Titanfall - Review


Even though Titanfall is new developer studio Respawn Entertainment's first game, it's already met with ridiculously high expectations. Due to the fact that most of Respawn Entertainment's developers are former team members of the famous studio Infinity Ward, responsible for hit games like Call of Duty 1, 2 and 4, it's easy to expect nothing but the best, when it comes to online shooters from these genre veterans.
Not only featuring on-foot basic shooting but also parkourish running mechanics and most notably the addition of controllable giant mechs, Titanfall was widely expected to pose a serious threat to Call of Duty's, Battlefield's and Halo's online shooter dominance.
After all the hype and a successful public beta, how does the final game hold up? Is it the revolution we were waiting for? Or is it essentially just more of the same? 


Story/Campaign Mode

The plot:
A conflict is raging at the farthest space regions of humanity's grasp called the frontier. 
There, the pioneering faction called the Milita fights against the power hungry IMC (Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation). While the Militia considers the frontier their homeland, the IMC wants to use it for their earning potential. Through warp speed, the production of titans as well as synthetic troops, the conflict about the control of the frontier quickly turned into a brutal war between the two factions.
(source: GameTrailers)


Surprisingly enough for a game that is completely focussed on online team matchmaking, Titanfall does indeed feature a campaign story mode aside from its general plot backdrop.
The question is, how exactly does a campaign work within a game primarily based on online matches?

To be clear, Titanfall does not feature a distinct singleplayer component. Even when playing the game's campaign mode, everything (like all of the rest of the game) is linked online and to online team matchmaking.
Campaign mode really just puts you into regular matches just like the classic 6 vs. 6 multiplayer, but furthermore just contextualizes the actions and matches through a narrative framework.
Campaign mode matches are 6 vs. 6 human players with specific A.I. controlled main characters mixed in. Therefore, each faction has its own heroes and personalities and each campaign (Milita campaign and IMC campaign) has you progress through a predetermined set of levels/maps with different scripted moments thrown into the match depending on the side you're playing on.
Furthermore, picture-in-picture conversations and/or even cut-scenes in the top corner of your screen/HUD offer plenty of dialogue between the protagonist characters that are supposed to push the story forward.

The future looks pretty grim...again.

However, aside from the story being extremely flimsy to begin with, the decision to tell most of the story via the picture-in-picture convos ultimately backfires.
Regarding the fact that even in campaign mode you are playing in frantic matches against other human players just like in regular multiplayer, this makes it almost impossible to focus and follow the story that plays out in the top corner of your screen.
Conversations and let alone entire cut-scenes in the top corner are easily lost in the chaos of battle.
The game obviously tries its best to tell you a story while you are playing, but given the frantic and fast pace of the gameplay, the already shallow story ultimately remains pointless.
Of course, replaying the campaign mode more carefully and paying more attention to what is actually said by the characters will give your actions more context and will thicken the plot a bit, but regarding how much gameplay-fun you have to sacrifice in order to pay that attention makes it not worth it. This is only further underlined through the fact that important picture-in-picture cutscenes can be overridden by the killcam if an enemy kills you in the middle of a conversation.

It ultimately comes down to Titanfall's campaign mode not being annoying but really just as useful and in-depth like Unreal Tournament 3's story.
Having to progress through the campaign mode to unlock new titans and gear (which can ONLY be unlocked through finishing the campaign mode) is really the sole purpose any player plays through the campaign mode.
A simple backdrop plot to give a short context of why the Milita is fighting the IMC would've been absolutely enough narration for an obviously regular online match focussed game like Titanfall.
No wonder even during the campaign mode you are always more focussed on simply winning the match than following the story.

"Not now! I am watching the cut-scene!"


Gameplay

Maps - "A Vivid, Chaotic Playground for Large and Tiny"

Aside from the game's great balance (more on that later), maps are easily one of the biggest strengths in Titanfall.
Let alone in terms of scale, Titanfall's maps are excellently designed, making them not as enourmously large as in Battlefield and but also not too small to hinder titans' movements. They have a near perfect scale and are excellently suited for both titans to strafe and move around as well as pilots to maneuver the buildings and do parkourish traversal actions.
Another standout aspect of the maps is that they feel very diverse. The games total 15 maps have a large and varied color pallette and play out on different planets making matches not feel monotone.
Furthermore, specific dynamic details deepen the universe as well as enhance the warfare atmosphere in the game like giant aliens walking in the distance, large scale space battles playing out over head or A.I. controlled soldiers deploying from drop pods.
All this combined with the games frantic, very fast-paced matches and gameplay creates a fantastic chaotic war atmosphere and scenery throughout each and every match.
Having to traverse big distances to meet other players becomes almost non-existent due to the game's perfect size and the action seemingly unfolding everywhere around you without you losing track of what's going on.
Even though players will quickly develop specific favorite maps, there's no denying that maps like Boneyard, a map with a giant alien skeleton in its center, and Angel City, a map that provides plenty of oportunities for wall climbing and assaulting due to its many alleyways and streets, clearly stand out.
All in all, it can be without any doubt said that the foundation of the game's great balance between the pilots and titans is flawlessly established through the game's fun maps alone.

