Since the console's launch in November 2013, the Xbox One has been looking for its first killer title. That game that makes people want to buy the console, just to be able to experience it. While Titanfall isn't an Xbox One exclusive (it's available for the PC too), it still manages to be the first truly exceptional original title for the system.
For something that could have been simply more of the same, it deviates from the tried and tested formula of Call of Duty, becoming its own online multiplayer experience, one that will stick in the mind for a while to come. Even better, it's a far more balanced experience than most FPS multiplayer titles, meaning that everyone with an interest should enjoy it, regardless of ability.
Two significant components to Titanfall ensure it's a very different beast from most. Contrasting with each other, there's the parkour (or free running) elements when on foot and speeding things up, alongside the slower, more lumbering nature of the Titans, fearsome robots to control. Both work in perfect symmetry with each other, adding a surprising amount of tactical nuance to a game focused on the simple matter of 'kill the enemy before he/she kills you'.
Free running is delightful once mastered. It'll take a while to do so but it makes all the difference in battle. Even better, it ensures that those who aren't particularly good at lining up a shot quickly, still stand a chance in the heat of battle. At a couple of taps of a button, players can run along walls, up or sideways, escaping many threats. Importantly, the longer that one runs, the faster it gets adding a great burst of adrenaline to the player. Dodging bullets or rockets is a fantastic feeling, and really gives the player more control than simply acting like a typical infantry drone we've seen in so many other multiplayer games.
Such spritely moves can also make all the difference. Staying up high is a particular boon with it often possible to fire off a few rockets from a high up rooftop in order to take down a Titan. Sniping isn't so successful here with camping out of the question, but as a brief tactic, it does the job admirably.
That's the thing about the Titans. While having the potential to be ridiculously overpowered, they're just as vulnerable as the humans in the game. Taking a few minutes to appear at first, with this process sped up through multiple kills, they'll still appear eventually, ensuring that even poor players will get to enjoy such delights.
Titans aren't the be all and end all for success though as they're often quite slow and lumbering. Completing the campaign unlocks new types of Titan, offering superior defences or offensive capabilities, but there's always a pay off which keeps things balanced.
Titans can be equipped to fire rockets and cannons, amongst other things, and can punch or squash their enemies, but they can be just as easily taken down by a human pilot possessing a rocket launcher and speed. A Vortex Shield enabling them to grab onto incoming ballistics before throwing them back at the enemy helps here, but it has a limited lifespan. There's also the ability to get a Titan to follow you around or guard a specific area, proving particularly handy when playing objective led missions.
With plenty to unlock for the Titan load outs, there's a similar selection for the human pilots. At regular points, new weapons, perks or tactical gear become available, with players able to adjust their load out according to their taste. A series of challenges further enhances experience gain as well as a sense that one is always progressing.
Admittedly, few of the guns are overly distinctive, often covering the usual bases of SMGs, Shotguns, and other assault weaponry, but there is the auto locking on smartgun. This handgun enables players to lock onto a target after a moment or two, but again is well balanced enough to require some skill and timing.
This sense of balance is clear right from the start of the online only multiplayer campaign. While the campaign itself feels more like an extended tutorial, introducing players to maps and game types, it's worth playing through, not least because it unlocks new Titan shells.
Concentrate really hard on the voiceovers throughout the campaign, and one can spot there's a potentially interesting storyline unfolding but mostly it's forgotten about in favour of fighting it out with the rest of the world. Frustratingly, there's no penance for failing a mission which further adds to the lightweight sentiment of this mode.
The campaign does demonstrate the importance of taking out the AI bots (or grunts as the game calls them) though, as even the most inexperienced of players can feel a sense of achievement and progression by taking these guys out, even if they struggle against human opposition.
Such balance really does make a huge difference to ensuring that Titanfall is outright great fun, even if you're not playing as well as you'd hoped. An epilogue sequence after most matches, whether you win or lose, adds to the experience gain and the sense that it's not so bad losing. It motivates one to not just drop out of a quickly failing match. No longer is there that hopeless feeling when the weights are heavily stacked against you, as there's still something to gain here.
There's that sense that Titanfall is sure to benefit from DLC in the future. Some of the maps bundled in aren't overly distinctive and worryingly there are frame rate issues and occasional stuttering. The game modes on offer are fairly typical also, with only Pilot Hunter (where only pilot kills count) and Last Titan Standing (a no-respawn mode ending when all Titans are downed) being particularly new, but with regular support bound to be incoming, this is a title sure to grab on and not let go for a long time to come. Perhaps even more excitingly, if this is the kind of online multiplayer experience we should expect only 4 months into a console's lifespan, one can only imagine what's yet to come further down the line.
Titanfall is out now on PC and Xbox One. The Xbox 360 version is due out on April the 8th in North America and April the 11th in Europe and the UK.
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