Game Review: Titanfall (Xbox One)
Respawn Entertainment’s first-ever title is a complex and engaging first-person shooter that adds parkour wall-running and giant mech combat to the somewhat tired genre. Not only does the title have a lot riding on it, but with so many gameplay mechanics vying for position, the developer has given itself a significant balancing act to perform. Read on to find out how it fares.
Let’s get this out of the way early on – it’s no secret that graphics aren't Titanfall’s strong suit. The looks here aren't bad by any means, and while they’re a definite step above last-gen standards, they lack some of that next-gen sheen that we've seen on games like Ryse: Son of Rome or Killzone: Shadowfall.
While I didn’t have any real issue with the game’s 1408 x 792 resolution, it does suffer from the occasional dropped frame and there are noticeable screen tearing issues. Those stutters don’t significantly detract from the experience, but its a shame they weren't ironed out before launch.
It’s worth noting that Respawn has confirmed it will continue work on optimizing the game post-launch, targeting a final resolution of 1600 x 900 with FXAA or 1920 x 1080 with no anti-aliasing.
What Titanfall lacks in graphical fidelity, it absolutely makes up for in gameplay. The developer has taken established first-person-shooter mechanics and expanded upon them significantly. The parkour wall-running, combined with excellent level design, adds significant verticality and speed to the gameplay, discouraging the routine route-running tactics preferred in flatter shooters.
You can cross entire levels without touching the ground and reach most rooftops or ledges with ease. There’s a much greater sense of freedom in the game than we've grown used to in the genre, and it helps keep things fresh the longer you play.
Calling down your Titan mixes up the gameplay even more, but amazingly, doesn't disturb the balance of a match. Respawn has somehow managed to make Titans feel powerful without under-powering the on-foot pilots, meaning you still feel like you can take on one of the giant mechs on foot and stand a fighting chance, even if you usually don’t.
The game’s 6 vs 6 setup is augmented by AI bots known as Grunts and Spectres. These lower-skill opponents not only help fill out the battlefields, but also make the game far more accessible and generally just more fun.
The player controller pilots are still there to provide a genuine challenge (and you get a lot more points for taking them out), but the AI opponents make the player feel more powerful and more significant to the conflict.
Titanfall ships with a healthy 15 maps, and a slightly lean five game modes. I didn’t find myself wanting to skip a single map, with level design and environments varied and complex. The ability to climb on top of a structure, run along a wall or jetpack up to a second floor window makes moving around the levels genuinely fun.
The only downside of the complex gameplay/map design combination is the lack of destructible environments. It’s not a significant trade-off, given how negatively it would likely affect pilot movement and freedom if walls and structures could be brought down.
That said, it’s a little jarring to see a giant mech charge down a street firing salvos of rockets, only to find the environment in perfect condition when the smoke clears. Some superficial damage would have been a nice touch.
Of the game modes, Attrition (the standard team deathmatch), Hardpoint Domination (like Battlefield’s Conquest mode) and Capture the Flag are solid, with the Titan/Pilot mechanics coming into play most significantly in the latter. Last Titan Standing is a surprisingly fun change of pace, though the game’s Pilot Hunter mode, where you only get points for killing Pilots, is the least fun of the bunch.
The titles ships with a choice of three Titans – the heavy Ogre, zippy Stryder and middleman Atlas. All three options have distinctive feel and unique mechanics, with no particular model eclipsing the others.
There’s less variety of weapon and add-on choices when compared to Call of Duty or Battlefield, but each selection feels distinct and useful. Once again, the theme here is focus and balance, with no one weapon or loadout overpowering the others.
The game’s Smart Pistol is the most revolutionary of the bunch, auto-targeting multiple enemies from the hip – it might just be the most fun sidearm in FPS history.
One of the biggest criticisms that the game has faced is its lack of a single-player campaign. In this reviewer's opinion, that’s no bad thing. The developer hasn't wasted its time on a short, flashy few hours of set pieces and bad story, instead spending its time on creating a focused and balanced multiplayer experience.
I've never played the campaign on a shooter more than once though, and routinely fail to make it all the way through the the conclusion before getting hooked on the multiplayer component.
That said, Respawn has included a “Multiplayer Campaign” mode with the release, and the results are mixed. This is basically a series of multiplayer matches on various modes with storyline layered over the top through voiceovers and brief set-pieces during matches.
The mode isn’t a complete disaster, but the speed and intensity of the gameplay make it far too easy to miss what’s going on, and it’s a little difficult to care when you do.
Respawn Entertainment has delivered a focused and well-balanced shooter that’s the most fun we've had in the genre for years. While the game isn't perfect – the graphical hitches are a shame and the lack of a true campaign may be lamented by some – its multiplayer experience is simply the best available on next-gen systems at the moment. It’s a joy to play and easy to recommend to any fan of first-person-shooters.
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