Titanfall Review (Xbox One)

There’s a tremendous amount of hype and pressure resting upon the shoulders of Respawn’s multiplayer-only first-person shooter. Not only is this their début game, but it’s also Microsoft’s killer app for the Xbox One. The fact Titanfall is seen as the savior of online first-person shooters by most is a testament to the level of excitement surrounding the game. The titan has finally landed, but have the expectations been met?

Titanfall isn’t exactly anything truly new; instead it’s the combination of various elements–and not just from video games either. Mechs, jet packs, parkour, twitch shooting, leveling systems–none of it hasn’t already been seen before in countless other video games. The success and selling point of Titanfall is how it’s all tied together in one neat package.

There’s a sense of finesse and fine craftsmanship with how each element of Titanfall neatly entwines with the other. The parkour and wall-running supplies a silky smooth backbone to player movement that oozes confidence and rewards the player with sheer satisfaction with every movement. The run-and-gun gameplay feeds perfectly into the player movement, allowing Titanfall to play host to some of the most intense and interesting firefights between players. This is all attached to a devilishly simple control setup that supports player movement perfectly.

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The tired mechanics of running around shooting everything in sight have been truly refreshed in every way. The slick movement and control scheme have a profound impact on every fiber of Titanfall‘s being. While it may not add anything entirely new, the marriage between the gun play and the movement is truly a work of art.

Titanfall hosts its own leveling-up system that restrains itself to barriers of already-existing systems seen in other games. Players earn experience for carrying out various acts, none of which feel forced into the game and come naturally as the matches are played out. The levelling system lends itself well to the core values of most of Titanfall’s multiplayer action.

The biggest selling point of Titanfall is, undoubtedly, the Titans themselves. The first time anyone witnesses one of the hulking beasts drop into the battlefield is simply an awesome video game moment. It’s curiously wonderful when viewing the hulking creations stomp around the battlefield laying waste to those around them. Titanfall makes sure that every player, regardless of skill level, gets to jump into the heart of a Titan.

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Titans are called onto the battlefield by taking objectives, killing the AI-controlled troops littered across the map, and of course by killing the enemy. With each point comes a reduced ‘build’ time, allowing the Titan to be called sooner rather than later. The method in which Titans are earned rewards good play while catering for those of a lower skill level so that nobody is alienated from the thrills of controlling a Titan.

Some may take issue that bad players are given the same rewards as those carrying the team, but this is not a real issue at all, thankfully. Those who enjoy a good performance will be rewarded with multiple Titan drops, for example. Titanfall simply does not discriminate towards skill level, nor does it hinder its better players. Instead there’s a sense of balance and an equal playing field. The Titan may be powerful, but the level playing field extends beyond player skill and into the realms of combat between Titan and pilot.

The Titan is not merely a means to earn some kills; it’s a huge strategic asset that can turn the tides of a game. Titan vs. Titan battles make for some truly intense experiences, but the humble pilot poses just as much of threat on foot as they do in control of a Titan. Each player has anti-Titan weaponry, as well as the ability to mount enemy Titans and engage in a rodeo in which the player shoots the Titan’s power core, destroying it. The Titan may be large, but it’s just as vulnerable as anything else, and that’s the beauty of Titanfall‘s action, the balance in the chaos.

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The true joy of Titanfall is the feeling that everything the player does is effecting the outcome of the game. There’s never a moment in which a player is left wandering around in a desperate attempt to find where the action is. Given each map is packed with AI-controlled troops as well as players, there is always something to get involved with, whether it’s taking down AI troops, hacking turrets, support allies, or taking on enemy Titans. There’s so much to do in every single battle.

Each battle contains so many individual battles, as well as team engagements, that it often feels like a game within a game. Titanfall‘s core multiplayer experience has so many layers to it that combine perfectly to create a brew of sheer enjoyment. With all these positives, the negatives may become lost on some. The customization options of both pilots and Titans feel rather thin on the ground. The lack of abilities, weapons, and gadgets feels slightly restrictive compared to other multiplayer experiences on the market. This issue, thankfully, does not impact on the game too heavily but becomes noticeable during prolonged sessions.

