Titanfall Review

By Jonathan Barnes, 4 years ago
At this point, the reputation of Titanfall precedes it. Rising from the ashes of the Infinity Ward exodus, Respawn Entertainment's maiden title has seen its fair share of accolades from industry insiders, the press, and beta testers. With those accolades, many expectations (fair and unfair) have been placed at Titanfall's feet. Is it a system seller? Is it the killer app the Xbox One needs? Is it the next great shooter from the core team who made the shooter by which all others are measured, or is it simply just another game?

The simple answer is, "Yes."

The full answer requires a bit more reading.


In the distant future, humanity has found a way to bend space, allowing for interstellar travel. The Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation, or IMC, is a sprawling commercial empire that is now exploring this vast new frontier, mining it for resources, and seeing what bounty it may offer. As one might expect from a massive corporation, their work isn't all sunshine, roses, and generous compensation packages. Opposing them is the Frontier Militia who are opposed to IMC's exploitative, imperialist treatment of the newly-discovered planets and systems... or something like that. The thread-bare story is essentially unimportant and is treated as such. The narrative content that, at best, could be described as a simple, is relegated to pre-match briefings and radio chatter that plays while you're actively trying not to get your head shot off. While there is a "Campaign", it's a "Multiplayer Campaign", meaning you will always be playing against an opposing team of humans. As such, this pace of play turns the what little story there is into a distracting throwaway when it's placed behind the frenetic gameplay and action. At its core, the story is basically, "Go get those guys," not that that's a bad thing.

The Multiplayer Campaign is relatively short and consists of a handful of "Hardpoint Domination" and "Attrition" matches against other human opponents. Completing the IMC campaign leads directly into the Militia campaign and both sides (which are essentially identical in terms of actual gameplay) can be easily played in one evening, freeing you up to do what Respawn really wants you to do in Titanfall; play the Multiplayer.
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As the game's primary focus, there are several different multiplayer modes to choose from. "Attrition" is a six-on-six Deathmatch-style mode in which you are tasked to hunt down the opposing team. "Hardpoint Domination" is an objective-based, Domination mode which asks teams to secure, hold, and defend three different map points. "Capture the Flag" is straightforward and self-explanatory. "Pilot Hunter" requires you to hunt down fifty enemy Pilots. Finally, "Last Titan Standing" starts every player off in a Titan with the simple goal of eliminating all of the opposing team's Titans. While none of these modes is particularly unique or groundbreaking, they all scratch the competitive multiplayer itch. Run-and-gun lone wolves will find their homes in "Pilot Hunter", "Attrition", and "Last Titan Standing" while more cooperative gamers will take solace in "Hardpoint Domination" and "Capture the Flag".

Even though the actual game does little to break the FPS mold, what it does do is make small tweaks to the formula which do wonders to make it feel fresh and vibrant. The most obvious of these tweaks is the ability to call in a Titan. At the beginning of each match, every player has a countdown timer that must run down before they can call in their Titan. Doing positive actions for your team will shorten that timer. Even the least-skilled of gamers will still be able to call in a Titan or two in their matches. Once the Titans begin to appear, the match dynamic changes. Pilots who are still on foot either scramble for cover and attempt to take shots with their heavy weapons, or the boldest ones try to jump onto the top of enemy Titans for a Rodeo ride which enables them to pull off an access plate on the Titan and wail away on it with their weapon. When a Titan inevitably does go down, the Pilot is able to punch out, launching them high above the battleground and giving them a chance to survey the lay of the land before returning to it.

Another amazing tweak that Respawn has added is the incredible player movement. Much like Forrest Gump, your Pilot can RUN. Your Pilot has unlimited sprint, the ability to double jump, mantle up barriers, and even run along walls. The environments of Titanfall do a fantastic job of encouraging experimentation in movement. Respawn has seemingly done everything possible to give players a digital playground that just begs to be traversed and explored. Virtually every building can be scaled and, much like old war strategy, taking the high ground provides a nice tactical advantage. The downside of this amazing movement is that, until it's truly mastered, it feels finicky in the same ways that other games have struggled to enable the player with parkour movement. During my time I often found myself accidentally bouncing off of barriers I wanted to mantle and running along walls that I double jump. Like all things, time and practice eases the struggle, but newcomers can expect a learning curve.

In some of our previous coverage, we detailed another small addition Respawn has made, Burn Cards. Burn Cards are one-time use perks that allow for things like a buffed weapon, reduced Titan construction times, and better radar amongst others. These cards are earned by performing well in matches and up to three can be slotted before each match. Before spawning in, the player has the option to pick one of the three cards they've queued up. The effects of this card only last for that life, so those who tend to die quickly may not notice the benefits as more skilled players.

