After an impressive showing at E3 2013, few games could have touched the impression left by Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall. As the proposed next evolution of online multiplayer, and with the folks behind Call of Duty pulling the strings, Titanfall has a decided amount of expectation behind it, but, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. With a little more than a month until the game finally hits store shelves, it was time to go hands-on with Titanfall to see whether the title is worth the hype.
With Limited Edition Xbox One controller in hand, we sat down to check out the same beta experience that gamers will have at their disposal later this week. There were three modes (Attrition, Hardpoint Domination, and Last Titan Standing), two maps (Angel City and Fracture), one titan variant, and hours of gameplay to enjoy. And enjoy we did.
Although players can hop online immediately, Respawn Entertainment recommends a quick tour of the game’s tutorial so players can get their bearings. It isn’t entirely revolutionary, but Titanfall introduces some movement and combat mechanics that are worth understanding first before players test their mettle. The tutorial demonstrates how to execute the wall run and double jump that make Pilots deadly quick, and introduces the various combat options that come with controlling a titan.
In addition to some slick movement options, Pilots have the requisite set of primary, secondary, and ordnance options at their disposal (with a few variations), as well as a tactical ability — like cloaking — that they can trigger in really tricky spots. Each Pilot also selects two stat boosts as part of their “kit,” which function a lot like perks. Some of the ones we saw included the ability to see A.I. grunts on the radar, a faster recharge for the player’s tactical ability, and an extra piece of ordnance. And finally, the most important piece of any Pilot’s arsenal is their anti-Titan weapon, which can do massive damage to titans but isn’t all that viable against other pilots.
On the Titan side, players have access to several primary weapon options. The ones we saw included a heavy machine gun, a more devastating single-shot weapon, and a rocket launcher. In addition to the primary, players have a secondary attack — either a free-aim missile barrage or a lock-on triple missile attack — that requires a lengthy recharge between uses. Like Pilots, Titans also have their own tactical abilities — the one seen most often is the Vortex Shield, which attracts incoming bullets and then sends them back at the enemy — and kits. Most of the kits improve a titan’s viability, like increasing recharge rates, or they offer the pilot an advantage when ejecting from a doomed titan. Doomed means the Titan is done for, and the pilot better eject lest they go down with the ship, so to speak.
With a better understanding of Titanfall‘s mechanics out of the way it was time to jump into multiplayer. Instantly, Titanfall sets itself apart from the pack with its speed. This game is fast and fluid, in all the best ways. Moving as a Pilot is not only easy and intuitive, it makes firefights all the more dynamic. There’s still a familiar feel to the basic shooting, but more along the lines of Halo than Call of Duty. That being said, enemies still drop much faster than in Halo (unlike Titans, Pilots do not have shields), but the mixing and matching of abilities and movement options make for some exciting firefights.
As players eliminate enemy pilots, as well as A.I. opponents called grunts and spectres, they earn points to help shorten their “time to titanfall.” In essence, the better you are at killing, completing objectives, or even helping kill, the less you have to wait for your first titan.
Trust us when we say the wait is worth it. The first titanfall is something to behold, and unlike any feeling offered in a video game to-date. Up until that point you are a mere peon, a disposable soldier on a battlefield peppered with combatants, but when your Titan falls from the sky you feel like an unstoppable force. Pilots are an afterthought, as any that challenge your Titan are easily swept away in a hail of bullets and/or rockets. Contending with Pilots first as a fellow Pilot and then as a Titan is like an appetizer, while the true main course of Titanfall are the firefights between titans. While it is possible to put a titan into guard or follow mode and let the A.I. take over, there’s nothing like battling one, or even several, titans from the cockpit view.
Although Titans are stronger, they still have their own disadvantages. With few sources of cover, Titans are consistently out in the open and always on the opponents’ radar. While players might see themselves as over powered at first, they will soon come to learn how the tides can change based on their opponents’ strategies. Getting caught against a skilled set of Pilots, or a group of enemy Titans, almost instantly spells doom for the player titan, so it’s important to balance defense with offense. And regardless of which loadouts players choose, the Titan gameplay is easily the most appealing part of Titanfall. Unfortunately, we only got to use the base model Atlas titan — neither the Ogre nor the Strider model was available for demo.
Packaged together, Titanfall matches become this fantastic combination of experiences where Pilots and Titans are all waging war against each other, while also working towards an objective. Attrition, for example, is your requisite points-based mode where kills are everything. Hardpoint Domination asks teams to capture and hold three points on the map. Both are pretty basic by multiplayer standards, but still unique with titans running around.
Then there’s Last Titan Standing, a round-based, Titan-only mode where the goal is simply to eliminate all enemy Titans. Here Respawn focuses almost exclusively on the Titan vs. Titan combat, and lets the chaos loose. All three modes work well within the Titanfall framework, but Attrition is the clear winner, as it affords a multitude of options and is endlessly engaging.
It’s important to point out, though, that while the A.I. opponents add more cannon fodder and make matches feel like full-scale battles, they are wholly unreliable. Even large groups of grunts barely pose a threat, as most just stand there waiting to be taken out. Titan A.I., on the other hand, is perfectly capable, and in some cases even better than the real life player.
Although our time with the beta was only about 3 hours in total it was enough to have us convinced that Titanfall is a unique multiplayer experience that will be well worth checking out next month. The game is easy to pick up, fast-paced, and, most importantly, a lot of fun. Whether it’s the next great multiplayer game is yet to be seen, but we certainly want to see more.
What are your hopes for Titanfall? Do you plan on participating in the beta? Let us know in the comments below.
Titanfall releases March 11, 2014 for the PC and Xbox One, followed by an Xbox 360 release on March 25th.
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