Standby for next-gen! From Electronic Arts and new studio Respawn Entertainment comes the hotly anticipated sci-fi first person multiplayer shooter currently available for Xbox One and PC. While the online-centric outlook might seem like a step back in terms of pushing this much populated genre to a new level, its ideas on gameplay and action cannot be questioned, making it the quintessential title for Microsoft's new hardware.
Again, Titanfall (TF ) is played on the One exclusively over Xbox LIVE , making use of Microsoft's Azure cloud platform. To this point, the hosting infrastructure has done a great job for the One community of players (outside of a limited LIVE sign in outage this past Tuesday night that team Xbox officials have said was not causally linked to TF ). Apparently, there are bigger bugs going on for PC players, but I couldn't personally comment. A strong server architecture is crucial to this game's appeal, because even the Campaign portion is played online.
There are two factions at war over a portion of space called the Frontier. This primitive nook of the universe is rich in resources. Resources that the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation, or IMC, stand to gain power and influence. Led by Vice Admiral Graves, with support from a war brain trust of AI construct Spyglass and intel specialist Blisk, their bellicose sensibilities have positioned them to root the planetary system for all its worth. That is, unless, the Militia forces have anything to say about it! Comprised of a civilian band of rebels, the Militia are spearheaded by their own trio: "leader" MacAllen, engineer Cheng "Bish" Lorck, and Marauder Corps matriarch Sarah. To be fair, I'm not solid on the entirety of the story lines. I understand the Militia are like freedom fighters and the IMC are the proposed evil corporation, but in terms of individual character contributions or a smooth narrative arc, TF struggles to convey those more specific concepts. While it may seem counter-intuitive considering the "all online everything" mentality, I think a few more cut scenes would have done wonders for clarifying what is murky about the tale. In any case, the first time you play through the nine mission Campaign progression comprised of Attrition and Hardpoint bouts, you'll do battle as a Militia member. Going through it a second time garners an IMC affiliation. This was another so-so point. All of the six LIVE players on the IMC side have went through the Campaign at least once, guaranteed. So, if there are novice players in the match, they have to be on the Militia. When I was a rebel, this didn't seem like that much of a disadvantage, and the wins and losses went back and forth. But on my second go around, I didn't lose as an IMC pilot. In fact, I didn't know I had unlocked an Achievement for winning every IMC mission until I looked at my notifications. Of course, it's entirely possible that by the time someone tries the Campaign, they've already logged countless matches outside of the "story mode," which makes my theory null and void. Still, I think allowing first time Campaign-ers on either side would have made my matches more balanced.
As most of you are probably aware, TF is Respawn Entertainment's freshman effort. A studio built on individuals from the Infinity Ward group responsible for the first two Modern Warfare releases. Games that many from the CoD community will admit are the two most heralded to date. From this, some of the standard operating procedures from those days made their way into this effort. The biggest one is the Loadout. When you first spawn into a match and literally hit the ground running, you're known as a Pilot. A foot soldier that is waiting for your huge Battlebot-esque mech to be built and made available. For what could take three minutes, survival is key. So be sure to arm yourself well. The chief tool for this effort is the primary weapon. Despite the sci-fi setting, expect guns that you could very well see from one of the popular annual FPS releases. There are no alien "energy" weapons, or gravity manipulators, or any of that sort of thing. While classes aren't clearly defined, you can think about divisions in terms of range: short, medium, and long. And most of them have to be unlocked by reaching a new progression level. There are no "points" that can be used for early unlocking, either. You want something on that list? You'll have to grind to get it. Choices like EVA-8 Shotgun and R-97 Compact SMG do a ton of quick damage up close. Use those fluid parkour skills to get in an advantageous position in heavy traffic areas and spring out against unsuspecting Pilots. Engaging NPC opponents like Spectres and Grunts might not be the safest bet with these, though. Because of how close you have to be to dole out punishment, pwning a group of Minions becomes a face-to-face affair, exposing you to the open and luring in enemy Pilots on the hunt. If running around like a ninja on fire all the time doesn't seem like a consistent strategy to you, you'll probably do what most folks (including myself) have done, and that's use the medium stuff a majority of the time. This subdivision includes the most consistent primary designed for TF: the R-101C Carbine. Accurate, decent fire rate, and good damage are increased greatly by this arm's clean adaptation of all the available sights. Completing challenges against Minion forces unlocks a few zoom reticles (accessed by pulling the left trigger) to experiment with. The three for the Carbine are all really good: HCOG, Holographic, and AOG. Each of these increase the zoom rate by a decent margin, so the correct choice will depend on your preferred engagement range as a Pilot. In any scenario, all of these do a wonderful job increasing the likelihood of landing rounds with the Carbine, and none of them feel "cumbersome." Impressive.
