a fun, engaging campaign built around already existing mechanics. In fact, it could be the best campaign in a first person shooter in years, echoing games like Half-Life 2 and Portal.
Of course, it’s worth asking if the game even needed a single player campaign, given the relative success of the first, wholly multiplayer-centric one (the answer is a resounding yes, by the way). That multiplayer returns of course. Aside from the lack of a single player campaign, the first game was criticised for a lack of things to do outside of its core multiplayer mode, Attrition. This time around, the package is bolstered by an onslaught of multiplayer modes. On top of that, the whole thing is deeper and more nuanced than in the first game.
Attrition returns, of course. The core multiplayer mode still feels like the campaign multiplayer of old, though the interjection of story elements has been dialed back. While you’ll still feel like you’re part of a greater battle thanks to the smatterings of AI players, it’s less pronounced. The 6v6 mode starts you off as a pilot, but soon enough you’ll have earned enough XP to call in a Titan. Even newcomers and FPS acolytes can feel like they’re accomplishing something, picking off AI-powered grunts and earning points for their team. More skilled players, of course, will leverage these computer-controlled peons, quickly taking them out to hasten their deployment of their Titans.
This time around, Titans may only last for mere moments. While they’re powerhouses in battle, they’re also missing the shields that made them nearly overpowered in the first game. It makes them vulnerable, and you’ll have to rely not just on smarts and skill, but also your team mates to make your Titans more than ephemeral.
The newly refined Rodeo system encourages just that. Pilots are able to make their way to the top of enemy Titans and yank out their energy cells, draining their power and weakening them. They can then, should they survive the encounter, deploy those energy cells in their team mate’s own mechs, giving them health and a shield bonus. Of course, that’s how it should play out, but in in the real world most people are too busy doing their own thing to help others.
The multiplayer epilogue makes a welcome return, taking the sting out of losing. Defeated players have a set amount of time after a match to try and extract, while remaining players on the winning team do their best to stop said extraction. Successfully leaving the battlefield after loss earns extra merits or in-game XP. For somebody like me, who isn’t especially skilled at games of this ilk, it’s the perfect multiplayer experience – and I can happily join in for a game or two of casual online fun without the sort of time investment that pure competitive games require.
Both Pilots and Titans are infinitely more customisable this time, with a progression system that perpetually doles out rewards keeping you playing. Those horrible, balance-breaking burn cards have also been removed, replacing them instead with a more balanced pilot perks that you earn through play. There’s a fine selection of guns and other weapons, and you’re incentivised to keep on using ones you like. Just about everything keeps levelling up,
There’s a new mode in Bounty Hunt that takes the same general conceit, and adds in a banking mechanic. Waves of AI-controlled cannon fodder are thrown in to the mix, with players earning money for kills. Banking that earned cash at the end of each wave grants bonuses – while dying before getting to the repository means that half of your cash evaporates. More competitive than the Attrition, Bounty Hunt is capable of bringing out the very worst in people – but it’s fun, tense, nail-biting stuff.
There’re more modes, but they’re takes on the sort of things you expect from multiplayer shooters these days. Amped Hardpoint is a little like King of the Hill, but it encourages you to stick around captured points for faster point accrual. Of course, there’s regular Capture the Flag, and modes for people who prefer to skip on Titans all together, and another for those who prefer them.
As with just about any multiplayer game these days, there are no local servers. The closest ones are located in London and Belgium, and offer pings of the usual 200ms that we’ve come to expect in South Africa. That said, because of the way that Titanfall 2’s multiplayer works, it doesn’t feel like you’re at all that much of a disadvantage. I regularly engaged in skirmishes that went in my favour, and I regularly place near the top of my group. That said, fastest fingers still win out, so if you’re trying to be ultra-competitive against similarly skilled players with lower latency, they will beat you.
Last Updated: October 31, 2016