The buzz around Titanfall is closer to a low roar, and I can understand why. The console shooter scene has been so overwhelmingly dominated by Call of Duty and Halo that even industry veteran Battlefield seems like a distant third franchise. A fresh new shooter that’s the first game in its franchise rather than the 8th? Critical praise for early test builds? Giant Robots?! The stage seems to be set, and the gaming public is Titanfall‘s audience to lose.
Now with the open beta (I remember when demos were just “demos”), the public can get their hands and heads around the idea of the game. Developer Respawn Entertainment was founded by Infinity Ward expats, and so the Call of Duty genome is immediately apparent in the basic controls, general level design, and game structure. As an infantry grunt on foot, you’ll spend a lot of time sprinting into what looks like a good position and then pressing the L-trigger to aim down your sights with a modest zoom-in. Kills earn you points toward Titanfall’s equivalent of Call of Duty‘s kill-streak bonuses, but in Titanfall’s case, it’s the very core mechanic of the game. You’re not calling in helicopters, or body armor, or a goddamn dog – you’re calling in an honest-to-goodness 3-story-tall battlemech.
This game is about the relationship between the mechs (titans) and the infantry (pilots). It doesn’t take many points to earn your titan, so everyone will get theirs in the course of the game. It’s certainly a rush of power like you’d expect once you hop in your Titan, and enemy infantry would be foolish to stand against you in open ground. While piloting, the controls are generally similar (aim, shoot, sprint, melee), but the game certainly plays different. To a pilot, the world of the battle map is alleys, balconies, stairs, buildings – to a titan, it’s merely open spaces and tight spaces. Titanfall is a much more three-dimensional game than the likes of Call of Duty. It’s not as bouncy and athletic as Halo, but it’s more so than Call of Duty and double-jumps and wall-jumps adding interesting layers of agility for pilots. Not so for titans. There is no jump for the giant mechs, and not much in the way of cover, so your world becomes two-dimensional, albeit taller.
While robot battling in Titanfall can look and feel like glorious robot mayhem straight out of Pacific Rim or Transformers, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re not at all an unstoppable juggernaut and a little finesse can help you out. You’re a giant target, and pilots all carry anti-titan weapons. It’s unlikely a single pilot will out-duel a mighty titan with just a rocket launcher, but those launchers hit hard enough to be taken seriously, especially in numbers. You’re also undoubtedly going to run into other titans out there, and you can only take so much damage before you must safely eject your wreck before it explodes. Incoming damage can be mitigated by judicious deployment of a frontal “vortex shield” which stops and gathers projectiles in order to hurl them back the way they came. Both the shield and the titans’ dodge abilities are limited in their use before they must recharge, so fighting other titans often turns into a bit of a bluff match to get your opponent to burn his defensive moves before you really pile on of the offense. It’s damn near impossible to avoid damage for long, and difficult to run away, so taking on more than one titan opponent is almost impossible. This challenge, however, does incentivize teamwork and focusing fire on titans. It might be a disappointment when your titan goes down, but just keep in mind that switching back and forth between pilot and titan is fundamental to the game – you’re not supposed to spend the whole game as only one or the other.
There’s one more side of the game worth mentioning, because I’m not sure how I feel about it. Multiplayer matches are only 6 vs. 6, but the maps are populated with infantry AIs, most of which are essentially cannon fodder with rare exceptions. Their primary purpose seems to be easy points for the other team to rack up toward titans. Compared to enemy players, they’re barely any threat, but it will truly irritate you to sprint into defilade clinging to a tiny but of health, only to be administered the killing bullet by one of those stupid AIs. They help balancing a bit so that titans aren’t exclusive to the players that are already crackshots at killing other players, and as someone who sucks at Call of Duty, I can appreciate that a bit. But ultimately, with 12 players, the maps will never be huge like Battlefield or Halo, and so these throwaway infantry units just seem a bit like clutter in combat.
The beta only grants access to two game modes and a few customization options for pilots and titans, but more will be in the full release. If you’ve got the Xbox One and are at all a fan of shooters, there’s zero reason not to look into Titanfall right now. This game will sink or swim on how well it can flesh out from this core, but if it can, Titanfall just might be the next big thing.