While still in the midrange, two more are worth noting. The G2A4 can be thought of like a Marksman rifle from CoD Ghosts. Its rounds have really good payload (damage), but the single shot cadence is quite slow in comparison to full auto selections. I have seen some players be very effective with this gun, but extensive knowledge of each map's advantageous lookout spots and being aware of usual Pilot movements is crucial to sustained success, particularly in the match's early pre-Titan stage. Yet a third mid option is the Hemlock BF-R. This is TF's three-round burst gun. A scary good iron sight and decent range makes this a formidable choice, especially if you either a.) get the drop on a Pilot and shoot first and/or b.) go for headshots. The Hemlock's rhythm seems natural, but not too quick as to chip away at the accuracy. This is my second favorite primary to the Carbine and with more practice might become my go-to. Lastly, the long range. This is sniper rifles, and that's about it. In short, these are only here because they have to be included for the game to be considered a full AAA shooter. The main one, Longbow-DMR, takes multiple body shots for a Pilot kill. And as quickly as Pilots move, that's just not helpful. Perhaps that design choice was to deter quickscoping. If that's the case, I personally applaud Respawn for that decision. But there will undoubtedly be a legion of sniper FPSers that will grouse at sniping's inefficiency. I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention TF's innovation to the primary weapon brigade, the Smart Pistol MK5. This has an auto-targeting feature that locks on to Pilots and Minions alike. For Spectres and Grunts, one bullet does the trick. For other real players, however, it takes four. And the "lock on" mechanism isn't deadly quick. The SPistol is incredible at dispatching groups of NPCs, but 1v1 against Pilots, it's competely outmatched. To this point, I've only died to the hand of the MK5 when flanked from behind. In a face-to-face contest, the SP player had better jump around like a person possessed and pray all four shots lock in and land.
There are a few more items that make up the Loadout. Secondary "Sidearm" weapons are comprised of a few pistol choices that do well if the primary clip runs out and you're in a pinch. But because of how much primary ammo is offered per respawn, the need to use it because you're "dry" is very seldom. The more important "other" weapon is the Anti-Titan choice. Battles between Pilots and Titans is incredibly balanced and is one of the great design achievements of TF. On paper, it seems like a huge mismatch: big, hulking mech of iron and scale against a puny human made of flesh and bone. The nimbleness of Pilots, coupled with awesome level design principles, creates an ecosystem where a good Pilot can seriously hinder, if not single handedly, take down an average Titan player. And one of the main tools for such a project is the aforementioned A-T. The Sidewinder acts like a machine gun. It expels mini rockets at a very quick pace. Admittedly, the range of it isn't great, but from a close window or rooftop, it does mondo DMG. For more deliberate targeting, the Archer Heavy Rocket shoots missiles in a homing fashion when locked in. A full "lock" deals a heavy punch against baddie Titans, but a non-lock tends to barely scratch the surface. The Mag Launcher sends out a series of magnetic grenades, attaching to nearby Titan hulls and Spectres. Because it sometimes doesn't focus on Titans exclusively, the abilities of this as a serious threat to the mechs is negligible. The Tactical Ability increases the non-weapon characteristics. Something like Cloak offers a short stint of invisibility. The problem is that even your guns are invis. So if you depend on a reticle for kills, think about your positioning before going ghost. Stim makes you super fast for a few seconds. This is great for getting out of loosing exchanges with Pilots or scooting away from lumbering Titans. Ordnance = grenades. Frag type is standard, with pretty good splash range. The Arc is like a digital flashbang. It "scrambles" the view of other players, making it impossible to discern things until it clears up. Last up is the Kit. Two are available per LO. These act in a similar vein to Tac Abilities. Look for extended wall jumping/running time or quicker reloads. My favorite is the Minion Detector, which puts smaller red dots for all Grunts and Spectres around your current position on the radar.
