This past fall Titanfall 2 released wedged between two mammoths of the FPS genre; Battlefield and Call of Duty. While it may have been easy to overlook Titanfall 2, I would recommend against it. Titanfall 2 blends and balances interesting gameplay ideas to deliver a solid entry into the FPS genre. Titans, giant mechs, are brought to a more mainstream audience, while the agility of Pilots and the verticality of Titanfall’s single player campaign and multiplayer deliver an engaging experience.
Titanfall brings a solid campaign to the table. It excels from a gameplay standpoint on every front. The overall plot is interesting, but it has a lackluster narrative and fairly predictable plot points. I do have to admit that I have never played Titanfall 1, so getting a feel of the major players and their relationships took a while. This is an important aspect of the game to mention, since the franchise has shifted its focus away from a multiplayer only experience and is available on multiple platforms. Therefore it’s not surprising many players will be entering into the franchise for the first time. Under this context Respawn should have through us a bit more information regarding how this fictional universe functions, and at the very least, put the info out in text form that can be accessed. I initially had no idea why the Frontier and IMC are at war and the major context surrounding this conflict. I did gather that Frontier was “good” because that you, the player, belong to the Frontier and the IMC was “bad” … because they were the one’s shooting at you. The good news is that Titanfall 2’s narrative itself is a standalone series of events and is easy to follow once the ball gets rolling despite the lack of knowledge in the overall conflict.
Jack Cooper and Titan BT-7274’s relationship as combat partners attempts to be the heart of Titanfall 2. BT is more than just a hunk of machinery used for war, but is linked to Jack Cooper and has its own identity. Titanfall 2 aims to build a relationship between the two via dialogue options. While players dialogue choice will not effect the outcome of an event, or impact the game, it gives the player a choice in how they communicate with BT. It’s interesting to see this implemented into a first person shooter, which are usually completed scripted. The two have their fun moments over the course of the campaign, but their relationship doesn’t really break new ground. Part of the reason is due to Jack Cooper. While not a poor-character, tends to be a forgettable one-note everyman… with a good sense of humor. Overall the game didn’t succeed in making me truly care about these characters. This doesn’t doom the campaign by any means, as Titanfall 2’s campaign is one of those situations where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The antagonists consist of the Apex Predators mercenary group. A formidable group of mercenaries working for the IMC. Their members have interesting personalities and quirks, while their Titans were also aesthetically pleasing, especially compared to the regular Titan grunts. The only downside is that the game doesn’t give them enough time, or is able to flesh out their character is any meaningful way. There’s only so much content you can pack into FPS campaigns, which usually top out at about 8 hours. Titanfall 2 is no different, but it still felt like a missed opportunity. For example I learned more about one of the mercenaries, Ash, while reading a text blurb in the multiplayer faction description for Vinson Dynamics than I did during course of the actual campaign.
The narrative is straightforward enough. I saw main plot points coming from a mile away, while it also follows a familiar save-the-world plot for the most part. The boss fights are great and set pieces can truly be a visual spectacle. However, the final boss wasn’t really what I expected it to be which took a bit of wind out of the game’s sails. I was satisfied overall with the campaign; the gameplay was the rock solid foundation and is the reason for the love this game’s campaign receives online. The narrative itself didn’t really break any new ground, it had some good moments between Jack and BT, but the plot was mostly forgettable.
There are three pillars to Titanfall 2’s gameplay; traditional FPS gameplay, Titan segments, and platforming. Titanfall 2 sets its self apart from other shooters in the genre using the latter two pillars. Balancing between three types of gameplay is done beautifully, with no one pillar taking up the majority of the campaign.
Traditional FPS combat was solid overall. Aiming was snappy and the guns’ were varied enough to keep things interesting, despite the lack of some truly memorable weaponry. Players have access to different grenades, a cloaking option for stealth, and sliding. Technically the traditional FPS gameplay performs well, but overall it’s not something players haven’t seen before. Cloaking (invisibility) and sliding abilities are pretty much standard fare now in the FPS genre. Titanfall 2’s cloaking feels both useful, but is limited to keep players from exploiting its functionality. In this way more emphasis is put on action and not stealth, but it’s still there when players need to use it. Sliding takes advantage of Titanfall’s speed and agility, it’s faster and longer than a normal slide.
Platforming segments are fast and fluid. Its inclusion allows players to get around in combat areas differently. It also allows the game to take advantage of scale to a degree, allowing players to go take high vantage points quickly or drop down to ground level, increasing the environment’s verticality. Overall, the result is players actively searching to use the environment to their advantage rather than it just being a stage in which to shoot enemies.
Pairing wall running, jumping, etc. and FPS combat together is extremely fulfilling (especially using a shotgun), but at times it was far too efficient to play the FPS segments in the more traditional manner. I mostly used the game’s fast gravity defying maneuvers to find a more advantageous position in combat, or escape from death. Rarely did I find it advantageous to utilize the wall runs and sliding ability to dispatch enemies. Although this may be due to the lackluster AI that makes up enemy soldiers in the game.
To put it bluntly, the A.I. foot soldiers are pretty dumb. They posed little challenge during the game (even on my hard playthrough) lost sight of the player easily and sometimes performed actions that were utterly bewildering. There were times when I gunned down their allies in a hallway, then without hesitation they lost sight of me. A.I. foot soldiers would stand out in the open and take bullets. On the other hand, the robotic Reapers and Specters were relentless in tracking you down and proved to be more of a challenge in comparison.
