The hype level for Titanfall has reached a fever point in the past two weeks due in part to a downloadable beta test on both the Xbox One and PC platforms. At first, the beta was supposed to be a closed affair that required the user to apply from one of their email addresses and pray they got selected. While that was the case for the first 48 hours or so, Respawn Entertainment and EA decided to open the flood gates and allow the Xbox One beta to go open in order to stress test the network infrastructure in preparation for launch on March 11. Soon after, the PC beta also went open and the masses rejoiced, and complained. Such is life on the internet.
Titanfall is a very polarizing game in a lot of ways. You have the hardened FPS fan that relishes the large scale warfare of Battlefield 4 criticizing Titanfall for their 6v6 format and parkour-like movement. On the opposite side of the FPS spectrum you have the Call of Duty fans that are saying the game will be a poor clone of the seminal series with a sprinkling of mechs added in. Both sides could not be more wrong in their blind bias and fandom. Vince Zampella and the crew at Respawn have tapped into their FPS expertise and produced a game that may be as satisfying as Call of Duty Modern Warfare. This game is crazy, hectic fun that is a completely needed breath of fresh air in the FPS category. There hasn’t been a game since the Unreal Tournament series that felt this much like “controlled chaos” and for that reason alone I think anyone even remotely a fan of shooters needs to give it a shot come March 11 or 25.
The basic flow of a typical Titanfall match involves a delicate balance of traditional solider based combat in Pilots mixed with in your face mech combat in the Titans. Both types of combat have a unique and distinct feel and both are finely tuned even at this stage of development. The player will get more points for killing another human controlled Pilot or Titan and will get fewer points for killing the AI controlled Grunts and Spectres. The addition to AI controlled players fills in the medium to large scale of the maps and makes them feel alive even in the early, pre-Titan state of battle. While the AI are fairly easy targets, this makes the game enjoyable even for mediocre players that can still help their more skilled teammates by clearing out the map and making the opposing team Pilots more exposed.
As a Pilot you feel like a total badass super soldier that blends aspects of Mirrors Edge, Crackdown, and Crysis with a definite advantage to the player that can establish a high ground position. Like to snipe? You sure can do that with the Longbow-DMR Sniper rifle or even plink the opposite team with a well-equipped R-101C Carbine rifle. More of an up close and personal soldier? Grab your EVA-8 Shotgun or R-97 Compact SMG and mow down anyone that comes into your personal space. Let us not forget the neck snapping or jump kicking melee attacks that are quite satisfying. Along with a primary and secondary weapon the Pilot also has access to an anti-Titan weapon. You activate this weapon by hitting left on the directional pad and these weapons will do some significant damage to a Titan from a distance, especially if you hit the glowing red soft spots. The weapon selection will be widened for the retail release and I personally hope for some single shot rifles or at least the option for select fire. Pilots also have a selection of grenades and Tactical Abilities such as active camouflage or a “stim pack” that heals the player and makes them faster for a short period of time. These Tactical Abilities regenerate fairly quickly and are essential to being successful in battle. From playing a few days of Attrition (Team Death Match) matches it seems like it does behoove a player to stay off the ground unless they are directly trying to attack a Titan or clear out a cluster of Grunts or Spectres. Getting stepped on by a Titan is fairly easy and a quick way to die along with the inevitable cloaked snipers in any of the numerous rooftop perches across the levels.
The first time I was able to call down a Titan into battle was one of the more memorable moments for me in video game history. Hearing the sky crack as the Titan descended from the heavens and having it sitting there, waiting for me to get close enough to get escorted inside with a gentle mech hand was just pure video game joy. I have played mech games in the past from Virtual On to Armored Core and MechWarrior but never have I played a game that was attempting to blend the mech combat with other types of combat. Respawn has managed to make it feel like a cohesive experience and it is accessible to all levels of players due to the standard timing system that does not make the Titan a killstreak reward. You will be able to lessen the time until your Titan is ready by going on a killing rampage but regardless of skill level you will get a Titan at least once per match. Another interesting gameplay design decision was to let your Titan follow you or guard a specific spot rather than embarking in the Titan as a pilot. This is perfect if you just can’t seem to handle the play style of a Titan and still want the firepower as a backup to your parkour exploits or you want to guard a specific spot for game types like Hardpoint Capture. Titans have a selection of powerful primary weapons, a secondary emergency weapon to use in between reloading the primary weapon, and other special abilities like shields and disruptive smoke that damages other Titans and any Pilot trying to hollow out your brain case. Melee is particularly enjoyable in the Titan and recreating Rock-Em Sock-Em Robots style boxing matches is even more fun than it sounds. When a Titan enters “Doomed” state where their shields are gone and death is inevitable, a well-timed melee attack from another Titan will rip the Pilot from its guts and thrown to the ground resulting in instant death. I still smile every time I successfully complete this maneuver and it is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face.
