Stand By For Titanfall…

Those of you who are on my Twitter know that, for the last day or two, I’ve been doing nothing but playing Titanfall. But, you don’t know the half of it. I’ll play for five hours, until my mind can’t keep up the pace any longer, then I’ll nap for a few hours. An event which is usually followed by more Titanfall. The reason I’m here, now, and not playing more Titanfall, is because I felt compelled to write a review for the game. Not because I think you need to hear how great it is for the thousandth time, but, rather, because I think a lot of people will dismiss it. I mean, it looks like just another militaristic shooter. But, it’s not. It’s so much more than that.

Some of the first multi-player games I started out playing were Quake and Counter-Strike. They were fast, adrenaline-fuelled Charnel houses. Five-minute rounds of reflex-testing fun. And since then, the model hasn’t deviated that much. They’ve added head-bob and guard-dog, slowed it down and sped it up, but the central pointy-clicky-deathy mechanic has maintained its central importance. It’s always felt great to win those games. The thrill of bringing a team to victory through your own wit and speed, accuracy and dexterity, is highly rewarding. And when there’s team-work, it’s always rewarding. But, that’s the way those games are designed, so it’s not really surprising. What does Titanfall do different? Well, let me stop posing panto-questions and just answer.

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The simplest way I could describe the difference between Titanfall and something like CoD: Ghosts is that Ghosts is fun to win; Titanfall is fun to play. The perks, Kill-streaks and spawning systems in Ghosts pretty much ensures that the winning team is going to start winning harder. Yes, it can be fun to turn it all around with an epic Kill-streak cooldown, but considering that most contests are already weighted by the vast skill-gaps that exist in that community, it being populated by large concentrations of some of the most hardcore and some of the most casual gamers in the market, the winners are probably using that momentum like a club. But, that’s a skill-thing. That will change from game to game.

What doesn’t change, though, is your place on the battlefield. The CoD: Ghosts protagonist is a highly-trained specialist in the field of role-playing as one of the 99% of germs that Mr. Clean “deals with”. When I play, I get killed by passing explosions, guard-dogs, assassinations, snipers, nearby gunners, grenades, nukes… A lot of the time, I never bother to find out how I died, because it’s not tactically helpful for long. Sure, it’s a realistic depiction of how personnel might feel on a futuristic battlefield, like important, squishy assets within the framework of a dangerous death-machine, but it’s annoying. And while it can be fun to dominate, I don’t really feel like I’m in charge of my own destiny.

Let’s cut to Titanfall, because it’s a game-changer. Right off, I’m going to admit my bias. Half the time I’m playing the game, I’m mentally role-playing as one of the kids from Attack on Titan. Just getting that out there: I’m not impartial. I’m having way too much fun. And that’s the thing. Titanfall is a delight to just play. I was laughing during the training exercises, and that hasn’t happened in years. A lot of that has to do with the movement system.

When you’re on foot, you’ve got a few options. You can sprint, crouch and walk, like a normal FPS. Or, you can wall-jump off buildings like you’re playing Assassin’s Creed. Or, you can take it to the next level and become a fucking ninja. You see, while most people are only going to see the two levels of combat: mech and human, there are layers to this game that emerge as you get better at it for deceptively simple reasons. 1: You get a major speed-boost from running on walls. 2. You can double-jump and change direction in mid-air, once per jump. 3. You can cling to walls to double-jump up them. That’s it. Three simple rules that change everything.

Because, now, as a Pilot, you can get to every vantage point, ever, if you know how to use the movement system properly (I can’t wait to see how broken this becomes). More than that, though, there is a qualitative difference between how you’re moving and how pilots on the ground are moving. With the right combination of manoeuvres, you can cover the entire map with a speed matched only by a dashing mech with its infinite dash-core activated (No, really, this is a thing that happens).

But, let’s not be too hasty. It’s not all about the movement system. You know how some games suck because the level devs weren’t talking to the game-play designers when they were hammered out? Well, that’s not happening here, and thank god. If it had, this would be another game of wasted potential. As it stands, the levels are honey-combed with different routes and escape vectors. There are free-running paths that don’t break the flow of combat, get in the way of the mech-fights or cover the whole damn level. Which is good, because you want to have to think about how you’re moving. If you can move every place equally as well, then you’ll never pay for stranding yourself in the middle of a field that mechs are using to play rugby with plasma, rockets or you, instead of a ball.

