Titanfall 2 is what the original Titanfall should have been. A short single-player that still manages to pack in a huge variety of interesting and exciting ideas is combined with the fantastic multiplayer foundation laid down in the 2014 original game. It seems like developers Respawn Entertainment have listened extremely closely to fans of the original, fixing almost everything that could have been criticised. And they have gone further – perhaps out of necessity. Because Titanfall, for all its inherent goodness, was always going to have its back against the wall. Situated somewhere between EA’s Battlefield and Activision’s Call of Duty franchises, and released almost simultaneously with those blockbusters, Titanfall 2 (also an EA-published game) has needed to differentiate itself to survive. And it has. Respawn have created a compelling alternative to Call of Duty, one that could take the crown for year’s best shooter.
The big question though is whether Titanfall 2 will survive long enough to make it a worthwhile investment. The first game in the series suffered enormously from a tiny player community, split by a punitive DLC strategy. This despite being on deep discount a number of times. That question I can’t answer, but I can say that this second attempt at the parkour-mecha-twitch shooter has all the elements, including the campaign – a first for the series for a long and happy life.
The single player is a surprisingly well-made experience, one that answers the criticism of the original game. All the evidence points to 2016 as the year that first person shooters finally understood story, and Titanfall 2’s campaign only adds to this. There’s a good mix between time playing as a pilot soldier and a titan. And while the story is not worth remembering (you are a grunt, unexpectedly gifted with a titan, and you save the world – rote and passé), it is very well-paced, with times of intense multi-titan action and other quieter sections.
Core to the experience, and refined from the first game, very tight movement system, one that is more fluid and forgiving in the right areas that it needs to be than even in movement-focused games like Mirror’s Edge. In fact it at times feels almost like Portal 2 in some puzzle-like platforming sections. The only downside is the normal difficulty felt a bit too easy. Bosses went down too quickly, and my main cause of death were platforming mistakes, not combat. That said the developers mention the “Hard” mode as the best way to experience the game, but it’s strange then that it isn’t what “normal” is.
While it strangely doesn’t feature in the single player campaign, in multiplayer you are also given a grappling hook, which combined with wall-running and double-jumping can make for some truly spectacular runs. When using it well, it is very possible to escape near-death situations, or come in for quick run-and-gun incursions – particularly useful in Bounty Hunter.
The core loop of multiplayer, especially in the most common attrition mode is easily one of the most satisfying in gaming today. Beginning with taking out enemy pilots and bots, wall running and shooting is like the beginning of a race. There’s a buildup of anticipation and tension in the air as pilots race for points to call in their titan. The first to Titanfall usually has a brief but significant advantage. But it’s not for long. As pilots build up points titans drop onto the battlefield one by one, until a battle of nimble pilots is transformed into an ability-focused tactics-based mecha firefight.
Then once the battle is over a race to the dropship starts, as the losers desperately flee, hoping that their dropship will hold up long enough for them to get away. Stranded titans attempt to hold off enemy firepower, and their inevitable demise, before the counter stops ticking and the match is over. Sure there are other game modes but none matches the flow, stress and excitement as this one.
Multiplayer features a range of new titans, that will suit a wide range of play styles. Playing the short campaign is useful here, as it gives you a chance to try them all out in a much less stressful environment. In comparison to the more strategic gameplay of the Battlefield series, multiplayer here is more tactical. Choosing the right loadout for the scenario is crucial, and made deeper through a multifaceted leveling system. Your weapons, titan and abilities all level up independently of one another. But if you just want to get in and have some fun, the starting loadout is perfectly workable.
Even better, new maps and other DLC are included in the base price of the game. This is an unusual move for AAA shooters, but represents another area where the developers have learnt from issues with the original game. It’s also a hugely consumer-friendly move, one that I hope others now emulate.
While it’s disappointing to see a game run at a native 720p on the Xbox One (and below that in high-intensity scenes) in 2016, Respawn have made the right decision in delivering a solid 60FPS experience. It’s the right decision for a shooter, and adds to the feeling of polish evident throughout the title. I rarely saw any evidence that it dropped below its target frame rate, and the trade off is welcome. I also had some pop-in occurring when new textures were loaded directly in front of me, but it was a rare occurrence. And this never prevented me from enjoying some truly spectacular landscapes and environments. Overall this is a well-made, well-tested and high quality game in terms of its technical showing.
There were high hopes for Titanfall 2. The first game laid down what Titanfall was all about, but it felt limited and constrained in ways that were antithetical to its continued success. Titanfall 2 is a considerable rethink of the game from the ground up, and supported by an extremely strong campaign, its online multiplayer has all the ingredients for a long and healthy life. Whether it is enough to drag players away from Battlefield or Call of Duty is hard to say, but with some exhaustion of the latter franchise, and judging from the very short wait times in game lobbies, I would say this new titan of the FPS scene will not fall for a long time.
Released: October 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: FPS, Action
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: EA Games