"It's just Call of Duty with mechs," was my initial thought when I first read a couple of previews for Titanfall a couple of months back. To this day, it remains my go-to quick explanation when describing it to people who're interested in finding out what it is. I originally took Titanfall to be Electronic Arts' parallel to Activision's latest instalment in the never-ending Call of Duty franchise; seeing as how Medal of Honour doesn't seem to be coming round again any time soon. I remain on the fence about my final verdict on whether or not I actually like Titanfall; in some instances, I feel it to be an innovative contribution to the world of first person shooters. Conversely, I'm worried that it'll become a milked-to-death cash cow that Call of Duty was ultimately turned into. That, I'm afraid, is up to each individual gamer's prerogative. Despite all of this, when looking at Titanfall's development, the final product is basically a song and dance over the pending Call of Duty grave site. Respawn Entertainment, the developer behind Titanfall, was founded by the founders of Infinity Ward, Activision's former partners in crime within the Call of Duty franchise. The company is funded by Electronic Arts, Activision's main competition, which is ultimately a glorified proverbial slap in the face.
Titanfall is, essentially, an action based first person shooter in which players fight in online, multiplayer-only matches set on a war-torn planet as mech-style 'Titans' and their 'pilots.' Considering that the experience is strictly online and multiplayer-only, there isn't much of a story behind it. Players can essentially craft their own narrative using their imaginations paired with the environments and activities around them. A structural weakness in development, if you ask me, but also a smart move and I'll touch on that later.
It's made up of two sides: the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) or the Militia. Players may fight either on foot as free-running pilots or inside of agile, mech-style weapons, the Titans; think Mass Effect 3 when Shepard was saving the students of Grissom Academy in which you may commandeer the Cerberus-controlled mechs. While the game is multiplayer-only, it does attempt to inject some single-player elements with a light plot, character dialogue and non-playable characters (NPCs) into the matches. Up to twelve players choose their character type and are dropped into the map to begin the match. A timer pops up and displays the countdown until Titan deployment becomes available; the time is reduced with every enemy player slain. Once deployed, Titans are generously protected by a forcefield for a few seconds, allowing the player/pilot to enter safely. There are multiple types of Titans, each with unique abilities and animations. The mechs are not slow, but their movement is understandably slower than the nimble pilots.
Titanfall plays like your average first person shooter that we've all come to expect: simple, fluid and innovative, even though we rarely get the latter. It's easy to get the hang of and much like several other popular online FPS games, highly competitive. There's not much of a difference in general gameplay between Titanfall and Call of Duty, despite Titanfall offering much more in every shape and form. Despite my original thoughts, it actually turns out to be an invigorating experience that melds fresh mechanics with familiar ones.
With that being said, there are a handful of things I don't like about it. Firstly, I'm incredibly biased; I can't stand Call of Duty and I usually don't want to touch anything like it, regardless of how good it is. Titanfall is an exception and an eye-opener; I honestly thought it was going to be another Call of Duty, but while I do get that feeling every now and then, it's different and I don't harbour the same distaste.
However, Titanfall's attempt at throwing a plot into a strictly multiplayer-only experience is absolutely atrocious. It's slightly reminiscent to Brink and we all know how that turned out, despite the small cult following. With my experience with Brink in the back of my mind, I didn't expect much from Titanfall and was almost buzzing over the fact that I didn't spend my own money on it, so my disappointment wouldn't be severe if it failed. With how I feel in general, feeling as if Titanfall is too much like Call of Duty for my own taste, I can't say I'm upset that I didn't purchase it myself, but at least the developers received payment by someone for my copy. Thanks, Dad!
Lastly, the multiplayer-only ordeal. Normally, I will never pick up a new copy of a game that hasn't had the utmost effort put into it and that includes a narrative. I usually refrain from wasting $60 on a video game that's basically just Counter-Strike all over the place. It's debatable that multiplayer-only games should be cheaper than those with campaigns and narratives, considering you aren't really getting a full product based on what we've come to expect as gamers. However, I can see the developer's tactics in choosing to avoid delegating time and energy to a narrative when their product is meant to be the next Call of Duty/Counter-Strike/Brink. I just wish the price tag would reflect that.
Overall, Titanfall is and always will be a game I'll go back and forth on. I hate it...but I can't put the controller down. Maybe I don't hate it and just want to. Maybe my bias for online first person shooters has taken control. Either way, there's no denying that Titanfall is a fresh and innovative experience. Sure, it's only running at a disturbing 792p resolution with visuals that make you wonder if it's truly next generation every now and then...but it's strange. Titanfall is actually good enough to be able to overlook the negatives...unless you're in a bad mood or keep losing, of course. In that case, feel free to break your controller and curse the game. We'll see you in a few minutes.
Titanfall is available now for Xbox One and will be released on 25 March on Xbox 360.