There are also a few niggling issues that become apparent after repeat plays. The previously mentioned AI troops, for example, are utterly useless. They may offer a means to keep players engaged in the action and service lower-skilled players but their AI is so laughably bad it becomes more jarring to witness them in action than anything else. A few of the weapons feel rather pointless and out of place, slowing down the player’s movement in order to use. On top of that, the most annoying issues revolve around Titanfall‘s ‘Burn Card’ system, which acts as temporary boosts earned via in-game actions. A number of the cards are utterly useless compared to others, and given how often the average player earns cards, the useless ones feel like spam requiring the player to clear out their collection frequently.

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One of Titanfall‘s greatest accomplishments is its map design. Given the multi-layered nature of the game, the ability to create maps that cater for every element of Titanfall is a significant achievement. Each map contains a number of paths, giving them all a heavy sense of depth. Each nook and cranny allows players to make the most of the smooth movement and climbing mechanics. There’s a strange sense of arrogance in how each map is designed; they almost taunt the player in trying new and inventive ways of traversing to certain points, though pulling these methods off is immensely satisfying. There’s some nice set dressing to be witnessed, also, such as alien creatures doing their business in the background, but disappointingly that’s all it ever is.

Titanfall‘s focus on multiplayer is all fair and good, but its attempt to shoehorn a campaign into the mix comes off as simply odd. The storyline–or what passes for one, anyway–is given during the pre-game lobby. Once the game has begun,  there’s a short briefing with a quick cutscene which flows into the start of the match. While it’s always a slick introduction to the missions, the fact that they are simply just a normal game but with an intro is disappointing. The unnecessary inclusion of a story feels unnecessary and out of place, even if the plot does suggest that there is potential in there somewhere.

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The campaign consists of two of the five modes on offer. Attrition is a simple Team Deathmatch-type, while Hardpoint is Domination with a fancy name. Last Titan Standing is the most interesting and intense mode as players are each given one Titan, with victory going to the team with the last Titan standing (hence the name). It’s an utterly intense, and curiously tactical, game mode that delivers some of the best experiences in Titanfall. Pilot Hunt, however, is a strange and unsatisfying mixture of Attrition with a blend of confusion, as points are only gained by killing players. It’s a mode that feels weak and out-of-place compared to its much more well-rounded counterparts.

The presentation of Respawn’s baby had a number of people a little worried due to the lack of 1080p. The fact is Titanfall doesn’t look all that impressive, nor is it ugly. Instead it’s simply adequate. The general look of the game is interesting, with clear influences being taken from modern sci-fi classic District 9 and the visually intriguing but flawed Elysium. The lack of next-gen power in the visuals may bother some, but the truth is the game’s pace and sheer fun keep the player from noticing the lack of sharpness in the graphics. It comes as a surprise that Titanfall can often suffer from framerate issues, mostly when a number of Titans are battling it out on-screen at the same time. The framerate will drop to rather low levels, leaving the player in a state of confusion and disarray. Screen-tearing is also prominent, though hard to spot given how fast the game plays out.

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Titanfall is not revolutionary. Rather, it’s more of an evolution. The slick combination of various elements results in an engaging and rewarding experience. The smooth manner in which players move, the sense of power behind a Titan–it’s all truly satisfying. The sense of balance remains strong throughout the game, even with a few iffy weapons and abilities present. Maps are designed with a sense of genius, as is most of the game. But it’s not perfect. The superfluos plot, a pointless campaign mode, a generic levelling system, along with the framerate and screen-tearing issues leave the game falling under the expectations set.

Titanfall is a tight, intense, thrilling video game that is only a few steps from achieving true greatness. Respawn’s début feels like the building block for something truly spectacular. But for now, Titanfall is a good game waiting to be a great one.

 

Sean Halliday


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