Being in a Titan is the game’s bread and butter. It’s a different type of experience than one would normally find in an FPS. Despite giant talking robots with guns and missiles being a fantastic concept, we haven’t seen too many video games feature large walking mechanized robots. While mech games such as Hawken do exist, there really hasn’t been an AAA title that targets a more broad mainstream audience.
The great news is that Respawn nails Titanfall’s mech combat. The Titans feel both powerful and vulnerable, slow and quick. It’s an interesting duality that occurs depending on what you’re fighting. Against IMC foot soldiers and stalkers you are powerful, but feel slower. When taking on other Titans it’s vulnerable and quick. I’m very thankful that the act of walking in a Titan isn’t a slog, which it’s could have very well been given the giant-robot concept. But it’s easy to maneuver from one point to the next, and doesn’t feature any weird tank-like control scheme either.
Throughout the game you’ll come across different load-outs for the Titan. Which feature different guns and abilities. Each one is different in its own right, with pros and cons in its weaponry. Plus players can switch loadouts on the fly. Each loadout if fun and interesting in its own way. I found myself switching to loadouts depending on my opponent, without becoming reliant on a single dominant loadout.
Titan versus Titan combat itself is exhilarating. Fighting multiple Titans, with multiple loadouts, it’s a blast. Using your abilities, dodging and finding cover, looking for openings all leads to an action-packed, yet tactical confrontation at times. The boss battles in the game are also solely Titan based, and as you would suspect, these are the highlights of Titan gameplay. Each boss does feature a distinct loadout, so no boss feels the same.
My one complaint with the Titans is that the felt a bit too gamey with the infinite amount of ammo for guns and missiles. While I understand that Titanfall 2 is in fact a video game, it takes me out of the moment when I don’t have to worry about a possible limited resource. There could exist a way to convey an illusion of limited ammo for Titans. For example, with regular FPS combat each gun has limited ammo. However, there’s always a generous amount given to players for each gun pick up, weapons/ammo dropped from downed enemy soldiers, or via weapon caches. Despite the technicality that there is a limited amount of ammo and guns, in reality the player doesn’t ever have to actually worry about running out firepower.
Additionally the game features collectible pilot helmets scattered around the maps. These helmets give off the impression that they were tacked on collectibles, an afterthought late in development. While, that may not be necessarily the case, they are floating, glowing helmets that serve no purpose but for the sake of being a collectible, or for the purpose of giving the players more trophy and achievement requirements. I think Respawn missed a chance to flesh out the world a bit, by giving fallen pilots a voice. The helmets could have features audio clips regarding the pilots, in regards to possible hints at upcoming enemy attacks, world building, or giving Apex Predator members more of a role (i.e. audio clips of a final exchange between the pilots killed by the mercenary group members).
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the multiplayer gameplay is just as fast, fluid, and fun as its single player counterpart. It doesn’t break too many molds in terms of what players can expect with weapons and loadouts locked until the player levels up, or with customizable skins for weapons and titans that unlock as well.
The game modes are a mix of on-foot and Titan combat where players can summon multiple Titans during the course of a match depending on performance. Enemy players can piggyback on your Titan and steal a battery, effectively depleting your health. Respawn did a fantastic job with preventing on-foot players from feeling useless. Between stealing batteries, offering specific anti-Titan perks, or anti-Titan weapons. I was able to get many Titan kills, who were usually low on heath, via this manner. The Titan’s still have the upper hand against foot soldiers, dispatching them with a single hit.
The matches can get a little crazy during the latter half with a mix of enemy Titan’s and soldiers facing off against you team’s Titans and soldiers. There may be 10 or so Titans running around during the closing minutes of the game.
I enjoyed Titanfall 2’s mix of gameplay modes. Which I found to be unique compared to other FPS multiplayer game modes recently. The Attrition seemed to be the most popular overall. I loved how Respawn aimed to overcome the standard 6v6 matchmaking by adding in NPC enemies and allies to fight against opposing Pilots. Titan’s need more room, and thus the maps are a bit larger. However, with only 6v6 this may make the maps feel a bit empty. By including NPC enemies the matches feel a bit more hectic and involved.
There are some traditional game modes such as capture-the-flag, but Titanfall 2 features a Titan only multiplayer mode as well, Last Titan Standing. It’s exactly what it sounds like, Titan’s only and if you die… you’re done. Lastly, I enjoyed the inclusion of the “mixtape” multiplayer mode which thrusts players into random game modes alleviating the necessity to leave the match finding queue and play a different game mode. The only game mode I thought was bad was the Coliseum where two players face off against each other. They arm you with rocket launchers and put you in an empty room, which results in jumping around and flinging rockets and grenades at one another. It’s frustrating and boring, and could have been done in a much better way.
Playing as a Titan is a gameplay experience that I haven’t had. The Titan controls like a dream, it’s fast and powerful, without being subject to a confusing or clunky control scheme. The on-foot shooting is snappy, but doesn’t bring anything we haven’t seen to the table… unless players integrate the game’s wall run and ability features. The platforming segments of the game were fun and interesting and were seamlessly integrated into the FPS gameplay. Titanfall 2 does a great job of balancing these gameplay factors together. The multiplayer is also fast and fluid and has enough content to keep players happy with a mix of familiar and unique game modes. From a holistic standpoint the campaign was solid, mainly due to the excellent gameplay. However, the narrative and characters were largely forgettable. I highly recommend Titanfall 2 to everyone, not just fans of the FPS genre.