Thursday, 20 February 2014

Titanfall or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Stompy Robots

I’m finding it surprisingly hard to articulate exactly how I feel about Respawn Entertainments debut title “Titanfall”. It’s a game that lends it’s anecdotes more to an oral retelling than through a written review or preview, as I struggle to convey just how much enthusiasm I’ve got for this game after just three days of the beta.

So what is Titanfall?

From what I’ve played I feel I can best describe it as “Call Of Duty with free-running and giant robot suits”, though that is doing the game a massive disservice. Fundamentally it plays, and in some areas feels, very much like a Call Of Duty game. You unlock new equipment and abilities as you gain XP, complete weapon and kill based challenges and complete objectives within the game. So far so COD. But it’s the changes, and more importantly the additions that Respawn have layered over the game that make it so much more than another version of that game.

The most obvious addition is the Titans themselves. When the game starts, each player has around three minutes until their Titan is available to use. This time can be reduced by killing both AI controlled “Grunts” and player-controlled “Pilots”. Once the timer hits zero you are free to call in your Titan at any point, activating the titular “Titanfall” so called as it literally falls from the sky for you to board. Jumping inside changes the nature of play quite significantly, as you switch from a vulnerable human who can die in only a handful of hits to a massive machine of death and destruction, able to take huge amounts of damage before being knocked out of commission.

Cleverly though, Titans are not invulnerable. It would have been very easy to make them nearly invincible against human players, but Respawn have made it relatively simple for humans to hold their own against these massive machines. Each Pilot loadout has an Anti-Titan weapon, designed to dish out a decent amount of damage. More interesting though is the ability to “Rodeo” on top of an enemy titan. Utilising the double jump (More of which later) you can clamber on top, rip open a hatch and inflict significant damage on them, forcing the pilot to either disembark to pick you off, or get one of their team-mates to do it for them.

None of this stops the Titans from being anything other than amazing to see and use. I defy anyone not to smile when they call in their very first Titan and watch as it slams to the Earth, ready for boarding.

Perhaps one of my favourite moments came in my last match of the Beta. I had been Rodeo riding on an enemy Titan and managed to inflict enough damage that the Pilot was forced to eject to avoid dying. The force of his ejector seat threw me far into the air and as I was on my way up I called in my Titan. As I began to fall back to earth my Titan shot past me, landed and caught me just as I was about to hit the ground.

That’s just one small moment from many others, but it was the one that made me go “Fuck yeah!” more than any other. I didn’t stop grinning for five minutes after it.

Despite being a shit shot I still come 2nd overall here!

Beyond the Titans, the movement system for Pilots has been reworked to allow some stunning free-running abilities. You can run along walls, leap from surface to surface and activate your small jetpack to provide a very short, but potent burst of height. This completely changes how you move about the levels. Windows are now a very viable entry-point for buildings, and stringing together combos of wall-runs, double jumps and climbs will allow you to get to places you’d never even consider in other FPS games.

There’s so much more to the game than just these elements though and for the most part they all work really well. However there are just a couple of things that take some of the sheen off the game.

Graphically Titanfall is nothing to write home about. It’s not a bad looking game, but for something that Microsoft are hoping will be the first system selling game for the Xbox One it’s frankly a bit of a disappointment. Textures are relatively low-res, the frame-rate sometimes stutters when there are more than two titans fighting and it lacks ANY kind of destructible scenery.

The other main gripe relates to the low player count. In a world where most multiplayer shooters are allowing at least 16v16 matches, Titanfall caps it all at 6v6, opting to fill out the maps with AI controlled “Grunts” and “Spectres”. Many people aren’t happy with the low count, but the main problem I’ve got is the poor, poor AI for the non-human characters. They pose no real threat, will happily ignore you if you run past them, and will often stop and stare at an opposing AI until you walk up to them.

I can understand why the player count was dropped. The maps probably just didn’t work with that many Titans at once. So instead of having to limit the number of available titans, they just dropped the player count and brought in AI to make up the numbers. Which is a fine idea. As the major selling point of the game, to limit who can use a Titan and who can’t, would massively reduce the enjoyment players can have. But the implementation of the AI is flawed, at least right now.

There’s nothing to say some of these flaws won’t be fixed for the games March 14th release date, but by this point it should really only be small tweaks and adjustments being made, not massive changes to the AI systems.

I’ve not even talked about the various modes and maps available, but in all honesty there isn’t much really new about them. You have standard Attrition (Team Deathmatch) and Hardpoint Domination (Capture & Hold) modes, along with Last Titan Standing (Everyone spawns in a Titan, when you’re dead, you’re out) and many more in the full game.

The two maps in the beta were both quite different as well. Angel City was a tightly enclosed urban map, with lots of alleys and buildings to practice wall-running and double jumping though. It also created some up-close Titan battles, as players would try and Robot Punch each other to death. Fracture was a more open, green area with some wide open spaces, allowing the Titans to really move around and show what they can do.

Hopefully I’ve gotten across that I REALLY like Titanfall. It takes the formula that COD has been pummelling into the ground for the past six years and gives it a fresh new look and feel, something it was drastically in need of. If you’ve ever enjoyed multiplayer COD you’ll find something to like in Titanfall.

Titanfall is released March 14th on PC, Xbox One and Xbox 360

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