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.

Titanfall
Platform: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox 360
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 11, 2014
MSRP: $59.99

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.

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9 Comments on Titanfall Review: Fun That Falls Short of the Hype

Jay

On March 14, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Agree on most of your points, however the overall experience feels vastly different from Call of Duty, Battlefield, or Halo. From just delivering a varied and new experience I’d say that TF has moved far outside the comfort zone of the modern military shooter.

The biggest things holding this game back is that;

A) The campaign falls completely on it’s face and is completely uninteresting
B) In general the game feels very bare-bones outside of actual matches.
C) Close-range combat indeed does become rather awkward.

While I wouldn’t say that this is GOTY contender, it’s lived up to the majority of expectations I had for it – The game is an absolute blast to play.

Matt

On March 14, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Game is the best multiplayer game that is new and that’s what sells until the next big thing. Love it or hate it, it’s going to be here and be popular for awhile. It will continue to build a bigger fan base as the year goes on. By it’s next installment it will be the game to beat. Of course until Destiny comes out but then those two will alternate control of the market in between summer and winter.

Derek

On March 15, 2014 at 1:58 pm

There are several issues which need addressed quickly or the game is doomed. First a fix for matchmaking. Currently pre-arranged parties can freely dominate without competition. And in matches with all individually queued players the teams do not randomize after each match, meaning that the winning 6 players may have an unchanged team for 10 matches straight, but the losing team may have went through 20 players joining and leaving.

There needs to be skill based matchmaking, default team-randomization after each matches, and premade parties matched against premade parties.

Then there needs to be game modes which far exceed 6v6. It’s boring and NPCs have no place in an online shooter. One can go five minutes without seeing another enemy pilot. The game runs smooth as any source game so I very much doubt the engine can’t handle bigger maps with 10v10 or 12v12 players.

Jay

On March 15, 2014 at 2:21 pm

@Derek

Five minutes without finding another player? Please don’t exaggerate. Player counts are just fine where they are at. Any more and you run the very real risk of crowding the map with to many simultaneous Titans. The bots are just fine, they seem to not be as totally brain dead as they were in the beta either.

Concernedgamer82

On March 15, 2014 at 2:42 pm

@Derek: My concern there is that they won’t increase populations with a patch, but rather wait until the sequel before 10v10, 12v12, or 24v24 is even implemented. We’ll just have to wait and see if they patch it in.

Liam

On March 15, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Something that would definitely help the game modes problem would be something similar to the skirmish mode they had in resistance two. I think something like that would work perfectly in Titanfall, having a game where objectives can change mid-way based on what happens else where in the match would really help Titanfall shine.

Egg

On March 18, 2014 at 4:55 am

Just looks like your typical generic dumb mech/modern army MP shooter with a slight improvement in graphics. I don’t necessarily have a problem with games like this, but there are too many of these safe games being released at the expense of resources being directed towards riskier, more original ideas. And unless there’s a massive improvement somewhere, I don’t see why people would keep buying these.

Dan Miller

On March 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Great review and pretty dead-on if you ask me. I’ve favored Battlefield, Halo, and CoD at various points in my gaming life (in that order), and this feels like it wants to take on a little bit of each. But without Halo’s story and balance, it’s soulless by comparison. Without Battlefield’s scale and class/vehicle variety, it’s bland by comparison. The real problem is the distance between a 1v1 encounter in any of those games and a 1v1 encounter in Titanfall, though.

It’s basically impossible to hit a pilot who is running/wallrunning/jetpacking perpendicular to your line of sight at any distance, and close range combat is a random mess. I’ve played about 7 hours and have found that this obstacle leads experienced players to either 1) use a shotgun, 2) stand on the top of a tall building with a carbine, or 3) just farm grunts and get in your titan ASAP.

The game is FUN, but it doesn’t present a set of systems that intrigue me like the other mainstream FPSs. Perfectly scored at 80/100, Phil.

Phil Hornshaw

On March 19, 2014 at 7:40 am

@Dan Miller

Hey thanks!