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Titanfall 2 (PC) artwork

Titanfall 2 (PC) review

"Just another run-of-the-mill twitch shooter."

Titanfall is back with a sequel. It features more robots, more action, and more silly parkour. Most notably, however, it features a single-player campaign, which the first game lacked. This review will be divided into two sections, as the single-player and multiplayer aspects are completely different animals.

The story of the campaign takes place sometime after the conclusion of Titanfall. At last word, the valiant Militia forces (the good guys) had struck a decisive blow against the evil Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) by destroying one of their primary refueling bases, effectively cutting off their access to the outer reaches of space (known as “The Frontier”), which the good guys consider their territory. This was supposed to turn the tide in the Militia’s favour, but it seems that the developers decided to retcon the story a bit and say that the iconic “Battle of Demeter” wasn’t really as big a deal as we would’ve liked to believe. This means that the hero of the first game, James MacAllan, who sacrificed his life to ensure that victory, apparently died in vain. Oh well.

So we’re back to square one, and the Militia and IMC are battling it out again just like old times. In this chaos, a young rifleman named Jack Cooper (you) receives a field promotion after his commanding officer is killed. As you absorb his rank, you also take possession of his Titan. Lucky you! Then you get to spend the next hour scrabbling together parts for it, sneaking around the gorgeous jungles of an alien world while fighting off feral wildlife and evading IMC soldiers. When you manage to repair your Titan, though, all bets are off – it’s time to kick some ass and get revenge. The early parts of the game are a blast, and the story starts off strong.

Titanfall 2 (PC) image

However, it isn’t long before the storytelling takes some bizarre twists and turns. The dry wartime dramatics of the first game are gone; instead, Titanfall 2 elects to go balls-out sci-fi with weird tangents about alien artifacts and time travel. There is also a long sequence inside a facility that resembles Aperture Science from Portal; a sprawling manufactory that stamps out synthetic environments like a 3D printer.

I did not expect any of this from Titanfall 2. This is not to say that these things were unwelcome, but none of them added much value to the game, either. Ultimately, the story is quite thin and there are hardly any interesting characters of note. There is a rogue's gallery of villains, who cackle and plot your demise over radio chatter, but they are dispatched about as quickly as they are introduced. The friendlies on the Militia side are about as forgettable, to the point where I had trouble remembering their names. Fortunately, the few interesting characters are also the ones who receive the most exposure – Namely, Cooper and his Titan, a chatty thing named BT-7274 who has more personality than most of the other characters combined. Titanfall 2 elects to focus on the relationship between man and machine, and it does an admirable job of this most of the time.

It’s strange, then, that you don’t actually get to drive BT-7274 for much of the campaign. At least three quarters of it is spent on foot as you fight soldiers, solve puzzles and endlessly perform parkour maneuvers to navigate the game’s various environments. This is generally fine, as the puzzles and tasks are quite easy, but for some reason Titanfall 2 insists on treating you like a baby and sucking the fun out of them anyway. Case in point: If you don’t figure out the solution to a puzzle within, say, 30 seconds, BT-7274 will gently tell you the solution, complete with marking the appropriate path on your HUD. After the tenth time he did this, I just wanted him to shut the hell up. You can also summon a "ghost runner" at any time who will show you the exact moves needed to complete any parkour sequence, which feels a lot like cheating. The campaign is effectively one long tutorial, which is appropriate in one sense, as it is preparing you for the main event (the multiplayer). The problem is that the babying never wears off. All the way up until the last mission in the game, you are constantly prompted with on-screen reminders about what to do and when to do them.

Titanfall 2 (PC) image

This electrified chasm accounts for the 455th time that you will use wallrunning to solve a puzzle.

That aside, the pure combat situations, when you find yourself in them, are quite enjoyable. There is a plethora weapons available to use and the shooting feels quite good. The melee combat is also much more satisfying than in the first game. Enemies will fly off ledges or into walls as you give them Duke Nukem-style punches to the face. The enemy AI is also very impressive. Enemies will flank you, flush you out with grenades, and communicate with each other. They will call out your position to their fellow squadmates, and are able to discern whether you’re above or below them. Sometimes they will also display remarkably human behaviours. Once, after I gunned down a squad of enemy soldiers, all of them stayed on the ground except for one. The remaining soldier, who had only been knocked down but not killed, crawled back onto his feet. In a confused panic, he reached for his radio and said: “Squad, come in. Command, come in. Anybody, come in!” As he tried to scuttle away, I finished him off. Another time, after dispatching a couple of goons from behind, the last enemy in the room looked at me and put his hands up in a reflex of pure surrender. I shot him anyway, but I wonder what he might’ve done if I hadn’t. It wasn’t a scripted sequence. He probably would’ve come to his senses and started firing at me eventually, but still, emergent encounters like this are pretty special when they happen.

