“Standby for Titanfall” is the most exciting thing you’ll hear in gaming right now. Roughly two minutes into each match in the futuristic first-person shooter Titanfall (Xbox One, PC), you’ll gain the ability to call in your very own megaton mech, which rockets in with explosive power and disruptive force. Titanfall is doing the same thing to the stagnant shooter genre.
Would we expect anything less from Jason West and Vince Zampella, creators of the mega-billion dollar Call of Duty franchise? They set the tone for how modern warfare looks, feels and plays. After their acrimonious split with publisher Activision in 2010, they formed new studio Respawn Entertainment, and their first game Titanfall is another genre-defining experience. It’s been majorly hyped since its reveal at E3 last year, and although it isn’t quite revolutionary, it’s a solid evolution that is pushing the shooter genre in exciting new directions.
Titanfall is set in a distant future where the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) is battling a rebellious faction called the Militia for control of the Frontier. It’s a mishmash of sci-fi trappings that doesn’t add up to a whole lot of plot, largely because the game eschews a single-player campaign entirely, instead offering a multiplayer campaign that has a loose narrative grafted on. Considering how rote single-player shooter campaigns have become and the fact that many people never even finish them, it’s a shrewd move on the part of Respawn, letting them focus on delivering a fantastic multiplayer experience.
And deliver they have. Titanfall instantly feels fresh and fluid, with Pilots you control having an unprecedented level of maneuverability as they double jump, run on walls and parkour all over the place, lending the game a verticality that few other shooters can match. Multiplayer battles are six vs. six players, and all the usual game types are accounted for. Respawn has smartly populated each map with enemy AI characters, and it makes the battlefield feel more populated and hectic. So even if you’re not a hardcore competitive shooter fan, you can still run around and score some kills and have fun.
Everyone gets access to their Titan several minutes into each match, and you can reduce the amount of time it takes by scoring kills. Once the metal behemoths enter the fray, the game changes considerably, as they pack a much bigger punch and can absorb a lot more bullets. If your Titan takes too much damage, you can hammer on a button to eject, which launches you sky-high into the air to regroup and wait for your next Titan to be ready. The brilliance of the gameplay is that Respawn has made both Pilots and Titans equally fun to play. Titans are powerful but not overpowered, and the Pilots’ ability to zip around levels makes them formidable in their own right. One of the coolest scenarios is “rodeoing” a Titan, with your pilot mounting an enemy mech, pulling off a panel and unloading bullets into its wiring, resulting in a supremely satisfying explosion as David trumps Goliath. Titans, on the other hand, are capable of ripping Pilots out of their mechs and hurling them uselessly to the ground. Epic moments abound in nearly every match you play, so much that you’ll be saying “Xbox, record that” a lot so you can share it with friends.
When matches end, the losing team has a shot at reaching a dropship that will transport them to safety for bonus points, as the winners attempt to stop them or even take the ship out entirely. So even the losers get a final shot at redemption, reducing some of the sting of defeat. Titanfall constantly rewards you with unlockable gear, weapons and ordnances to apply to your Titan, and customizable loadouts let you find exactly the kit you want to play how you like.
Titanfall is the first next-gen game that feels like it’s trying to do something new. It’s a big title for the fledgling Xbox One, and Respawn’s first post-Modern Warfare game feels like the future of the genre. It makes other shooters where you can’t double jump and wall run and pilot giant mechs feel pretty bland in comparison. A-