By Chris Byrne
Despite its relative lack of commercial success, Titanfall 2 has been incredibly well received critically and amongst a very vocal fan-base, singing its praises in all corners of the internet. One Black Friday sale and over 30 hours of gameplay later, I can indeed confirm just how great this game truly is, and it would be a shame if you missed out on Respawn Entertainment's latest offering.
I have to make the admission that I never played the original Titanfall, as I didn’t have access to it, so I’ll be reviewing Titanfall 2 very much on its own merits. However, fans of the series will be aware of numerous updates and changes, from the major - such as the addition of the fleshed out single player campaign - to more minor refinements to individual gameplay mechanics..
What is most immediately apparent the moment you dive into Titanfall 2 is just how good it feels to play. It may seem odd starting with the technical aspects in a review, but Respawn Entertainment have done everything they can to make sure the core gameplay is nothing short of phenomenal. This is evident in the art style it has used, the engine it is running on, the adaptive resolution and the overall feel of controlling your character, all of which is designed specifically to aid that fluidity of motion and combat. This is hardly a surprising fact, considering that Respawn Entertainment is comprised of the people who brought us Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare. As far as I can tell, I’ve never seen the game dip below its 60 fps target, and this makes a huge difference. Even when the screen becomes filled with chaotic explosions and Titan battles, the game still feels completely smooth.
This ties into both aspects of the single player and multiplayer. When playing as a Pilot, you can move around the battlefield at a fast and nimble pace, utilising the wall running, jumping and sliding abilities. I’ve yet to play a game that has gotten these core mechanics of movement down so well. You then couple this with gunplay that feels just as satisfying to use with the movement mechanics, especially with the ability to shoot and reload on the fly - sliding under obstacles whilst firing or flipping off a wall to deliver death from above just never gets old. You have a fairly large selection of weapons available at your disposal, including the usual SMG’s, Assault Rifles, Shotguns etc, and they all feel unique enough to stand on their own merits, creating combat that feels like a cut above the rest.
Controlling the Titans themselves changes up the gameplay in a way that truly feels fresh, and in a genre that has become a little mundane as of late, the additional scale and weight they bring to combat adds a huge amount to the experience. In both single and multiplayer, you’ll have access to titan loadouts, which are specific to their role, making them feel more defined than playing as a Pilot. For example, Ronin is a close range Titan with a shotgun and a sword, versus Tone with tracking missiles. They both suit and demand a different playstyle. Mastering both the Pilot and Titan gameplay is crucial to Titanfall 2, and the satisfaction of combining these sorts of mechanics to outwit your opponent is something that has been missing in this genre for a while.
The single player in this game, despite some flaws is a great addition to the overall package. The story may be one that is all too familiar in this genre and certainly won’t win any awards for it’s originality, but it was enough to keep me engaged and make care about the world I’m in, adding context that was critically missing from the original game. You player as Rifleman Jack Cooper, who has to step up to the role of ilot of a titan called BT-7274. BT’s original Pilot dies in battle, handing over his Pilot suit to Jack and the link to BT along with him. You’ll have to fight the IMC (Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation), the game’s primary antagonists in order to survive. As I’ve said before, the story isn’t exactly original, and you can see most of the plot coming from a mile away. Where the game does make up for it though is in both the Characters and the writing. The relationship between Jack and BT is somewhat typical human-robot tropes, but it does enough to deliver a sense of the bond built between these two, to the point where the story later in the game carries emotional impact. You’re also given some dialogue choices throughout the campaign, which can lead to some pretty funny remarks from BT. It’s hardly comedy gold, but it does at least raise a chuckle or two. Whilst the IMC may be the game’s main villains, it’s really the other Pilots and their Titans, who serve as the game’s boss battles, that truly stand out. They’re written very well and you could argue that they would have stood up as primary foes in a lot of other games; not to mention they provide a great challenge, especially on higher difficulty settings.
This leads us into the gameplay of the single player. Jack Cooper and BT control pretty much exactly the same as the multiplayer, so this acts as a great tool to teach players how to play before diving into online side of the game. There’s a large emphasis on platforming, especially in some of the later levels, and it’s very satisfying to execute successfully. Not only that, but the later levels change up how you use the movement mechanics. I don’t want to spoil the campaign, but it adds a great twist to the gameplay. This level of thought to the platforming is also evident in the level design. Whilst not reaching the level of detail of some other games in this genre, for example Doom, you’re often given a large space with options in how to approach your enemy. Switching to BT, you have access to the 6 main Titan loadouts and 2 unique ones, so you can get a feel for them in the single player before trying them in multiplayer. You don’t spend as much time in BT as you do playing solely as Jack, but the larger scale battles towards the end and boss fights as a Titan make up for this, with the focus purely on your Titan control and the level of badassery that comes with it. The campaign tries to remain gameplay-driven as much as possible, so you’ll rarely find yourself waiting for the story to progress, as you’re very much in control of the pace of the action.
