Titanfall Beta Preview: The Shooter Genre, Distilled
Titans have loadouts that work similarly to Pilots, although they’re defined largely by Titan type. The beefier the Titan, the more explosive the firepower, although all the Titans come equipped with similar offensive and defensive capabilities, like missile launchers, shield generators, and other Tiers/Perks.
The Titan used throughout my pre-beta experience was the Atlas type, pictured above-left, which came in three classes: Assault, Tank and Artillery. Once we get into the Ogre and Stryder Titans, expect at least the same, if not more, classes. It will be interesting to see all the Pilot-Titan combinations over the next few days, since a speedy, scout-like Assault class Stryder could be piloted by a beefed-up CQB pilot. The juxtaposition will be fascinating.
The game modes available the beta are nothing new — you’ll see Attrition, or deathmatch, and Hardpoint Domination, in which there are three flags to control — but throwing a few Titans onto each six-player team certainly adds a fresh coat of paint to the usual FPS game types. Running around like a maniac gets a little tricky when two or three enemy Titans are on the prowl, although Pilots do have some advantages on the ground.
Pilots are hard to kill if they get up-close to an enemy Titan — but not too close, what with the squishing and the crushing and the death. But staying just out of mechanical foot’s reach, or getting onto a Titan’s back? Now you’re onto something. The Titan-Pilot fighting dynamic screams Battlefield 4, reminiscent of an RPG-toting Engineer attempting to take down an enemy’s Main Battle Tank.
Certain scenarios, set up by the right-size, right-feel level design, will favor Pilots, and others favor the mechanized terrors. What doesn’t have a meaningful impact on battles in Titanfall? The AI-controlled Grunts and Spectres, which fill out matches in a Star Wars: Battlefront style to make battles larger, even though teams are limited to six players each.
Both bot classes, the former being space marine-types and the latter reminding me of Battle Droids, had a fairly small hand in the game when I played. A few of my deaths came from these AI characters, but seemingly only in death-is-imminent situations — if they didn’t kill me, a human-controlled character would have within seconds. That’s not a letdown though, and frankly the inclusion of bots make for some heartfelt, funny moments. One AI Grunt dragging another to safety between buildings on Angel City is a moment for the scrapbook.
Titanfall’s marriage of ground combat and fast-but-not-too-fast mech mayhem seems to be a holy matrimony so far.
The mechs in Titanfall are meant to invoke superhuman feelings as you rampage about Angel City and Fracture (and hopefully a few additional maps), and they accomplish that goal beautifully. Even in the Last Titan Standing mode, when it’s six Titans against six, you feel invincible at times … until your core starts to melt, and you eject amid an irradiated fireball of glory. The melee combat is especially brutal; knife executions as a Pilot are old hat, but uppercutting an enemy Titan, ripping the Pilot out and throwing his dead or dying shell across the map? It’s equal parts unsettling, brutal and wonderful.
Titanfall is the entire FPS genre, distilled into one slick package. The Portal tutorial, the refined hat tips to the Call of Duties and Battlefields of the world, even a callback to Unreal Tournament with the Titan’s dashing movements — every known aspect of Titanfall manages to invoke memories of FPS titles past. We’re in the beta phase, yes, but Titanfall’s marriage of ground combat and fast-but-not-too-fast mech mayhem seems to be a holy matrimony so far.
There are a few potholes on this hype highway; underwhelming AI integration, a questionable design choice in the Burn Card system, and Aim Assist making an appearance on the PC version all stand out. But even accounting for some potential shortcomings, Titanfall seems to be happily approaching the hype, if not completely rising above the challenge.
The Titanfall beta runs Feb. 14-19, followed by a retail release on March 11 (PC, Xbox One), and March 25 (Xbox 360). Game Front received access to a pre-beta build on the Xbox One for three hours.