The Titanfall beta ran through the weekend for the Xbox One and PC with the next-gen console updated Saturday night to an open beta. Microsoft has been hyping the Call of Duty meets mechs shooter as the one to get for 2014 and I was able to try it out on both platforms. Does the beta from Respawn Entertainment show that the final product will live up to the hype or will this be yet another multiplayer game that is quickly forgotten in the yearly deluge of games?
Evolution not Revolution
The term “revolution” is bandied about way too often by publishers and PR firms. In the case of Titanfall, it is definitely an evolutionary step for the genre and not a revolutionary step. The default controls use the tried and true first-person mechanics but the difference is the feeling of responsiveness, even with the Xbox One controller, combined with the smooth player movement on screen.
Mechs (aka Titans) have been done in multiplayer first-person shooters before as has AI bots. The difference with Titanfall is how Respawn Entertainment has mixed them all together to form an entertaining blend of fast-paced action and massive human squishing robots.
Even the three modes present during the beta are evolutionary new spins on existing and well-worn multiplayer modes. Attrition is the equivalent of Team Deathmatch but with the added bonus of the AI bots being targets to hunt while Hardpoint is the standard Domination gameplay juiced up with speed and mechs. But again, it’s how Respawn packaged the three modes together with the maps and fluid gameplay that make the difference.
The introduction of Burn Cards is a nice addition as well. These are cards that are collected during matches and can be equipped prior to a match to give bonuses such as a more powerful weapon, bonus XP or a faster movement. Once used in a match though, they are gone for good. It adds a little strategy to the game to determine whether to save a card or go ahead and burn it now. Given the frantic nature of matches, the performance boost isn’t so much that players will be able to abuse them as they only last until you die.
No Place to Camp
While the Titanfall beta only includes two maps, both illustrate Respawn’s design philosophy of both inviting (and practically forcing) players to never stop moving. If you think you’ve found a place to camp, there’s probably at least three different angles that someone can come and attack you from whether it is inside a building or outside.
There’s simply no place to squat and hide and cover all the possible paths that enemies will be running past. You may be able to squeeze into a corner and get a couple of cheap kills because of cloaking but that won’t last but a minute in a match before you find yourself looking at the killcam of the opposing player that just took you out.
Do Titans dream of electric sheep?
Let’s be honest, the AI soldiers (Grunts and Spectres) in Titanfall are dumb fodder for players to shoot as part of the objective for the Attrition mode and not much more. They are mostly an annoyance and you should feel embarrassed if ever killed by one because it likely means you weren’t paying attention to your surroundings.
The Titan AI is another story though and I found it incredibly useful to simply not pilot the mech during the Hardpoint modes. The Hardpoint maps have three objectives to be captured with only one of them accessible to a mech. The other two are inside buildings so I was able to set my Titan to follow me as I went back and forth between these two objectives to hold or recapture these points for my team. I was able to rack up serious experience points doing this with the added benefit that my Titan was patrolling the perimeter earning extra points killing AI soldiers and the occasional pilot or enemy Titan.
Disappointingly, Titanfall barely does 720p on the Xbox One with the official word from Respawn Entertainment that it is set to 792p so that all the graphical bells and whistles can be turned on while shooting for 60 frames per second (this may change to 900p in the final release). While that is unfortunate from a technical standpoint, gameplay ran smooth the majority of the time with a couple of noticeable framerate hiccups for the beta build during intense scenes. This will hopefully be something fixed for the retail release.
Surprisingly, the PC version ran strong at 60fps at 1080p on an older Radeon 7850 card combined with an Intel i5 3570k processor. This was with the various graphics settings at the highest settings with the exception of shadows. The good news is that Respawn provided PC gamers with various graphics tweaks and the game doesn’t appear to be particularly taxing. However, the quality of the graphics were not noticeably improved over the Xbox One when maxed out.
There’s no denying that Microsoft is banking on Titanfall to push the hype meter on its new console and, judging by the beta so far, the shooter meets the bar in being tons of fun and a must have for the console though it falls short of the revolutionary moniker. Xbox One user should unfortunately be accustomed to the console’s technical limitations by now and the game still looks great running on a heavily modified version of the Source engine. PC users will find just as much to enjoy and will not have to race out and build a monster machine to enjoy it. The longevity of the Titanfall will ultimately depend on the number of maps and game modes that Respawn Entertainment is able to deliver at launch combined with continued support over the next year.
Of course, not repeating the meltdowns of other Electronic Arts published titles like SimCity 4 and Battlefield 4 is a must as well.
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