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Standby for Titan Fall

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    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    Standby for Titan Fall

    I have been less than impressed with recent AAA multiplayer FPS offerings. To me, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 felt like old, stale rehashes of the series’ predecessors. I have not yet played either on the Xbox One, but I wouldn’t expect them to be fundamentally different across generations, barring slightly shinier graphics on the new consoles, and more players per lobby in Battlefield.

    So it’s probably not too surprising that I was skeptical going into Titanfall. A new IP created by Call of Duty veterans? Was this to be EA’s direct answer to Ghosts‘ fast-paced, 6-on-6 multiplayer?

    Ha! No.

    While it’s easy to see the similarities in gameplay, pace, fluidity and shooting between Call of Duty and Titanfall, they stand as distinctly different games.

    "Standby for Titan Fall" is one of the most intense lines you will hear in a multiplayer game this year. The feeling that, on your command, a twenty-foot mech will plummet through the sky in a blazing fireball is almost indescribable. It’s epic, and there really is nothing in any of the major, established FPS brands that comes close to the pulse-raising action of racing around on foot as a Pilot, caught between massive, lumbering Titans duking it out on the battleground.

    The pacing of the game is roughly the same as Call of Duty: but that’s hardly surprising as Respawn Entertainment includes 38 ex-Infinity Ward developers, including Jason West and Vince Zampella. But, it also incorporates an element of teamwork-by-necessity from EA’s other project, Battlefield: while the individual player can rack up a lot of points, it’s very difficult to win if you don’t work as a team… especially when the enemy Titans start coming in.

    The story is fairly weak and the campaign—which is online only, so if you don’t have Live, the case will serve only as a nice-looking paperweight—is short, but does it really need to be complex? Respawn knows you just want to shoot things, so the story is generally unobtrusive: the Militia, soldiers of the outer-systems, are in the middle of fighting a rebellion against the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC), which seems to be the military that enforces the will of the government of the Inner Core planets.

    But where the game shines is in its controls. The jetpack-boosted double jumps and wall-running add a brilliant new level of strategy you’d probably never considered before: in fact, it works so well, that I have to complain about the maps being too open. Movement is so quick, so fluid, that you can traverse the large maps quickly and with ease, often being able to flank the enemy team from behind within the first thirty seconds of a match starting. So in one sense, it’s great because it makes camping futile; on the other, it can be a little overwhelming because you need to be constantly aware of everything in front, above, below, beside, and behind you.

    The game’s controls are refined and easy to pick up, and it never feels like there’s noticeable lag between controller input and movement reaction inside the game. While the Xbox One’s improved controller design and ergonomics may be partly responsible for the perception of better controls, it’s hardly surprising that years of experience allowed Respawn to nail the controls first time: let’s face it, of all of the complaints about Call of Duty, nobody has ever complained about the game not being fluid or smooth enough.

    And smooth is the name of the game for Titanfall. The game usually runs at 60fps, although there is a noticeable framerate drop whenever a lot of action or several exploding Titans are on the screen at the same time: part of that may even be lag on a player’s connection from the Xbox to Azure. (To Xbox naysayers: I’m confident that these teething issues with Microsoft’s Cloud will be ironed out. Let’s not forget that the console is only a few months old at this point; that Titanfall is the first online game to be constantly pushing and pulling data to and from the servers; and that Titanfall itself has only been out for a week at this point.

    Does Titanfall look absolutely gorgeous? You won’t notice a huge leap forward in graphics: it looks like a really nice Xbox 360 or PS3 game. But let’s step back for a moment and think about the difference in graphical fidelity at the end of the Xbox’s lifecycle compared to the start of the Xbox 360. Or, compare graphics at the start of the Xbox 360’s lifecycle versus where it stands today. Launch games never run as smoothly or look as nice as games that come out three, four, or six years down the line, so it’s not too surprising that Titanfall doesn’t make a noticeable leap to supposed ‘next-gen’ graphics.

    What really impresses me about the sound design is the attention to all the little (and seemingly insignificant) details. Pop-up video communications feature your superior officers informing you of how your team is performing on the battlefield. A.I. soldiers on the ground shout their positions, call out when they’re engaging enemies, announce when they clear a room, request backup when friendly Pilots are killed, and shout when their teammates are killed. You receive voice-only audio communications from commanding officers, who update you to the status of the fight, congratulate you on killing sprees, make comments when you end other players’ kill sprees, and inform you how long you have to wait for your Titan to be ready to be called in. Your Titan’s A.I. talks to you: it tells you when it’s engaging enemies, when it’s taking damage, when it is in guard mode, and when it’s programmed to follow you. Add in the background music (a twangy western-sounding soundtrack reminiscent of the score to Joss Whedon’s Firefly), the sound effects, the sound of gunfights in your vicinity, and the booming sounds of giant mechs walking around, and the game’s audio is super impressive.

