And so the second wave of next-generation games starts with what is unarguably the most talked about title since its first showing at E3 in Los Angeles last June. Titanfall was Microsoft’s "one more thing" during its Xbox One press conference, even trumping the teaser trailer for Halo 4, and we’ve all been waxing lyrical ever since.
So does it live up to expectations? Of course it does.
Call of Titans
Available exclusively on Xbox One, Windows and, soon to follow, Xbox 360, Titanfall is the brainchild and debut game of Respawn Entertainment, the developer formed by a breakaway group of ex-Infinity Ward staff - having created the Call of Duty franchise previously.
You can tell too, not least because Titanfall is a first-person shooter to the max, but also because much effort has been made in spectacular moments and effects.
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Unlike the Call of Duty series, however, those moments happen on the field of play rather than in cutscenes or far in the distance. That’s what makes Titanfall such a special game.
Action over storyline
The basic premise is something of a sci-fi staple. Two alternative factions, known as the Militia and the IMC, fight it out across different worlds using heavy duty weaponry and other future technologies. Both sides are matched in the firepower they can utilise - it would be a short and frustrating game experience otherwise - and both sides have access to Titans. There’s not much more depth to it than that, to be honest, nor does the game need it. As the name suggests, it’s all about the Titans.
Titans are huge mechanoids that each character - called a pilot - can summon at certain points during battle. Once inside, a pilot can wreak even more damage and devastation than before. And it is this element that really strikes Titanfall apart from other shooters.
When on the ground, pilots are fleet of foot and each is great at parkour (you know the one we mean, the French-born bounce-around-urban-structures "sport"). When not in your Titan, you can run along walls, leap up buildings and generally keep moving in a flowing fashion not really seen in first person shooter game since the days of Quake and Unreal Tournament.
When in the massive metal behemoth, your abilities slow down, but you genuinely feel like you are a giant towering above the battlefield. Titans are, in short, brilliant.
Access to Titans only happens every two minutes though, which makes being in control of one even more fun, and you can find yourself protecting your mech more because once lost you have to wait a while for another. Good gameplay as a pilot can expedite the "Titanfall" but we sometimes found that we’d only have time for one or two Titans per match, depending on the parameters.
Titanfall is online multiplayer only. There is no single-player mode.
That will put off a healthy segment of gamers, but again strikes Titanfall apart as something special and noteworthy. Even the campaign mode is simply nine lots of six vs six multiplayer matches stitched together with plotlines and specific events. You can play through it as both factions in the game, but it doesn’t take long to wrap up.
As most of the matches are Attrition (kill as many of the opponents as you can to get points) they can also get samey. The other matches in campaign are Hardpoint Domination (seize and keep hold of set Hardpoints on the map for as long as possible to rack up points), so there’s not that much variety generally. And because the story is essentially told through radio contact with an advisor, it’s easy to miss salient points.
Still, it’s fun while it lasts, and is a good way to see most of the different maps and scenery. Think of it as a second tutorial mode and you can’t go far wrong.
Last robot standing
The main focus of the game, you see, is on its full-on, unashamed multiplayer battles. As well as Attrition and Hardpoint Domination, there are Capture The Flag (as featured in every first-person shooter since dinosaurs roamed the Earth), Pilot Hunter (like Attrition but only rival Pilot kills will earn points), and our own particular favourite, Last Titan Standing.
This last mode starts you in a Titan and when it has been destroyed, you are out of the game. The winning team is that which has at least one Titan left in play. We love it, not least for the option of some sneaky tactics.
Even when your Titan still has full health, you can exit and it will enter AI mode. You can set it to guard its current location or follow you. We found particular joy in leaving our Titan in guard mode, hiding in a nearby building and taking out rivals who came to attack our mech directly. To be fair, we found particular joy in almost all aspects of Titanfall.
In at the deep end
There is one thing about the game that does frustrate us a little, however. Not enough to mark it down in score, as it says more about our skills than the game itself, but the matchmaking algorithm often put us up against players that were far better than us at the game.
From multiple plays, we found that the game is great at ensuring teams are as well-matched as possible. Pilots gain experience points during battle and therefore level up and unlock all manner of extra loadouts and more advanced Titans to play with, so better players will have become more high-powered faster than others. When matchmaking, the game seemingly tries to distribute experience and inexperienced players together across teams, which makes the game balanced of sorts, but also makes it harder for new players who are less skilled at FPS games to level-up themselves.
For example, we found ourselves playing a lot with a few pilots who were around the 16-35 level mark, and a few around the 1-5 level. The opposing team featured roughly the same. Nice and even right? What it meant in reality was that we invariably found ourselves unable to get anywhere near the 16-35 levellers, at least until they appeared to melee us to death or snipe us from a distance.
Without gaining the kills and points ourselves, we couldn’t progress in level terms ourselves and felt trapped in the same cycle.
Of course, if we were better at the game, this wouldn’t be a problem. And we can safely say that this is a game you will want to persist with regardless.
True next-gen graphics?
Graphically, some might be dismayed that the Xbox One version only runs at 792p rather than the previously promised 900p - especially when those with the beefiest PC graphics cards can max out at 4K resolution - but it all looks stunning regardless. Draw distances and the amount of action on screen at once are both particularly impressive - thanks to the next-generation tech - and we can only wonder how the Xbox 360 version will cope.
Also, as you will spend most of the game pegging it from one rooftop to another, leaping about like salmon in a hot spring, you’ll be happier for the 60fps than the resolution. Respawn hasn’t given up hope of supplying a 900p upgrade patch later in the game’s life too.
READ: Xbox One review
The audio too is much neglected when Titanfall is spoken about. The developer has done an excellent job on making the battlefield sound alive and you will most certainly want to beef up your surround system in preparation. A good soundscape can improve the experience tenfold.
When we played the Beta test version of Titanfall a month ago, we felt like Respawn had created something fresh and different for a very crowded genre and the final game has reinforced that hunch. This is Halo for a new generation of gamer and feels like the real starting point for the Xbox One's gaming library.
We’ve never really been fans of multiplayer-only console titles, but not only does Titanfall make us think again, it justifies Microsoft’s original always-online console concept that so many were willing to shoot down after its E3 press conference.
The company changed its stance on that soon after, but perhaps with a knowing wink. Titanfall is the game to change many attitudes about many things, and Sony will be very much looking over its shoulder from now. Watch out PS4, Xbox One and Titanfall are coming to get’cha.