Editor’s Note: Titanfall 2 has now been out for almost three weeks. It may seem strange to be covering the game now, instead of at launch, but at The Fountain we don’t think a game, or a film, or any other piece of media loses its validity over time. We’d rather take our time to explore a thing in detail and publish late than rush our coverage, especially when talking about a modern multiplayer game which will take significant time and usually patches to reach its full potential.
If there are two things that everyone knows about 2014’s Titanfall, the first is probably that it was an incredibly innovative reinterpretation of the shooter genre by the team behind the last reinvention in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, reconstituted into a newly-independent Respawn Entertainment.
The other is that the game was a huge flop, dying an agonising death with players deserting it in droves only a couple of months after release.
It’s an unfortunate truism that a great game was hamstrung from birth by decisions driven by business logic. Released under the auspices of EA, the original Titanfall was bedeviled by a litany of annoyances: a full-price release with the immediate availability of a season pass, which locked off maps and modes behind another heft price tag, a lackluster marketing campaign which failed to sell the game’s glorious combat and the complete absence of a meaningful single-player campaign.
In the years since that debacle, competitors and erstwhile friends have cribbed some of what made the wall-running, double-jumping, giant-robot-piloting original so much fun. Recent Call of Duty games have been eating Respawn’s sandwiches and sitting in their deckchairs, despite paring back the really groundbreaking elements to fit with the series’ established formula of running around a maze of circular corridors until someone shoots you in the back.
What a relief then that Titanfall 2 introduces just enough new elements to stand out from the pack, while fixing some of the flaws that held it back last time and crucially avoiding shooting itself in the foot from the start. And what a shame that marketing and business decisions have once again denied it the spotlight that it deserves.
Nice to eat you
In common with its predecessor, Titanfall 2 boasts a deep and engaging multiplayer, with pilots initially dropped without their hulking metal Titan buddies, building up a meter with killstreaks and objective captures before dropping in their robo-pal from orbit. Again, the movement system is key, with pilots boasting an impressive range of wall-runs, boost jumps, cloaking fields and other gadgets to create surprising scenarios from the relatively open and multi-layered map designs. The inclusion of the grappling hook automatically creates opportunities you’re unlikely to see in Battlefield—attacking a massive Titan from the ground? No problem, just grapple up to its chrome bonce, yank out the battery to drain its shield and chain a jump into a couple of wall-runs to pop up behind it and shower it with lock-on rockets.
In addition to new maps, weapons and abilities, the modes on offer have been tweaked as well. In addition to traditional deathmatch, both pilot- and Titan-style and capture the flag, Titanfall 2 offers Hardpoint, a kind of zone control game which naturally funnels combat into map corridors, while offering opportunities for lone wolves to clean up by coming in at unexpected angles, and Bounty Hunt, a new addition that awards points to both teams for killing NPC troops and titans, which must be banked at specific marked points at the end of a round. The ability to steal an opponent’s points by killing them leads to fantastic three-way tug of war moments, albeit with the dishonourable and dastardly tactic of camping the bank points much in evidence.
Multiplayer also switches up the way you select and customise your Titan, to great effect. Instead of choosing a chassis, essentially a trade-off between speed and toughness, and attaching any combination of weapons and gear to it as in the first game, Titans are now tied to a specific weapon loadout. Choosing a Ronin, for instance, will drop you in a light and speedy Titan with an invulnerable phase dash, married to a close-range shotgun and sword combo. While this might seem more restrictive, it is in fact freeing, since the new range of selectable Titans, 6 in all, have far more room for variation than in the old system. The hotkey powers, and especially the powerful core ability which builds over time, serve to further differentiate the particular battlefield roles each is suited for. It’s a very different experience piloting a Northstar, a light machine equipped with supremely strong but slow scoped railgun and limited jump pack, to stomping around the battlefield in a heavily-armoured Legion, whose deployable shield and rapid-firing chaingun make him an imposing threat.
As this is an EA game, the usual expected features including persistent unlocks, a pilot ranking metagame and planned DLC is all there, with the exception of one glaring omission: at launch there is no season pass, and according to interviews, no plans for paid map or mode DLC. Respawn have been coy about the possibility of cosmetic micro-transactions, but currently there is no way to pay extra for anything in game. Clearly, the strategy this time revolves keeping the playerbase a cohesive whole rather than carving off chunks of DLC-owners, which was a major problem in the original.
Me and my shadow
Something else that was missing from the original, and perhaps surprisingly the best addition of all, is the singleplayer campaign. Your protagonist, off-the-peg white games hero Jack Cooper, begins as a lowly rifleman, before a military disaster thrusts him into both the limelight and the cockpit of a Titan as an elite pilot. The plot remains distinctly old-school, full of heroic sacrifice and dastardly deeds, with enemies who unironically speechify about compassion being weakness. The undoubted bright spot is your trusty friend BT-7274, a huge presence who alters the game experience entirely—levels in which you are forced to abandon the power and safety of your metal cocoon feel completely different to sections where the game explodes into Titan-on-Titan slugfests.
In contrast with most modern shooter narratives, which at best serve as an extended introduction to the mechanics of multiplayer and at worst devolve into a series of vignettes in which you follow AI characters around being insta-killed whenever you stray from the path, Titanfall 2 offers a rich experience as full of ideas as it is stunning set-pieces. The product of a kind of internal game jam mindset where teams were encouraged to pitch ideas for the central mechanic of the game, then sent off to build out that idea into a level, each section contains a twist on the formula of running, jumping and shooting that could carry the entirety of a lesser game. Like a Zelda game, many of these toys are picked up, used to their fullest to define how a single level game plays, then discarded in favour of something else equally intriguing.
The return of veteran designer Mohammad Alavi, responsible for some of Call of Duty’s greatest levels, such as Modern Warfare’s All Ghillied Up, has lent each section a unique character. Revealing too much would do the game a disservice, but expect to have your expectations of time, space and shooting upended in the same way that Half Life 2 did; so many mechanics are thrown at the wall, and it’s impressive quite how many stick.
So it’s an unequivocal recommendation from me— albeit one tinged with some regret. Business decisions have again coloured the picture, with the game releasing just a week after Battlefield 1 and only shortly before Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. With a lackluster promotional push and less than stellar sales, it would be a great shame if the best multiplayer shooter of the year so far failed to find the audience it deserves.