However, strong combat mechanics and interesting AI quirks aren’t enough to round out the campaign completely, and everything else about it is a bit of a disappointment. It reminded me of everything that went wrong with the half-assed remake of Syndicate. Story threads are summarily introduced, touched on, then left hanging. Characters don’t get enough development. The campaign is also quite short, only about five hours. I imagine that the publisher is partly to blame for this; Electronic Arts is notorious for rushing their titles to release, but it also felt like Respawn elected to play it safe by creating a plain, boring and easily digested work rather than capitalizing on the franchise’s previous strengths. I expected to see large-scale battlefield scenarios with some story bits scattered in, but instead I got a pale derivative of Half-Life or Portal with some brief sequences where I got to walk around in my Titan for a few minutes. That’s not exactly ideal in a game where the Titans are supposed to be the main attraction.

With that said, is the campaign fun? Yes, but it simply didn’t knock my socks off as I expected it would.

Okay, moving on.

Titanfall 2 (PC) image

The multiplayer, which is what you’re here for, unfortunately feels quite muddled and mediocre for some of the same reasons. Instead of providing you with immersive battlefield scenarios, you get arena fights that are reminiscent of any run-of-the-mill twitch shooter, the only difference being that you occasionally get to drive a robot. And by “occasionally”, I mean just that. Titans take a lot longer to drop than they did in the first game, and it is much more difficult to accumulate build time to accelerate that process. The Titans are also far more fragile than they were in the first game. They lack shields, and even the heaviest robots with maximum health will die in seconds if they are so much as sneezed upon by other Titans, Pilots or wimpy AI soldiers alike. It is not uncommon to have only one or two Titan drops per match only to have them die within 10 seconds each. Again, this is not exactly ideal in a game where the Titans are supposed to be the selling point.

Contributing to the problem is the fact that Titans only have one avenue of restoring their health, and that is to collect batteries. Batteries, unfortunately, are a prohibitive resource that can only be obtained one way, and that is by performing a “rodeo attack” on an enemy Titan. The procedure is as follows: You disembark your Titan, jump onto the back of an enemy Titan, rip out its battery, somehow escape alive, and bring it back to your Titan. Chances are, your Titan, who has been stumbling around with its terrible autopilot AI, is already dead by the time you get back to it. In a more ideal situation, a friendly player will helpfully deliver a battery to you instead, but this only tends to occur about once in every three hours of playing. Suffice to say, your Titan isn’t likely to regain its health by any means, and this effectively renders them a disposable and temporary resource, more akin to a power-up than the dynamic battlefield elements that they were in the first game.

So, you’ll likely be wandering around on foot for most of the matches. This is mostly fine, as long as your idea of fun is swatting mosquitos as they buzz around your head. And by “mosquitos”, I mean enemy Pilots. You will quickly find that the only winning strategy in Titanfall 2 is to remain moving at all times, bouncing off the walls like a rubber ball, while spastically twitching your mouse at anything that moves. Feats of physics-defying parkour, which were ridiculous enough in the first game, have been amped to insane heights in Titanfall 2. If you gain enough momentum, Titans will have a hard time keeping you in their sights at all, let alone be able to hit you. With the right weapons, a talented Pilot can take down a Titan incredibly easily. It begs the question as to why the Titans are necessary at all if the Pilots are so overpowered, but I digress.

Titanfall 2 (PC) image

In all honesty, it might be for the best that most of the matches are spent on foot, because the Pilot combat is actually far more dynamic than the Titan combat anyway. Pilots have seven different abilities and twenty different weapons to choose from, whereas the Titans only have six loadouts that are largely static. The Titans' weapons and abilities cannot be changed aside from a few small tweaks, and thus each loadout is pigeon-holed into a distinct battlefield role à la Teamfortress 2 (e.g., the sniper class is useless up close, the melee class is useless at range). This means that there are less options available for your Titan in Titanfall 2 than there were in the first game, despite the fact that the first game only featured half as many Titans. It is also far more difficult to be self-sufficient on the battlefield in Titanfall 2; it is safer to simply travel in a pack with a bunch of other Titans and hope that you’re not the first to die.

