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Titanfall Review - Mechs and the City

Jim Sterling | 11 Mar 2014 02:40
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Developed by Respawn Entertainment. Published by Electronic Arts. Released March 11, 2014. Available on PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One (reviewed).

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Many games claim to be the most anticipated release of their given year, but very few have a justifiable reason for making such lofty boasts. Titanfall is one of the rarities, backed as it is by a hype train of almost ludicrous proportions. Thanks to savvy marketing and the giddy drooling of videogame media, Respawn Entertainment's debut shooter is swaggering onto the scene with the kind of presumptuous goodwill usually reserved for more venerable franchises.

Of course, the big question needs answering - does Titanfall live up to the hype? In a word, no. No it does not. How could it? This game has been called exemplary, untouchable, even revolutionary. Expectations have been built so high as to be unrealistic, and I can quite safely say that, no, you should not believe the hype.

That said, just because a game fails to live up to the sheer fantasy that has been erected in its pre-release build, that doesn't mean it isn't a damn fine game.

While it boasts no single-player action whatsoever, there is a two-sided campaign to Titanfall, telling the tale of a conflict between the Militia and IMC - two rival factions that are battling over ... something? They're after fuel at one point, then there's a lot of shouting and I kind of got lost because I was too busy shooting gigantic robots with my big rocket. Attempting to tell a story within the context of a multiplayer-only shooter is problematic for a number of reasons, not least the fact that it's hard to concentrate on, or even care about, the plot details unfolding while you're attempting to focus on an intense team-based battle. Brink, a last-gen game that attempted a similar narrative structure, suffered from the same issues, and Titanfall does nothing to combat them.

It scarcely matters, as writing isn't exactly this game's strongest feature. The few plot details that surfaced for me were derivative, and the game's most dramatic moments meant very little as the characters involved were fairly alienated from the actual onscreen combat. They warbled on about their struggles and their personal feelings, but such things had little impact on my own dealings. In many ways, it's like you're watching Rambo in one room, while somebody else is watching The Bodyguard in the next room with the volume turned up too loud. You can substitute my movie examples for any of your personal choosing. Krull is a good movie.

Titanfall's world simply isn't very engaging. From a visual design standpoint, it's a fairly bog-standard wartorn future setting, with an archetypal military force fighting against an archetypal people's army. What it lacks in originality, however, it makes up for in flair. There's no denying that Respawn has some style, and while the world itself is visually quite banal, the direction - with its breathtaking pre-match vistas, impressive sense of violent chaos, and excellent soundtrack, adequately shoulders the burden of drawing the player in. Sometimes, it's okay to have more style than substance, and Titanfall pulls that off with gusto.

Of course, being an online-only first-person shooter, there are far more important concerns than narrative and scenario. Detractors have described Titanfall as "Call of Duty with mechs," but personally I see no insult in that. For the most part, this game is Call of Duty with mechs, and I have zero problem with that. In fact, it's kind of lovely.

When playing this game for the first time, one may initially wonder what all the fuss has been about. Armed with fairly standard weaponry, from assault rifles to shotguns to SMGs, players are thrust into a fairly bog standard military shooter with an uninspiring futuristic overlay. You run, you gun, you rack up points and level up your little soldier, unlocking more guns, and attachments, and grenades. It's not long, however, before the bells and whistles make themselves known, and something a little more special reveals itself.

First of all, the overall sense of chaos is palpable. NPCs litter the battlefield, with common grunts and robotic Specters fighting each other, even engaging in little one-on-one scripted tussles. These common peons can all be fought by the player for extra points, and are especially crucial fodder when playing the Attrition game type (a match in which the opposing team's forces must be steadily drained). Then there are all the little traversal boosts - a jetpack that allows one to double jump, the power to sprint across walls, a personal cloaking device. Fun features that, on their own, aren't too different from things found in plenty of other games, but combine to create an FPS with some extra flavor.

The inclusion of NPC opponents, not to mention such useful armaments as the auto-locking Smart Pistol, make for a game that's remarkably welcoming to newcomers, while providing enough depth in its environmental navigation to satisfy veteran FPS fans. In my experience with the game, fresh-faced players have been able to square off against highly leveled hardcore obsessives and and have a good time, and while there are obviously infallibly excellent players already dominating servers, even the very worst of players can find some CPU-controlled chumps to beat up on and make themselves useful.

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