I like Titanfall. I like how fast moving it is. I like dancing on the sides of buildings, and punching robots so hard they go nuclear.
But the game’s campaign is a miserable experience. I think it’s a dramatic misstep for a game that gets almost everything else right.
For those playing catchup, Titanfall’s campaign is a collection of multiplayer matches that are strung together. While you play, messages, like Bioshock’s voice logs, play, trying to give you a sense that you’re part of a wider military engagement. There is a lot of shouting, serious sounding men saying things like “GET OUTTA THERE” and some guff that tries to explain why there are dinosaurs roaming the future.
I can understand the logic of what Respawn were attempting. Call of Duty’s campaigns feel like a very expensive footnote to where the meat of that game really is: multiplayer. Ploughing so much development effort into a strictly linear series of explosions, death defying escapes, and dogs.
Better then to put the story-telling into where everyone will be playing: the multiplayer.
But it doesn’t work.
For the first part: I literally couldn’t give less of a toss about what these people are yelling in my ear. It reads/sounds like fan-fiction: exactly what you’d expect to come up with if you were asked to string together a load of words to read out over a series of multiplayer matches. Saying “it’s not exactly Shakespeare” is too big a compliment. Better: “it’s not exactly Uwe Boll.”
But that’s the least of its problems.
The real issue: you have to play it.
The campaign in Titanfall is a wall that must be lept over to unlock the various Titans. In the matchmaking mode, if you want to play as the different Titan classes, each must be unlocked by playing through the campaign, once for each side.
Which sounds okay, right? But there are further restrictions which make the campaign feel like a chore. You have to complete the IMC side first. Then the militia. And players are free to dive back into the campaign at a later date.
So: your first experience of the campaign is to be placed on the side with all the other fresh-faced newbies. They are the IMC side. On the other side is the Militia - they have a bit more experience and understand the map layouts, having already completed the IMC side.
The Militia always win.
Most of the time, it’s not even close. I’ve put a fair few hours into Titanfall now, and the IMC, how you have to play first, are a complete joke. They are headless chickens, running around, wowed by the map and the guns and the robots and they die relentlessly. They are level 1-10. They are slowly unlocking the various perks and burn cards that come from play, alongside new weapons and abilities.
The Militia on the other hand know what they’re doing. They have already completed at least one campaign. They have burn cards to spare, and abilities and weapons the IMC can only dream of.
It gets worse. On most matches I’ve played, there’s at least one player who is using the campaign as a way to farm more XP. They sit, having already reached Generation 2 or 3 or even higher, with their full set of unlocks and super-powers, mindlessly killing everything that moves. They have the skills, map awareness, and toys, to make games a walkover.
I loved playing Titanfall during the beta. I loved how matches felt close, how it felt like anyone could win, and even if we didn’t, we could always nip a moral victory by escaping in the dropship.
In the campaign, that just isn’t happening.
What a shame.