Buy TitanFall: Xbox One
TitanFall is Respawn Entertainment's first game, but you can see the pedigree of the minds behind some of the more successful games in the Call of Duty franchise. We were invited to try out the game in the current beta. While there are certainly elements that hearken back to the Call of Duty franchise, TitanFall is its own animal. The balance between the on-foot combat versus fighting from within a Titan is holding up well, and this is the most entertained I've been with a multiplayer shooter in recent memory.
Upon firing up the beta, you are greeted with a training course that walks you through the basics. There are sections devoted to the game's innovative movement options. All players (called "pilots") are equipped with a parkour kit that grants new methods of mobility. With it, you can double-jump to clamber onto rooftops or upper-level windows, or you can wall-run along any flat, vertical surface. You can only run along a wall for so long before you fall down, but at any point, you can leap off of it. This not only gives you a burst of momentum but also resets your run, and at that point, you can run along another surface, if one exists. It all feels like a simplified version of the same movement system from Mirror's Edge, only with far more forgiving controls.
The beta features three game modes: Attrition, Hardpoint, and Last Titan Standing. Attrition is essentially team deathmatch in which teams try to gain enough kills to reach the score target before the other team does. Hardpoint features control points that need to be captured and held, and the team that holds a majority moves toward the target score. Finally, Last Titan Standing makes all players start combat in their Titans, and the team that eliminates all enemy Titans first wins. However, in the beta, the majority of the play seems to center around the Attrition game mode, and it was pretty difficult to get more than a round or two of the others.
Regardless of the mode, much of the game remains the same. When starting off in a match, you leap down from a dropship that's hovering over the battlefield and immediately make your way forward. With your enhanced mobility, it's easy to sprint up to a building and scale it, or you can run along the walls to nimbly make your way down alleyways. Your infantry combat feels a lot like it did in CoD in terms of trading fire, but the vertical nature is striking. Many buildings are multiple stories tall and feature a number of locations from which enemies can trade fire. You have to quickly adapt your mindset to the reality that enemies can be just about anywhere and can reposition rather quickly.
The battles also feature AI-controlled grunts. They're not usually a threat to players since they do relatively little damage, but they help flesh out the battlefield by taking cover behind objects and trading fire with the other team. They're easily killed, and the developer's intention of having them add flavor and texture to the game seems spot-on. You feel like a badass emerging from a building and laying waste to a couple of enemy grunts before scaling a wall to catch an enemy player unawares.
Grunts only net a fraction of the points you'd get for killing an enemy player, but they serve another purpose. At the start of a match, all players have two minutes before they can request a Titan drop. Any time you kill a player, a grunt, or damage an enemy Titan, your own Titan timer is decreased by a varying amount. Once your timer is up, you can call in your Titan immediately or spawn into it the next time you die. Calling down a Titan is pretty damned awesome, with the sight of it roaring through the atmosphere before the metal beast lands on one knee. For a limited time, your Titan remains stationary and protected by a shield as it waits for you to climb in.
The first thing you learn about piloting a Titan is that while you are capable of dishing out massive damage, you are just as vulnerable as you were on foot. Titans lack the ability to jump, so you suddenly go from vertical thinking to strictly lateral. Every pilot carries some sort of anti-Titan weapon, so while enemy pilots are easily killed, they can certainly return some damage. Enemy Titans often focus their efforts on you, and you'll need to use your ability to sprint and dash laterally to their best effect. Winning a Titan fight can boil down to accuracy, cover, and the best use of the Titan's abilities. The stock Titan can use a vortex shield to stop incoming projectiles, essentially catching them in the air before flinging them back as a lethal blob of metal and ordnance. Titans can also mount a special launcher that launches a salvo of dumb-fire rockets or a trio of seeker missiles.
The "rodeo" feature that lets enemy pilots climb on top of your Titan to damage it is one of the biggest threats that you face. While an enemy pilot is doing this, your only option is to disembark from your Titan and try to shoot down the foe. This damage bypasses your Titan's shields and does direct damage to its health, so the longer you wait, the closer you are to having a doomed Titan. While in the doomed state, Titans cannot regenerate shields, and it's only a matter of time before they explode. Further damage accelerates this process, and while you can continue fighting in this state, most pilots will eject before their Titan goes critical and explodes.
Once you leave your Titan, the AI takes over, and you can set it to stay and defend its current position or do its best to follow you. In either mode, it engages enemies and uses its special abilities and weapons accordingly. At one point, I suspected that enemies were inside a building, so I disembarked from my Titan to clear them out. As I leapt from the cockpit and scaled the building to enter it, I set my Titan to follow me. As I cleared the building of a player and some grunts, I heard my Titan laying down the law against a couple of enemies outside. After all was said and done, I jumped from the building into the cockpit of my Titan, which had just cleared the courtyard on its own, and I've never wanted to fist-bump AI before.
If I had any doubts about how well TitanFall was shaping up, participating in the beta put them to rest. Even as a beta, the game feels polished and balanced in terms of features and gameplay. The Titans and infantry are both fun in their own ways, and neither is overpowered versus the other. The beta may have been limited in terms of what it offered versus the full game, but it didn't matter. With only two maps and a handful of gear, I had more fun in the beta of TitanFall than I've had in other shooters for years.
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