It’s way too early to know what to make of Titanfall. This is a game that has a lot of (hopefully) superficial similarities to other military shooters, but also throws in a few twists whose impact is hard to gauge. Infantry parkour, giant robots, six-on-six multiplayer... right now I’m still getting acclimated to everything that’s different about Titanfall. It’s a game that wants me to take flight across the map with double-jumps and wall-running, and yet I have years of ingrained shooter habits to break before I can truly assess Titanfall’s contribution to multiplayer shooters.
I probably won’t have a completed review of Titanfall until the weekend, but I do have strong first impressions based on my first six hours or so, along with a few misgivings and a few hopes. We’ll be talking about those over the course of the week, starting right now.
When you call down a Titan, there’s a brief moment of waiting before a fiery streak appears in the cloudy skies above, a moment freighted with expectation and worry. Everything could go wrong in this instant between wanting and receiving. Then the war machine crashes to earth, and you sprint into its mechanical embrace.
The screen goes dark, the systems come to life, and then... you’re still the same. A little slower, and a little more clumsy, a bigger target. But that moment of revelatory empowerment never really arrives. War never changes.
This is the flip-side of the blockbuster marketing machine, and the cycles of hype that begin months and years in advance of a game’s release. It becomes harder and harder to separate Titanfall the idea from Titanfall the shooter. This is Respawn’s opening volley after its founders’ unceremonious dismissal from Infinity Ward and exile from the military shooter genre they helped define. This is a game that Microsoft hopes will be a system seller. This is supposed to be a breath of fresh air in a genre that sometimes seems to struggle to find new things to say and do.
So here is my confession: I’m as susceptible to this messaging as anyone, and so my first impressions of Titanfall are tainted by the fact that I expected more, and sooner. I feel a bit let-down, all because Titanfall has yet to prove that revelatory shooter experience that I was hoping for. It should be enough to be engaged and excited by a cool new shooter, but today... it’s not. I’m wondering, “Is this all there is?”
In the crosshairs
There’s more than just high-expectations behind that feeling, though. Titanfall’s big twists to the standard military shooter formula have yet to prove that they can open up really new styles of play.
Perhaps Titanfall will prove to be a game that you really have to learn and practice before you really use all its systems to their best advantage. But so far, I find that parkour is a great way to draw fire. The human eye is drawn to movement, and I’ve tracked more than a few victims as they zip along rooftops and across alleys. Meanwhile, my best games have come when I scurry to a safe position and rack up unglamorous, cowardly kills from the shadows.
The bigger issue is the Titan itself, which is a little too much of a glass cannon for my liking. In the dense, vertical environments of Titanfall, the Titans are exceedingly vulnerable to... everything. They’re the size of a house, so nobody is going to miss, and everyone is going to see you coming and start blasting away your armor. A lot of the maps also feel a little claustrophobic when you’re riding in a bulky Titan.
Too many encounters turn into single-file slugging matches as another Titan and I trade mechanized haymakers in the street, like two drunks outside a bar after closing. Increasingly, I find myself calling in my Titan out of a sense of obligation. My team needs that firepower to deal with other Titans, and it’s my turn to drive the robot. A couple minutes later, I’m hammered into submission and forced to eject. Then I get back to the game I care about: the run-and-gun.