Titanfall has landed; here's our Titanfall review.
Titanfall has been a problem. There’s nothing the internet likes more than having opinions - but what do you base those on when the big new EA shooter has no number in its title? Is it Battlefield with mechs? No. Hawken with people? Nope. Call of Duty with guns? Doesn’t make sense. Hrrrm.
We parked a spaceship dangerously high above a ruined future city, and pushed a crack team of Nicks, Matts, Jeremys and Frasers out the door into parkour warfare to retrieve opinions. They’ve returned, trampled and mostly transparent, with their top thoughts on Titanfall - which turns out to be not quite like anything else, and certainly not like CoD.
First off: when you first heard about Titanfall, did you honestly think you’d enjoy it? Does the Call of Duty heritage excite you at all?
Fraser: I must have been in one of my semi-annual “shooters are guff” phases, because when I first heard about Titanfall I couldn’t have been any less interested. Ex-Call of Duty developers? Multiplayer only? All that focus on Xbox One? No thanks, mate. Then I saw Titans punching each other in the face. I was a bit more on board after that.
Matt: Oh god yes. Admittedly I’m easily excited by these kind of things, but a game with big rocket-boosted mechs and men with jetpacks? This totally had me sold. I’m one of a seemingly rare breed of people who doesn’t hate Call of Duty, so the developer background didn’t bother me at all. The pace of a Call of Duty game mixed with the vehicular action of Battlefield sounded terrific, especially if the vehicles dropped down from space and had legs.
Nick: I haven’t touched a Call of Duty game since Black Ops. My enjoyment of the franchise had been diminished; it all just felt very grounded and lethargic. Naturally I kept a close eye on Respawn after their existence was known, and when they revealed Titanfall I couldn’t help but feel a bit numb. But overtime my head began to tilt to the side as more information and trailers were released, until one day I found myself drooling.
Jeremy: I guess you could say I like Call of Duty by proxy - for some reason I’ve been taken in only by the games in its peripheral, and will appear in this year’s Guinness Book of Records Gaming Edition as the only Englishman to enjoy Warface.
Generally speaking, though, I’m sold on any multiplayer shooter that doesn’t use ‘balance’ as an excuse for identical gingerbread shooty-men. ‘Asymmetrical’ is a magic word, and while Titanfall isn’t that as such, it at least promised shooty-men of dramatically varying sizes and abilities. It felt fresh, like Vince Zampella had given all his preview quotes through a mouthful of softmints.
So: first impressions? How did it feel to play your first match? Can you remember what map/mode you played?
Matt: Despite applying for a PC beta code, I ended up with an Xbox One key. Amazingly I have one of those, so I tried it out there. First impressions weren’t good. I’ll point you to Tim’s article, which explains every problem I had with it. I was pretty deflated. Thankfully the PC beta was opened up and I got to try it again on the correct platform. A completely different experience: Attrition on Fracture was exhilarating, explosive, entertaining. I probably spent a little too long watching titans brawl in the open field and getting shot because I wasn’t paying attention.
Nick: Gotta go fast! The very first thing that hit was the the sheer fluidarity of the movement. I’m running, up a building, through a window, wall-running over a billboard and then jumping on top of a titan. It was effortless. Saying that though, I can see some players taking it to the next level by learning the maps and stringing together acrobatic feats that could easily make your jaw drop.
I spent my first match playing Hard Point on Fracture. I had been watching streams on Twitch avidly until I got a chance to play it myself, so I was pre-equipped with some useful tips and tricks. It’s a fairly big map with great open spaces. The majority of the indoor action takes place in tunnels and buildings which lay under the map. It honestly makes you feel like mice scurrying around, as colossus Gods (titans) wage war above.
Fraser: I cut my teeth on Attrition, Angel City. I was awful. It was great. I think I was trying to play it like Mirror’s Edge, running and jumping like a blooming maniac. But then I remembered there were chaps with guns below me, and they didn’t even know I was leaping around above them. Those first few kills from above, punctuated by wall-running and fleeing, made me eager for more. But I didn’t have time for more parkour, as my Titan had arrived.
I would have honestly been happier had I not jumped into my lumbering behemoth. The Titan combat is rather rote compared to the pilot’s antics. There’s so much to enjoy about the mobility of the latter, that switching to the former is a bit of a let down. I did grow fond of that Vortex Shield, though. Nothing quite like turning enemy rockets and slugs back on my foes.
Jeremy: Fraser’s right about that verticality. Playing my first match on Angel City I found that in one respect other players were just as ignorant as me: they haven’t yet learned to look up. Didn’t manage to shoot anyone, mind - but I managed not to be shot for a bit by keeping to the rooftops, timing my double jumps just so.
I didn’t dare go near a Titan; not mine, nor anyone else's. Instead, I practiced my parkour until somebody shot at me - at which point I stood stock still and shot back, like a lummox. Never do that.
Let’s concentrate on the on-foot stuff for a bit. Have you found a particular build or strategy that works for you?
Matt: On-foot is where I feel most liberated in Titanfall. I adore the mechs, but I found my true calling in being a titan hunter.
