With the announcement of Titanfall 2, let’s look back at the original and consider what, if anything, a sequel might bolt onto the existing framework.
In the run-up to Titanfall’s release last year, I didn’t have a machine that could run it and so paid precisely no attention to the hype train. Then I acquired a decent PC and started hunting for games to put it through its paces, and suddenly I understood why people cared about a game that, on the surface, looked like just another grey big-budget shooter with some robots thrown in. Sometimes it feels good to be proved wrong.
Titanfall is a multiplayer-only action game which revolves around the dynamic between pilots and Titans: the former are nippy, can parkour like maniacs and go invisible, while the latter are incredibly powerful but easy to pin down. What’s impressive is the balance between the two, because both have various ways of counteracting the other. So two teams of players jump into the fray and can either summon their Titans to use directly or set them on auto-pilot as a gigantic metal guard dog. Even if you never use your Titan, their presence makes things much more interesting than a simple fight between space-ninjas would be.
Titanfall mixes up the dry modern shooter formula in subtler ways too, some of which I was very sceptical about until seeing them in action for myself. Like the inclusion of grunts, AI-controlled minions that roam the battlefield in squads and basically serve as cannon-fodder. They’re a way to nab a few extra points for your team, but also make surprisingly good camouflage for a pilot caught in the middle of combat and can sound the alarm if someone’s sneaking up on you. On top of that, the grunts also add a remarkable amount of atmosphere, both with their sheer body count and their impressive variety of interactions, such as falling over themselves to escape when an enemy pilot appears or dragging their fallen out of harm’s way.
Beyond that, though, Titanfall just has more elements at play than many other shooters, allowing skilled players to uncover tricks while still being very approachable to newcomers. One of my favourite touches has to be the execution moves Titans can perform on each other, which serve both to stop a pilot ejecting and as a gratifying reward for victory. Then there’s the nuke a dying Titan can set off, which I like to exploit by trapping someone in a corner, blinding them with smoke and then ejecting to admire the mushroom cloud from a mile up. But it’s very possible to shoot down a pilot post-launch, so again, every strategy has its downsides.
Titanfall was a very pleasant surprise for me, and now you can get it cheaper with all the maps and added features missing at launch. It’s been a long time since a multiplayer game grabbed me like Titanfall has and even the ridiculous hype surrounding its release didn’t stop a lot of positive reactions from other cynics. Probably its biggest issue is the déjà vu that sets in after a few solid hours, not helped by the bland art style and world that wants to be interesting but never manages to feel like more than a veneer. This repetition and EA’s decision to sell maps probably contributed to the community’s reputation for being dead, but I’ve never seen fewer than five hundred people playing at any one time.
So what would I want from Titanfall 2? Well, they could give the world some personality somehow, or maybe even a singleplayer mode for those of us who enjoy such things. Really, though, I think the best thing Titanfall could do from here is continue to rebel against the rigid template enforced upon big-budget action games ever since Call of Duty’s explosion into the mainstream. When even an EA-published first-person shooter can strike me as a project with some soul at its core, I dare to imagine the AAA gaming scene might still be worth paying attention to.