One of the best twists to the multiplayer formula is each match's Epilogue in which the losing team is compelled to evacuate to a dropship while the winning team is tasked with eliminating them before they reach it... or shooting down the dropship... both work pretty well. While this mechanic has been used with great success in some previous titles, the addition of Titans and the fluid and fast movement systems make the match Epilogue a tense affair where the losers scramble for cover and high ground in a last-ditch effort to make it to their evacuation zone, while the winners play seek-and-destroy with equal ferocity. The Epilogue basically takes the fast formula of Titanfall and turns it up to eleven for the final moments.
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Unfortunately, this incredibly fun and fast-paced multiplayer is saddled with a poor matchmaking system. While the experience system in Titanfall isn't the best benchmark for skill, it is disconcerting to see a team of single-digit and low-teen ranked players get matched up against a team full of players in their high-40's. Such inequity lead to serious beatings that are incredibly demoralizing for newcomers, especially when playing the "Multiplayer Campaign". For a game that's focused solely on this multiplayer experience, a better skill-based matchmaking system would certainly have been welcome.

Speaking of that experience and leveling system, Titanfall does a great job of rewarding players (even poor ones) with a steady drip of experience that will slowly but surely allow them to gain levels. Experience is gained for seemingly every positive action you take on behalf of your team, whether it's calling in your Titan, securing or defending a Hardpoint, killing enemies, or defending your team's flag, experience flows. Like many other multiplayer games, gaining experience levels up your Pilot which unlocks new weapons, weapon accessories, custom loadouts, Titan ordinances, and skills. Fortunately, the initial set of weapons provides a little something for everyone, although the unlocks certainly do provide a better-customized experience for all players.

On a technical level, the game isn't the visual marvel that many gamers would expect upon upgrading into the next generation. While some players have reported some small issues with graphical hiccups, I experienced no such problems and found the game to run incredibly smoothly at a fine sixty frames per second. The frenetic pace of the game doesn't allow for the time to stop and smell the graphical roses, but the it does have a cohesive look and feel that blends well with the action. With many gamers fretting about the possibility of server issues and flashing back to more-recent multiplayer launch failures, it's refreshing to see that the game has suffers from very few (if any) server/connectivity issues. With so much of the AI computing being done by Microsoft's cloud, this is an accomplishment worth trumpeting.

On the achievement front, Respawn has done a nice job of spacing out the unlocks for the most part. Within your first hour or so, you will have probably unlocked a handful of achievements and will most-likely continue to unlock a few every hour or so as you progress. That being said, there are definitely achievement plateaus of sorts that will leave you in a dry spells when you're stuck between early-game achievements, mid-game achievements, and late-game achievements. As we detailed in the Achievement Preview Spotlight there are a number of achievements that will require you to play and/or win fifty of each match type, as well as achievements for hitting level 50 and a 0G achievement for prestiging ten times. While this is a game that fans will be playing for a long time, completionists will be playing it for even longer.

Titanfall's expectations are a double-edged sword. This is a very good game and a breath of fresh air in a shooter environment that has become stagnant in the past few years. Respawn did yeoman's work to examine what FPS fans want (little emphasis on a campaign, major emphasis on multiplayer) and delivered a great package of fast-paced gunplay that will keep fans of the team's previous IP happy and wanting more. On the flip side, Titanfall is not the be-all, end-all of shooters. It is incredibly iterative on the work and advancements of previous shooters and the lack of any type of real narrative robs it of a bit of depth. While the tweaks and updates they've added to the formula are nice, this is not a game that truly breaks the mold. Fans of the last generation of multiplayer shooters will feel incredibly at home, while those searching for something groundbreaking will come away a little disappointed. Make no mistake, though, this game is fun and is highly recommended to FPS fans, but those who are less-skilled at the art of pwnery will inevitably feel the repeated crunch of frustration and defeat.

The biggest thing that sets Titanfall apart from other shooters are the moments (and many of them) that will make you sit up and say, "Xbox, record that," because of their sheer awesomeness. As Microsoft's de facto Welcome Mat to the Xbox One for a huge wave of gamers, Titanfall succeeds at delivering a fun and fast-paced experience that places a definitive starting point for the next generation.

The reviewer spent approximately fifteen hours playing through the game, completing both sides of the Multiplayer Campaign multiple times and fighting through several rounds of every other mode. Through the course of his wall-running, parkouring, Titan dropping, and death cam watching, he unlocked ten of the game's thirty-five achievements. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.