So I installed Origin. Yeah... Yeah, I'm sorry. I'll go sit in the corner. A priest is on his way to exorcise my computer as we speak. However, my deal with the devil had a point - Titanfall is a pretty good game it turns out. In fact, browsing through EA's catalogue of games, it's almost one of a kind. Their catalogue mostly consists of Battlefield, Battlefield, Battlefield, Dead Space, Fifa, Fifa, Fifa, Fifa, Fifa, Fifa, Mass Effect, The Sims, The Sims, The Sims, The Sims, The Sims and Spore. Let's just say that there's practically nothing else in there that I want. But Titanfall recently announced a new free update which gave the game a PvE horde-like mode, which got me and NT interested. That, and EA's CEO must have hit his head because I scored the game on a discount. In fact, that discount's still in effect, but I'll talk about prices at wrap-up. Let's get started for real.
Titanfall is a first-person arena shooter with a slight militaristic tinge, multiplayer-only and has no single-player story campaign. Up until the Frontier Defence update, all the game's modes were PvP-exclusive, but now there's a PvE mode, as well. Titanfall's selling point is multi-faced. For one, you have the Titans - giant walking almost anime-esque robots armed with big guns and lots of armour. You can call those down every so often and they'll fight on their own when you're not in them. The game also sports a pretty robust and easy-to-use parkour system, allowing to you run on walls, climb and jump from rooftop to rooftop. It's a lot of fun to do and gives on-foot players a pretty solid fighting chance against Titans. For another still, the game uses very small teams - 6v6 in PvP, 4 players in co-op. The rest of the map is filled with AI-controlled soldiers who fight their own little wars around you, who will shoot at you (and can kill you) as you pass and whom you can sometimes kill for points. Suffice it to say that this is a VERY different arena FPS game like you haven't seen in quite a while.
Graphics and design:
In boring technical terms, Titanfall uses a heavily modified version of - I am not joking here - Valve's Source engine. This is a blessing in that the game performs remarkably well and easily hit 120 FPS on my machine. By this point Source is a pretty solid little engine. On the downside, however, this does lead to some graphical fidelity issues, most notably on the Titans themselves. Every time you mount up your Titan, you will actually go into it from a first person perspective, getting a face-full of some of the worst textures I've seen in years. It's understandable, really - you're getting a face-full of the Titan's character model, and character models are always janky when viewed up-close. Luckily, this only lasts for a literal second so if you sort of blink and don't look at it, the rest of the game looks pretty good. Beyond this, though, the maps are large and detailed, texture work is extensive, player models are pretty solid and there are even little touches like the various NPC critters having their own little grappling fights as you pass by. The graphics won't blow the top of your head off, but they run well and look pretty good. For the PC master race.
Design-wise, the game's a bit of a mixed bag. Players on foot - so-called "pilots" - are actually pretty boring. They wear basic military fatigues and use guns which look like modded out conventional firearms. You have the pistols, the rifles, the SMGs, the LMGs, the sniper rifles - all the boring stuff you've seen a zillion times over, all of it pretty... Pedestrian. There isn't even that look of sleek, futuristic guns that made Battlefield 2142 so cool to look at. That's for the pilots, though. The Titans are another matter entirely. They're pretty amazing. Giant metal humanoids who must stand 15-20 feet tall, their designs are intricate and reflect your weapon selection. As they have hands, they use giant "hand-held" guns. Stuff like a semi-automatic 40mm grenade launcher, a full-auto 20mm machinegun with a 90-round magazine and even the spinning rocker launcher from Unreal! The gun designs themselves are VERY creative. They look beautiful, futuristic and over-designed as all hell. There are three classes of Titans (by which I mean there are three Titans), and each of them is very distinct. From the skinny fast one, to the generalist, to the fat tough one, you can tell what you're fighting at quite a distance. It's impressive, put it that way.
Special mention must be given for character animations in this game, both first-person and those of other people. Gun firing and reload animations are pretty detailed, ESPECIALLY on Titan weapons. Another game would just have you slap on a drum of grenades on your drum-fed grenade launcher. Not Titanfall. Here, you put it on, the thing has to self-spin up to its initial position, then a clam descends to secure it in place. You attach a new container of chaingun ammo, only to see a cage descend to guide the ammo, then a chain of rounds being pulled out of the box. Yikes! Every time you get inside your titan or leave it, there's an aimation for it. Several, in fact. You can just run into the cockpit and sit down if you're boring, but there are so many other ways. You can jump at the Titan and it catches you mid-air with its hand, then stuffs you into its belly automatically. You can lump from above and enter through a top hatch. You can slide between its legs and it'll pick you up, stuff you in. Someone put in A LOT of effort making the game seamless, and it shows.
