Titanfall Preview & Impressions!

Here is my critical take on the recent beta of Titanfall, one of 2014's biggest upcoming releases!

Titanfall has been the subject of huge expectations ever since its unveil back at E3 2013.  Respawn Entertainment, a new development studio formed from many of the developers who previously worked on the Call of Duty franchise, has come out of the gates with an all-new IP that attempts to put a new spin on the FPS genre by combining a military shooter with robots: yes, lots and lots of robots!  

 What is Titanfall?

Titanfall is an all new sci-fi first person shooter that combines military combat with the inclusion of large, walking mechs that players can call in and pilot during each match.  While its overall framework appears to have taken lots of inspiration from Call of Duty, not surprising given the studio's pedigree, this game plays itself out as a faster, more fluid, and more chaotic experience.

Titanfall has also incorporated some elements of arena shooters from the past, such as the ability to double jump in the air and wall jump parkour-style, giving the player a freedom of movement unmatched in other similar shooters.  Truth be told, the developers pretty much nailed the feel of the on-foot combat, as it is extremely fun and liberating to acrobatically move around the levels and gun down opponents.

The mech combat is the other half of Titanfall's gameplay package and perhaps its defining element.  Every couple of minutes each player is awarded "Titanfall" where a press of a button brings in an ordinance drop of your own personal mech down from the sky onto the battlefield.  The mechs, aptly named Titans, can then be piloted by the player directly or controlled remotely by an AI as the player stays on foot.

The Titans are surprisingly agile and are equipped with thrusters that can propel them quickly across terrain and around corners. They are also not as durable as they may appear and can be brought down relatively quickly by incoming Titan fire or the anti-vehicular rocket launchers that are standard in every pilot's loadout.

Next-Gen Visuals?

As one of the first high-profile releases of the next generation, I would expect Titanfall to showcase some very impressive graphics and in most respects the game doesn't disappoint.  Environments are large and detailed, with background geometry and elaborate skyboxes extending far beyond the playable area.  The game's effects are impressive as well, especially when it comes to explosions and lens flares. The audio presentation is strong as well, with crisp and punchy sound effects and an energetic smattering of music.

However, the game's overall appearance does look a bit dated at times.  Many surfaces tend to look overly flat and textures look relatively muddy up close at all but the highest settings.  I suspect that these issues are present because the developers are utilizing a modified version of Valve's older Source engine instead of a more modern toolset such as Cryengine or Frostbite 3.  That being said, Titanfall does utilize its next-gen framework quite well in filling the screen with lots of characters and tons of action.

Titan-Sized Problems?

In my experience, Titanfall's emphasis on piloting these huge mechs every couple of minutes subtracts from the fun of its pilot combat.  While the Titan combat is certainly fun and there is a bit of a thrill in being able to wreck havoc on the other team with its extremely powerful weapons, the novelty wore off quickly and in many cases I found myself wanting to ignore calling in my Titan at all and play the entire match on-foot.  Since the Titans are such offensive juggernauts though, it would have been foolish of me to ignore using them and forego the huge scoring advantage they allow for.  

Titans become available for use to each player automatically after a 2 minute countdown, which is a defining decision made by Respawn that seems like a clear push to make this game more accessible to less skilled players. Unfortunately, it also means that there is no reward element to being able to use the Titan since the battlefield is typically saturated with them and   I would have rather seen Respawn use the Titans more sparingly as rewards for obtaining a certain number of points in each match than dispense them automatically on a time limit.  For those curious for a good example of a game that's handled this well, check out Unreal Tournament 3's Titan mutator.

One of my favorite aspects of Titanfall in my time with the beta is the level design.  The beta contained two maps, and each helped to showcase a different facet of Titanfall's gameplay style. "Fracture" is a large-scale battleground with hilly, uneven terrain that showcases the Titan's ability to quickly cover large amounts of land, while "Angel City" is a flat, close-quarters maze of city blocks and buildings that showcases the pilot's ability to use parkour-style moves to quickly scale buildings and gain a vertical advantage on the Titans. From what I've heard, the full game will ship with 15 maps, which is quite respectable when considering just how large some of these maps could actually be. 

However, the relative size of the levels in Titanfall indirectly brings me to my biggest gripe with the game as a whole, which is its reliance on AI teammates to populate each team. Since Titanfall strives to create a crowded and chaotic battleground in these large maps but has an unusual 6-vs-6 restriction on player count, AI-controlled teammates make up a good portion of each team. Admittedly, this may be a good way to ensure constant action through the battlefield in all areas of the map, but the unfortunate side effect of this was that many of my most exciting kills and moments in Titanfall came against bots which ultimately made them feel far less satisfying afterwards.

My real issue is not that the AI is lackluster, because Respawn has done a good job of incorporating the bots into the team atmosphere. What it speaks more to is a failure of the game to channel a sense of competitiveness against people on the other team.  When I play a game's multiplayer mode, I do so for the fun of playing online against other people and testing my gaming skills against theirs, not to fight against AI-controlled enemies for half the match.  The worst part of it all is that Titanfall appears to be capable of handling a higher player count than 6-vs-6, so if this restriction were lifted the game may not need to use bots to fill up spaces at all.   

My Takeaway

Ultimately, the changes that Titanfall is making to the traditional shooter formula are incremental rather than revolutionary, and from that perspective I don't quite understand why this game is receiving so much hype from the mainstream gaming press. I'm sure the full game will turn out to be an exciting and polished multiplayer experience, but its focus on accessibility over pure skill and the lack of a traditional single player mode make it a game that I don’t see myself adding to my collection anytime soon.

What do you all think, are you excited for Titanfall?  And for those who have also played the beta, do you agree or disagree with my sentiment on the game thus far?  Please let me know in the comments below!

Published Feb. 27th 2014
  • Amy White
    Former Editor in Chief
    Tweeting this! If you have a Twitter handle and add it to your account, we can tag you when we tweet your articles.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Well, having seen and played it, it's just not enough of a departure from the standard, tired FPS formula.

    I applaud the new stuff but in the end, it's still just about running around and shooting things.
  • S2riker
    Agreed, though to be fair most games revolve around "just running around and shooting things", so I can't blame them for chasing what sells.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Oh, absolutely. You have to go with what sells and there's no doubt that this format should sell extremely well.

    However, even though many games do include running around and shooting, they're not entirely about that...which is what Titanfall is. I mean, you could say you do that in Uncharted, too, but it's hardly the only gameplay element.

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