RELEASE DATE: April 8, 2014PLATFORM: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Xbox One PCDEVELOPER: Respawn EntertainmentPUBLISHER: EACATEGORY: First-Person Shooter
If we’re going to be honest with ourselves – the Xbox platform has always been a little shooter intensive, thanks to a game that rhymes with the word “Halo,” and there’s nothing wrong with that. With Titanfall, those that had not yet made the transition from Xbox 360 to Xbox One have no doubt been drooling over Respawn’s first creation, and with good reason. Titanfall, while not necessarily living up to the lofty heights of the pre-release hype, is a tight, cohesive, and all-around fun shooter that throws in just enough flair to differentiate it from Call of Duty.
The comparison was bound to be drawn; what with Respawn’s founders, Jason West and Vince Zampella, being responsible for some of the most renowned games in the Call of Duty canon. While their trademark air-tight shooter mechanics have made the transition, along with them have come the terrible story-telling those games are known for.
Playing the campaign mode, which supposedly “blurs the lines between traditional online shooters and single-player campaign,” it is abundantly clear that those lines were not blurred, but in fact, reinforced. There is a separate campaign for each opposing side, which really boils down to you being on a different team when you load up the map. Their respective stories are told through radio transmissions that play during the pre-game lobby and short cut scenes at the beginning of each level (they’re really just dressed-up matches).
I was barely cognizant that any story was taking place at any point during my playtime. If you’re coming for any semblance of a campaign, don’t bother. The story-mode, while fun to play, is an utter failure in the story deparment.
While the story is terrible, the gameplay itself absolutely rocks. The aforementioned tight shooter mechanics make Titanfall’s handful of unique ideas shine. The parkour movement lent to you is a joy to use. Running along walls, leaping from rooftop to rooftop and double-jumping through second-story windows added another dynamic to each map. Just moving from place to place was a game unto itself, as I found the quickest routes to hot zones and, in the event my team was defeated, the evac chopper.
This movement would all be for naught were it not for the excellent map design. The sense of verticality lent to each map is impressive, and it is clear that the environments were designed around this mechanic. I was never at a shortage of walls to run along or rooftops to strategically place myself on top of.
Speaking of strategy – one thing I feared going into Titanfall was that I would have to adapt to the style of play that the game wanted me to use. On the contrary; Titanfall adapts to the style of gameplay that you want to use. You can hang back and snipe enemies from across the map, charge in like a stampeding bull, slickly slide through the shadows, or camp out in hardspots during domination matches. There isn’t one right way to play the game, and after feeling the constricting rigidity of more straight-forward shooters such as Killzone, Halo, and Call of Duty, the freedom I felt here was liberating.
This freedom of play owes a lot to how Respawn handles the titular titans – gigantic, nimble robots armed to the teeth with massive weapons. While you can pilot your own personal titan, which you can call in at roughly two-or-so-minute intervals throughout a match, you can also allow it to be controlled by A.I.; ordering it to follow you around or guard a particular area. This opened up a lot of possibilities, like having a guardian watch over you as you captured a hardpoint.
If you want to pilot the titans, you’re also in for a treat. They are not cumbersome at all, and it won’t be long before you’re right at home. Like your pilot, it can be outfitted with various weapons, gadgets, and perks, following the pattern that Infinity Ward started seven years ago.
Despite their strength, titans are not invincible, and are easily taken out with the correct tactics. This kept matches balanced and also allowed for the on-foot combat to breathe. Respawn did a great job with handling this.
You might be wondering what kind of graphical downgrade the 360 version has received, and, to these eyes, it’s not a big deal. No – it is not as good looking as its Xbox One counterpart, but it plays the same and is by all means still an attractive game with a great, if not distinct, art style. No one but those that pay painstaking attention to graphics will be calling this an ugly game. Plus, if you’re buying the game for the 360, was buying it on the Xbox One ever really an option?
There were some problems with the formula, however. For one – the create-a-class makes no real moves to differentiate itself from the status quo that has been dominating online shooters. While Burn Cards – one-time use perks that grant you a temporary advantage in combat, which are granted when you do well in combat – mix things up a little bit, the fairly bland, if hard-hitting, weaponry does little to set the game apart on a foundational level. Respawn essentially took the Call of Duty skeleton and gave it a few minor organ transplants.
This makes Titanfall a strange beast. The familiarity I felt was both good and bad, but will Respawn fully branch out from Call of Duty and redefine the shooter genre in the next installment? The excellent parkour system, coupled with the titans and freedom of gameplay, gave me confidence that, with a few more years of separation between them and Activision’s iron fist, Jason West and Vince Zampella could bring a shooter to the table that is truly their own.