Buy TitanFall: Xbox One
After four months, the Xbox One finally has its first console-exclusive shooter. TitanFall had a beta earlier this year, and we played a portion of the full game. Taken as a whole, TitanFall delivers an experience that lacks any easy comparisons in its own genre and borrows from others. The result is a polished gem of a game that feels fresh in its approach.
The underlying gameplay has many echoes of the Call of Duty franchise that Respawn Entertainment helped establish, but it's surprisingly deep for a multiplayer-only shooter. All players (called "pilots") are equipped with jetpacks that allow maneuvers such as wall-running and double-jumps. This moves the combat from the traditional routes and choke points, so it can occur at any position and elevation. Shooting is remixed with on-foot combat and some high-tech abilities.
Titans are the marquee feature of the game: towering, walking tanks that are capable of ridiculous firepower. Players can call in a Titan once the Titan timer reaches zero by looking at a location and pressing a button. The Titan thunders down from orbit and smashes into the terrain while within a protective force field. Any enemies unfortunate enough to be in that spot are killed, including any hapless enemy Titans. You can either pilot your Titan or let it fight alongside you.
Fighting from within a Titan feels like a natural extension of the on-foot pilot gameplay but with key differences. Instead of jumping, Titans can dash along the ground. This makes combat against other Titans feel more like a traditional shooter, where you maneuver and use buildings for cover and alternate paths for flanking opportunities. Titans have a limited shield that regenerates when not under fire, but damage to the underlying armor (health) can't be repaired.
Once the armor meter is depleted, the Titan enters a doomed state and can continue to fight but begins to go critical. Further damage accelerates the process, so it is best to eject. Staying inside not only puts you at risk of going down with your Titan, but pilots of doomed Titans are also at risk of being terminated by an enemy Titan's melee attack. These moves differ from chassis to chassis, but terminations include ripping off a Titan's arm and using it to crush the cockpit, punching into the cockpit to throw the pilot like a ragdoll, or reaching in and crushing the pilot into a fine mist.
Titans aren't only at risk from enemy Titans, as all pilots have one of four anti-Titan weapons as a third weapon. Pilots can also leap onto enemy Titans and "rodeo" them, rip off an access panel and shoot the mechanisms within. This bypasses shielding and directly damages armor, though while doing so, the pilot within is notified of the threat and can disembark to battle the enemy pilot, use Titan abilities to remove them, or ask a teammate to shoot them. While Titans are a great threat to pilots, it is refreshing that the opposite is also true.
Those who prefer on-foot combat or want some backup can exit the Titan and have it follow them or stay and guard an area. Titans under AI control aren't as accurate or great at defending themselves, but it can be nice to have support while you're outside the Titan. Unpiloted Titans are particularly vulnerable to enemy rodeo attacks and can become completely immobilized. You have to think of it more like a partnership, with your Titan watching your back but relying on you to do the same for it.
TitanFall feels much like Call of Duty in its aiming and hit indicators. There is a small pool of weapons: a couple of assault rifles, one shotgun, two sniper rifles, two SMGs, one LMG, one semi-automatic rifle, and the Smart Pistol. Each weapon fills a niche, and choosing which one to use boils down to your play style. The first assault rifle available, the R-101C, is useful at all ranges, which makes it difficult to justify using anything else. There are also three sidearms: the standard semi-automatic, the less-accurate fully automatic, and the high-powered revolver.
Leveling up unlocks new weaponry and equipment for your pilot and Titan loadouts. Getting kills with the weapons unlocks new attachment options, such as optics, extended magazines, and suppressors. The unlocks often have a sci-fi flair, such as the ability to make pilots cloak or see through walls for a short time. Cloaked pilots appear a shimmering figure to enemy pilots and don't show up on the optics of an enemy Titan at all. Meanwhile, pilots with the Active Radar Pulse can see through nearby walls for 10 seconds but cannot see cloaked pilots. Other equipment options let you run farther along walls, use smaller weapons while sprinting, or recharge your abilities more often.
