“Prepare for Titanfall”
As someone who typically doesn’t enjoy first peson shooters, I was sceptical of Titanfall. Although the footage that EA had been showing at events like E3 looked like a brand new take on the largely stale genre, I was still worried that Titanfall would be nothing more than Call of Duty with robots. Well, after spending a fair bit of time with the recent Titanfall Beta for Xbox One I am glad I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The basic premise of the game is you are a member of two warring factions who are trying overcome the other in the infamous “Titan War.” You play the role of a pilot – an elite soldier who has the training and capabilities to not only succeed in ground-based combat, but also to call down and pilot the incredible Titans – giant mechanical warriors that were built for war.
Titanfall is a team-based experience, and places you as either a member of the IMC or the rebellious M-Cor Militia. There are a variety of game modes you can play, but they will all revolve around 6 v 6 team deathmatch style experiences. However, while there are only 6 human players on each team, there are also a variety of bots – AI controlled soldiers to pad each side’s ranks. The bots come in two categories – Grunts and Specters. Grunts are your typical run-of-the-mill cannon fodder soldiers, while Specters are robots that are a little tougher to kill, but get close enough to one and you can hack them, turning them from foe to friend.
While team deathmatches (known as Attrition in Titanfall) are probably the most common game mode, it is far from all that is on offer. The beta also had two other game modes – Hard Point and Last Titan Standing. Hard Point is this game’s analogue to Capture the Flag, where you will battle over three distinct points on the map – the longer you have them claimed, the more points your team earns. Last Titan Standing puts every player into their Titan at the beginning of the match, and the winner is (you guessed it) the team who has the last Titan remaining at the end. Once your Titan has been destroyed, you can still eject and take over as your pilot to hopefully even the odds a little bit. There is enough variety present in the Beta alone to ensure that players wont be starved for content when the game launches in March.
So you might be wondering why only have 6 members on each team if you are going to fill it with bots anyway? The answer is deceptively simple – the bots are cannon fodder. Much like the minions in MOBA games, the Grunts and Spectres are there for you to get a quick couple of kills on so that you can call down your Titan quicker. The Titans are only available after a few minutes has elapsed, but each kill you make shaves off a small amount of time. The secondary reason is that with any more players, the action could become too cluttered – especially if multiple players have summoned their titans.
So at the beginning of each round you can pick the loadouts of your Pilot in much the same vein as other FPS titles – you pick weapons, attachments, and other skills that tailor the soldier to your style of play. Levelling up and completing in-game challenges rewards you with more weapons and attachments for you to try. Not only can you customise your Pilot in this way, but the Titans themselves can be decked out how you wish; Weapons, defensive capabilities and special abilities can all be tweaked, changed and unlocked to make your Titan the ultimate weapon for war (Although not available in the recent Beta build, you can also customise the body of your Titan).
So how does the gameplay differ from Battlefield, Call of Duty or any of those other FPS titles that have dominated the marketplace? Well firstly the movement system is vastly different – Pilots can run along walls and double jump. This may seem like a little addition but it makes for large levels on the ground, but with amazing verticality. You can make your way to the top of a building in a fraction of a second, take out an enemy pilot, then double jump across to the next building for a better vantage point. The wall running also makes you run faster and jump further, so you can traverse great distances really quickly. It adds a whole layer of depth to the game, and it is something that is quick to understand yet difficult to master.
Secondarily there are Burn Cards. Instead of the traditional skills that you would equip your soldier with before a match, Burn Cards are unlockable, one-off use perks that you can trigger after you have died in battle. They bestow a special ability to your Pilot (or Titan) until you die again. Since these are single-use, you need to plan when, where and how you will use it. You can unlock multiple copies of each burn card, but the fact that they aren’t permanently available to you means that you can’t rely on them to build how you will play. Instead of playing around your chosen perks, you will pick burn cards around the way you play. Not only that, but you can also leave your Titan at any given time, turning them into an AI-controlled guardian. Think Big Daddy from the Bioshock games, but give him a series of rocket pods and you will have a bit of an idea what your Titan is capable of when left alone. Having the Titan guard you is especially helpful in Hardpoint where you need to defend bases long enough to accrue points.
Oh, and of course there are the Titans themselves. As I mentioned above, once the game starts a small counter will begin counting down. Every kill you make shaves off time from the counter, and when it reaches 0:00 your Titan can be called down from the heavens. Titans crash-land to earth, where you can jump on them and go to town. Bigger weapons, bigger shields and bigger bodies are what Titans are all about. You can easily pick off Grunts, Specters and Pilots with one well placed shot from your Titan, but the real challenge comes from facing down an opposing Titan in a massive giant-robot death match.
Titans have large shields but they deplete quickly under certain conditions (namely being shot at by other Titans). So you will have to use your Swiss-Army Knife of special abilities to outwit your enemies. I was more of an up-close and personal kind of fighter, so I would rush up to enemy titans as quickly as I could and go for a few well-placed punches to deplete their shields. I kept my Titan equipped with a nuclear explosive core so that if I ever ejected, the resulting explosion would normally be enough to SEVERELY damage my opposition, and lastly as I rocketed into the air after my eject, I would activate my Pilot’s cloak, switch to my anti-titan rocket launcher, lock on and fire that perfect shot to end them. It is a great feeling to pull off such stylish moves and land on a rooftop 20 meters away – you feel like you accomplished something, and that all the pieces of your Pilot and Titan that you had carefully selected all fit together perfectly.
The Beta had a surprising amount of content, but you could tell that it was far from complete. Aside from the 8 or so weapons available to Pilots, and the three available to Titans you could really feel that this was the tip of the ice berg. The beta also only gave access to two maps – Fracture and Angel City. Fracture was a ruined suburbia that looked like it had previously housed the elite and powerful, while Angel City was very vertical and contained tall skyscrapers, narrow streets and lots of windows to pop out from and surprise your enemies. The game’s content was impressive and left me wanting so much more – luckily we wont have to wait too long.
Titanfall not only plays awesomely but it looks great too. Although we have only seen two maps so far, they have been really intricately detailed with textures that pop and enough battle damage to make them look like they have actually seen battle. What is more impressive however is the fact that even at its most cluttered (with five-six Titans on screen at once, along with various grunts and Specters) I suffered no lag or noticeable frame rate issues. If the beta is running this smoothly, then it only bodes well for the actual game.
Titanfall looks like it is shaping up to be the game that Call of Duty should have evolved into a long time ago. By being able to take the competitive and compelling fundamentals that have made the FPS genre a force to be reckoned with, and modernising, updating and even downright flipping some elements on their head, Titanfall has proven even before its official release that it is the future of the genre. For someone who was skeptical when it was first announced, after playing through two different builds of the game I am convinced that Titanfall will not only be one of the best games this year, but it will shape the way developers make FPS games for years to come. For a little bit more of a hands-on look at the game, check out our supercut below of some of our Titanfall Beta moments.