Titanfall and the love of mech

Feature Kevin Pocock 15 May 2014 - 05:41

Kevin Pocock praises mech-warrior mastery and FPS evolution in Titanfall...

Somehow it happened. Having blissfully existed – part-time, you understand – in gaming worlds for over twenty years, an odd feeling has recently taken me. Something I never expected, and which (truthfully) I never thought would be the case. Many times I've briefly considered it, but disregarded others' curious fascinations before continuing with the thought half-formed. Happy with one character living out the experiences I can't or won't ever face, I've been experiencing one-dimensional alter-egos. Characters missing a friend.

I've followed protagonists over the shoulder, first-person and third. I've spent years farming the lands of Middle-Earth, and hundreds of hours mixing blood and bullets on Dice's battlefields. Largely I've been content to carry on this way. But then Titanfall hit. Now the future-tech beast has grabbed me in its shiny, bone-crunching paws and Respawn has reconfigured my earth-bound thinking.

Shoot The Stars

It's a curious thing. As a long-standing advocate of linear character based gaming, I've enjoyed my fair share of games involving, and promoting vehicle use. I've sped through San Andreas, I very briefly flew a spaceship in EVE, and I'm about as at home in one of Battlefield's choppers as I am on a stool at the local. But to appreciate the dual-world Titanfall introduces is to finally realise that gaming has never really nailed mech warriors; and subsequently how – despite a passing interest in Pacific Rim – I've never really 'got' it either.

Sure we've had the acrobatics of Titanfall, the double jumps and the wall-hangs before in other titles. We've had the future colonial battles between embattled human factions as well. We've most certainly had fast-paced multiplayer gaming, combining objective based team-play and shouty chat messages to boot. But have we ever had two distinct yet complementary methods of crushing opponents work so well? I think not.

A Loss = A Game

You couldn't really make it up. Titanfall wouldn't exist without Respawn Entertainment. And Respawn wouldn't exist without the firings of former Infinity Ward president, Jason West, and its CEO and co-founder, Vince Zampella. The pair were dismissed in March 2010, and wasted little time in forming Respawn. A month later West and Zampella had some cogs in motion and contacted EA for funding. By July around 82% of the old Infinity Ward team (having left Activision) joined back with their former colleagues. They then went to work on a debut project. One we now know as Titanfall.

How fortunate we are as gamers, and how much the four years work paid off, can be seen in the ambition matched with praise received by the title. Although upon release the team admitted there were some elements that couldn't be included, in four years Respawn delivered a title fit to shake a genre largely unchanged in two decades. The inclusion of vehicles the only distraction from character with a variety of overpowered weaponry, FPS games have in all honestly evolved little since Doom.

You might say the shooter inertia is in part due to the churning out of slightly tweaked sequels based on solid intellectual property. If you did, there would be at least be some sort of irony at hand. Call of Duty, an Activision and sometime Infinity Ward title has often been lambasted by critics for its lack of evolution. Well, if rumours of West and Zampella's insubordination were true, failing to tow the genre line has since seen them succeed big-time.

Yes, shooters will always require characters to kill others. They'll likely always include game-modes where teamwork is required. But with so little variation in the genre, an effective and captivating use of character and machine (not you, MechWarrior) helps explain the success. It also clarifies my own enthralment. We need not look far for proof of the achievement either: there's a list of 75 E3 awards on Titanfall's website. That page might be considered a form of gaming hubris, yet the accolades have been stacking up since.

Jumping For Joy

I've yet to mention the good, hands-on stuff. The gaming, the mechanics, how Titanfall's mech element smoothly integrates with the more vanilla, yet refreshing, pilot-side of the title. So let's do that.

In a democratic gaming world we should all have mech-warriors to stomp around in regardless of our skill level. Respawn knew this ahead of time, making the falls of our overpowered killing machines from the dropship heavens a thrilling certainty. Sure, the Titans are only one side of the game, but they're a technologically advanced and powerful one. Plus, using them at the right time in a considered way affects the balance of gameplay rewardingly.

Although you can, it's not like you have to climb inside your titan to make use of it. After all, what good is an oversized mechanical war giant if you can't boss the thing around? Ordering it to stand on guard – or just follow you like a destruction dealing pet – make the heaps of metal all the more loveable. They're not smart enough to stop a willing pilot from sneaking past and grabbing a flag or objective, but they'll certainly cause them a rethink. It's genius really. Especially considering all the while your titan is engaged in warfare, you can either try to parkour your way out of the map or attack the self-same foes with added firepower.

Mech Evolved?

Titanfall is revolutionary I think, and yet it's now just the first of its kind. Following rumours about a sequel or follow-up, Vince Zampella wasn't exactly reserved: "Looks like the cat is out of the bag. New Titanfall experiences await you in the future! [We're] excited at the opportunity! This is going to be fun!" Whether such a game will further evolve the title for which Respawn deserves so much credit (while living up to Zampella's many exclamation marks) is unknown. But with the FPS landscape now showing some rather large boot marks, the march of the mech can continue apace. Mech isn't everyone's thing of course, and I empathise greatly. But then, not everyone's played Titanfall.

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