Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Prepare for Titanfall. by Mike Fatum

I ran through the smoke, billowing all around me. Gunshots sprayed out of a nearby building, and I ducked inside for cover. In front of me, an impossibly large winged reptile took one of my friends in its claws and made for the sky. I tried to shoot it down, but my bullets made no impact at all on its leathery flesh. The desert streets, once filled with life, were filled with corpses, and in the distance, I saw movement. The enemy. I ran from cover, jumping into the air. My jump-pack made the leap twice the distance of a normal man, and I flew through the air, hitting the jump again to take myself even farther. A slanted wall extended in front of me, and I ran across it, dropping down in front of my quarry.

They were three sentinels, robots intent on my death. My pistol beeped, telling me it had locked on to them in the air, and as I landed I pulled the trigger, executing all three with a single shot. My handler spoke, her voice in my ear, "Sixty seconds 'til Titanfall." It was too long. I sprinted forward, my HUD showing me the control point we needed to hack. "You're getting close to point B," my handler said, "Hostiles in the area. Watch out." I spun a corner, and my gun beeped again. Three points, all locked on the same man. An enemy pilot. I pulled the trigger frantically, but he jumped twenty feet in the air and disappeared into a building - into point B, where I needed to go. I switched to my sidearm, needing the extra accuracy, and barreled into the building. The pilot was nowhere to be found. I swept the room, and one shadow seemed wrong.

Four bullets ended the life of the cloaked pilot. "Thirty seconds until Titanfall." I huddled in a corner as my HUD gave me a readout. 50 percent, then 25, then the point was no longer contested. 25, then 50, then 75, and finally B was ours. My handler spoke up again. "Keep it up. I've almost hacked the tower." A sprint, a double jump, and another wall run took me halfway to A when my world exploded.

I looked up into thirty tons of death. Steel, fire and hot lead made up the monstrosity, the enemy Titan that stood before me. It was fast. Impossibly fast, for something its size. Each shell its gun fired turned my whole world red. I dodged, running first into a building and then up a flight of stairs. Out the second story window, I could see the Titan lumbering below, searching for me. I jumped onto it's back, landed on its roof, tore open its circuits, and fired my pistol repeatedly into its machine brain. The pilot ejected, flying through the air, aiming at me with a machine gun. I was forced off the beast, and landed in the street. Alone. The pilot reboarded his monstrosity, swiveling its main gun to face me.

"Titanfall ready."

With a sound I'd never been happier to hear, my Titan exploded through the sky, crashing in front of me, landing in a three point stance. I jumped inside, and my Titan held up its hand. The enemy fired three times, but its massive shells were caught by my robotic steed's forcefield, held in the air as if by magic. I released them, and they flew back into the enemy, who stumbled backwards. Towards the cliff.

I charged, throwing a punch that could topple a building. They reeled back, tried to fire, but I charged again, throwing another punch. They stumbled, teetering on the edge of the chasm. I fired my rockets, and they flew off into the distance. After a few moments, I heard a distant crunch, and my HUD confirmed the Titan kill.

I turned, and the Titan's computer spoke. "Warning. You are outnumbered two to one." Two more titans stood in front of me. I charged.


Titanfall is a new release from Respawn Entertainment, a studio made up of the creators of the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Like that game, it is a face paced, team based shooter, with an emphasis on movement and a lack of survivability. Unlike that game, you aren't confined to the ground, hunking down and hoping there isn't a sniper around the next corner. In Titanfall, you are a Pilot, and being a Pilot is incredible.

Like I mentioned in the story above, you have a jump pack, which allows you to jump huge distances, and then double it again with another jump. Your character can grab on to almost any ledge within the game, and run across any wall you find. This can lead to one Pilot double jumping up, running along a wall, double jumping to an adjacent wall, riding a zipline, and landing at a capture point before the enemy even knows what hit them. Being a pilot is all about speed and maneuverability. But, every two minutes, you get the chance to be something more.

Once every two minutes, faster if you are doing well, you get the chance to drop your Titan onto the battlefield. Titans are massive robots that only you can control, and come in four distinct types, ranging from incredibly maneuverable to downright impervious. They each have different weapon loadouts, and like your Pilots, you can upgrade and change these as the game progresses. They also can activate abilities like the aforementioned shield, which catches bullets and rockets and fires them back.

The game is incredibly well balanced. Pilots are vulnerable to Titans, but a good Pilot can easily get above or around a Titan and use one of their specifically designed Titan-killing weapons (every class has one) to blow the giant robots away. It becomes a game of cat and mouse, the giant Titans and the nimble Pilots chasing each other around the maps, engaging in jumping, flying firefights. It's a spectacle to watch, much less play.

The game is also designed to be incredibly friendly to new players. Unlike later Call of Duty games, which seemed to reward only the top-tier, Titanfall has lots of ways for the inexperienced to contribute. There are minions (human grunts, or the aforementioned robotic sentinels) all over the map, taking up positions and waiting for you to shoot them in the face. They don't grant the experience of a Pilot or Titan kill, but they still contribute to your victory, and they give everyone the feeling that they are helping. Of course, if you think this would lead to a League of Legends style fight for Creep Kills, you'd be right. The top players always have a minion kill score in the 90s after every match.

I've played a few multiplayer matches of Titanfall, and all the way through one side of their campaign. While some decried Titanfall for its lack of single player, the campaign feels like a fully fledged experience, even if it is a little short. Seven multiplayer matches are presented to you, each with a story that's fed to you in voiceover and short cutscenes. There are two factions, the Militia and the IMC, fighting over the frontier of space. The voice acting is very good, and even mission updates that, in Call of Duty, would be throwaway screaming lines are given weight. You feel like the NPCs are your friends and comrades, and it really adds to the immersion.

The main course, Titanfall's multiplayer mode, has six different types of battle. Nothing is new or unexpected - there's team deathmatch, capture the flag, hardpoint capture, etc. Neither are the weapons or abilities anything that the genre hasn't seen before. But it's the way it's all mixed together, in a cocktail of furious, face-paced fighting, that makes Titanfall the best shooter to come out since Unreal Tournament 2004.

The only major complaint I've heard so far, and I haven't seen this in the PC community, is that the last of penalty for leaving a match leads to a lot of team-wide rage quits. This is something I'm sure Respawn will address quickly, and was an odd choice to make - you really have to punish people for that sort of thing. Even with that sort of toxicity, though, there's nothing that should prevent you from playing this game. Titanfall is fantastic, and deserving of all of the hype.

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