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Titanfall (Xbox One) artwork

Titanfall (Xbox One) review

"The tightest and most exhilarating multiplayer experience I've had in years."

Titanfall (Xbox One) image

Titanfall is a multiplayer-only FPS that's being sold at full price, and it would seem that the first hurdle to jump before enjoying the game is to come to terms with that. I get the reluctance, really – there's this growing trend within the industry to offer less for more, and Titanfall is coming from EA of all companies. The pitch is that solo campaigns in games like these tend to feel tacked on, anyway, so better to trim the fat and invest your time and resources fine-tuning the component that people are buying the game for, right? Of course, if the game falls short on that level, then the package feels all the more incomplete as a result. Indeed, had Titanfall been anything less than the tightest and most exhilarating multiplayer experience I've had in years, it would have been reprehensible.

I've now spent dozens of hours on Titanfall, which indicates to me that the game earns its worth. That it manages this with so little – there are only five game types, exactly four of which you will ignore – makes it all the more impressive.

If you know anything at all about Titanfall, you're aware that it is an online shooter in which players can airdrop their own mechs, called Titans, into the battlefield. If this sounds generic, I hasten to note that what makes Titanfall appealing isn't so much the ingredients – modern military shooters and giant robots are two things in great abundance already – but their interplay. Titanfall seamlessly blends the two play styles together, and there are visceral thrills in both of them, whether you're flattening opponents under your feet in a massive mech suit or, conversely, teaming up with other soldiers on foot to bring one of the Titans down with inferior weaponry.

The biggest and most important triumph of Titanfall, mechanically, is that neither method of play is inherently more fun than the other. Since a faster Titan summon can be "earned" by landing hits, you'd think it would serve as a peak or endpoint for the match. Certainly, stomping about in one of these things, dwarfing players that stood the same height as you moments ago, is a pretty satisfying power fantasy. But it also makes you a bigger (and slower) target, and the maps are cleverly littered with tunnels and indoor areas the lumbering robots can’t access.

Titanfall (Xbox One) image

That's where the on-foot stuff really sparkles. As a pilot still waiting for your next Titanfall, you have no dash limit and can run along vertical surfaces. A successful wall run actually increases your speed, and the maps are all suitably three-dimensional in scale and full of opportunities to chain acrobatic maneuvers together. Whereas Titans are largely about sheer force, your strength as a foot soldier is in your speed, agility and mastery of the game's movement system. To that end, Titanfall is perhaps the only first-person game I've ever played that actually handles parkour platforming well; I don't think my character ever once failed to perform something as I'd instructed him to.

It's not a one-sided battle, either. Titans obviously have the edge in frontal combat, but every pilot carries specialized weapons and equipment for disabling and damaging the things, and it's even possible for players to board enemy Titans and fire directly upon their internal systems, negating the need to bring down the shields first (a move lovingly dubbed "the rodeo attack"). Titanfall does offer perks in the form of Burn Cards – one-time boosts that do anything from boost stats to offer special abilities – but nothing in the game is without a counter. Enemy pilot mounted your ride? Deploy electric smoke, or get out and shoot him off yourself. Opposing player got a lock with the Smart Pistol? Stop moving so slowly that he can target you. I suffered hundreds of deaths in my time with Titanfall, and not a single one of them felt unfair.

All matches are 6v6. This caused a stir when it was first announced, mostly from people who never stopped to imagine just how much of a mess Titanfall would be if literally dozens of players were simultaneously traipsing about in mechs. Developer Respawn, famously formed by ex-members of Infinity Ward, fills the gap with AI bots that pose virtually no threat (they aren't really supposed to) but give an appropriate sense of scale to each map. Six-on-six is a multiplayer game. Dozens of soldiers and drones engaged in nonstop gunfire is a war. It's big, exciting stuff.

Titanfall (Xbox One) image

Not nearly as exciting is the story, which, yes, Titanfall has. The "campaign," in sarcastic finger quotes, consists of little more than nine deathmatch and capture point games while the "plot," with more sarcastic finger quotes, occurs entirely off-screen. Each match is full of military personalities (who all probably have names) dropping exposition while players are too engaged in wholly unrelated firefights to pay attention. I've finished the campaign three or four times and I still honestly have no idea what the story is even about. All of this history between the rebel forces and the IMC (which I assume stands for Imperial Military Corporation or something) strikes me as a phoned-in attempt to establish lore for a new franchise in which the lore is kind of beside the point.

That point was to focus on fine-tuning the multiplayer experience, and the effort is noticeable the moment you begin playing. I can honestly say that I've never played an FPS that handles this well with a controller, and Respawn's commitment to getting Titanfall running at a high framerate pays off in all but the absolute most hectic situations.

Most importantly, though, the game is just a blast in ways that scripted, tightly-controlled single-player games couldn't be. Its high points are derived from using the tools at your disposal to craft uniquely player-made victories against other humans: ejecting and landing atop the Titan that just forced you to self-destruct, chaining together wall runs to cross the map in seconds and rain fire upon players who weren't expecting you to show up so quickly, and so forth. It's invigorating and, despite being composed largely of shopworn materials, not entirely like anything else I've ever played. Call it a skimpy package all you like, but I've already gotten my money's worth out of Titanfall, and I'm far from finished with it.

Suskie's avatar
Freelance review by Mike Suskie (April 04, 2014)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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pickhut posted April 04, 2014:

I've read and watched various things about Titanfall, but this might be the first time something actually made me want to maybe play the game. You tackle the whole "it's just mechs and parkour" aspect and go into convincing detail about it being more flexible than that. Solid review!

Now I wonder how the 360 version holds up...

Edit - oh, forgot to mention that I spotted something weird with this sentence:

Dozens of soldiers and drones engaged in nonstop gunfire is a war.
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Suskie posted April 04, 2014:

I'm... not seeing it, I'm afraid.

Thanks, by the way! I just hope I didn't oversell it. A lot of people ARE taking issue with how slim the package is.
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pickhut posted April 04, 2014:

You know what, I think it was because my mind was expecting the sentence to end a certain way that tripped me up. Now that I read it again, it looks fine. I also blame my toothache for distracting me. Oops! xD

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