"Titanfall", as the name suggests, is a unique take on the FPS genre involving wall-running, jetpacking, and calling down giant bipedal death machines down from the sky. Developer Respawn's take on the shooter mold is to make it three-dimensional and tune the speed of the gameplay up a few notches, a refreshing twist in a genre so populated with indistinguishable and unimaginative titles you could probably pick at random and be no worse off. "Titanfall" attempts to do away with the mold while keeping enough of the quick gunplay to tempt fans of the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises. In this, the game succeeds wildly though it is not without some serious faults. This review is for the PC version.
"Titanfall" abandons a traditional solo campaign and opts for an interesting experiment by way of telling the story through multiplayer. The campaign will put you on either the stereotypically corporate IMC or the ragtag Militia and put you through a series of six on six matchups. Using Microsoft Azure for server support every game comes complete with a host of NPC soldiers that will fight alongside you. The simple "Grunts" and robotic "Specters" are essentially set pieces and make you feel like you're in a real fight. Unfortunately you can't really count on them to reliably kill other players and sometimes they're downright dumb, but they serve their purpose of making you feel like there's a lot of action going down.
No one I've talked to could actually explain why the IMC and Militia are at each others' throats or why we should even care. I was vaguely aware of the mission objectives but that's about it. In the minute or two between matches we're not given enough time for information or character development to really care about any of it. If you're hungering for a solo experience with your shooting pick something else. Don't get me wrong, I applaud Respawn for attempting something new in this but it's a bit of a misfire. For one, the campaign had an interesting opportunity for emergent gameplay depending upon who wins the match but the game doesn't take advantage of this. Whether you win and force the enemy team to flee to their dropship or have to retreat yourself you'll always get the same story. There's a particular arc of missions where the Militia forces are trying to capture intelligence on how to use technology designed to repel hostile indigenous life. The "Repulsor" tech, if obtained, would allow the Militia to shut down everything that stops the local fauna on planets (much of which would give Godzilla a run for his money) and overrun their enemy without firing a shot. No matter what you do or how many victories you obtain the Militia side will always get the data they need to use the tech to their advantage. It's a waste and undermines your drive to win. Now, if my team could have stopped the enemy and a whole new storyline where the Militia would be forced to do a traditional attack came about it could have been revolutionary. Fortunately the campaign isn't what "Titanfall" is banking on.
Where "Titanfall" really shines is the fluidity of movement. The game handles it quite well and you never feel like you have to learn to do any of the crazy stunts you pull, you just do it. It's very possible to jetpack across entire maps while never touching the ground and firefights that take place while players are mid-air or flying across walls like something out of the Matrix or Ender's Game are a joy. The additional benefit is that since your enemies aren't simply pieces moving on a board so you have to learn to move intricately within the environment while aiming properly. It's much harder to take advantage of cheap weapons or explosives when you've got three dimensions to play around in.
Like any game of its class there's a progression system, allowing players to earn experience, rank up, and complete challenges to earn new weapons and "Burn Cards", single use cards that will do anything from supercharging a weapon to resurrecting you after a death. These cards are active for one life only, keeping them balanced for the most part and allowing you to use them in sticky situations to get out of a jam. I'm particularly fond of the cards that boost your titan-killing prowess.
The titans of the game take three varieties, the nimble Stryder, the jack-of-all trades Atlas and the burly Ogre. Like players, you could outfit your titan with myriad weapons and special abilities. Some abilities allow you to collect and reflect ammunition that's shot at you, others deploy electrified smoke to stop "rodeo" attacks where players jump on your titan's back and shoot your insides. I'm happy to say that the titans aren't overpowered and have much to be afraid of from their fleshy rivals. Every player has an anti-titan weapon by default and thanks to their mobility can easily fire rockets or grenades from safety. Titans in turn can be just as devastating if they master their environment and use their abilities properly. A nice thing about them is that you don't have to actually pilot them for them to be useful. Titans can be set to guard a particular point and even follow and support you with a simple press of a button.
"Classic" mode, which is essentially just regular old multiplayer, comes equipped with numerous game modes that echo Call of Duty closely. Unlike a Battlefield match the matches are short and bloody confrontations and they'll be over before you know it. This isn't really a bad thing, but the gameplay isn't as strategic as other games. There are no real battle lines think you're way out of when you can fly over buildings. "Titanfall" plays out like a Greek confrontation of the classical era, with the NPC's fighting meaninglessly while the champions step forward to challenge each other.
Perhaps the biggest flaw with the game isn't the campaign or balance but the host of issues that hit users after release, myself included. After purchasing the game the Friday after release I found myself stuck on the infamous "spaceship loading screen", completely unable to play alongside many other players. After a week of changing router setting, adding ports, practically living on the support forums and a server update I managed to start playing games. Even so the occasional disconnect from the game still plagues me and many others. "Titanfall" seems to have inherited their publisher EA's penchant for horrible releases. The fact that a huge section of the player base couldn't even play the game for one to two weeks is simply appalling. In addition, EA has been doing such a terrible job at transparency that many players have returned the game or contacting the developers on twitter for help. In the time since release things have gotten much better but I'd have to say my experience having to wait a week just to get into a match has seriously influenced my desire to buy another game from a developer who publishes with EA considering this is just the latest of a series of disastrous launches for them.
"Titanfall" is a fun and new way of doing things but the persisting connectivity issues and blemish what would have been a super multiplayer entry and one that I desperately wanted to give four stars given its innovative movement system and fast-paced gameplay. Unfortunately with the frequent connectivity issues that seem to have no end in sight I'm rating it three stars, but should the issue improve this is easily a four star title.
"Titanfall" is available for the Xbox One, PC and is available at Tucson electronics retailers and through EA's Origin for digital download. The Xbox 360 version will drop on April 8.