Back at the launch of Xbox One, Titanfall was an anomaly; it had almost no cohesive story to speak of, nor a single player campaign, nor a strong franchise following. Instead, Respawn opted to throw you straight into the grinder, willy-nilly, to figure out how to play, while doing so against other, seasoned pilots. Sure, there was a tutorial…but how much did you really need to know? Kill bad guys until the timer counts down for your Titan, then call down the literal thunder, and raze your enemies whilst inside a giant robot suit. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Much like my other favorite “odd FPS”, Evolve, Titanfall did something that hadn’t been done well since MechWarrior 2: it gave players the chance to play both as mechs and as pilots.
Titanfall also integrated a card system that would give you match-long powerups, in the form of weapons, mech mods and boosts. The “card pack” system ensured replay value and added a wild-card (no pun intended) element into skirmishes.
Because of this, Titanfall stole my heart. Unfortunately, our relationship didn’t last the test of time, and new games came out that slowly pushed Titanfall out of rotation for me. Still, whenever I needed something short and fun to occupy my time, I’d dust off the ol’ mech and give it another go-round. It certainly didn’t hurt that Respawn eventually offered the game AND the season pass for ~$5, which led to me “buying” it for friends…it was simply that good.
Of course, without a cohesive single-player campaign or large amounts of maps and game modes, the fervor surrounding Titanfall quickly died off, leaving only hardcore players to dominate the servers, which wasn’t much fun for casual gamers.
Enter Titanfall 2, a game that surpasses its predecessor on every single level. Sure, the “card” system has been nixed, but the wealth of loadouts and gameplay options more than make up for it.
For starters, Titanfall 2 finally has a cohesive campaign. Not only that, but it’s really, really good; think The Iron Giant meets Pacific Rim. Titanfall 2 picks up sometime after the events of its predecessor, and things aren’t looking good for the resistance. Enter Jack Cooper, a recent resistance trainee, who inadvertently gains access to a resistance mech, named BT-7274. Much like other human/robot pairings, Jack plays the role of the hotshot, quippy rogue, while BT is the “straight man”, which leads to inadvertent comedic moments. Even though we’ve seen it time and time again, the pairing manages to feel fresh, and being separated from BT doesn’t feel like a massive drag, since pilot combat has been enhanced 200%.
Wall-running, double-jumping and utilizing the entire environment is a staple of the Titanfall franchise, and Titanfall 2 takes it literally to the next level. Though you’ll fight through multiple environments and biomes throughout the nine chapters, I was most blown away during the segment where you’re separated from BT and being tortured by Ash. You’re traversing a level-building factory, where they have titan test-areas on a massive rotator (think the Monsters Inc. closet system). Throughout the level, I had to wall-run, climb, double-jump and juke on the fly. The first couple times around, it was a logistical nightmare, but once I got ahold of movement it became a cake-walk.
That’s probably the best part of the campaign: each hour-ish-long chapter forces you outside your comfort zone, and along the way, helps you to learn a new style of movement or combat. This often results in better pilot and titan mastery, which translates to stronger aptitude in multiplayer.
Playing inside BT is an absolute treat, thanks to the on-the-fly titan recalibration that you unlock, which allows you to swap out weapon and special attacks depending on which enemy type you’re encountering. This also lets you try out specific skillsets and titan types before committing to one style during multiplayer combat.
Multiplayer is the shiniest of the shiny. There are seven initial match types: Pilot-vs.Pilot, Last Titan Standing, Amped Hardpoint, Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All, Attrition and Bounty Hunt. Yes, they’re all fine and dandy, and play just like you’d expect them to…but Bounty Hunt is simply the best deathmatch-type FPS mode I’ve ever played, ever. On paper, it’s relatively simple: there are waves of enemies that you get cash for dispatching. Your money grows throughout each wave (depending on what you take down)…but if you get popped by another pilot, they take half your loot. After each wave, the banks open up on the map–two ATM-type bots that allow you to deposit your earned money. Non-deposited cash doesn’t count towards your team’s victory, and you run the risk of losing it all during these “deposit windows” so depositing becomes a violent risk-vs-reward exercise. That being said, there’s nothing quite as glorious as taking out an enemy before they can deposit, thus sniping their hefty bonus, while boosting your team. It’s a maddening, amazing, teeth-grinding mode that is better than any other mode I’ve ever played. I can legitimately say, of the 100+ hours I’ve put into multiplayer, 90 of them have been “Bounty Hunt”…it’s just that good.
And if risk is your game, there’s also a pilot-vs-pilot coliseum mode which is available only by winning tickets or buying an entry. Of course, you win fantastic skins and/or currency by playing, and if you fancy yourself a gambler, you can make out like a bandit.
There’s a strong emphasis on mech mastery in multiplayer (oooh! Alliteration!), and by leveling your mech (and it’s weapons), you’ll be rewarded with weapon and mech skins, pilot gear and treats from the patron of your faction.
Once you ascend to a certain level of multiplayer, you’ll be able to decide which faction you play for, which is a fun little nod that doesn’t really affect the outcome of the match, save for specific gamer backgrounds from each faction’s leader. If anything, it’s the chance to be on the “bad” team for awhile…if that’s your thing.
Customization is a MASSIVE part of Titanfall’s multiplayer charm. In addition to the aformenetioned skins, you’ll be able (once unlocked) to choose what mech boosts, pilot boosts, special attacks and drop perks. They’ve done away with the “burn card” system, but you’ll hardly notice as you tear through maps.
Respawn has also been giving players free maps and modes via update (a la Blizzard), with pre-order people and “special edition” buyers only getting slightly early access. The “paid” DLC are titans with different skins, loadouts and lighting schemes, all of which are essentially cosmetic. It’s a nice change of pace from the “$20 DLC/$60 season pass packs” which have become overly prevalent in today’s FPS titles. I’d hope that other companies would take a page out of Respawn’s book…but that’s wishful thinking.
The only real downside to playing multiplayer is the occasional cheating, and when it happens, it’s blatant. I’ve played matches with teammates I’ve had before, and at halfway through the match, the score was $4793 to $118, their lead. I’ve followed enemies that could activate invisibility indefinitely, and pilots who could bullet sponge three-on-one attacks and never take damage. I know, I know…you’re probably thinking “maybe you just suck” or “less QQ more pew-pew”, but from what I understand, it can be a fairly common occurrence, so be wary.
As frustrating as that can be, I keep coming back to Titanfall…if only for the utter madness of Bounty Hunt. It’s a fantastic and compact way to blow off steam. With an engaging single-player campaign, immersive multiplayer options and a wealth of customization options, Titanfall 2 is my first choice for Game of the Year.