written by Jay Hammon (@Gravity_Flux)
I have this ancient dread in my soul when it comes to mech games. I blame it entirely on Mech Warrior 2 and my Sidewinder Pro joystick. No matter what mech I used or how I changed my play style I always felt cumbersome and frail. I still believe, to this day, that my mechs were built out of rice paper and spite; bonded together with drops of Mt Dew. This is why I wasn’t buying into the hype for TitanFall, wasn’t going to try the BETA and why I almost missed out on one of the best games for the Xbox One so far. Thankfully Respawn Entertainment nuked my dread and made me a believer again. Welcome to TitanFall!
Lifted taskmaster Justin and I hit the midnight launch party for TitanFall at a local Microsoft Store to revel in the anticipation and get some game time before the official launch. Once 12am struck the clocks I turned back into a pumpkin but since I had my copy of TitanFall I didn’t really care. A full week later I’ve had a ton of play time logged and let me tell you… this game rocks my trex socks! Typically when I get any new game, but specifically a shooter, I play through the campaign first, take a leisurely stroll through the multiplayer maps with or without bots and then I delve into the heart of the multiplayer. TitanFall tossed that straight out the window and I’m not sure I think it’s for the best. The campaign consists of 2 playthroughs. One is for the Militia and the other is for the IMC. The story elements consist of dialogue or very brief prologue scenes leading into the battle and radio chatter throughout the match. The voice acting is great and you’ll recognize a lot of the voice actors themselves… but it wasn’t a very good fleshing out of a story or world. I’ve played through the campaign a number of times now and still feel like I’m not very familiar with the backstory of this world. As is the case with the multiplayer, or classic as it’s called, you play against live opponents and their NPC army. The only difference between the two modes is how much extra dialogue you want during the match and for your first playthrough for each side you’ll always start at the lobby… no mid-game starts yet. One major drawback to this on-line only game is something my buddies and I encountered the other day in the form of the servers being down. It’s no end of frustrating when you’re trying to play your new game and you can’t play it because the servers are down and there’s no true single player mode. Even with that issue always lurking over my titan’s head like a pilot doing a rodeo I’m still pretty infatuated with TitanFall. With that said I feel like the IMC and Militia are fairly interchangeable and aside from the Hammond Corporation’s Spyglass (a sentient computer) talking you through the match versus Bish (an IMC traitor) keeping you up to date there’s not much to separate this tale of cat and mouse. If you are defeated during a mission you still have a chance to reach an extraction ship to carry on the story and earn some more XP. Even in defeat you’re not truly defeated… unless they shoot down your extraction starship while you’re on it; that’s just mean.
The classic mode is really your traditional multiplayer mode. You can pick from various game types like Pilot Hunter, Attrition, CTF, etc. With this mode you’re cutting out the majority of the story elements and just getting down to running up walls and blasting groups of specters with rockets. When starting from a lobby you’ll be able to customize your pilot and mech loadouts. You’ll unlock custom slots as you level up and you’ll earn better weapons, attachments and kits. The right pilot and mech can make all the difference when it comes down to a victory or making a mad dash for the extraction ship. Before your pilot leaps out of their transport ship you can select your first burn card (once you’ve unlocked them) and it will activate once you hit the ground. In most game types you start as your pilot and will wall run and double jump with your jet pack to take purchase on rooftops or walls so that you’re better able to thin the enemy’s ranks of grunts, specters and the human controlled pilots before mechs come into play in full force. The more hits you score and the more kills you make the shorter your countdown time will be for your mech. When that big metallic beast comes crashing down to earth you know you’re about to wreak havoc! Call down your mech and sprint for the landing spot. Once you’ve hopped in you’re able to use your primary weapon, secondary weapon and a special ability. I was initially rocking the chaingun, cluster missiles and electric smoke. The electric smoke is a godsend when an enemy pilot is trying to perform a rodeo kill on your titan. Cough, cough, death… get off my mech! Now just because you’ve called down your mech doesn’t mean you need to hop in and pilot the big fella. I found myself putting my mech into guard mode to control a hot zone or control point quite frequently. Sometimes I’d be having too much fun wall running and snapping the necks of camping pilots to be bothered with my mech so I’d put it into follow mode and let it handle any enemy units it found as it tailed me. If a battle ends poorly for your titan don’t fret! All you have to do is wait out the repair time and you’ll have another mech ready to go; the more kills you get the less time you have to wait. Easy right? Did I mention you can hack turrets and specters? Well, you can! Hacking into one of the massive anti-titan turrets is pretty awesome as it lends a helping hand to your troops but hacking an enemy specter is a joy altogether different. It’s like getting a stealth kill that then decides to go out and attack it’s former teammates for you. Go team!
