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One of the Rare Instances of Game Developers Actually Listening

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    Titanfall 2

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    One of the Rare Instances of Game Developers Actually Listening

    This review was written on May 25, 2017 for version of Titanfall 2

    Titanfall was a disaster. Commercially, it performed phenomenally, selling more than enough copies to warrant a sequel. Critically, the game was praised for its frenetic gunplay and for its creativity in a thoroughly exhausted genre. The added layer of mechanics provided by the towering Titans and their fleet-footed Pilots brought genuine excitement to shooter fans who had no mainstream alternatives in the sci-fi shooter genre besides Call of Duty and Halo. It was even a working product on release, lacking major bugs and providing stable network connectivity. For all it had going for it, Titanfall died the weekend it was released. Players cited the lack of content and meaningful progression at launch as the primary culprit of the game’s failing playerbase, but the continued fracturing of the remaining community through paid DLC certainly didn’t bring players back. When Titanfall 2 was eventually revealed in early 2016, everyone was understandably skeptical, but Respawn Entertainment would soon show the world that they were more than prepared to learn from their mistakes.

    Titanfall 2, in almost every way imaginable, benefits by improving on what Titanfall had already established. Pilots are just as mobile and zippy as they were in the first game, though an increased emphasis on speed and momentum allows skilled players to launch themselves across great distances in seconds. Titanfall had only three Titans to choose from which varied in mobility and overall health, but were otherwise identical in loadout customization. Titanfall 2 boasts twice as many playable Titans, each with unique load out options, health pools, offensive and defensive abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and powerful attacks called Titan Cores. Titanfall 2’s gunplay is much speedier in comparison to the first game, which, along with a faster time-to-kill and more precise weapon handling mechanics, drastically raise the skill gap of the game’s multiplayer. Hip fire is tightened significantly, and most weapons ADS noticeably faster, contributing to the "snap" factor of high-speed firefights.

    The most important distinction between Titanfall and Titanfall 2 is the inclusion of a standard single player campaign. Though it contained a narrative element in the form of asymmetrical storytelling, the original Titanfall’s multiplayer-exclusive approach was an objective mess. Titanfall 2 eliminates the "two sides to the conflict" idea, providing an intentionally biased viewpoint on its futuristic, interplanetary war for supremacy. Set almost immediately after the events of the first game, Titanfall 2 follows Militia Rifleman Jack Cooper in the aftermath of a disastrous assault of an IMC planet in the Frontier. After witnessing the death of his friend and mentor Tai Lastimosa, Cooper inherits Lastimosa’s standing mission and his Titan, BT-7274. The duo, now trapped behind enemy lines with a highly-classified assignment, have to fight to unravel the secrets of the IMC and learn to operate as one.

    Constituting the main theme of the story, the bond between man and machine – between Pilot and Titan – assumes the driving force of the campaign. While Cooper and BT battle their way through IMC forces, the constant chatter and communication shared between the two vacillate freely between dead-serious and lighthearted. In many ways, BT acts like a naive child, acting on his coded instincts and not really grasping the nuances of human interaction. Cooper, on the other hand, falls on his jocular nature, cracking jokes and puns that often confuse his mechanical companion. As a pair, the two balance the tone of the situation well, even getting emotional when the scene calls for it. Throughout the campaign, players are offered dialogue choices that prompt conversations between Cooper and BT, exploring each of their characters more deeply and further developing the world of Titanfall.

    Though relatively short with nine linear missions (including a super cliche tutorial mission), Titanfall 2’s campaign excels thoroughly in its execution mechanically and thematically. The futuristic setting of the Titanfall universe allows Respawn to get creative with their technology and world building, and they certainly take advantage of it. The map design absolutely allowed me to get creative with wall-running and high-speed aerial maneuvers, and platforming segments are very cleverly disguised by colorful environments with a mix of enemies to match the gunplay’s frantic pace. Each of the game’s villains heckles Jack and BT with threats and taunts as they navigate through extremely dangerous levels that require a mix of combat and jumping precision before culminating in a bombastic arena-style boss fight. The futuristic tech makes for some of the most interesting and original shooter mechanics to be featured in a first-person shooter campaign in recent memory, and this game contains what I would consider to be the most unique mission in a shooter campaign, period.

    Both Titan and Pilot gameplay receive plenty of attention through the length of the campaign, with long segments of Pilot-only sequences split apart by massive set-piece battles or wide-open arenas more suited to a Titan’s mobility and firepower capabilities. While BT might not always be available for Cooper to pilot, the two can fight as a separated pair or as an individual unit whenever he is around. It’s in these scenarios that I found myself enjoying the game the most; popping out of my Titan, gunning down a few enemy grunts, flying off walls back into my Titan and engaging multiple enemy Titans gave a consistent feeling of satisfaction. One thing I do think could have made the campaign more interesting was the inclusion of high-level enemy infantry Pilots outside of their Titans. Pilot versus Pilot gameplay is always interesting, offering high-speed gunfire duels, and thankfully, Titanfall 2’s multiplayer scratches that itch and then some.