If you become tired of getting stepped on, you can have a Titan dropped out of the sky to smash people with. And, let me tell you, there are few things more satisfying than crushing someone’s Titan with your incoming Titan, a killing-method that I improve with a perk, because options. And, again, the game could have really fallen apart here. But, Titanfall earns its spot as a next-gen game. Your Titan feels huge, but the levels never feel out of place. You can crush pilots by stepping on them, but they Can combat you. Not on even ground, mind you, but with skill and finesse. Pilots can climb on you, either as support or to attack you (This animation needs some work, because it’s hard to aim from Titan-back while the rectical is clipping into the Titan’s uber-sprite) or take you out from afar. Pilots aren’t your biggest threat, though… The Titans come.

Once you call in a Titan, you’re the center of attention. Other Titans swarm you. Pilots are all over that. Even the game’s foot-soldiers, which we’ll get to in a minute, seem vaguely aware that you exist, which means a big step for and on them. So, make sure you know why you’re calling in your Titan. Don’t just warp it in to get torn to pieces. It’s a mighty power. You can change the entire shape of the battlefield with it. When it drops, it obviously makes a wall with its body, but it also lays down a sheltering bubble-shield and crushes everything it lands on. Great advantage; huge liability, because…

The most popular matches I’ve played (based on match-maker-assembly time) have been Attrition, which is basically a death-match where every target is worth a different amount of points. Titans are worth a LOT here, Pilots are worth a little less, and the foot-soldiers are worth about a fourth of a pilot. But, foot-soldiers run in groups of four or more, so it can be worth taking them out. That’s kind of the point of them. You see, while games like CoD: Ghosts insist that you get really good at twitch-killing players, Titanfall gives you the opportunity to use strategy. I’m not saying there isn’t strategy in Ghosts. There clearly is, because I’m not winning that game as much as I should be, even just statistically. However, Titanfall suggests that there might be other ways to win, besides exterminating your fellow man. Just take out the computer-controlled versions. Or spend your time exterminating Titans. Or play a different game-mode. Hard-point capture, Capture the Flag, and a game-mode I’m refusing to call anything but The Titan Rumble-Pit, because they just put each of you in a single Titan and demand that you discover the victor. Sounds pretty Godzilla: King of Monsters to me. You know, mechanized and all.

Some people complain that the minion-grunt A.I. sucks, (which is weird because no one complains about the minion A.I. in LoL,) but they serve their purpose. I think the game is better for their presence, if only as background dressing. Additionally, they could still have their A.I. improved or be used as a piece in a game-play mode, like Attrition, so we’ll see what they do with them down the line.

Let’s wrap game-play, so we can get to combat and the story, shall we? Titanfall is not a game you want to miss. It’s Brink meets Mech-Warrior fused with CoD: Ghosts and its current-gen ilk. To reiterate, it’s good because it’s enjoyable to play and the levels are designed to let you Play. But, it’s also good because of how balanced the combat is. There are differences-in-kind -qualitative differences- between the Pilot combat and the mech combat; their interaction is a lot of fun, but I’m not going to cover Anti-Titan Pilot combat. I’m going to let you discover how to take those bastards down on your own, because I enjoyed that the most. Pro-tip: Don’t use Anti-Titan weapons while “Rodeo-ing”; you’ll just blow up. Empty your SMG into its circuits.

The Pilot combat is well thought-out. The weapons are your stream-lined mix of combat types (Snipers, Assault, Assassin…). They’re all basically effective and come with their own attachments that you unlock via levelling. You know, like CoD: Ghosts, Battlefield 4 and every other game that makes me feel like I can just use the phrase “Rank-Based Perk-Levelling Load-Out System.” (RP-LOS) Create your kit, play with the abilities, and let the laughter commence! Sorry, I meant slaughter. Slaughter was the word we were looking for. But, there’s a secret stumbling block here that Titanfall crushes ‘neath its mighty tread.

You see, getting people into a multi-player FPS is a difficult thing, for many reasons. There’s the vitriol that supposedly exists in the chat-boxes. And, there’s some of that, but I just ignore it. Why humanize the intelligences behind moving -digital- targets? And, there wasn’t as much as I expected, given how often it’s referenced. Most people are just there to have a good time. Then, there are connection issues and game-availability. But, that’s not As big a deal with digital downl…IT’S 50 GIGS?!? Oh, umm… then there’s the skill problem. New players are going to get the ground wiped with them by the veterans with LMGs unlocked, right? So, how do we even the playing field? Balance for skill, of course! Make something big and destructive to earn the new players some kills, like the AWP or the noobtoob. Something like… a pistol. Oh, for fu… oh, a computer-guided burst-pistol that can lock onto multiple enemies, or a single target real-good-like. A single three-round burst from the Smart Pistol will end a Pilot’s thrilling career forever.