As you play, you also unlock Burn Cards, which are one-time use boosts. You can only bring three cards into a match from your pool of up to 26 cards. You can only use one before the match begins or at respawn screens, and the boost lasts for the duration of your next life. The cards can increase experience or timers, or it could replace your weapons or abilities with amped-up versions. Rare cards let you gain full minimap vision of enemy positions, see through walls, or call in a Titan immediately at the start of a match. They're powerful, but there's nothing to stop the enemy from taking you out before you have a chance to enjoy the card's effects.
There are a series of game modes: Attrition, Capture the Flag, Hardpoint Domination, Last Titan Standing, Pilot Hunter and Variety, which randomly selects a game mode from match to match. Attrition is essentially team deathmatch, though a variety of actions contribute to victory. Killing enemy pilots counts as four points, Titans as two, and enemy bots as one point toward the 250 points needed for victory. Bots in the game aren't supposed to be analogous to players, so they spawn in groups of three to four and roam the map looking for enemy targets. They take cover and trade fire with enemy bots and pilots, and they take potshots at enemy Titans. They make the battle feel larger than the 6v6 nature implies, and they also make the pilots and Titans feel more powerful than the "standard" soldier.
Capture the Flag is self-explanatory, and Hardpoint Domination plays much like Battlefield's Conquest mode, with two teams fighting over three control points on the map. Last Titan Standing gives each pilot one life and starts them in their Titans. The team that eliminates all enemy Titans first in each round gets a point, with the victory going to the first team to reach four points. Finally, Pilot Hunter is a mode where only pilot kills count toward victory but otherwise plays like Attrition mode.
All modes feature bots. Killing bots (and enemy pilots and Titans) reduces your Titan timer, which starts at four minutes. By wiping out enemy forces, you can call in your Titan that much sooner. Once in your Titan, you get a new timer that builds your Titan's core ability. On the default Atlas Titan, the core ability is a damage boost; on the big Ogre, it's a shield boost; and on the nimble Stryder, it's a dash boost. Once available, the core must be activated to take effect, and it lasts for only a short while before it must be built back up.
TitanFall has a campaign mode, but it's window dressing for the multiplayer gameplay. Campaign matches have voice-overs during the lobbies between missions, brief in-game cut scenes at the start of a match, and some dialogue during the gameplay. Otherwise, they are a series of nine multiplayer matches of either Attrition or Hardpoint Domination on nine of the game's 15 maps. Completing the campaign once unlocks the Ogre Titan chassis (you start with the Atlas), and completing it a second time unlocks the Stryder chassis.
The idea is that you play through the campaign as the IMC faction for one playthrough and the Militia faction for the other, and they have different window dressing between them. Overall, the campaign is forgettable and something of a missed opportunity, but it establishes why the two factions are locked in countless battles. The idea could use more exploration, but there's no reason to touch the campaign again once you've unlocked the two Titans.
I'd wanted to give TitanFall a week to test server stability, which is even more important since the game is online-only. There were some launch issues that were ironed out within hours of the midnight launch, and since then, the servers have been smooth. I anticipated some hiccups with the wide-scale use of Microsoft's untested Azure platform, but TitanFall's connectivity has been solid. The net code is responsive and lacks a lot of the "corner shots" that plague other games. Other than two small connectivity issues that lasted for a second or so, the game has been stable and responsive.
The ideas behind the design of TitanFall aren't new to the genre, but the resulting combination works well. The pilot gameplay makes incredible use of a map's surfaces and elevations, the Titan gameplay trades vertical gameplay for heavy firepower, and the transition between the two is seamless. The sheer fun and unparalleled mobility that the game provides cannot be overstated. The Xbox One finally has a console-exclusive shooter, and TitanFall is such a damned good one that it's tough to go back and play others.
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