Titanfall Hands-On Impressions
My friends could not stop raving about their playthrough of Titanfall. One by one they would take time out of PAX to wait in the giant line for a chance to play this Call of Duty meets Virtual-On looking thing and one by one they would join the choir telling me “you just have to play this game!” After three days of being hassled, I caved in and took my place in line at the booth. I thought the E3 demo shown at the Microsoft press conference was really cool, but I really have a hard time getting into first-person shooter multiplayer games both because they’re really tedious and I suck really badly at them. Seriously, I don’t know how you Call of Duty players differentiate team members from the enemy that quickly. I tend to gun down more teammates than enemies because I didn’t realize in that nano-second that you had the white winter camo on and not the off white winter camo our enemies are sporting today! Also, I want the armor they’re wearing because I’m pretty sure mine has a slightly worse safety rating than what stormtroopers wear!
Okay, maybe I have a little bit of history there and it may have lead me to have a slight bias against the game before I got my hands on it. Thank goodness what I played was one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve had since Team Fortress 2.
Really what makes this so good for me is the presentation of the multiplayer mode. So often in games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Counter-Strike it just feels like you’re dudes on a map. There’s no feeling that you’re apart of some greater conflict (save for maybe a random battleship off in the distance). Titanfall, however, makes that greater conflict feeling a key part of the experience. During my playthrough we started the game getting a briefing from our commanding officer. He wasn’t jabbering on over the intercom or Skyping with us in the corner of the screen, but he was actually standing in front of us with the prisoner we were suppose to keep secure.
It’s amazing how much more invested you are in a mission when the commander finds the time to actually show up and give you your orders in person and to actually see the guy we’re holding captive get put into a holding area. So many games miss that little detail and rely on you simply knowing that the enemy setting up a bomb or getting your flag is bad without any real context as to why it matters if they blow up an open square or take your tapestry home. Titanfall’s dedication to presentation doesn’t end there, but the end of the commander’s briefing signals the beginning of the match and my first chance to experience the actual gameplay.
Now when I watched the E3 video it still looked like a Call of Duty style shooter with some elements of Brink added into it. What I didn’t understand was how much different those elements make the game feel from anything else that’s out there. Everything’s happening so quickly and everyone’s jumping off of buildings, it’s like watching a replay of an all-scouts game of Team Fortress 2 on fast-forward. When I decided to emulate it for myself, it took me all of five seconds to double jump into a wall run and then double jump into a wall run on the building across the street. It really is that easy to pick up and play (though I might have an advantage here as I was an avid Gunz: The Duel player back in the day). There were times where it was a little too easy to wall run, leading me to run out of cover and exposing myself on the open street, but it didn’t dampen my experience at all.
Like I said before, I’m not really an FPS aficionado. I’m not the guy to tell you if the “gun feel” is right or if the reload animations are timed correctly or whatever. What I can tell you is that at one point in the match I wall ran past the enemy and delivered a flying dropkick to the guy at the rear of the unit before swinging around to gun down his two buddies. If that doesn’t get you excited to play this game, then I don’t think anything will. Well, unless you have a thing for giant fighting robots.
That’s right, the game has personal giant fighting robots called Titans that you can take into battle. When the match starts, a timer appears that designates when your Titan will be ready for deployment. You can speed this timer up by getting kills or doing other things, but everyone is guaranteed access to them eventually. Once that timer runs out, you’re notified that your Titan is ready. You select a section of land to drop it in and then look up to watch the majestic metal beast smash into the ground. It’s a really badass moment that makes you forget that these guys are basically revamped killstreaks. When it blows up, the timer starts up and the whole process starts all over again.
The game changes when Titans start falling from the sky as these guys can put a hurting on any poor foot soldier caught out in the open, so people started retreating to the buildings. They managed to make the Titans these big imposing figures on the battlefield, creating these surreal scenes where you’re running through a ruined building and catch a glimpse of a giant mech out the window as he marches through the city, shooting a cluster of missiles down the avenue. It’s really an incredible sight that gives the game a distinct identity, letting you create experiences that separate Titanfall from anything else that’s out there. The Titans are also sentient to a degree, allowing you to have your Titan to walk around and fight on it’s own so you can continue engaging in ground combat. The sentience also shines when your Titan does things like grab you and put you in the cockpit, really giving your robot the personality you see in movies like Pacific Rim and the Gundam series. The sentience can also lead to some new strategic options, like using your robot as a gigantic distraction while you run around the flank and start shooting people from behind.
There’s so much more left to talk about, like the post-match “epilogue” sequence and the hot robot-on-robot combat action, but there’s only so much that can be shared with words. This is a game you have to experience to really understand just how well executed it is. I came in a skeptic that thought the E3 demo was a little too cool to be legit, but I can tell you now that when I left that demo booth at PAX, I was a believer. This would be a Halo killer if it was on a different console, but instead creates an unforgettable experience that separates it from the Xbox’s already overloaded library of multiplayer FPS games. Though this game isn’t a launch title, it may very well be the system seller that the Xbox One desperately needs. Keep an eye out for more news as Spring 2014 draws closer.