    On the ground, things get chaotic. A.I. soldiers fight alongside the pilots, so the game is much more action-oriented than if it were just 6-on-6; they’re not so intelligent that it’s easy to be killed by them, but they’re not stupid either. They’ll assist nearby Pilots, work together in squads to guard any hardpoints your team has secured, and they’ll break out the rocket launchers when enemy Titans start coming in. But what I really like about the A.I. is that it isn’t programmed to just make a beeline for other players. Although they’re certainly easy-pickings for the players, it really feels like the soldiers are sent in to fight the war (you can watch as they engage each other) while the Pilots are the specialists sent in to lead the fight and turn the tide of the battle.

    But what you really wanted to know was how is it to play in the Titans, right? It’s awesome. They play as you would expect: they wreck soldiers and Pilots at range, you can squash enemies by running over them, and you can punch the ground to take down anybody who gets a little too close for comfort. (Pilots can get close to a Titan and jump up to ride along on its back. If you ride a hostile Titan, your Pilot will automatically rip off a panel to expose circuitry that you can shoot: you’ll bypass the Titan’s bodyshield and start chipping away at its health.)

    Surprisingly, even with massive mechs running around, the game is really balanced. Titans aren’t so fast that they’re impossible to target, but they’re also not so slow that they’re automatically doomed if they get cornered by enemy Pilots. One-on-one Titan battles are fairly evenly matched, as are Pilot versus Pilot battles.

    One Pilot can’t go face-to-face with a Titan, but a cloaking device (which is visible as a shimmery blur to other players, but renders the Pilot completely invisible to Titans) and some skillful wall-running can give the Pilot a means to escape, or get on the Titan’s back. (A countermeasure to Pilots is an "Electronic Cloud" that can be selected as a ‘Perk’ for your Titan’s custom loadout. Or, of course, your teammates can just shoot the enemy Pilot off of your Titan.) If several Pilots on the ground work together to take down a single Titan with anti-Titan weapons, well, they can usually destroy the Titan or at least force it to retreat.

    Indeed, there’s only one complaint I have about the balance, and that could be tweaked by Respawn at a later date. You may remember from the pre-release videos the "Smart Pistol": a pistol that automatically locks on to targets and fires bullets that can change direction. Well, it’s pretty cheap: it’s a crutch for less-skilled players to rely on, and it’s an irritating nuisance for better players. Keep a few A.I. soldiers in the (huge) targeting area, and lock on: it takes them all down. Keep an enemy Pilot in the targeting area for a second or two, and it’ll lock on five times: just enough to kill an enemy player, coincidentally.

    It could be easily fixed (so it locks three or four rounds at most, which would give the other Pilot a chance to escape, and actually require a little skill to use effectively), or it could be tweaked so that it had a shorter effective/lock-on range.

    Still, as long as it’s not too widely used, it shouldn’t become game-breaking.

    Actually, come to think of it, the Smart Pistol is really the only complaint I have about Titanfall. Sure, there’s the occasional framerate drops, and a little bit of screentearing: but I attribute that more to the fact that the Xbox One is a new system, so developers haven’t had enough time and experience to fully optimize their games.

    Otherwise, I’m quite impressed with Titanfall. It may not be the huge leap we were expecting in next-gen graphics, and it might be perceived to be a little light in content compared to other AAA titles (although Titanfall‘s 15 maps at launch, with more to be added through DLC, is actually quite an impressive number), but it’s a really good game. Whenever I’m away from the console, I am excited to get home to play another few rounds, which is something I can’t really say held true for me about Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4.

    Story: 4/10 – you didn’t really need a story, do you? If you were expecting something substantial, you’ll be disappointed.
    Gameplay: 9/10 – I never knew I wanted to run along walls in an FPS; now it feels like a pretty natural way of traversing the environment.
    Replayability: 9/10 – Titanfall does a very good job pacing out its upgrades, custom classes, player’s special abilities, weapons, weapon attachments… it keeps you coming back for more, even though most of the weapons attachments are superficial at best.
    Graphics: 8.5/10 – while I wouldn’t say that Titanfall looks brain-meltingly gorgeous, it does look about as nice as recent games on Xbox 360. It looks good enough, though: environments are nicely detailed, and there’s no noticeable rendering time on nearby textures when you spin around.
    Audio: 10/10 – everything booms, rattles, shakes, and explodes convincingly, and even the voiceovers are crafted with exceptional detail.
    Multiplayer: 8.5/10 – there are a few aggravators, which are present in every multiplayer game (bullets ‘going around’ corners, etc.), but it’s generally pretty solid.

    OVERALL: 8.0/10 (B)

    The Bottom Line:
    Titanfall may not look like a next-gen shooter, but it sure as hell feels like one. Wall-running is implemented so smoothly that it feels completely natural, and the really well-implemented addition of Titans adds another layer to the game that isn’t found in other shooters.

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