I had the pleasure of testing Titanfall on the Xbox One and on PC. On the Xbox One I used their fantastically ergonomic first party controller and on the PC I used a wired first party Xbox 360 controller. Yes, you heard me right. I used a 360 controller in lieu of a mouse and keyboard setup. I have never been comfortable with mouse and keyboard and to be perfectly honest I cannot see how that arrangement would be beneficial for Titanfall. The fast pace of the Pilot movement in particular seems perfectly suited for a dual analog style controller with enough face buttons and triggers to use all abilities. To each their own, but I will be using a controller no matter what platform I am on.
The Xbox One controller has a bit of a looser feel to the analog sticks compared to the 360 controller and it does seem to be a bit of a concern in Titanfall, particularly when you are in close quarters combat or trying to shoot a Pilot that is double-jump happy. Trust me when I tell you that I don’t suck and my struggle was partially due to the wildness of the controller. According to most major video game news outlets there will be a controller firmware update released just before the launch of Titanfall so maybe they found the same thing to be true during their Alpha and other internal testing. The hectic close quarters situations did not change my opinion of the game and I still had a blast but I hope I can get a little bit more precision in the retail release. Another minor quibble with the Xbox One controller is the bumpers are slightly hard to hit and have more resistance than the 360 controller bumpers. This can make the throwing of a grenade with RB or the activation of a Tactical Ability a bit tricky in the heat of combat. I did not find it to be bad but most other people I have played with did not like the Xbox One controller for this reason alone.
The Xbox 360 controller on the other hand felt just as good as it has for nearly the past decade. I felt a bit more stable in the close quarter situations and the bumpers were no issue at all. I am surprised a third party has not attempted an Xbox 360 to Xbox One controller converter yet. I understand the rumble triggers would not work but if that could be bypassed I think a good portion of players may opt to use their old standby.
Let us be clear before discussing this topic: There is a Hell of a lot of action going on in a typical round of Titanfall. You could conceivably have 6 human controlled Pilots, 6 Titans on follow or guard mode, and 5-10 Grunts or Spectres roaming about. The world feels very alive and there is a lot for the system to handle.
With that being said, Titanfall did not make me stand up and declare the arrival of the next generation of systems on graphical prowess alone. The Xbox One version has been found to be running at 792p and if I were to take an educated guess I would estimate the framerate to be anywhere from 45-60 frames per second depending on action and total objects on screen. The resolution battles that are in full swing online between the Xbox One and PS4 really need to stop. I played Titanfall on one of the nicest 1080p screens money can buy and I did not once think, “Damn, I really wish I had higher resolution right now.” The backgrounds in the levels are gorgeous and I did not notice any pop-in so that is great news but the textures were very plain and did not show much detail. Explosions were lively and chunks of Titan and Pilot will fly everywhere when destroyed which was a nice touch. Overall I was a bit underwhelmed by the graphics on the One but I also was not expecting a graphical powerhouse to be honest.
The PC version of Titanfall did run at an almost constant 60 frames per second or higher and was very sharp in the textures and the colors popped a bit more than on Xbox One. I was under the impression that the visual settings were locked to medium for the beta so I will have to revisit this topic once the retail game hits stores and we can really try to tax the test system and see what we can squeeze out of it. One interesting thing to note is that in the beta multi-screen support was missing but my associate was able to get the game stretched across three monitors using software from the graphics card manufacturer. This produced a pretty intense field of view but we lost components of the HUD in the process. I can’t wait to try this with official support, if Respawn includes this.
I was able to play the beta on a standard television speaker system and also on a ridiculous 7.2 surround system with two 12 inch subwoofers and I can safely say the game sounds great no matter what you are listening through. I did not hear the incessant footsteps from every player in the map like in Call of Duty Ghosts and the gun play was crisp and the explosions jarring and violent. One of the most impressive aspects of Titanfall is the assistant type character in the upper right of the screen that will chime in and give you updates on when your Titan is ready and other status information during the match. Think of Peppy Hare from Star Fox 64 except with 100% less barrel rolling and actually helpful information.
The Titanfall beta was quite fun and it has left me drooling for the final release on March 11. I had many reservations about Titanfall before being able to play it and was trying to convince myself to not get too excited. The odds of this game turning out like Brink were fairly high but Respawn has managed to live up to most of the hype so far. Titanfall feels perfectly chaotic and balanced all in one tight package that is flexible enough to suit a wide range of play styles and experience levels. The lack of a single player campaign may upset some, the mediocre graphics may disappoint others, but nobody will be able to deny that the game is not fun in an almost old-school way.
I dare you to not smile ear to ear when you call in your first Titan. It is impossible not to get giddy with excitement knowing you just got scooped up into a mech and can terrorize the enemy swiftly with heavy weaponry and mech punches galore. In a video game industry landscape littered with garbage titles and reused franchises I commend Respawn for not only making a multiplayer only game, but one with the action elements Titanfall encompasses.
This may not be the first true “next-gen” game, but it will be the first game to make a large quantity of people go out and buy a next-gen system. And thanks to the massive wallet of Microsoft, that system will be an Xbox One due to the exclusivity for life. Well played, Microsoft, well played.