The aesthetics and ambiance of Titanfall 2 are decidedly muddled, too. You start off each match in a dropship, and the leader of your chosen faction will give you a pep talk before sending you off. For example, Sarah Briggs, the leader of the Milita Marauder Corps, will encourage you by saying “The Frontier is worth every part of this fight!” which seems to foreshadow that you are, in fact, dropping into a meaningful and immersive battlefield scenario against ruthless IMC forces. Some of her subsequent radio chatter will support this assumption, too, but then she will also say things like “That Pilot probably regrets stepping into this ring,” after you score a kill. Wait, what? The battlefield is a “ring” now? Then she will refer to the enemies not as the IMC, but as a nondescript enemy “team”, as though the writers simply didn’t care to define whether the matches are supposed to be an actual battle, some sort of training mission, or just a Quake 3-style arena fight that is happening because of reasons.

Also, remember the “remarkably human AI” that I was telling you about in the campaign? Yeah, that doesn’t apply to the multiplayer. You might see an AI soldier dramatically shout: “We can’t let them pin us down! We have to move!” and then watch as he and the rest of his squad stand firmly in place, staring into space, not moving an inch. Or you might hear a soldier shouting: “There they are! Weapons free!” even though there are absolutely no enemies in sight. This is highly disappointing. The AI soldiers in the first game were actually quite intelligent and useful for spotting enemies or giving intel about what was going on in the match, but Titanfall 2 has none of this. Its AI actors simply spout nonsensical statements at random.

Titanfall 2 (PC) image

Some of the new battlefield elements also leave something to be desired. There are more varieties of AI enemies than in the first game, including heavier “Stalker” and “Reaper” robots, but they are actually quite annoying to fight. Basically, they are just hit point dumps that take far too much time and ammo to kill. While you’re working on chipping away at them, you’re more than likely to be murdered by an enemy Pilot who is drawn to the sound of your gunfire. Or, a friendly player might just come along and benefit from all your hard work by stealing your kill, which is equally as annoying.

The level design, on the whole, is also very hit and miss. Some are cramped, winding canyons with some a few small tunnels for pilots to duck into, which mostly work fine, but for some reason they also decided to cheaply import the vast, open cityscape maps from Titanfall 1 as well. These maps tend to be really annoying to play on, as the new mechanics in Titanfall 2 don’t really gel well with them.

Character progression can also be very slow. You don’t level up by gaining experience; you gain it by achieving “merits”, which are only earned if you perform well during a match. Thus, if you play like absolute shit, it’s possible that you won’t earn any at all. It dawned on me how awful this must be for newbies and less-talented Pilots out there. Titanfall 2 only dishes out the best toys to the players who have achieved the highest levels; weapons and mods that provide overwhelming advantages and the ability to kill people instantly, such as the dreaded Smartpistol (that’s right. The one element that needed to be removed from the first game was kept in Titanfall 2). But even if you do manage to make steady progress with your level-ups, you will mostly unlock ugly camo paints instead of decent gear that could help you against the arrogant, sneering elites at the top of the food chain. To put it into context: After 30 hours of playing, I am just barely getting to some of the good stuff (I still haven't unlocked the Smartpistol).

With all of that said, is the multiplayer fun? It is, but it is also far more mediocre than I expected. I realized that I had about as much fun with it as I have had with any other twitch shooter, such as Toxikk, Unreal Tournament, or (dare I say it?) free-to-play shooters like Hawken or Ghost in the Shell. I know I have made a lot of comparisons to Titanfall 1 in this review, but I can’t help but feel that a sequel should do what the first game did only better; or barring that, it should at least be more fun than its predecessor despite its differences. Unfortunately, Titanfall 2 is not better, nor is it more fun, than the first game in any meaningful way. The new features don’t add much value and the features they removed are sorely missed. There are also plenty of other games out there that do exactly what Titanfall 2 does at a lower price point. It feels like Titanfall 2 doesn’t know what the hell it wants to be, and as a result, it misses the mark completely.


Nightfire's avatar
Featured community review by Nightfire (May 14, 2017)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access. Steam ID here.

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