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Thoughts on Titanfall

So Titanfall dropped on Tuesday, and the gaming universe is full of high praise for the best FPS I have seen in a long time. Not since Halo first premiered have I been this excited about a game. I couldn’t wait for it to arrive, and after playing it for a couple of days, I am still just as pumped up. Kotaku released its glowing review today, but even that doesn’t do the game justice. There is just so much awesome in this game it’s worth a lot more words than the gaming blogs have given it.

Where to Start

It’s hard to know where to even start with this game. The things it does differently, and the things it does better, than other shooters are many. Let’s just pick the physical capabilities of the players. In most FPS you have a limited range of movement that consists of running, crouching, jumping, going upstairs and downstairs. With modern FPS games you have limited ability to crawl over some small physical obstacles like short walls and boxes. Going prone is about the highlight of physical expression.

In Titanfall, the laws of game (and human) physics are out the window. With the pack assisted jump and chained wall running/climbing, there is almost no space on the map you can’t get to. Want to scale straight up the side of a six story building? no problem. I have chained wall runs/jumps right up the side of structures and onto the roof. Want to sneak up behind a sniper shooting out a second story window, simply chain jumps and wall runs to enter through a third floor window and come in from above him.

If you can visualize a path to your destination, chances are you can be there in seconds.

Unless, Of Course, You Die First

In Titanfall, there is a lot of stuff that can kill you. There are, of course, other players. They have all the normal combat weaponry of a shooter. There are also the Titans – the giant hulking mechs that drop into the game for players to command from within, or guide from without. Set your mech to “Follow” mode and it will track along beside you helping clear the enemy combatants.

And speaking of enemy combatants, there are a bunch of them. Not only do you face human opponents, but the computer also throws a bunch of AI NPCs at you. Grunts and Specters dot the map so there is almost always an enemy nearby. Unlike the large maps of other shooters, it is unlikely that you will run too far without encountering something to shoot at.

What is largely missing from Titanfall is the sniper class. In Call of Duty, snipers have been given almost every advantage. There is plenty of cover, and most vantage points only have two points of ingress and egress. With IEDs/claymores and tacticals like a guard dog or shock charge, you can effectively secure a small space and play the role of cowardly douchebag taking pop shots from across the map.

Titanfall, and the movement mechanics mentioned above, allow an almost unlimited number of paths to get above, behind, or under a sniper. Even if they didn’t, the Titan firepower can take snipers out like ticks. Game play is too fast, and too explosive for camping.

So It’s a Game for FPS Veterans, Right?

Actually, no. Before you can ever engage a human opponent, you are taken through a pretty decent training tutorial to get the hang of wall running, combat tactics, and Titan control. You can also go back for training at any point. So there is really no good reason you can’t get a solid handle on the game mechanics without getting killed and teabagged repeatedly by a 10 year old.

Granted, any game will have advantages for those who play regularly, but the frenetic pace and ready availability of NPCs will give even the casual gamer plenty to keep them occupied.

But I’ll Never Get a Titan, Right?

Wrong. Every player, in every game, will have access to a Titan. Once you start playing, the countdown starts and in about 2 minutes of game time your first Titan will be available. If you get kills on enemy combatants, the timer speeds up getting you access faster.

What’s more, if you call in a Titan, and somehow get killed before you get to it, just press you D-Pad down on respawn to activate follow mode. It will either come to you, or start fighting for you, without loss of your prize.

The mechs, however, seem to be much better when you are in the driver seat.

While Titans aren’t as strong as I would like (ok, let’s face it, the Guard Dog in Call of Duty Ghosts takes more damage), they have a lot of defensive capability. The defensive dash and a shield that captures incoming ordinance and fires it back at the enemy are two examples. Those perform best when operated by an actual person.

My favorite part of the Titans has to be the rodeo, however. Jump on the back of an enemy Titan, open up their brain plate, and just start firing. There is nothing more exhilarating than taking down an enemy mech by killing it while riding it. Be careful, however, I have been stepped on by a few enemy mechs while trying to hop on board.

You can also ride your teams mechs into combat. Just jump on and let them carry you to the front.

Weapon Classes and Upgrades

Speaking of combat, this is, after all, a first person SHOOTER. So the object is to shoot things, right? Titanfall provides in that regard as well. The normal classes you have come to expect are all present – assault rifles, shotguns, SMGs, sniper rifles, etc. Grenades are available but typically land in two categories – those that wipe out humans, and those that screw with mechs. This is an area where tactical decisions about your loadouts becomes very important. I actually have loadouts for early in the game when human combatants are more common, and later in the game when Titans fill the battlefield.

I like to equip my initial loadout with frag grenades for the troops, and my later loadout with arc grenades to disrupt the mechs.

Every loadout comes with a primary and secondary weapon, but all also provide for an anti-Titan weapon. The one thing I would change about the weapon system would be to swap in a Ghosts style “Squad Point” system so you could prioritize the upgrades you’d like to get first.

And Then There Are The Maps

As mentioned earlier, the movement mechanics allow you to go EVERYWHERE, so the maps really needed to keep up. Every structure you see is completely accessible. You can pretty much go over, around, through and in many cases under everything you see. Unlike most shooters that provide two or maybe three levels of play, many of the maps in Titan fall are five or six levels high. It’s possible to get such air in Titanfall that you start to think you’re shooting off the Sears Tower.

Adding to the already impressive maps are gun turrets that can be hacked and/or occupied to give you additional firepower with which to battle the enemy.

And When It’s All Over…

Every Call of Duty or Battlefield player knows the scene. The end of the round comes and that final kill comes. The screen goes dark and you hear the voice of the computer tell you to fall back, you have lost as the score pops up.

Not in Titanfall. Sure, you get the message that you have been defeated, but then the face saving starts. A jump ship is inbound and you have to make it to the extraction point to be withdrawn. If you die now, there are no respawns. If you make it, you hop aboard the ship and earn an extra 200 points for “living” to fight another day. The “mop up” operation is actually one of the parts of the game I like the most. It’s one thing to lose, but making the extraction gives a personal sense of success when the rest of the round goes south.

Beating the Hype

A friend asked me to let him know if Titanfall lives up to the hype surrounding it. After all, this is a game that people have been discussing for almost a year since it was announced last summer. The trailers looked sweet, and there is a reason. It’s one sweet game. The phrase “game changer” is a bit played out, but in this case it happens to be perfect. I suspect a lot of shooters are going to copy Titanfall. They will look at the significant improvements in game mechanics and play and try to duplicate the success this game has. In that sense, Titanfall is more of a genre changer.

Written by Turk