It’s hilarious to see players try to take on titans in the streets head-on. You may be packing an rapid-fire rocket launcher, but a titan can squash you before you’ve blown through its shield. Use your jetpack to leap up to a rooftop. From the rafters you can bombard titans with ease, missiles locking on from greater distances without walls blocking their path. Titans get worried when they’re hit and start desperately firing through windows in search of you. They don’t check the skyline though, and within seconds you can get another rocket homing in to shatter his armour and send his nuclear core into meltdown. Not heroic enough for you? Try leaping from the building onto a titan’s shoulders and start unloading clips into its wiring for the ultimate takedown.
Nick: I stuck with the carbine until I unlocked the SMG. It’s super accurate and dominates at close-mid range combat with a high fire rate. I stuck with a standard pistol as a secondary weapon, but I found I rarely had a need for it. My anti-titan weapon of choice was the lock-on rocket launcher. Not only did it pack a punch, but it was great for baiting out a titan’s vortex shield: a nasty barrier which can reflect projectiles. Supplementing this was a slew of perks: I had combat stims for a burst of increased movement speed, an enhanced parkour kit to allow for increased wall run and wall hang times, and finally a minion detector to keep track of all enemy and ally Grunts and Spectres on the map.
Jeremy: Gosh, that lock-on rocket launcher’s good, isn’t it? I found that if I had an exit route planned and my ‘Q’ finger ready to activate temporary camo, I could routinely bamboozle a titan long enough to drink up half their yellow straw of health. Then I’d remember that they were actual human beings in there, and laugh and laugh.
I’ve built a loadout that combines one of those with a semi-automatic, semi-accurate pistol for taking potshots off buildings, and a lovely great shotgun for when I start panicking in close quarters. Which is always. I haven’t played with the perks yet - mainly because I don’t want to lose my camo, which is essential for crossing the open plains regularly ploughed by the titans (though be warned: a kill’s a kill even if they trample you unawares).
The only thing I’m not allowed that way is the smart pistol. Which is a worry, because I think it’s going to be Titanfall’s signature weapon.
Fraser: Like Jeremy, I became quite infatuated with the camo, and really didn’t want to lose it. Builds are a bit dependent on what mode you’re faffing about with. In Hardpoint, which is a capture and hold battle, I favoured the smart pistol and camo. I’d sneak into a building, barely visible, mark the defenders and in a mere second they’d all be dead. It was especially handy for dealing with minions, as they seem to go down in one hit.
Matt mentioned players running around at street level, trying to take on Titans, and that does seem to be common right now, leading to many deaths. The pilot game necessitates always being on the move, always hunting for that route up to the top of building where you can pummel Titans below.
Surprisingly, being a mere human running around the battlefield is a lot more empowering than being encased in a huge steel mech. The sense of accomplishment that comes from downing a truly massive foe when you’re just a flesh and blood soldier is significant. Kills feel more like an achievement when you can’t just step on your foes.
The maps all include grunts and spectres, little minion troops that can be farmed for extra points. Do you like that mechanic?
Nick: I’m on the fence with this. They certainly add to the atmosphere which is more than welcome due to the small team sizes. However I’ve not felt threatened by them, they’re more of a nuisance. I don’t even waste bullets on them, as you’re free to walk up and slay them all with your bare hands unpunished. Grunts often enter the battlefield and immediately follow pre-determined paths, often engaging in almost pantomime-like battles with the enemy AI. No one is ever winning or losing: it looks like one big charade.
Until of course a player controlled pilot comes in and dispatches every single one.
Spectres on the other hand are a bit more of an inconvenience. They’re equipped with rocket launchers that can deal considerable damage to titans, and so need to be dispatched. You can also hack enemy Spectres and turn them over to your side, but whenever I did this I didn’t see any points being awarded, and I couldn’t help think I just gave the enemy team another thing to shoot at and gain points.
Matt: They’re kind of like the creep from Dota. I’m quite happy with the idea of that, but they don’t really offer up anything but cannon fodder. They land in drop-pods in squads of four or five, and take so long to get out and start doing anything that you can just hurl in a grenade and be done with them. If they do make it out the pod, they spend most of their time crouching and meandering around the battlefield. They’re easy targets for quick points and quite successfully disguise the 6v6 player count, but their automaton nature doesn’t quite create the intense war atmosphere that I think they’re intended to.
Jeremy: Titanfall’s prospective community did a lot of shouting when Respawn announced their maximum 6v6 headcount, and it’s funny to realise that I’ve lived through the same thought process since I started playing. Titanfall maps feel packed - they’re filled with noise and bodies. Huge metal machines swoop and yawn up above, while buzzing humanoids with red text above their heads fall to your shotgun blasts below.
It was only on the post-match pages that I realised the majority of players I’d killed weren’t in fact anything of the sort. They were bots. That’s testament to Respawn’s fictional sleight-of-hand, but I do wonder if it’ll erode that giddy sense of mano-a-mano at the core of every multiplayer FPS: that dude I killed was a real person with a keyboard and mouse and everything.
Fraser: It’s all smoke and mirrors. While the abundance of AI controlled troops initially makes the battlefields seem busy, the minions quickly reveal themselves to be, as Nick said, just a nuisance. They pose very little threat. I found myself capturing a location and unbeknownst to me, there was a minion standing just across the room for me. I had time to light a cigarette and have something to drink before I noticed it and put a bullet in its skull.
My main concern is that they simply don’t seem to be well integrated. They jump out of dropships, bugger off to their scripted objective and basically play their own little game. Where at first I’d shoot at them and then become extremely disappointed when I realised I’d killed a useless bot instead of another player, I now spot them pretty quickly and just ignore them.