Although I don't think there is a clean comparison for TF to any other FPS currently being played, Respawn can't help but use some of their past creations. Burn Cards are a prime example. Pretty much, these stand in for Perks, with a twist. Upon completing challenges in matches, these Cards become available. After reaching a certain level, up to three can be loaded up before the next bout. You'll select them one at a time either before the match starts or between respawns. Their categories vary. Some shave off Titan build time, others extend radar functionality, some increase movement speed, a group of them offer "Amped" version of guns with increased payload, and so on. Whatever the positive is, they're only good for that spawn. If you plan on using an Amped version of an Anti-Titan weapon, you best know there are enemy Titans to shoot at and stay alive long enough to use the Card. Otherwise, it'll be wasted. I really like this system. I'm still forgetting to load one up before I rage spawn after a death, which is a problem, since the "pack" has limited space, and any earned after reached capacity aren't allotted. So use them often, and ditch those you know you'll never use.
Pilot play is really cool and all, but this game has its title for a reason. What primarily separated it from the other shooters out there are, of course, the Titans. After the first three minutes of a round, or quicker with kills and the use of certain Burn Cards, you can call in a metal giant built for destruction and mayhem. Much like Pilots, Titans offer customizable Loadouts. Remember those Campaign missions from earlier? Playing through both unlocks all three types, or Chassis, for custom builds. Atlas is the "all-around" choice, a balance between power, speed, and durability. Stryder sacrifices shielding for increased power-to-weight ratio, making it the fastest. And Orge loads up on armor, creating the most durable of the trio. In theory, having options is great. In practice, I don't see much use for the Stryder, or really the Atlas either, when matched up against Ogres. Because any chassis can potentially have any possible LO combination, there are no differences in weapons. And although a speed increase sounds appealing on paper, in the heat of battle, a Stryder cannot just sprint out of a tight spot. Unless DLC comes up with something exclusive in the way of weapons, or introduces a new ability like leaping/flying, nothing compares to the Ogre.
Weapons vary drastically in features, but all do a great amount of damage if used as intended. The shields on each Titan is pretty weak. With a direct shot from any of the primaries, you'll be down to just build integrity until the shield "comes back online." Be ready to tap that A button to utilize the dodge feature when you hear that ominous beep warning of energy depletion. The best weapon is probably the 40MM Cannon. Shooting shells in a semi-auto fashion, it hits the mark between damage, range, and accuracy. An its a one-hit kill against Pilots. The only downside is the rounds have very little splash damage, so zoom in to make sure your shots are hitting their mark. If rapidity is more your thing, the XO-16 Chaingun is the answer. Fully auto in nature, shooting really heavy, conventional bullets. It's great for playing in a support role, offering extra damage behind one or two other mechs running point. It's also the easiest to use against Pilots. The Quad Rocket feels really fun to use. Barrelling four missiles in a spiral pattern, it hits pretty hard and is dizzying to enemies from its hypnotizing ejection pattern. Again, another solid choice. There are two others that rely on charged shots: Arc Cannon and Plasma Railgun. Both have an electrifying effects and do wonders with fully loaded rounds. Just keep your distance if you decide to go with these.
Titans come equipped with a few other toys that have "cool down" times. Instead of grenades, Ordnances here are like secondary shoulder weapons. The most effective against the iron giants is the Rocket Salvo. Tapping the right bumper sends out a hailstorm of shots in a wild pattern. Precision isn't its thing, per se. But in close range or facing a group, it can be the deciding factor. Against Pilots, I found the Cluster Missile to be awesome. Upon release, a single shell is sent flying, meets its destination, then breaks apart in a shower of smaller explosions like a megaton firecracker! Against pesky players hiding in rooms and peeking out of windows, it acts as a perfect "bunker buster."
Going back to the Pilot v. Titan theme, one of the keystone offensive maneuvers for Pilots is the Rodeo. Sprinting and jumping towards an unsuspecting suit makes you latch onto the top of it, rip off the panel housing the main computer components, and being able to directly shoot with your primary or sidearm (no in-close Anti-Titan weapon attacks allowed) until the shields and structural integrity go bye-bye. Of course, the Titan-er is alerted of the stow-away instantly. Their left with few choices for eviction. One is disembarking and shooting the Pilot down. But a more effective, and less dangerous way, to handle it is with a Titan Tactical Ability called Electric Smoke. This sends out a white plum laced with electricity. In mech v. mech affairs, it amounts to little more than a smoke screen. But against Rodeos, if the Pilot doesn't jump off quickly, they die. Perfect repellent. The other really popular Tac Ability is the Vortex Shield. When in use, it collects all incoming attacks and sends them in the other direction upon release. But don't wait for the charge to time out or the gathered rounds will just fall to the ground. The Titan LOs also have a two-tiered Kit system. These give similar abilities like auto-eject once your Titan goes critical and regenerating shileds faster. The most maligned, though, is probably Nuclear Ejection, which turns your Titan into an atomic bomb after ejecting from a critical suit. Last Stand, anyone?
