Developer Respawn Entertainment Publisher EA Format PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Release Out now
PC, PS4, Xbox One
The first Titanfall gave us the Smart Pistol, a gun that automatically locked onto multiple targets before emptying its clip into the lot of them. It was a beautiful piece of design, subverting decades’ worth of shooter tropes by making the humble sidearm among the most powerful weapons in the game, and certainly its most satisfying. While it returns in
Titanfall 2, it’s an endgame pursuit, both in single- and multiplayer. By moving it, if not into the background then at least far off in the distance, Respawn is in theory leaving a gaping hole in Titanfall 2’ s arsenal. Needless to say, it fills it, and with gusto.
Perhaps the closest in spirit to the Smart Pistol is the Double Take. It’s a dual-mode rifle, a shotgun up close and a sniper rifle from range, its variable zoom selectable with a click of the left thumbstick. Shooters aren’t supposed to let you do stuff like this; you pick your loadout and take your choice, the sniper knowing they’ll be vulnerable to close-range weapons, the shotgunner a weakling from distance. Well, Respawn says, sod that. The Titanfall games’ greatest trick is they seem so uninterested in being shooters, while at the same time quietly redefining what the word means.
Frequently it feels as if guns are the last thing on Respawn’s mind. It’s especially true in the campaign, a mode conspicuous by its absence from the first game and, by a stretch, the highlight of the sequel. Rather than look at how its arsenal could be used in creative ways, Respawn looks at everything else Titanfall 2 can offer both the player and the designer that a traditional shooter – the Call Of Dutys that made this team’s name in particular – never could. The result is a six-hour procession of slicky polished craft and relentless invention that combine to form one of the most refreshing, forward-thinking FPS campaigns in an age.
The base Titanfall Pilot moveset – double jump, wall run, mantle – always felt like a level designer’s fantasy. While there were certainly flashes of genius in the elegant wallside paths and rooftop racing lines that corkscrewed around the original game’s multiplayer maps, Titanfall’s movement always seemed to need a little more room to breathe; for the player to be able to stop, take in their surroundings and think about their approach without being blown up by a 16-ton mech piloted by a hyperactive teenager working on their K/D ratio. Even in singleplayer, Titanfall 2 is a game best played at searing, hyperkinetic pace – the opening level’s time-trial training course makes that abundantly clear, and repeat playthroughs of the campaign will be played with a stopwatch on your coffee table. But it’s equally a game of delicate pace, of brains, of puzzles.
New ideas arrive every level, and feel so revelatory that you expect them to become part of an expanding moveset. But they’re cast aside as soon as Respawn’s designers have had enough to make way for the next. There are bum notes, inevitably – if there should be a Titanfall 3 we hope that whoever came up with the exploding spider robots is fired, silently and suddenly from behind, while he’s in the middle of something important. But on the whole Titanfall 2’ s campaign is a work of dazzling invention, in which ideas strong enough to power entire games are introduced and then tossed away casually. It’s hard to believe it was greenlit by a publisher whose love of the formulaic is legendary. EA just put out the best Nintendo game of the year.
You would forgive Respawn for focusing its efforts on Titanfall 2’ s singleplayer component, since the first game’s multiplayer felt solid enough to need only the most careful of guiding hands. But much has changed, and not always for the better. Titans now have fixed class loadouts, a decision intended to make the fight fairer (the idea being you can tell a Titan’s arsenal from its silhouette) that suffers for its lack of flexibility. While map layouts retain the level-design flair of the first game, they feel more like arenas than theatres of war; while Respawn’s attempt to add a story campaign to multiplayer combat in the first game was as muddled in execution as it sounded in theory, those narrative elements helped put each map into a plausible military context. You knew what was being fought for, and why.
In the absence of that, Titanfall 2’ s multiplayer feels more like a sport than a war, as if a military delegation landed in a dilapidated city and thought it seemed like a good place for a ruck. Meanwhile, the AI-powered mobs that previously roamed the map now appear from dropships in fixed positions at fixed times, and don’t stray far from their spawn. They’ve always been cannon fodder, but rarely this literally: in flagship mode Bounty Hunt, you kill them to build up a cash score you must bank at stations that only open between waves. Assuming, of course, you don’t get shot in the back on the way, losing half your wallet to a cloaked fellow with a shotgun who’s spent the past few minutes ignoring the raging battle while hunting for the optimal, most profitable hiding place. It seems rather against the spirit of a game that’s at its best when you’re moving at pace. You can see us wall-running, but can you shoot us?
Perhaps we’re overthinking it. The core Titanfall moveset is a joy, and it has been thoughtfully expanded with a delightful grappling hook. Its big stompy mech suits are, as ever, a punchily destructive, finely balanced thrill, and now there are more of them. And its weaponry, even before you unlock the Smart Pistol, is varied, distinct and thrilling. Respawn is committed to
Titanfall 2’ s future, with a host of maps and modes on the way, all of which will be free. No doubt the multiplayer side of the game will improve over time. If it ends up anywhere near the campaign in terms of quality, it’ll be some achievement.
Ideas strong enough to power entire games are introduced and then tossed away casually