Gameplay and Systems:
In Titanfall, you can either play as a Pilot on foot, or as a Pilot inside a Titan. When on foot, the game feels a bit like Unreal Tournament. Movement-wise (and this is important), pilots have a very high jump, a double jump, the ability to run on walls and the ability to vault up on top of ledges that they can't quite step on. This, combined with a very fast sprint ability, small size and devastating anti-Titan weapons makes Pilots just as dangerous when on foot as they are in a Titan, both to other Pilots and to enemy Titans. On foot, you have access to a pistol, an anti-infantry weapon and an anti-Titan weapon. When fighting enemy infantry, you obviously just shoot them, though you can melee them as well. When fighting enemy Titans, you can either shoot them with your anti-Titan weapons, or you can "rodeo" them - climb on top of the enemy mech, rip open a panel and start shooting into its innards. This is... Incredibly frustrating for the pilot inside since it can kill your Titan very quickly, and also very empowering for you as a Pilot. Suffice it to say that you're not supposed to just run and hide from the big scary war machines. You want to get on top of them. If anything, a Pilot on foot is as scary to a Titan as a Titan is to a Pilot
After several minutes (from the start of the game or from when your previous titan blew up), you can call down a Titan. It quite literally falls from the sky, then sits within a protective "dome" shield for a bit. You can mount up the Titan and play that way if you want, or you can ignore it and the Titan will activate on its own after a while. Pilot-less Titans will fight just fine on their own, though they aren't very smart. They'll try to follow you around the battlefield, but you can leave your Titan in a specific place to guard it if you so desire. It's pretty good at taking out NPC critters but pilots typically eat AI Titans for breakfast. A Titan has only one weapon, so their utility is limited by design. They do have an activatable "ability" (i.e. some variety of slow anti-Titan missiles) and... That's about it. They're heavily armoured and protected by a regenerating shield, but also slow and very large, easy targets. They're good for area denial since a Titan can usually shoot or even just step on soldiers. However, Titans have a hard time seeing Pilots because Pilots are very small, move very quickly and like to hide inside buildings your Titan is too big to fit inside. Pilots are also remarkably resilient, able to survive four-five shots from a 20mm machinegun, so it's a fair fight most of the time.
All of this comes together fairly seamlessly in the game's several major game types. Perhaps the most unique is called Attrition. In a battle of attrition, each team has a "bar" which fills up as team-members kill enemies. The thing, though, is that the map is literally crawling with enemy critters. They walk in from off-screen, they drop in drop pods, they fly in on transports, they're constantly showing up and moving around and fighting each other. Obviously, killing NPCs isn't as rewarding as killing Pilots and their Mechs, but there are SO MANY of them you can make up quite a bit of difference just hunting critters. Destroying Titans gains a big points boost and killing Pilots even more so. What's fun about this game mode is you can barely if ever mess with the enemy players and still contribute greatly. The other major mode that I've played is Domination. I forget what it's called in the game, but it's basically a battle for control points. Here, kills don't matter, holding points for as long as possible does. Finally, there's Frontier Defence co-op. In this mode, four players defend against waves of AI foot soldiers and mechs. There's a surprising variety in those and it gets VERY hectic if you get hit with a nasty spawn. You have a "Harvester" thingy you're protecting. Lose it and you have one or two more "tries" from the start of whatever wave you were up to. Lose enough times and the map ends in defeat.
I know this is getting overlong, but "story" will be short so I'm adding an extra paragraph. The game has a system of character progression and build customisation. When you start, you're given one pre-made Titan and two pre-made Pilots. Once you get a bit higher in level, though, you'll start unlocking custom Pilot and Mech slots, as well as guns, skills and items to customise them with. Pilots have a variety of primary weapons, each of which can hold one upgrade out of about three, most of which can also hold a scope. Pilots also have one of three sidearms and one of I think four anti-Titan weapons. They then have grenades, an activatable skill and two passive buffs. It's enough to make for a diverse selection of characters. Titans, by contrast, have a chassis (one of the three), a main weapon and an attachment. Main weapons, too, can have a single upgrade out of several options. They then have their own activatable ability plus two passive benefits. Each chassis also has a unique "core" ability - speed for the light one, damage for the medium, defence for the heavy. There's enough of a selection there to give the game quite a bit of variety.
Story and Characters:
*phht* What characters? I'm sorry, but the developer's decision to try and weave story into competitive multiplayer is just a laughable fail. One of the game's major modes is called "Campaign" which runs you through all of the maps. Some you play in Attrition, some you play in Domination, all of them you play in PvP. While you do this, a bunch of characters enact an ongoing radio drama on the comms and try to pretend like your actions are actually driving the story in some way. To the game's credit, the commentary's situational awareness is pretty good. Stuff like "OK, you took Alpha! I'm charging the self destruct, but we still need Beta and Charly. Move it, Pilot!" It's nice as a background but story? I couldn't begin to tell you. There's an authority called IMC or some other intitialism, and then there's a resistance called the Militia and they're fighting along a plot that I can't follow. All I know is that the Militia have a woman with them and speak in pleasing American accents while the IMC speak in Sout African accents so they must obviously be evil.