The game modes are few, but effective. Attrition is the basic Team Deathmatch option that takes the first team to 250 points as the winner. Hardpoint is like Domination, with three control points on the map. The TF spin is that it doesn't take a lot of time to neutralize and take over points. This turns the matches into enjoyable mad scrambles. Capture the Flag follows CTF classic rules, as your flag must be present at your base to score the enemy flag. The flavor here is that a Pilot can disembark from his/her suit, grab the flag, then hop back aboard and carry the object from inside the safety of the mech. Pilot Hunter is much like Attrition, except only Pilot frags count towards the scoreboard. And lastly is Last Titan Standing. Best-of-seven series with no respawns. Everyone starts the round as a Titan and the last team with at least one suit still ticking wins. If you go critical, but can eject cleanly, you can finish it out as a Pilot. My only complaint with this mode is that it's one victory too long. If LTS was first to three instead of first to four, it would be perfect.
In terms of the raw gameplay, like how the game "feels" to play, it's amazing. Again, the balance between Titans and Pilots could have been this release's downfall, and instead is one of its most dependable features. Controlling the Pilot has that "easy to do, hard to master" thing going for it. Running and leaping is as easy as gesturing the left thumbstick and tapping the jump button. Scaling buildings to earn top position, however, takes concentration and knowing how to effectively utilize the double jump. None of the guns I've tried so far seem "clunky." Sure, some have proven to be better than others, but I don't feel like I have to "fight" any of them to do what I want to do. If not for the weak damage, even the sniper choices would be equal. And being a Titan is off-the-charts fun. The exchanges get messy, and you'll find yourself going against more than one more often than you'd like, but it won't matter, you'll be grinning the entire time. There are probably Mech Warrior fans out there screaming that they've been controlling robot suits for years and having a blast, and TF adopters are late to the big scale brawl. While that may be true, in principle, this game makes it effortless. In some cases, there's something to be said about simplicity. TF makes it simple. My personal favorite aspect about the gameplay is that you can be the type of troop you want to be, and still be very helpful to the team no matter what you choose. Of course, going after enemy Pilots in the onset to keep them from reaching their preferred destination and calling in your Titan early is a huge deal. But if you would rather just target NPCs, that's a big assist, as well. A massive group of Spectres seriously eat away at Titans. If their population goes unchecked, the results can be disastrous. With a designated Minion slayer, that potential predicament goes away. And what about folks that don't like being in their Titan? Those that might find the in-suit action too slow? No problem. Drop your Titan into auto-mode and fight to keep yourself in good Anti-Titan weapon position. All of these scenarios, or a mix of them, do much to increase the likelihood of victory. That, in itself, makes Titanfall work on a level that other shooters currently just don't. Choice. It's a powerful thing.
The sights and sounds are just as grand as the game itself. I know, I know, the graphics are upscaled to full 1080. Currently, designers of One games are having to make a choice between true 1080 running consistently at 30 frames-a-second or turning the native resolution down in favor of clean 60fps. For something like Forza, the 1080p/30fps decision works. Shooters need 60. Because of this, Respawn decided to make a game that looks "striking" over just, say, pretty. Yeah, in a graphical beauty contest, something like Tomb Raider or Ryse might take the crown. But that doesn't mean TF looks bad. The detailing is insane, and what the design team cooked up works great for what the title needs. We might look at this a few years from now and think these graphics are terrible. Right now, they look awesome. What certainly won't change in terms of perceived quality is the sound. Wow, wow, wow! Whether heard through a Dolby Digital certified pair of Astros, or on $20 computer speakers, the mix is plentiful, crisp, and clear. Bullets layered on explosions layered on "mechanical noises" layered on voice overs all blends superbly. And the little audio queues to different happenings like lowered shields become instinct and a great help.