However, why it's not possible for players to vote for maps while being in the matchmaking lobby remains a mystery.

City or jungle? Why not both?!


Loadout Customization - "Basic Fun and Weird Trading Cards"

Titanfall's loadout customization is seperated into both pilot loadouts as well as titan loadouts, and just like in any other online shooter, customization is very important to have an edge in battle.

Aside from obvious weapon and gadget customizations, pilots are further differentiated through their tactical abilities, like cloaking, which opperates on a cooldown system, and kits that opperate like Call of Duty-perks and grant you special consistent bonus abilities.

With that said, while kits grant consistent abilities, specific consumable perks known as "burn cards" are additional modifiers for the player's in-game behaviour.
As you play matches and accomplish challenges, you receive a steady supply of burn cards, which are consumable powerups that grant you special weapons, abilities, or modifiers with different rarities.
Amped up weapons are pretty common while insta-use titans are fittingly rare.
There is a limited amount of how many burn cards you can store at once, so hoarding them is not an option.
Although, either way, their effects only last as long as you stay alive within the round.
Despite the fact that it can be a bit annoying to having to choose a burn card before each respawn (if you want to use one), burn cards are a fun addition and can be quite strategic in terms of when a player decides to use them an make a difference in battle.
Why the developers decided to present those consumable powerups in the form of trading cards is weird though.

I want to play a game...of cards.

On the other side, just like the pilots, titans can also be customized to the player's prefence.
On top of choosing a specific titan type and the standard weapon customization fare, titans can also be suited with special abilities like a shield, that catches and returns enemy fire, along with passive options like nuclear ejection, where your titan explodes upon death damaging enemies around him.
Customizing titans offers the player a necessary and fun second layer of strategic influence on the battle and differentiates Titanfall even more from its online shooter competitors.
Why the custom loadouts cannot be individually renamed to the player's liking, remains another mystery.

Even though weapons and abilities feel gradually more powerful and varied as you unlock them through gained XP up to level 50, the otherwise fairly Call of Duty reminiscent customization options in Titanfall are fun but at the same time also notably very bare bones and basic.
The usual suspects like shotguns, sniper rifles, assault rifles etc. are all there, but when it comes to variation in terms of a specific weapon type, you're not given many choices (for example there's only one single shotgun in the entire game). The same goes for variations in terms of titans themselves with only 3 different titan types available (the standard Atlas, the heavily armored but slow Ogre, the agile but weak Stryder).
Titanfall's cutstomization is very easy to get into but also even a bit too bare bones for a game that has so many expectations standing behind it. It's very obvious that the game is depending on the player further supporting the game through his purchase of upcoming DLC, which is truely a shame seeing how much potential the core gameplay mechanics offer.

Two loadout categories but only basic options. What a bummer.


Balance - "David vs. Goliath"

In a game, in which giant mechs are an essential core feature in the online matches, the balance between pilots and titans is absolutely essential for the game's success.
Luckily it can be without any doubt said that Respawn Entertainment absolutely nailed the balance. 
With that said, even newcomers will quickly realize that skill decides the outcome of a battle and not necessarily an overpowered weapon. Much like in other well balanced shooters like Unreal Tournament, every weapon is very powerful when in the right hands but also has obvious weak points at the same time.

With the giant titans being able to stomp onto enemy pilots and shoot them to shreds with their big guns, it's easy to think that stearing one of them makes you an overpowered powerhouse on the field. Even though this CAN be true if the titan is handled well enough, pilots always have possibilities to just as easily take down a titan due to the fact that each pilot always carries a powerful weapon specifically dedicated to take them down. On top of that, your own titans and the pilot's agility to navigate the environment can be put to great use to assault a titan from above or to jump onto them to attack its core for direct damage. Yet still, the enemy pilot might just as likely leap out of his titan to take you down counterwise.

These flexible strategies and counter-strategies are what make Titanfall's balance work so well.
The results are greatly balanced matches full of wonderfully working online warfare, in which dominance on the map is rarely achieved by a single player using a vehicle (here's looking at you Battlefield) but mostly the work of a well working team switching tactics strategically between titan-use and on-foot combat. 

Balance is key. And Respawn Entertainment found it.