That doesn’t mean the campaign is without its flaws mind. Whilst there is some decent enemy variety when it comes to the IMC, it was a shame that there isn’t much in the way of diversity from planet wildlife. Considering we’re on an unknown planet called Typhon, it would have been awesome to see some more creature variety than just one we get to encounter and fight. It would have also been great if we had seen this extend into the boss battles as well - an encounter with something on the scale of the towering leviathans from the original Titanfall could have provided an incredible contrast to the mercenary Titan battles.. The campaign is also very short, with it taking most players only roughly 5 hours to complete. Finally, whilst there are the collectable Pilot helmets in the story, I would like to have seen the level design expanded on a little bit more in terms of some hidden paths, routes, collectables etc, in the same way that some other titles have done, like the aforementioned Doom. In spite of these flaws however, I really enjoyed Titanfall 2’s campaign, and it’s a great starting point for the franchise to build on its single player. Hopefully in the future we’ll see a longer campaign with the same level of quality and some expansion on the ideas they’ve had this time around.
The main draw of this package for most people, however, will be the multiplayer. The game has a pretty good selection of modes to choose from, including Bounty Hunt (my personal favourite), Attrition which is a change up from team death match, Amped Hardpoint, a variation on the standard capture-point gameplay, mixtapes of those gameplay modes, Titan only, Pilot only combat and so on. I really like how the maps again add a PvE element as well, providing different benefits for tackling these objectives, which include being able to call your Titan in faster. It means that your contribution to your team means more than just a K/D ratio. The tension ramps up in Bounty Hunt, as whilst you accrue points by eliminating the NPC targets that drops into battle, you have to bank that bonus within the allotted time or risk losing half of what you carry if killed by an opposing Pilot. I’ve had as many moments of sheer joy being able to bank a large bonus in the last second, winning the game for my team, as I have bursts of anger seeing my hard work snatched away from me. I also love how Amped Hardpoint gives you the ability to double the point score of that point if you stay at it longer, but slowly lose it if no one on your team holds it down. Titans only is a fight to the death for the Titans in a best of three match, changing up the gameplay and how you think about how to approach each encounter. No matter which game mode you choose, there’s a lot of great gameplay in all of these multiplayer options. Granted, I would maybe have liked even more modes to choose from, but what is on offer will definitely provide most people with more than enough entertainment, and it’s a credit to the game that it left me wanting more
As you rack up the kills and contribute to your team, you’ll eventually be able to call in your Titan. You have the advantage in terms of pure size and power at your hands now, making you a much bigger threat to your opponent. Because the Titan classes all feel unique, adjusting your positioning and play-style to suit each one in the multiplayer is important for survival, as making the wrong moves against enemy Titans can be costly. Whilst being a bigger threat to Pilots, Titans are still vulnerable to damage from the boots on the ground, who can chip away at their health or even rodeo them and rip out their batteries. Giving these to other Titans on your team also aids in reducing the time to call your Titan in, which is a great mechanic to encourage team play.
I also love the variety in map design. Whilst some maps do lag behind others, the ones that shine are those that balance the kinetic motion of Pilots and the brute strength of the Titans. Maps that stand out to me include Angel City, Exoplanet, Eden and Drydock, all of which strike this balance really nicely You do, however, notice some design inconsistencies, like when canyons are too small for Titans to pass each other or you have open spaces which encourage a slower play style than using the movement mechanics. One or two maps have received pretty unanimous loathing from the community - I’m looking at you, Crash Site.
There’s a lot of customisation available here too. As I’ve mentioned, you have 6 Titan loadouts to choose from and a lot of ways to tweak and refine them. Pilots also have a large pool of options and tools to use to tailor them to your chosen play style. It’s also satisfying to see certain skillsets define the Pilots armour; for example, equip your Pilot with a grappling hook for a different look and feel to that with a cloaking device. Aesthetically, you have a large array of skins you can choose for both your Pilot and your Titan.
The progression is built around a merit system, and pretty much everything contributes to this. Your gun levels up, your Titan does, the faction you play for and so on. You can then spend these merits on unlocking more guns, skins etc. This is one aspect that does have some drawbacks however. Some of the guns and skins are pretty expensive and take a long time to unlock. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but, when comparing this to Titans themselves, which are relatively cheap to unlock, it feels a little weird, and a somewhat unnecessary hindrance. It takes quite a long time to gain these merits, though I imagine that this may have been in aid of making sure you are still progressing and earning content throughout your time with the game, considering one of the complaints of the original Titanfall was unlocking things too fast. Given there aren’t as many options in terms of guns, sights and attachments as many other FPS titles, it’s understandable they’ll want to have dragged this out somewhat.
What is promising though is the promise of future content, as evident in the recent Angel City, a map from the first game. Gone are the paid DLC map packs and we’ll be getting these for free, so there’s no splitting up the player base. There is a skins store, but it doesn’t affect the game at all and is very un-obnoxious, compared to other games on the market. You pay X money, you get Y pack of skins in return. I believe Respawn have got the business model to keep this game’s player base on board for a long time, and hopefully we can see more great content from them.
Despite its flaws, Titanfall 2 isn’t just a great game; it’s a master-class of its genre. There’s nothing on the market quite like it and very little than can match this level of gameplay. With both a genre leading multiplayer and the addition of its excellent single player campaign, Titanfall 2 is easily one of the best shooters of the year, and despite EA’s blunder of the release window, it’s one I highly recommend you try out.
An added bonus? It's even on sale for up to 50% off on both the PSN and Origin stores right now (at time of writing) - grab it while it's hot!