The Campaign feels like you're trying to do your taxes while someone is watching Starship Troopers in the same room with the volume set very low. Now try and tell me the plot of the movie. It's all PvP so your attention is on the PvP. You can't sit and listen to the characters babble. And the funniest bit is regardless of which team wins, the missions always end the same way. The Militia are trying to secure a facility to steal data, the IMC want to blow it up. If the Militia win, they get the data. If the IMC win, they blow up the facility but the militia get the data anyway. Well, I might as well have stayed in bed that day. I mean, the name McAllen is rattling around in my head like a bean in a salad bowl, but hell if I know who he was and what he was on about. And the game randomly switches you from one side of the conflict to the other as the maps rotate so it's just impossible to tell. Don't go into this looking for a story.
As the game is multiplayer-only, that actually matters. The community is pretty much what you'd expect - a lot of self-entitled jackasses who will yell at you for using the Smart Pistol or the Triple Threat or whatever else you may be using that you're killing them with, who'll gloat and throw around homophobic insults and so on. To be fair, though, the game's community is mostly quiet. Few people say a word, few people use voice chat and there's rarely any real need for coordinated play. If you want to play as a team, just follow other people and gang up on those who didn't
At the same time, however, I'm surprised to find that there's very little "ganking" in Titanfall. This isn't because people are nice and just don't do it - far from it. The way gameplay works, there simply aren't very many cheap ways to fight. There's no spawn-camping because the game always spawns you away from enemies and near friendly units (and then usually dumps friendly NPCs on you for good measure)... Hell, there's very little camping in general. The game thrives on moving quickly and fighting on the go, going from spot to spot and never sitting down. There IS a sniper rifle, but good luck sitting in a perch. You may be able to pop people from time to time, but in the mantime the enemy team is racking up points gunning down NPC soldiers by the dozens. You are not helping.
There's also fairly good balance between Titans and Pilots. Yes, a Titan can squish you in one might step, but you can sneak up on it so, so easily. Titans have a hard time seeing Pilots and a hard time telling them apart from the grunts. They can't see into buildings and they have a narrower field of view. Titans are also getting shot from everywhere at all times, so they're easily distracted, plus you can jump on them and ride them. Inversely, though, a Titan can kill a pilot caught in the open VERY quickly. One quad-rocket shot and it's done. If you're hiding inside a door, Titans can shoot rockets or grenades inside the room. You jump at a Titan who sees you, he can just slide into you and smear you across the ground. Every weapon, every situation, every combination can go pretty much either way. The one who wins isn't the one who brought the bigger gun, it's the one who knew how to use what he already had. The one who wins is the better player... And so far Titanfall's players don't really seem all that good, in my experience
Expect whiny people who try to play cheap if you go PvP. Also expect to kick their asses once you have their tricks down pat. And if you're playing PvE, expect reasonably helpful, sometimes competent team-mates. And PvE also adjusts its difficulty to the number of players, too.
I'm surprisingly happy with Firefall. NT was worried it would be just a Call of Duty with giant robots, but I'd say the game's a lot more fair and a lot more balanced than that. It rewards skill, quick thinking and - often - the patience to die a few times before you learn how people keep killing you. Or if you don't want any of that nonsense, just play PvE against the AI and... Well, you'll still lose horribly quite often, but at least it won't be unfair, will it?
Get this game if you like arena FPS games but the old ones just aren't cutting it any more. This is a perfectly competent, capable FPS and a damn good game besides. I'd also get this if you like sci-fi or giant robots. There's A TON of that in this game. In fact, it feels a bit like the old Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri game. If you're interested, it's on sale right now. NT says that for him, it's $20 right now. For me, it's 30 Euro ON DISCOUNT because fuck you EA. But it was worth it, I think. The gunplay is solid, the parkour is good and the robots are cool. Trust me - you've not played a game like this before.
Of course, anything I say isn't going to matter to you one iota if you refuse to use Origin because Titanfall is Origin exclusive. If you don't want Origin, you can't have Titanfall, that's as far as that goes. Needless to say, don't bother with Titanfall if you're terrible at FPS games or if they make you nauseaus to play. PvE or PvP, this is not an easy game and it's VERY fast-paced. Especially when jumping from rooftop to rooftop, you'll end up swinging your camera wildly from side to side. If this makes you queasy, beware! Finally, it is a primarily competitive FPS. If you don't want to deal with giant manchildren questioning your sexual orientation because you beat them... Well, I'd say they aren't a HUGE problem since chat in Titanfall can be ignored completely, but they're there. "Wouldn't be Titanfall without someone complaining about the Smart Pistol."
Me, I got the game and I don't regret the 30 Euro I paid for it. I am having second thoughts about selling my soul to Origin, but what's done is done. I've had plenty of fun with it, and even now feel like firing it up for a few rounds just 'cause. Maybe I'm good at it, maybe other players suck, maybe it's just a good game, but I can honestly say I recommend Titanfall.