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Review: Titanfall

It’s no secret I doubted Titanfall’s ability to deliver the goods everyone expected it to deliver in spades (see here and here). I was curious enough to pre-order it at one stage, but after remembering the SimCity launch debacle, I cancelled my pre-order to see if the server situation would repeat. To Respawn and (apparently) Microsoft’s credit, the launch went off largely without a hitch. So now I have a copy of the game (I played it on PC) I’m able to tell you what I think of it.

And I’m sad to say, I don’t think a lot of it at all.

Titanfall has some great moments. Issuing the command to deliver your Titan is, without question, very cool. Shooting things in your Titan is similarly cool. The way they’ve managed to design the maps so that pilots can still take down a Titan without being in a Titan themselves is clever. But before you can do any of that, Titanfall fails in some small ways and in one very, very big way.

Let’s tackle this in order.

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First of all, I like first person shooters. I’ve played through Half Life 1 and 2, enjoyed my time in the Resistance series, and had an on-again/off-again interest with the Call of Duty series. I’m no stranger to the genre, is what I’m saying here. So I know that with the possible exception of Half Life and its sequel, expecting a compelling story in an FPS is not a realistic expectation. So I can’t fault Titanfall for having a wafer thin story line… even though that’s exactly what it has. What I do fault Titanfall for is being online only. Respawn have said that Titanfall lacks a dedicated because;

We make these single-player missions that take up all the focus of the studio, that take a huge team six months to make, and players run through it in 8 minutes. And how many people finish the single-player game? It’s a small percentage. It’s like, everyone plays through the first level, but 5 percent of people finish the game. Really, you split the team. They’re two different games. They’re balanced differently, they’re scoped differently. But people spend hundreds of hours in the multiplayer experience versus ‘as little time as possible rushing to the end’ [in single-player]. So why do all the resources go there? To us it made sense to put it here. Now everybody sees all those resources, and multiplayer is better. For us it made sense.”

This is, in a sense, fair enough. But what it means is that Titanfall becomes a game for those players who enjoy multiplayer first person shooters. For people who enjoy the single player experience, and for people like me who actually kind of hate the online FPS experience, Titanfall is largely forgettable.

To try and cater for people like me, Respawn grafted a campaign on top of a multiplayer game. How does this work, I hear you ask. Like this. When you start a mission, players get placed into two teams. After the matchmaking is sorted out, your mission begins, starting with an in-game cut scene that delivers you your objectives and part of the wafer thin plot. Then you fight, and depending on who the better team was, your campaign evolves from there.

But therein lies the biggest flaw I’ve encountered in my time with Titanfall; the online matchmaking. For a game that is multiplayer only, you would think they’d ensure they got this right. But in all the games I’ve played, I as level 1 (now 2) pilot have usually been put on a team of other pilots in my skill range… while we all face off against an opposing team of level 20+ pilots. The general sentiment expressed by all on my team in the pre-game chat can be summarised as “WTF” and “oh gee, wow, that’s fair.” Needless to say, we have had our arses handed to us. Every. Single. Time. While the gameplay itself was largely fun, the entire experience was soured by being constantly shot within seconds of respawning, or wore, having my Titan blown up within seconds of me taking control of it. I get the sense that if matchmaking was more evenly handled (or if I was better at online shooters), I’d have a better time with Titanfall. Instead, I lost interest almost straight away. It is, I think, an enormous failing and really highlights how the enjoyment of online games relies so heavily on factors outside of your control.

What’s more, as revealed a few days ago, you can essentially complete Titanfall as a pacifist by never firing a single shot. While you could argue that this is essentially giving players a form of choice in how to play the game, what this really shows is that trying to be something you aren’t simply doesn’t work.

Before you get to do any of that, however, you have to sit through the dullest tutorial ever devised. Step one. Move. Step two. Shoot. Step 3. Jump up onto a ledge. Really? Do we need to teach people how to do even the most basic things in a FPS now? The genre is over 20 years old now… I think we know that pressing ‘W’ will move us forward, thanks guys.

Graphically, Titanfall is great. There’s not much more that needs to be said there. Honestly, it looks great. Sound effects, voice acting and music are all serviceable, but not special. It adds to the experience, don’t get me wrong, but not in any incredible way. It’s just nothing special.

Another, longer term view is the fact that Titanfall, which can cost anywhere between $80 to $100 AUD,  will essentially become unplayable in a few years. As a game that is online only and relies on server infrastructure, it is likely that within the space of around five years you’ll see others stop playing the game entirely (without team mates and opponents, you can’t play the game) and server infrastructure decommissioned to be used on Titanfall’s sequels. If you don’t mind that going in, then disregard. But it does mean that unlike Quake or Doom, Titanfall is likely never going to be a retro gaming phenomenon. You won’t be able to fire it up in 10 years time to relive the experience.

Titanfall is a game for a specific group of people. If you’re the sort of person who likes playing online first person shooters against human opponents, and doesn’t mind the fact that your $80 to $100 game will essentially become useless sometime in the next five years or so, then Titanfall is the game for you. If you ‘re more of a casual first person shooter fan, you may get some limited enjoyment out of Titanfall, but don’t expect a great time, especially if you’re after a single player dedicated campaign. Titanfall bravely tries to cater to both groups, but some missteps along the way stops it from being a game I can truly recommend.

Final score: 5 out of 10.

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