    In comparison to its predecessor, Titanfall 2’s multiplayer is a revisionist’s dream come true. It takes what the Titanfall did well – infantry mobility, large-scale battles, and creative gadgets – and reinforces it with a refined layer of secondary and tertiary mechanics. The loadout system revolves around one of several Pilot Abilities that allow players to determine what kind of play style they want to base their loadout around. For example, you could choose a temporary cloaking ability to sneak around the enemy team’s backlines, a grappling hook to reach high elevations, or a Pulse Blade, which reveals enemy positions on the mini map and 3D-spots them. Once you determine which Pilot ability you want, you can start to develop your loadout around its strengths and weaknesses. High-mobility Pilots might benefit from shotguns or grenade launchers while more combat-oriented Pilots might prefer assault rifles or light machine guns. The Burn Card system from the first game is also replaced by a Boost mechanic that allows players to augment their abilities mid-game through equippable Boosts earned by good performance, similar to the way Titans are earned.

    The first thing I noticed stepping into Titanfall 2’s multiplayer was the lightning-fast time-to-kill. Even compared to the first game, Pilots drop with only a few bullets, and headshots from many guns in the game are extremely dangerous. The lethality of the gunplay is diminished by intense damage drop-off and substantially more visual recoil than the first game, making gunfights fair and balanced at medium and long range while still maintaining the design philosophy of high-speed shootouts. Most of the skill-shot weapons – sniper rifles and grenade launchers – are one shot kills, but are clunky, cumbersome projectiles that feel rewarding to use rather than cheap. The significantly tightened hip fire on most weapons makes high-speed aerial shooting an actually viable tactic, and while in close quarters, it’s usually more advantageous to avoid aiming down sights altogether. Even though the gunplay mechanics of Titanfall 2 tend to reward skillful play, there’s still a lot of random nonsense that can easily kill a player outside of their control. Most annoyingly is a Boost called Ticks, which allows the user to deploy autonomous walker drones that actively seek out and detonate enemy Pilots. Other mechanics like the Pilot ability Phase Shift offer a "get out of jail free" opportunity readily available to players who overcommit to engagements, allowing them to escape otherwise certain death. While not inherently unbalanced, deaths to these mechanics can easily feel cheap or cheesy, as there’s not a lot a player can do to counter them.

    The map design in Titanfall 2 feels less intentional than maps in the first game. Rather than maps designed around the traversal mechanics available to Pilots and the huge frame of Titans, I feel like maps in Titanfall 2 were designed more around the world building of the Titanfall universe than the actual gameplay mechanics. Maps in Titanfall felt extremely blatant, with sections that practically shouted at players, "wallrun over here; jump to this rooftop and then through that window." Maps in Titanfall 2 feel much more natural, like some regular person living in the Titanfall universe would find them completely ordinary. It feels more like what a Pilot would actually be experiencing in a real combat situation, as opposed to a world handcrafted by game designers to specifically accommodate for their unique traversal mechanics, and this benefits the way the maps play tremendously. In terms of verticality, high-ground doesn’t feel cheap or unfair because most spots are easy to reach. It’s usually incredibly easy to maneuver around choke points and pull off effective flanks due to Pilot mobility, which heavily deters strategies that involve hunkering down or remaining immobile. Most of the maps actively seek to move away from traditional elements of three-lane map design, creating a playground that flows naturally and complements the agility of a Pilot in the Titanfall universe.

    The design philosophy of allowing Pilots the freedom they need to play the way they want also bleeds over to the Titan gameplay. Alongside of the choked city interiors, most of the maps feature large, open areas for Titans to duel each other away from buildings and other structures that might provide Pilots with an advantage over Titans. Titan combat in Titanfall 2 is supremely superior to Titan combat in the first game primarily due to the added attention to customization for the different Titans in this game. Each of the six Titans have their own primary weapons, combat abilities, and kits which can be specced with exclusive perks and traits. They each have their own health pools, running speeds, and offensive capabilities, meaning each Titan requires a specialized approach to take down. For example, the Legion is a huge, hulking monster that can gun down an enemy Titan in seconds with his massive Predator Cannon. His natural counter is the frail Northstar, who uses her Plasma Railgun and aerial maneuverability to put distance between her and her enemies. Each Titan has a unique playstyle that, like the various Pilot abilities, allow the player themselves to determine how they want to play the game.

    The biggest contributing factor to the death of the first game was the lack of content and meaningful progression, and Titanfall 2 addresses this issue with mixed results. All of the guns and Titans are tied to individual progression systems that unlock new weapon skins, but once the transparency of this system fades, it’s easy to recognize as artificial inflation. It’s enjoyable to unlock cool skins for your favorite gun, but considering the vast majority of them are locked behind an RNG loot drop system, unlock completion really isn’t a feasible goal. On the plus side, loot drops CANNOT be purchased with real currency and ONLY reward players with cosmetic upgrades, so unlocking special gun skins is simply a matter of grinding loot drops until you find what you’re looking for or accumulate enough credits to purchase it.

    Titanfall 2, as a game, is every bit as smart and aware as its developers. Its biggest flaws come from things it tries to copy unnecessarily from other games, namely multiplayer cosmetic unlocks and artificial progression, but it excels in places where it finds its own identity. It promotes freedom of playstyle that is enticing to many different avenues of shooters, from frantic, hardcore arenas to fluid sandbox battlefields and everything in between. It addressed some of the biggest issues that doomed the first game, including the shallow story presentation and the loose, casual gunplay mechanics that failed to reward skillful play. Perhaps most importantly, Respawn Entertainment has promised to support the game with free DLC maps and guns for all players moving forward, a promise which they have already delivered on as of this writing. All in all, Titanfall 2 is an excellent invitation into the world of Titanfall, promising a thought-provoking narrative and hours upon hours of engaging multiplayer action. It’s just a shame that its excellence is obscured by the reputation of the first game.

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