Titanfall Review: Fun That Falls Short of the Hype
There’s often a singular joy in some of Titanfall’s best moments.
Leaping into the air as a Pilot, skimming a wall and dropping onto an enemy Titan, then tearing it open and blasting away until it goes critical, before bouncing clear to escape like a leaf on the wind — that’s pretty awesome.
“Titanfall is a fun multiplayer experience that deftly marries lots of great first-person shooter elements together to make something new”
Similarly great are those battles in which you face down an enemy Titan aboard your own mech, deftly dodging incoming missiles while connecting barrage after barrage, and ending the fight by tearing open the enemy robot and plucking out its Pilot with one giant mechanical hand.
And then there are the dopey moments, like when two Pilots meet each other in a tight room and scramble, flailing and firing away as they desperately try to kill one another. A fury of missed melee attacks and spray-and-pray usually culminates in one Pilot bunny hopping around the other, the second fighter losing track of the opponent while desperately spinning in circles, and an ignominious few shots in the confused player’s back.
Titanfall is a fun multiplayer experience that deftly marries lots of great first-person shooter elements together to make something new, and largely these elements work well to create a fun, fast-moving competitive experience with a lot of nuance.
The only drawback is that sometimes, it feels like developer Respawn Entertainment didn’t want to completely commit to any one element; speedy gameplay is satisfying but doesn’t always combine well with hitscan weapons and squishy player characters, and classic game types like capture-and-hold and team deathmatch aren’t always the best use of the mechanics on offer.
Platform: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox 360
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 11, 2014
As most players probably know given the enormous hype train blaring the game’s next-gen arrival, Titanfall is really two different multiplayer experiences. It begins with players running around as Pilots, a group of fast-moving, vertically oriented characters that can climb, wall-run and double-jump to easily traverse interiors and exteriors of any given map.
As the match goes on, a timer ticks down they gives players access to their own giant mech called a Titan, which is a robot armed with high explosives, shields and armor, and which can make short work of Pilots. Racking up kills, scoring objective points and dealing damage all speed your Titan’s arrival, but everyone gets theirs sooner or later.
By the midpoint of every match, Titanfall evolves into a combination of small-scale skirmishes between fast-moving Pilots, and larger entanglements as Titans stomp around the battlefield, adding danger to maps and facing off with one another. Controlling a Titan is a fundamentally different experience from controlling a Pilot; it’s a more strategic, heavy kind of battle, in which players need to dish out damage while protecting their own valuable mechs.
Pilots are still a factor, however, as they can easily board enemy Titans and deal massive damage by circumventing their shields. It’s also a testament to Respawn’s level design that each of the game’s 15 expansive maps works just as well for a Pilot as for a Titan. Both experiences require a different set of skills and thinking, with Pilots looking to exploit each map’s verticality and Titans much more concerned about cover and lines of sight.
“The moment-to-moment Pilot battles in Titanfall can vary wildly from skillful, bouncy engagements at midrange, to the more frustrating up-close battles.”
AI plays a large role in Titanfall as well, somewhat surprisingly. Though matches are limited to 6-on-6 at their fullest, each of the large maps is filled with AI-controlled combatants on both sides. These little grunts aren’t really much in a fight (although be careful, because they can be deadly if you’re not paying attention), but they do allow players to add small amounts of points to the board in some game types, or to ratchet down their Titan timers by picking a few off. They also give the sense of more going on than there really is, as groups of grunts engage one another or fill in important locations over which Pilots have taken control.
Apart from the little guys, you can also call Titans into battle and let the AI control them as well. It’s not the most effective option — AI Titans are far outmatched by human players in most cases — but it’s handy to drop a Titan to defend an important position, or to assign it to follow you to use as an attack dog while you run around on foot, dealing with objectives. This is apparently one of the big next-gen elements of Titanfall, as all those AI brains are outsourced to Microsoft’s Azure cloud servers.
The moment-to-moment Pilot battles in Titanfall can vary wildly from skillful, bouncy engagements at midrange, to the more frustrating up-close battles, but for the most part the game supports a variety of play styles. You can opt to be a quick-moving guerrilla with an auto-locking pistol, or try something more deliberate and stealthy. Unlockable, loadout-specific tactical abilities allow further specialization; whether you choose to bring frag grenades and the cloak to battle, or choose short bursts of enhanced speed and a silenced SMG, the customized loadouts allow for players to create their own comfortable niches.