Titanfall review: Exhilarating shooter reboots a tired genre
XOne, PC, X360 (out March 28)
THANKS be to CoD there was a row between the makers of Call of Duty and publisher Activision. Otherwise, the developers might still be making the same old same old every year – instead of moving on to revitalise the FPS genre with Titanfall.
Though massively popular, CoD just cannibalises itself every year and innovation is in precious short supply. But when the CoD-fathers quit to start a new company called Respawn, they could have just remade their masterwork.
Instead, they took a mash-up of ideas and bolted them together in slick and surprising ways. Individually, there’s hardly a new idea in Titanfall – giants mechs, parkour, perks, levelling up, etc.
Collectively, though, it adds up to a compelling formula for chaotic and frantic multiplayer fragfests that still manages to cater for the gamer with just average skills.
In each six-on-six team-based contest, players start on foot for up to three minutes before everyone can call in their titan – a six-metre-high mech with frightening firepower. But the infantry – or pilots as they’re known – have the advantage of speed and hyper-agility that enables to leap around the maps parkour-style with dizzying pace. Intriguingly, you don’t even have to climb aboard your titan and can use it as a monstrous guard dog.
Let’s get straight to the disappointments, though, because although the hype behind Titanfall is deafening, it’s not perfect. Realising it’s an online-only shooter, you may expect soft focus on campaign mode – and you’d be right. But it’s almost as if developers Respawn haven’t even tried.
The storyline is desperately weak, weakly communicated and amounts to no more than a few limited rounds of multiplayer with cut-scenes bolted on. It could be seen as a tutorial if there wasn’t already a tutorial mode built in, which there is.
But you must play through the campaign to unlock several key items, including two of the three titans.
As a poster child for Microsoft’s Xbox One, it hardly sets a new bar for next-gen visuals either, prone to screen tearing, slowdown and glitches. There’s little sign of the much-touted cloud-powered AI either, with enemy and friendly grunts offering no challenge.
But all that small-minded carping aside, a few rounds of classic multiplayer reveal the beating heart of Titanfall, as gradual unlocks and perks provide constant impetus to keep playing.
The constraints of campaign fall away, leaving you free to choose from 15 maps and five modes including, capture the flag, dominate and last man standing. The strategic possibilities vary widely.
Some players will prefer to leap as soon as possible into their titan, stomping around, punching other titans in close-quarters combat or strafing and sniping. Many pilots may never climb aboard, opting to zip acrobatically up and around buildings, hiding where titans can’t go or keeping their distance to pick off the mechs with their rocket launchers.
It’s exhilarating stuff, the titans giving a measure of protection to duffers like me, ensuring you avoid the dispiriting CoD cycle of die-respawn-die every few seconds.
Nifty perks – called burn cards here – are meant to ensure the odds are evened by giving extra-powerful weapons to the less-skilled. But it remains to be seen whether elite players will be able to exploit them too.
Respawn has made it clear it will continue to work to improve Titanfall technically but let’s hope some free DLC brings a few additional game modes beyond the very familiar options at launch.
They haven’t reinvented the FPS genre with Titanfall but they’ve given it the boot up the ass it sorely needed.