As you play TitanFall you’ll complete challenges and earn XP. These will grant you burn cards, new weapons, abilities and eventually, when you’ve reach the highest echelons of the TitanFall universe, you can go into a “prestige mode” and start your generations. You’ll see the badges next to a player’s gamertag indicating what generation they are. These will often be the folks that pull your pilot lovingly out of your mech and crush your pilot’s face with hugs before hurling it’s body across the map like a dirty gym sock. Sometimes you may find it’s best to use a burn card to call down an Atlas mech right out of the gate while other times you may be feeling lucky and choose to burn a double XP card. The burn cards can really change up how you play a certain level or if you stick to one lobby for long you may learn which cards work the best against your opponents and their playing style.
The controls are well thought out and combat/movement all flow smoothly. As is the case with any game that has elements of parkour there will be times when you’re thinking your pilot is going to do one thing but ends up doing another. Surprisingly I didn’t encounter this too often and took quickly to navigating the world and all it’s glorious levels. Wall run, climb, jet pack, shoot, perch, shoot and repeat. There is a certain pleasure to be had when you decide to crouch 20 feet up on a wall while cloaked before swooping down like Batman on an unsuspecting pilot. When you perform a neck-snap stealth kill from behind the enemy pilot’s view gets twisted around on their screen until they’re looking at you… while their body still faces forward. It’s a horribly disconcerting thing when it happens to you and it will happen to you. As easy as it is to maneuver as a pilot and climb buildings it’s just as easy to stampede down the streets and trample grunts with your mech. The levels are designed well enough that not all pathways are going to work for pilots and mechs which will grant pilots a small measure of safety from titans… but not much. Your mech is the height of technology and will warn you when an enemy pilot has boarded you, you’re outnumbered in combat or your shields are critically low. Using cover and working with your teammates will become like second nature to you but make sure not to discount the pilots… they all have their anti-titan weapons. If you take enough hits from one of those or enough pilots are attacking you at once it can be just as lethal as fighting another titan. But if you’re able to rack up the kills and charge your titan core ability you will have a brief advantage over the opposition. Damage core will temporarily increase your damage output while shield core will strengthen your shields for a hot minute. Find a combination that works for you and get to it but just remember all of your abilities have a cool down period so time your usage accordingly.
Visually this is one of the nicest looking next gen games so far and flows smoothly across your TV. Use your Game DVR to catch a clip of a titan going into a nuclear explosion and then watch it in slow motion. It’s beautiful. I may name my first born Titan Nuclear Detonation… obviously I’ll be the favorite parent. When on a transport ship waiting to drop planet side look out the window and take in all that heavenly glory. Planets, stars and all sorts of great looking space scenery will slide across your screen before the carnage starts. On the flip side of that peaceful moment TitanFall is a very busy game when it comes to audio. There’s a lot going on at all times. Your weapons and abilities have distinct sounds as does your titan and it’s weapons and then you toss in the ambient sounds and the noise of combat. There have been plenty of times where I had no clue there was a gigantic mech coming around a corner behind me because I had all sorts of other noises pulsing through my stereo. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing as I imagine a real battle would probably have the same cacophony occurring but I don’t like getting squished by a towering hunk of metal pulled straight out of Pacific Rim. But… I do get a bit giddy when I hear the crunch of grunts and specters under my titan’s massive feet. And let’s just get it out of the way right now; when you hear the sound of a titan falling out of the sky for a brief instant you’ll be unsure whether you should run before your impending doom or rejoice because you’re got a 3 story homie about to turn the tides of war in your favor. There’s only one way to find out.
TitanFall is a great addition to the FPS and mech genres. I’m not a fan of the online only design of the game and hope that isn’t a hint at our gaming future but as it stands I’m enjoying my time in the world of TitanFall and am glad that I finally have a game to be excited for in this new generation of gaming consoles. I can see a great future ahead for this IP and am thoroughly stoked that my opinion of the mech genre has been salvaged. Keep your eyes out for all manner of DLC and game add-ons in the future as well as lots of Game DVR clips showing awesome kill cam shots and the carnage of battle TitanFall style! Prepare to jump!