Apparently, “Stand by for Big Stompy Robot!” didn’t test well with focus groups.
Titanfall 2 (MA-15+)
Respawn Entertainment (Published by Electronic Arts)
Version tested: Xbox One
(Also available on PlayStation 4, Windows)
Technically Titanfall 2 isn’t part of my backlog- I picked it up last week as Big W is carrying the disc version of the game for $22. Maybe I need to start a new game series for games picked up on the cheap, called “Is It Worth A Lobster?”
But it is more than a year old. Released in October 2016, its publisher drew widespread criticism for releasing the game at the same time as two other, much better-known series were getting new instalments. Trying to compete with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Electronic Arts’ own Battlefield 1 didn’t do the game any favours, and while hard sales data is hard to come by, EA is on record is stating it sold less than expected. Given its sales target was over 9 million units, and very few games in the medium’s history have ever hit those giddy heights, this seems like it was always going to be a struggle- even before its high-profile, heavily marketed competitors arrived.
And it’s a shame. Titanfall 2 has a great premise, some memorable setpieces in the campaign (even if the plot goes off the rails a bit), and seems to have remained free of the loot-box plague (although it does have cosmetics you can purchase, such as custom paint jobs).
After the customary 26Gb download Xbox Live “patch”, the game gets underway. The original game didn’t have a campaign so much as it played its backstory in the background as you played multiplayer; this time around, there is a more fleshed-out single-player experience. The campaign has you playing as a rifleman for the Militia, a resistance movement battling the standard Evil Corporation. Your mentor was teaching you how to pilot a Titan (the game’s terminology for Big Stompy Robots) but gets killed off in the first chapter, because of course; from there you and BT-7274 have to fulfil his mission, meeting up with other soldiers to learn what they have discovered about the IMC’s dastardly plans.
Along the way, the plot gets a bit silly. What starts out as standard “plucky resistance against evil corporate entity” quickly delves into Halo territory with alien technology from a long-forgotten civilisation and a time travel gimmick that features in exactly one chapter of the campaign and not a second longer.
Titanfall‘s unique selling proposition is that it combines two very different gameplay styles into one title. As a pilot on foot, you are quick, agile and able to run along vertical walls for a time; this allows you to pull off some very stylish moves in combat to flank enemy soldiers. Your mobility also combines with the time-travel level to allow the game to feature some neat Portal-style platforming challenges to break up the combat.
While there are sniper rifles and other weapons that allow you to hang back and take a methodical approach, the game is very much designed around making you use your mobility to get into the fray. Enemies can easily see you even from a distance, and certain enemy types seem easily able to home in on your location even if their colleagues haven’t yet spotted you, so you get a lot of mileage out of jumping off walls, using your invisibility cloak to throw the baddies off your scent, and manoeuvring behind them for quick kills.
The other gameplay style is your standard, plodding shooter like a Gears of War, except this time you’re in a Titan and the plodding is because you’re a heavily-armed war machine dispensing fiery oblivion. Much like in Halo, the game restricts your ability to use your vehicle, forcing you to periodically disembark to solve puzzles or navigate terrain that BT-7274 can’t cross; but your reward in each case is a sequence where you get to just rampage across the map, leaving the enemy infantry to flee in terror. I can’t lie; these feel pretty badass.
To add some difficulty there are enemy Titans as well, including some boss battles, and even here there’s a bit of variety. Collectables during the campaign allow you to change the loadout of your Titan on the fly to reflect your play style. The base loadout includes Macross-style homing missiles and a minigun and is more than adequate to get you through, but additional pickups allow you to brandish flamethrowers and swords if they take your fancy.
The campaign is about the standard length for first-person shooter campaigns, so about the length of a Halo game. You can burn through it pretty quickly if you’re just after some quick Achievements and play on Regular, but given how quickly you are spotted by enemies and how much damage enemy Titans can deal out, the higher difficulty levels do pack some challenge. It’s about 6-8 hours in length depending on your difficulty level and play style; there weren’t any platforming challenges that gave me particular grief (although some Achievements linked to them are a bit tough) and most of my deaths came from mistiming jumps or in combat. One particular type of enemy is very quiet and essentially insta-kills you if it gets close, so that’s probably another incentive to keep moving and not hide for too long behind cover.
As of December 2017 Respawn is still issuing updates and support- indeed, I was prompted to download another 472Mb of data as I was checking a few things for this article- although most of the downloadable updates seem to be additional skins and paint jobs for your Titan in multiplayer. I didn’t have too much difficulty finding a match in multi and was reasonably competitive, although if you’re just buying in now you’re at a significant disadvantage facing experienced players who are familiar with the maps. You also have to remember that you can wall-run and double-jump, something a lot of other shooters don’t have (especially if you’re coming from, say, Halo).
Is it worth a lobster, then? The campaign has some cool moments and a fair challenge if you ramp up the difficulty, and the multiplayer is still worthwhile- if you enjoy it you can even sling the developers a few extra bob for a skin or additional Titan design for multiplayer, and hope that EA sees fit to make Titanfall 3 a thing. Even without the online component I enjoyed the campaign enough to justify the cash, although I might not have been so enthusiastic at full price.
Derek is Reverend Snide on Xbox Live if you want to get some cheap kills.