Reviewed on PC and Xbox One
For example, once you get in close to a titan as a pilot, a simple double-tap of the jump button from any angle allows you to maneuver up onto its shoulder, pop the cover on the titan’s head, and literally start shooting its brains out. In fact, as tense as a titan(s) vs. titan(s) showdown can be, darting into that fray as a squishy mortal can be an intoxicating mix of stupidity and genius. Of course, the titans’ counter to that move is Electric Smoke, one of many unlockable kit items you can equip your metallic avatar with as you level up. It serves as both a visibility-killing distraction – be it for flanking maneuvers or a wounded escape – and also a pilot bug-zapper that will shake off any foes who “rodeo” your titan.
Each of the three archetypal titan varieties feels different and has its situational usefulness. If you prefer to go toe-to-toe, equip the Ogre with the Triple Threat grenade launcher, kit it out with the Particle Wall force field that temporarily protects you from incoming fire on one side, and you’ll pack a devastating punch. But if you do, the nimble, dash-happy Stryder can actually run circles around you, peppering you with chaingun fire and bombarding you with the cluster bomb ordnance ability as it goes. I came to prefer one extreme or the other, but the jack-of-all-trades Atlas is a bit more malleable for loadout experimentation. I find the 40mm gauss-like cannon to be a great happy medium of short and long-range combat in the Atlas, and pairing that with the rocket salvo ordnance – which locks missiles onto your target – allows it to capably throw down with both Stryders and Ogres.
Progression in Titanfall brings more options than advantages, even when factoring in the “burn cards” – single-use perks that last the duration of one life, earned for completing various baked-in challenges and scenarios. For instance, one card might grant you unlimited frag grenades. Another could reduce your titan build time by a whopping 40 seconds. Burn cards can tip the scales in battle when played correctly, but they never turn you into a demigod. And in today’s microtransaction-obsessed world, I have to commend developer Respawn for resisting the urge to charge us for them (or anything else in Titanfall).
The other economy fuels the titan delivery system in each match. Killing the multiple classes of utterly braindead AI-controlled minions that fill out Titanfall’s conflicts shaves a couple seconds off of your titan deployment timer, while offing pilots hastens it even more. Felling titans, of course, gets you into your mech the quickest. The sooner you’re able to get your titan back on the battlefield, the more powerful you become. And yet, you’re never invulnerable. So while it may seem like the AI soldiers are worthless fodder that rarely pose a threat, they do play a valuable role.
Besides its balance, map variety is what will give Titanfall its legs. The 15 battlefields range in quality from very good to great. The desert-y “Boneyard” falls into the former category – its distinctive ziplines accelerate map traversal while flying dragon-like creatures provide intimidating set dressing, but sadly cannot be interacted with. The tiny village “Colony,” on the other hand, is among Titanfall’s best maps. On it, tightly packed houses make trading bullets while jumping from one angled rooftop to another an experience wholly unlike the action happening on the ground or in the wide-open, titan-friendly perimeter.
Technically speaking, those battles look impressive, but my eyeballs remain un-melted. Titans, pilots, maps, and weapon effects are all perfectly acceptable, save for the occasional dip below the otherwise-normal 60 frames per second in a huge multi-titan explosion or the ugly talking head of your faction leader before you exit your dropship at the start of a match. The omission of split-screen play is perhaps an unfortunate side effect of keeping things running smoothly.
Its far graver online sin, especially considering its online-only focus, is its lack of private matches. (Respawn promises to deliver those “soon” in a free update.) Despite the fact that Halo 2 wrote the blueprint for this a decade ago, Titanfall does not allow 12 friends to gather in a lobby and play together on the game type, map, and options of their choosing. The best you can do is a party of six, where you’re still stuck warring against online strangers with no say in what map you’ll fight on. This is unforgivable in a modern multiplayer shooter, particularly one that’s exclusively team-oriented (there are, in fact, precisely zero free-for-all modes).
- +Slick soldier/mech action
- +Excellent balance
- +High-quality maps
- –Few modes
- –No private groups