Titanfall [Game Review]

Since we’re getting into the summer months, I thought I’d run a few more game reviews, starting with that rarest of all things: a multiplayer shooter that I don’t hate.

You see, Titanfall (Electronic Arts: PC/Xbox 360/Xbox One) is fun.

Yeah, I know: big deal. It’s game. Isn’t “being fun” a basic part of its purpose?

If you’ve playing many multiplayer shooters lately, you’ll know “fun” doesn’t always follow. Grim, violent, often excessive, hard, and dominated by obnoxious teenagers? That’s your basic Call of Duty experience.

Titanfall seems to sidestep much of that, at least in its PC incarnation. When it was released, Titanfall was dismissed as Call of Duty: Robots thanks to a complete failure of the imagination on the part of reporters. See, it’s a multiplayer shooter developed by people who worked on Modern Warfare, so let’s write it off with a cutesy log line and move along.

The CoD comparison has absolutely opposite effects depending upon platform. Tag something as CoD: Robots and the Xbox players will line up at midnight. Say the same thing to PC gamers, however, and many of us will return to DOTA or Transistor. And that seems to be the case here: PC gamers are not giving the game much love, and Respawn is returning the favor by dropping modes and app support from the PC version.

I really hate it when mom and dad fight like this, because Titanfall is the first fun multiplayer shooter I’ve enjoyed since … gosh, was it really Battlefield: Bad Company 2? Crikey.

And Titanfall is just dang entertaining. It offers a great rewards structure and makes the player feel powerful and important. Despite an introduction/tutorial that utterly fails to convey the true nature of the game—making it look like, well, CoD: Robots with lots of wall-running–I stuck with it and found one of the real gems of PC action gaming, and one which also shines on consoles as well.

Titanfall is a first person shooter in which you play as footsoliders (“pilots”) who can also control giant mechs called Titans. The game is fun whether you’re just running around as a pilot with his standard weapons, or inside hulking, powered chunks of battle armor. This balance itself is a minor miracle of design. The footsoldier bits should be just a time-killer while you wait for your new Titan to be delivered, but the agility and unique properties of the pilots make this mode every bit as entertaining.

There are classes, of course: a standard soldier with an automoatic weapon, a heavy with a shotgun, and a light “assassin” class with a multi-shot autotargeting pistol.  Pilots can run up walls, access areas unavailable to Titans, ride titans (either friendly, just for a lift; or enemy, in order to take over the mech), and even do some damage to the big boys with shoulder-mounted rockets. They even have jetpacks! As you earn points you get upgrades and other bonuses for climbing the ranks.

Like pilots, Titans come in light, medium, and heavy varieties, ranging from the light and fast Stryder to the slow heavy tanklike Ogre. The pilots sit inside the cockpits and control these beasts like more agile, stripped-down versions of Battlemechs from MechWarrior. They don’t have the subtly of control and more complex power management that made MechWarrior the flight sim of robot games, but they make up for it with speed and power.

The game is exclusively multiplayer, which is a weakness. It’s clear that the issue wasn’t programming AI opponents. The game is full of grunts: AI-controlled canon fodder for each side in a multiplayer session. (These are great targets to have around, by the way, since they’re easier to kill and ensure that the game relatively modest 12-player maximum doesn’t lead to long empty stretches with nothing to do.) Even the campaign game is lacking in drama. It’s odd that to see developers expend this kind of effort on world-building and then not attempt to populate it with some kind of narratives.

It’s hard to really put a finger on what works so well, but the game just makes you feel good. The AI characters bend the curve just right so less skilled players have something to do. There’s a real sense of power behind the mechs and weapons, and pilots and Titans are equally fun to play due to their distinct qualities. Finally, the radio chatter, bots, and mission structure just make you feel kind of important, like you matter in this game world. Military shooters almost always begin with some kind of grim intro or “listen up, maggots” training session designed to make you feel like loser, but Titanfall is designed to make you feel like a tiny god in armor, and I like that a lot better.

Content Issues For Parents: Rated M for Mature. This is a violent shooter, so it’s for discerning older teens and adults. Since it’s online, there’s no controlling the nature of the text chatter. Violence, blood, gore, and some swearing is present, although not with the grim and amoral nihilism that’s characterized shooters lately. Half the action is fighting in robots.

This is a team-based first-person shooter in which players fight as either members of a militia or as soldiers from the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation. Players use a variety of firearms (e.g., pistols, machine guns, missiles, grenades, mines, sniper rifles) and mech-style robots called Titans to seek out and kill enemy forces. Titans use their robotic arms to punch soldiers and vehicles and can also use large-scale firearms (e.g., chain guns, mine launchers, electric pulse guns) to kill enemies. Combat is frenetic and realistically depicted, with frequent cries of pain, impact sounds, and blood splashes. Some weapons blow enemies apart into small chunks of flesh; Titans can also punch enemy soldiers or crush enemy Titan pilots until they burst into chunks. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” appear in the dialogue.