Bots - "Useful Idiots"

Many players doubted that Titanfall's matches would feel as epic and grand as promised due to the fact that matches are limited to 6 vs. 6 players.
A big factor how Respawn Entertainment nevertheless made online matches still feel as great as they are (aside from the titans themselves) is the addition of A.I. controlled soldiers (bots) on the field called "minions".
Just like bots in other games, these grunts and robotic spectres are noticably dumber than human players, yet not too dumb to take you out of the game's immersion.
However, these bots are incredibly necessary for the games scale, making matches feel much larger, and most importantly the game's flow to keep you moving and shooting constantly. 
Through the involvement of those "dumb" bots, Titanfall matches feel very welcoming and far less punishing for players (and newcomers). Matches don't feel very easy but at the same time not as punishing as the ones in other games full of hardcore players like Call of Duty or Battlefield.
Due to the fact that killing enemies earns you XP/points and lowers the timer counting down how long it takes for your next titan to be available, the bots in Titanfall can be regarded as resource and are a very positive addition to the game.
This is only further underlined through the ability to even hack these bots to put them onto your side.

Minions help to keep the action coming.


Modes - "Sticking to the Classics"

Titanfall offers a straightforward variation of different modes mostly focussed on well established competitive online modes from the FPS genre, just with different titles.

While the mode "Attrition" is team deathmatch, "Last Titan Standing" is a fairly new mode having each player starting out within their titan with one life per round and "Pilot Hunter" and "Capture the Flag" offer further classically oriented modes, the mode "Hardpoint Domination" is probably the most fun and suitably most favorited mode the game has to offer.

There, the game tasks the teams to secure/conquer three points positioned on the map.
Constant, flexible switches between conquering and defending a position is the norm here and forces the players to strategically approach the battle.
Conquering the inside of a station via on-foot, while later having your titan put on auto-pilot to defend the position as you cover another one is very fun (and also a pretty popular strategy in matches).
Hardpoint therefore is best suited to showcase all of Titanfall's gameplay strengths in equal manner, showcasing how battles in online matches can take place on seemingly two interconnected layers - the bottom ground with pilots on foot, while titans battle each other above your heads within offensive and defensive playstyles.

With that said, it's still quite unfortunate that Titanfall's greatly functioning but still bare bones approach also shows in its limited selection of mostly classic game modes, which expectedly will be only enhanced through upcoming DLC content.
 
Hardpoint Domination - A symphony of offense and defense.


Graphics
 

With the well balanced gameplay mechanics easily overshadowing everything else Titanfall has to offer, the graphics of Titanfall are neither necessarily something that is going to amaze you, nor are one of the game's selling points.
Despite the fact that Titanfall is acknowledged as a next-gen game, it visually doesn't necessarily feel that way and rather feels like a visually standard game that could as well be pulled off in the last generation.
With that being said, this doesn't mean that Titanfall is an ugly game. Great explosions, vivid map sceneries and detailed models for weapons and everything else mechanic make the great artistic design of the game truely feel alive with a unique style different from other games.
Yet still, competitors like Battlefield 4 (in terms of online shooters) are clearly having the upper hand here.
But considering how much focus is put on the game's successful mechanics, the game's fairly standard visuals aren't going to bother you anyway.


Sound
 

What presentation-wise the game lacks in visually, it makes up for in its sound design.
While the soundtrack is nothing too special to write anything home about, the gun sounds of the game are absolutely phenomenal.
Every gun sounds fittingly stronger the larger and heavier it gets, nailing that certain "Oomph!"-factor players love, while titans stomping around next to you will actually make you feel tiny by the enormous, intimidating stomping sound alone.
The massive titan guns however are what truely sell the warfare soundwise. Hearing titans unleash their fire on the battlefield will fill the entire map with loud metallic warsounds (and probably explosions). 
The amazing sound design in the game only further emphasizes and immerses the player into the online matches' "authentic" chaotic war mayhem.   

The action and sound more than make up for the standard graphics.


The Verdict

Titanfall successfully manages to withstand its huge hype for the most part.
Most notably due to its professionally created balance between pilots and titans, varied map designs and inclusion of bots, Titanfall is a game, that is remarkably easy to get into, incredibly fun and very flexible in terms of playstyles.
And yet still, even though in many aspects it stands as a game that tries to threaten the big competitors in the genre with new approaches and ideas, it shows that it plays it very safe in others.
Despite unique and fun mechanics, the game suffers from an unnecessary campaign mode, an obviously very limited and basic selection of customization options that notably hold back the game's potentials, while also just completely lacking established minor standards of the genre like voting for maps or renaming loadouts.

Nevertheless, even Titanfall's few shortcomings don't diminish the fact that it ultimately is an amazing online shooter, that surely isn't going to revolutionize the online shooter genre, but that poses as a new and strong competitor on the market next to the dominance of Call of Duty, Battlefield and Halo.
Players, who are looking for a breath of fresh air in online shooters, should look no further than Titanfall.

          
  
 Final Verdict: 8 out of 10 

Status: Great!




Big thanks goes out to EA for providing us with a review copy of the game.

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