And, luckily, it’s the gun they introduce you to at the beginning of the game, because they’re very aware of this. It’s not cumbersome; it’s powerful and elegant. And it really makes the fast-paced combat more approachable. It’s hard enough drawing a bead when your target isn’t making Ezio Auditore look under-geared. At the same time, the Smart Pistol isn’t your Best option. It has trouble at mid-long range, and it’s just not going to be enough to handle anything but 1-v-1 Pilot-on-Pilot combat. So, as you improve, you’ll replace it, which is what you’re supposed to do with anti-FOO weapons. However, it’ll still take down a wave of minions in a couple of trigger-pulls, make a grenade explode in someone’s face and easily execute a Pilot, so it’s Not Useless once you get past a certain rank. Now, that’s balance. It all hangs together rather well. The melee is an instant kill, but it can be difficult to jump-kick people when they’re flying around, so that’s usually a tight-hallway thing. Again, though, you can fly through the air, so, if you’re good, difficult becomes epic.

I think that’s the ultimate accomplishment of Titanfall. It rewards your improvement, but it doesn’t punish other players for your success. That’s your job. Because, no FOO strategy can make up for the ninja skills you’ll develop. Of course, very few ninja skills teach you how to deal with Titans.

You Guys Know These Things Are Free Wallpaper, Right?

You Guys Know These Things Are Free Wallpaper, Right?

After playing as a meth-squirrel, you might think that stepping into a Titan would feel a bit arduous. But, no. It feels like putting on the Iron Man Prosthetic. You can reap petty revenge against the metal monsters than squashed you AND do some squishing of your own. It’s a bit slower, I grant you, but it also feels like you’re moving through the environment at an enhanced pace, because it’s the same environment, but you’re huge now. You’re basically a tuna that’s taken over a shark. The weapons are varied enough that you can pick your own play-style, and the abilities and body-types are different enough that the lack of choice is compensated for by emergent variety.

For instance, I have a dash-type body for manoeuvrability, but it’s very lightly armored. So, I compensate for that by using explosive weapons. That way, I don’t have to hold a bead. I can fire, dash, forget. Or, the chain-lightning gun, because I think you’re obligated, contractually, to try it out. But, I also have a secondary weapon that unleashes a salvo of rockets and a pretty nasty case of electric smoke-gas. So, if I’m cornered, I dump the damaging smoke-screen and split. Or, I can decide to go all out, empty everything into the nearest target and…

Well, once your Titan is about to die, it goes into a Doomed state. Which means, it gets a striped health-bar and is seconds away from blowing up. At which point, it’s time to eject. Usually, when I go all out, it’s because my little mech has been cornered and is being helplessly dominated by some other giant mechs. That’s fine, because I get to choose HOW it blows up. You want to hurt my baby? Okay, well, I took the perk that causes a small nuclear explosion when I eject. Which automatically happens when my Titan is about to die, because I chose another perk that made it so. Enjoy blowing up. Running away? Okay, but I’m piloting the Dash Mech: the fastest mech in the game, and my mech may be doomed, but I’ve got enough time to get in your face.

There are some downsides to this strategy. If there’s a ceiling, I’m ejecting my face into that, directly. If they escape the explosion, then it didn’t do much good, but it makes a difference often enough that it’s in my standard loadout.

Because, customizing your mech actually feels like you’re customizing it. Not visually, obviously, but I don’t really care that much, because the devs put a lot of work into the visual design. Why should I paint it rainbow and pretend I’m piloting the Nyan-Bot? The custom mech options are different enough that they create interesting emergent combinations. (is this a pattern?) Check their specs out here, if you’re curious.

Let’s get to the muck, though. It’s pretty pricey for a single game. $60 for the basic package or $80 if you want the season pass. I picked up the season pass, against my better judgement, because Respawn (the people behind this game) have shown that they understand how fundamental level-design is to their game. Poorly designed levels will break Titanfall, moreso than any other game, because it relies on the movement system of the Pilots to balance the sheer strength of the Titans. But, they’ve got my trust, for now. If the new levels suck, believe me, I’ll Tweet it.

