Opinion: Life is better with a Titan
As Titanfall’s charming live action trailer (in a great piece of marketing, which you can watch here) observes and I can’t disagree. Developer are Respawn Entertainment – many of whom ushered in the dominance of the Multiplayer Shooter with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – have redefined a stagnating genre, and in doing so have recaptured my love for compettative shooters.
Stand by for Titanfall:
There’s a sense of enjoyment that underscored my time with Titanfall (appealing to my inner child, Titanfall gives each player a jetpack and their own two storey tall mech – the eponymous Titans of the games title), that’s characterised by player experimentation.
This ethos stems from the fundemental change Titanfall makes to player movement. The parkour abilities that the jump-pack allows feels like a combination of the Nano suits strength ability from Crysis (which allowed players to jump higher and further) and the exhilarating mobility of Mirrors Edge. The biggest obstacle is learning to read the environment, ignoring the conditioning from years of playing competitive shooters. See a second storey window? Jump through it or chain wall runs together to quickly cross a map (even after hours of play I was finding new ways to utilise these mechanics – I had a moment of realisation when I found out that instead of capturing an objective in Hardpoint from the ground, I could hang from the ceiling), this makes for fast paced and i that’ve map traversal. The level design is brilliant (the vibrant maps eschew the usual grey/brown colour palette of modern shooters, transporting players to the far distant planets of the frontier. On a dessert planet huge alien creatures lumber in the background and fly overhead, swooping to carry off grunts and as an interstellar battle rages in a planets orbit snow falls delicately on giant turrets that can turn the tide of a match – one of the few interactable environmental objects), making use of verticality, bottlenecks and open areas – it’s quite a statement to say that each map makes any play style a viable option – maps strike a pitch perfect balence between pilot and Titan gameplay.
Set on the fringes of the solar system, Titanfall’s setting seems ripe for exploration. Every aspect of the games design – from the socio-political conflict between the IMC (Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation) and the Militia, to the Titans themselves (for me such an intriguing concept) – offer tantalising glimpses at a larger fiction, that’s only briefly touched upon in the games multiplayer campaign. Incorporating narrative elements – like NPC characters, ingame cutscenes and expository ingame dialogue – into the nine campaign missions (somewhat like Brink) to create an intergrated experience, ultimately falls short of its ambitions. At its best Titanfall blurs the line between narrative and emergent gameplay – one of my favourite moments happened in the midst of an intense firefight with two enemy Titans when I recieved a video communication from an NPC character on my HUD. Unfortunately these moments can easily be missed amongst the fast paced action on screen. The barebones story gives each match context – these snippets of narrative made me feel I was working towards an overarching goal and helped get me more invested in whether my team won or lost. Unlike in Killzone 3’s multiplayer mode Operations, Titanfall’s story doesn’t change depending on the outcome of a match- something I feel is a missed opportunity.
Titanfall’s gameplay – at its heart – is all about empowering the player, whether they’re newcomers or veterans alike. The best example of this is the Titans themselves. The Titan replaces the standard killstreak rewards found in most compettative shooters and the ability to customise them (though not to the extent of the Front Mission or Armoured Core series) – much like you would with your character – with different chassis, weapons and abilities (in a neat touch you can also customise your Titans AI) makes each players Titan feel personal to them (I felt so attached to my Titan I even gave him a name). By not restricting the Titans use based on on player skill – instead of accumulating a number of consecutive kills, each players Titan can be called in after a certain amount of time has elapsed – ensures each player gets to experience taking control of a Titan from their first match (this mechanic still benifits veteran players as the more kills you get, the faster your Titan becomes available). There’s a sense of unrivalled anticipation that accompanies the words ‘Stand by for Titanfall’ and it’s always satisfying to see the familiar smoke trails as your Titan drops in from orbit. The Titans could easily have felt overpowered but Respawn have created mechs that feel at once both very powerful and uniquely vulnerable (I haven’t piloted a mech this satisfying since Metal Gear Rex in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots), A single pilot rodeoing your Titan – jumping on its back and attacking its power source – can cause a huge amount of damage. I’ve had matches where my Titan has survived an entire round and others where it’s been destroyed in minutes.
There are two other gamplay mechanics that I feel deserve a mention for bringing a sense of inclusion the the compettative multiplayer. Titanfall’s matches accommodate up to twelve players, these six man teams are accompanied by AI teammates called Grunts. Marrying PVP and weaker AI opponents makes Titanfall more accessible for new players (especially as killing Grunts counts towards player objectives). The main function of the Grunts is to empower players – running into a room and killing four Grunts (or the tougher robotic Spektors) induces the same endorphin fueled rush as if they were enemy players. Each match ends with a short epilogue in which the losing team must get to a dropship for extraction – giving them the opportunity to gain extra Exp (This mechanic is built around empowering the losing team, on the few occasions I made it to the dropship I felt so pumped up with adrenaline for the next match). The epilogue drastically changes the matches dynamic, from fast paced objective based games, into tense games of cat and mouse which engender a sense of camaraderie, during one memorable extraction two of my teammates held off the enemies with their Titans – effectively sacrificing themselves – so that we could escape.
Titanfall is the best compettative shooter this year (and my personal favourite since Crysis 2). It’s the perfectly balenced combat – in which everything feels extremely powerful and uniquely vulnerable, relying on skill as opposed to which player has the best weapon – and innovative game design (that combines the familiar trappings of an FPS with expanded gameplay opportunities for player creativity) that led to my rediscovery of fun within competition, and that is perhaps Titanfall’s greatest achievement.