Titanfall preview: First play of Beta - Attrition, Hardpoint and Last Titan Standing modes (video)
Behold the game of 2014. Titanfall has been lauded by eager praise ever since its non-playable debut during the E3 trade show last June. And with each public outing since, the admiration has grown ever larger by those who have been lucky enough to taste its wares. At this stage, it sits somewhere between Halo 5 and 24ct gold underpants on gamers' most-wanted lists - based on just 10 to 15 minutes of gameplay.
Pocket-lint has now spent over two hours playing an almost ready build of various game modes and, even though it was far from the complete game, we can confirm that every single word you've heard about it is true. This really is going to set the standard for next-gen gaming. And it's a Microsoft exclusive - across Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC. All we can say is, on this showing, InFamous Second Son is going to have to go some.
The version of Titanfall available to play by the press, which we did in a specially kitted out gallery in East London, was essentially the Beta test version that is open for registration now. It included Attrition, Hardpoint and Last Titan Standing game modes - as well as a lengthy tutorial - and just to prove the game's attraction, every seat at the event was taken, even during the London Tube strike.
We chose to play on an Xbox One - a zone for the PC version was set up separately - and used the special edition Titanfall controller (naturally). It set the tone well, although as soon as the action started, we probably didn't even glance at it again.
The finished game of Titanfall will be multiplayer only but will still retain a campaign structure and story that each PvP skirmish will embrace and progress. There were elements of that during the preview session, but as we hopped in and out of game modes and battles, it felt more like a CoD multiplayer event than an over-arcing whole. That's not to say the game itself plays like Call of Duty - it would be excused to, considering Respawn Entertainment's background - but the lobby on the beta build gave an impression of a more traditional approach than we expect for the final game.
Tutorial done and dusted - and wall-running, Titan AI control and other features learnt successfully - it was time to play a couple of rounds of Attrition. This mode is basically a score racking team game whereby you must shoot and murder as many of the opposing team's players, in and out of Titans, and AI soldiers as possible. Sometimes in the face.
Artificially intelligent Grunts and Spectres (slightly above Grunts in the bad-ass scale) are employed by both sides to bolster numbers and award the least amount of points for a kill. Taking down one of the other players awards more points. Taking down one of the other players when they are in a Titan, even more. The team with the most points at the end of the time limit wins.
We mostly lost.
What's great about the end of each skirmish though, even if you lost, you still get a chance to redeem yourself, in brownie points at least, by escaping or preventing the other team escaping the planet in a drop ship. The losers must peg it to the drop ship before it takes off, the winners have to stop them. It doesn't mean much at the end of the day but is great fun. We seriously hope that an entire campaign level or two is solely based on this game mechanic.
Hardpoint Domination is the traditional "capture a location and hold it" multiplayer mode, but with Titans around it's far from standard fare. There were plenty of times during our two rounds playing the mode when, even though we managed to secure a check point indoors, a Titan would poke his nose into a window and, more important, a heavy calibre machine gun and blow us away. It was also only towards the end of the entire session that we realised that Titans could also crouch down. To our detriment and demise.
READ: Xbox One review
Last Titan Standing
The last of the gameplay modes tested during the couple of hours - save for a Beta megamix of all the different modes at the end - was Last Titan Standing and we have to say it was our favourite. The clue is in the name. Each team's players start in their Titans and the aim is to eliminate all of the opponent Titans while making sure at least one of yours survives.
Remarkably, given our previous performances, we managed to win both rounds at this. And not just because of our sneaky strategy of exiting the Titan, putting it in guard AI mode and using it to entice enemy Titans while hiding nearby and in rocket range. And as one of the classes of Titans also has a self-destruct nuclear mode that causes devastation to its immediate surroundings when about to overload, you can also sacrifice yourself for the good of your teammates quite spectacularly, we found.
The aforementioned Beta mash-up of all the gameplay modes was seemingly random in battle types and locations and we have to admit that by that time, roughly two hours into the event, we were getting a little shell shocked. Titanfall is full on and intense. As characters - out of Titans - are fast moving and jump about in a style reminiscent of the early days of Rise of the Triads or Quake, you find yourself immersed so deeply, it's a wrench to return to the real world. Two rounds at a time seemed enough to allow a breather. Five or six in a row was simply bonkers.
And by bonkers, we mean brilliant. This is by no means a review of the final version of Titanfall. It is merely our experience of a tiny slice of it, but on this showing we want the whole cake.
Strap yourself in
We haven't mentioned load outs, different character classes, variants of Titans or weaponry styles on purpose. Those are the nuts and bolts of the experience and in many ways take you out of it. That's not what it's about for us. Titanfall is about what goes on during a battle and we have to admit we let out the occasional whelp of excitement along the way. It's not a clone of anything we've recently played, unlike many multiplayer experiences these days. It's something different. And it's coming soon.
Titanfall will be released on Windows and Xbox One on 14 March in the UK, 11 March in the US. It will also arrive on Xbox 360 on 28 March. It is exclusive to Microsoft machines.