There’s no single-player campaign, and the story is very vaguely presented. I’ll recap the story here, as best as I can gather it so far, so you understand the gist of it while you’re playing. *deep breath*

“FTL technology has opened up space, but it’s a standard Stargate, jump-system scenario. The military fights using newly-designed droids and Titans, which they can produce and assemble very quickly. The Militia, the Rebels of the story, want to free the Outer Rim from the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC, the local PMC, our Greedy-Capitalism-Endless-Consumerism-Imperialism-Is-Bad stand-in). In order to do that, they’re going to enact the grand strategy of a military commander that defected from the IMC. The leader of the IMC forces used to be buds with this guy and recognizes the strategy as the one they came up with in High School or something. Basically, they’re going to cripple the IMCs fleet through a few ground-ops, then they’re going to destroy the jump-gate, effectively closing the door on IMC reinforcements until they manage to make it there the slow way.

However, by the final mission, most of the people on the IMC side are dead, and the lion-share of their ground-forces are just robots. Robots that the IMC Command Computer will create endlessly with one goal in mind: defeat The Militia. That’s why, during the last mission, The Militia leader says, “Dude, let’s just ally and destroy the plant. There’s literally no reason for you to fight for the IMC, because they’re back on Earth. There’s no gate to get there. It’s just robots, now.” Robots that were programmed with a specific blind allegiance to a ideological system. Here’s the scary bit!

With central command light-years away, and very few people left, the IMC robots will keep endlessly reproducing with the same goal in mind, even if the IMC ceases to exist in the 200-year journey from Earth. The robots don’t have cognitive thought. They don’t have loyalty. They’re an endlessly self-perpetuating cancer that will devour the galaxy, constantly consuming everything to build more of themselves. That’s where the Capitalism-Consumerist satire comes from. And, I’m only really aware of this angle because I wrote a similar short-story where a Self-Replicating Roomba gets lost in Space-Time and ends up creating a race of mechanized Slicing Dysons that try to devour the galaxy. But, that’s a pretty common problem.”

We’re almost done, but before we wrap, let’s address the issue that a lot of people seem to have with Titanfall. The multiplayer-only issue. Yes, it’s pretty expensive to pay $80 for a multi-player game. But, let’s be serious, it’s a lot of money either way. And, it shouldn’t matter if the single-player isn’t there if the multi-player is solid. BUT, that’s only if the multi-player is what you’re buying it for. I wouldn’t ask you to stick Death-match into SH2, so I’m not going to demand a shitty campaign that would have just sucked money out of the development of the multi-player.

People complain about this like it’s a new thing, but it’s not. It’s just the first time I’ve paid for it; I’m fine with that. I used to play 5-minute Counter-Strike matches for hours at a stretch. I play CoD: Ghosts the same way. I literally don’t know what the CoD: Ghosts campaign is like. I only know the story because, well, that’s my job. For the most part, I play Extinction or Death-match. As long as that’s what you’re buying Titanfall for, you’re going to get way more than your money’s worth. The pieces all fit together. This is not just next-gen graphics; this is next-gen game-design. Because, it’s a sprawled design process with a focused goal in mind: to create an excellent Death-match experience. If we mark it down for knowing what it is and what it wants to be, then we’re just perpetuating the next-gen problem of trying to create things to appeal to everyone. Please, tell the reviewers that do this, but complain about game-play stagnation, to get their heads out of their butts and realize that the industry listens to that twaddle.

At the end of the day, the best recommendation I can give for Titanfall is this: I had to edit the word “fun” out of this review 9 times, because it was becoming really redundant. And that, more than anything, should tell you how I’m enjoying the game. If you’re looking for a unique, fast-paced, next-gen-FPS multi-player experience, this is the game for you. If you want a strong story with stirring characters, then perhaps not so much. But, it scratches the itch it does with something made of titanium and cherub down. Whether that’s worth $60-$85 or not is up to you.

Honestly, I could go on, but I want to play some more Titanfall. So, I’m giving the game The Intense Spark Of Strange Love Under Flashing Black-Lights out of The Playful Caress Of The Afternoon Sun Waking You From A Nap. Join the cause, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Addendum: The match-making system is simple and intuitive. So simple that I forgot to mention it.  >.> But, it’s also pretty terrible at matching skill-levels, so don’t be afraid to bail on unbalanced matches before they start. You’ll be back in another lobby in under a minute.

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