This review was originally written by our Brethren Moo, Numbers for his site True Game Truths and is posted on Atomic Moo with permission
The views and opinions of this review’s author do not necessarily reflect those of Atomic Moo’s; Though it should be said that since dating a pair of nymphomaniac vampire vixens, the creators of Atomic Moo don’t really “reflect” anything, anymore…
Many folks found something waiting for them in their inboxes: invitations to the beta of the upcoming TitanfallM, a new-school shooter with a twist. We here at True Game Truths got in as well and soon found ourselves dropping into Mech Town. The beta does not reflect the full version of the game, mind you, but should give a good idea of the gameplay mechanics. Can Titanfall stand on that alone, or is it more of a Titanfail?
It might not be new. It might not be relevant. It might not be launch day. But for us, it’s the first day. These are not reviews but rather the tales of True Game Truth’s initial impressions when playing a game for the first time. Welcome to Day One.
TITANFALL BETA (PC, 2014)
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Platforms: Windows, Xbox 360, Xbone 3
ESRB Rating: M
Price: $59.99 for the full version
Nutshell: futuristic newschool military shooter with high mobility and mechs
NOTE: All impressions based on first day of playing. Any inaccurate explanations of game mechanics etc. are due to misunderstanding, poor explanation of concepts in game, and/or inexperience. Screenshots were captured on these graphical settings. Game will look better on your boss rig.
What if someone could bring fun back to the newschool shooter? What if it wasn’t all brown and grey, all hitscan tacticool rifles, all xenophobia? Hard to believe, I know, especially when the “someone” in question are former developers of the Call of Dudebros franchise, a brand which has been systematically undoing 20 years’ worth of the first-person shooter genre’s progress; and it’s published by EA. Any and all of that would reason enough not to buy it, but what if it’s actually fun? What if the game mechanics are solid, the gun-play satisfying? Here’s our chance to find out in the Titanfall beta, the upcoming futuristic shooter from Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts. This time, instead of kill streak bonuses and unmanned drones, players get to call down their very own mechs to drive around. Bear in mind that this is not the final retail version of the game, which will obviously have more content. But that’s not what we’re interested in today. How does it play? How does it feel? This close to release, it’s safe to assume that they aren’t about to change any core game mechanics, so if it’s fun now, it should be fun when the full version launches.
Mech-based games aren’t as common as they used to be, with MechWarrior Online and HAWKEN being the only notable examples I want to mention (Both of them are free-to-play and HAWKEN is even on Steam now). After grudgingly installing EA’s “Origin” malware – which you must use as this game isn’t coming to Steam any time soon – and launching for the first time, I went to the options menu to set up my controls and settings (this being a PC game, after all). I was pleased to find that there were actual options. This wasn’t just some “Graphics: On/Off” port job. Hell, there was even an FOV slider. Granted, it only went from 70 to 90, but at least I didn’t have to edit an .ini file to get an FOV larger than 75.
Next, I had to connect to the Titanfall servers. Why? Because the entire game, not just this multiplayer beta, is online. The “campaign” is a series of co-operative multiplayer matches, from what I understand. Botmatch ladders are not necessarily a bad thing, but let’s face it: we aren’t in the Unreal Tournament era any more. And trying to cram story elements into the campaign botmatches, like in Unreal Tournament 3, just feels half-assed. Titanfall’s loading screens hint at a larger universe and an ongoing war, but we’ll have to wait and see how much (or how little) of a story ends up being told in the retail version. Having botmatches in lieu of a campaign is not the only problem. Offline singleplayer was not available in the beta. All players needed to be connected to the Titanfall servers before they could even load the singleplayer training. Timing jumps in the platforming sections was next to impossible when every time I hit the spacebar I would get impaled on a lagspike. I don’t expect a proper offline single-player botmatch “campaign” mode would be available in the full version, so if you just want to experience the story versus computer-controlled characters, I’m guessing it will be akin to playing an MMO without a group. Private matches against bots on a server, with the possibility of a bad connection or server issues screwing with your fun. Hey, you played Diablo III, right? When I did manage to play some multiplayer matches, I found myself in an all-too-familiar environment. In terms of structure, it’s damn-near identical to the now-typical modern newschool shooter. Experience levels, loadouts, perks… It’s all here, and toggleable cloaking ability notwithstanding, it’s mainly the same. But what is different? Titanfall boasts high-mobility instead of a cover system. Wall-running, double-jumping, ledge-grabbing, and hanging on walls by plunging your space-bayonet into it are all fair game. This leads to the level design featuring verticality, with rooftops to use strategically, and conveniently-placed ledges and objects to climb on and leap from. Camping is, theoretically, not an issue, since anyone could just ascend a building and snap a sniper’s neck.
And of course, there are the Titans. Instead of kill streak bonuses, players have a countdown timer notifying them of their next mech drop, or “Titanfall.” Killing Grunts (cannon-fodder bots) and Pilots (human opponents), securing objectives, and doing other war-ish actions reduces the countdown timer until their next Titanfall. Only human players, “Pilots,” are able to call down a Titan, which I imagine must make botmatches rather boring, if they’re available at all. There was no server browser, and I could not find a way to create my own match, private or otherwise. The only option was matchmaking. Maybe the full version will fix this glaring omission, and add bots who can pilot mechs, too.
Titanfall differentiates itself from its peers with its futuristic setting. Loading screens show space-age cityscapes and fleets of starships, with tooltips that hint at lore. The training simulator transports players to a Mirror’s Edgeian TRONlike world. But on the battlefield, the futuristic nature of the game’s universe is hardly felt at all. The crumbling, war-torn cities look like any other we’ve seen in similar games. It’s not futuristic enough. Halo 3: ODST’s city of New Mombasa had a distinctly sci-fi look and feel. In-game, Titanfall’s Angel City is a generic metropolis with a few fancy cars and high-tech billboards. Weapons are also underwhelmingly standard. Pistols, SMGs, assault rifles, shotguns… The usual modern-military fare is here. Where are the creative, non-standard weapons typically associated with futuristic shooters? Where are the railguns, the energy rifles, the flak cannons, the lightning guns? The beta featured EMP grenades and a “smart” pistol that could lock onto targets ala Panzer Dragoon. It’s a start, and I hope the full version has more sci-fi armament in that vein. The weapons used by the Titans as well as the anti-mech equipment were the sort of high-impact firepower we’ve come to expect from the sci-fi FPS genre. A heavy rifle with HE rounds, a lock-on rocket launcher, a mech-sized rocket shotgun… that sort of deal. It’s just a shame that the standard infantry-vs-infantry weapons are so bland. Players carry a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, and an anti-Titan weapon, but the gunplay is not satisfying at all. Enemy infantry goes down with hardly any bullets at all or a few kicks. And of course, hiding behind objects lets your health recharge. Getting killed shows you a replay from the point of view of the player that got you. Pretty standard fare.
Then, there are the mechs, the main attraction of Titanfall. Pilots can set their Titans to follow them, have them guard a specific area, or saddle up and drive them manually. Mechs are badass, even when their designs are as uninteresting as those of Titanfall, but they play very similarly to being on foot. Mechs can run, melee attack, and even crouch, just like on-foot humans. The Titan’s additional abilities (dashing, rocket payloads, catching projectiles and throwing them back) bring a little variety, but basically, when piloting a mech is too similar to being on foot. You just move slower and present a bigger target. And how sad is it that the biggest feature of a modern shooter is that you can use a single vehicle? Vehicles in shooters have been standard for over a decade now. But it won’t set the world on fire. It does nothing to revolutionize the genre. If you absolutely must have a fast-paced mech FPS, just play HAWKEN instead.