Titanfall ($60) starts with some 1960s stock footage of rockets. There is a voiceover. From what we can understand, a group called the militia is battling a group called the IMC. Then we’re in the game, running on walls, and that stuff doesn’t matter anymore.
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This is Titanfall‘s big bet: that players, so intent on shooting really big weapons at really big robots, won’t care that the game lacks any sort of discernible plot or campaign. And it works, to an extent. The action is unparalleled, in a chaotic, frenetic way similar to Halo‘s Big Team Battle.
Each player controls a human “pilot” character that can call in a robotic titan via airdrop every four minutes, give or take a few seconds based on kills — the more kills you get, the shorter the wait. Both titans and pilots have classes that possess different weapons, mods and powerups. The benefit of being a pilot is that you get a special set of parkour skills that allow you to run on walls and jump from rooftop to rooftop. Even for a beginner, it’s easy to bounce from one obstacle to the next — a gameplay aspect that seems like it would take a while to learn quickly becomes an afterthought.
The benefit of being a titan is that you’re a giant robot. Those who played Halo will be familiar with the basic battle concept: most of the time, you’re on foot, but every once in a while, you get into a powerful vehicle that allows you to wreak havoc until someone finally brings you down. However, it’s important to note that in Halo, when your vehicle explodes, you die. In Titanfall, you have the option to eject, which propels you high over the map and allows the action to continue. On any given map, a decent Titanfall player usually dies between five and ten times, while in Halo, that number very often climbs up into the teens.
This is strange, considering Titanfall‘s pilot health system takes a note from Call of Duty‘s one-shot-one-death system rather than Halo’s shield system. Still, even though it’s technically easier to get killed in Titanfall, the use of embarrassingly easy-to-avoid AI grunts paired with the ability to call in a titan greatly extends life expectancy.
As a pilot, you carry three weapons, a primary, a sidearm and an anti-titan, as well as a couple of true-to-throw grenades (no more lobbing and guessing). The primary and secondary weapons include the standards like rifles, shotguns, SMGs and pistols, but the game designers got creative with the heavier anti-titan weapons. They won’t take down a titan singlehandedly, but, combined with the easy-to-use pilot mobility features, you can weaken it a bit before zipping off to get a better angle.
Titans get a primary weapon — choose from a chaingun, two types of cannon, a rocket, a grenade launcher and a railgun — as well as an ordnance weapon, which include rocket salvos, warheads, cluster missiles and homing missiles. They stomp around, crushing everything: operating a titan is the closest you’ll come to your dream of riding Optimus Prime.
It’s great fun, but at some point, you can’t help but wonder what it’s all for. Games break down when they lose the player to reality — when the gamer says, “wait a minute, it’s a beautiful day and I’m sitting in the dark earning worthless virtual points.” When you’re playing with friends — see WoW, or Halo — the social aspect mitigates the post-game wave of worthlessness. In a game like Oblivion or Bioshock, the world is so immersive and the plot so deep that you enter another reality. But, like many new games for the Xbox One, Titanfall only accommodates one player per machine, and it’s not the kind of team raid or strategy game that warrants groups of friends getting online together; the game’s world, while beautiful, isn’t hypnotizing. For hours of run-and-gun stress relief, Titanfall is as good as they come, but it’s not the kind of game that reaches mythical status and swallows the weekends of an entire generation.
Still, within its focus on multiplayer battles, Titanfall is wholly intent on changing the gaming landscape. But therein lies a problem: are gamers ready to skip story for instant gratification? A good amount certainly are, as sales have proven. Older players will yearn for more plot and a co-op mode, but for intense action and beautiful fight sequences, Titanfall holds up as a new goliath.