Respawn and EA’s follow-up to Titanfall is an exciting evolution and revolution in first-person shooter games.
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 28th, 2016
NOTE: Titanfall 2 was played on a PlayStation 4
When a game comes along that evolves the first-person shooter, much like Halo: Combat Evolved did in 2001 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare did in 2007, it becomes a case study in genre design. When Titanfall (now also known as Titanfall 1) arrived on Microsoft’s Xbox One in 2014, it did so with sizzle but very little steak. Billed as a multiplayer-only shooter, Titanfall introduced players to a world of wall-running, warring factions, and massive robots that fall to the ground like meteors. Some praised the refined mechanics and well-balanced multiplayer while others criticized its lack of content. I was one of the former and my anticipation for Respawn’s follow-up was palpable. Titanfall 2 delivers and exceeds expectations from veteran pilots and newcomers to the series.
Titanfall 2 addresses many of the complaints lodged against the original and it does so in the biggest way possible: a fully-fledged single-player campaign. You play as an up and coming rifleman named Jack Cooper who’s still in the middle of his training to become a pilot. Pilots are specially trained and physically modified soldiers that are paired together with the previously mentioned robots called Titans. Your trainer and his Titan, Captain Lastimosa and BT-7274, pull you from training and call you into combat. At some point in that same mission, the Captain is mortally wounded and relinquishes his authorization of BT to the player. And from there, Titanfall 2 becomes one of the most exciting and enjoyable single-player experiences since Doom.
BT-7274 is the obvious stand-out as he applies his expected dry-wit to most of his interactions with Jack Cooper. BT will respond to one of the two dialogue choices that appear on screen during the campaign. Some of the banter between BT and Cooper is endearing but there’s only so many times BT can misinterpret an expression. It’s cute when BT replies, “I wasn’t shooting you, Pilot,” when Jack asks if he missed him. But towards the end, you wish the writers had included a few more comedic gags between the two.
Cooper is a complete audience cypher and is predominantly being told what to do by BT or another character rather than take any agency for himself. You’ll swear that BT is the lead character of Titanfall 2 and not the player. For all the criticisms of the two main leads, it does work in the same “sci-fi cliché way” that Halo: Combat Evolved did. The constant ebb and flow between BT and the player leads to many dramatic and emotionally charged moments that I won’t spoil here.
The level and mission design of the single-player is Titanfall 2’s greatest strength. Each mission offers new gameplay mechanics and new places to go that never feels phoned in. A favorite of mine was the level on an assembly line where you had to navigate around the conveyor belts and mechanical arms as they built homes for a practice arena. You will later ride in that simulation home and parts will be assembled as you fight off the mercenaries and robots. Each level does lead up to a “boss” that is given their own unique Titan but you won’t remember them once the story is finished. You’re given brief glimpses into their character when you fight them but there’s no in-fighting and strong feeling of accomplishment when you best one of the cronies. It would’ve been more effective if the player and BT absorbed their weapons and abilities rather than us just finding them throughout the levels.
While Titanfall 2 adds context and weight to the larger conflict, that’s just practice for the multiplayer mode, which is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time. Nine maps are shipped with the game on the disc with Titanfall 1’s Angel City scheduled to be added in December. It’s worth mentioning and commending Respawn Entertainment for their free content/map updates for Titanfall 2. In a day and age where Battlefield 1 can still get away with selling their maps in a $49.99 USD Season Pass, much praise goes to Respawn for not splitting up the community and ensuring that every player has the same experience with their game. The nine maps that are shipped with Titanfall 2 are all excellent, with plenty of wall-running for players and open spaces for Titan combat. Some of the levels feel too open and flat and don’t retain their verticality from Titanfall 1 like Nexus or Swamp Land in the DLC.
The multiplayer gameplay has also seen a few tweaks and changes, the most notable being the Titans. In Titanfall 1, you only had three chassis (small, medium and large) to choose from, but you could experiment with the abilities and guns so your Titan was tailored to you and your playstyle. Now, they have six available types of Titans that specialize in a different kinds of combat. Scorch zones the players with thermite and fire while Northstar flies above buildings and snipes anyone who’s unlucky enough to enter his crosshairs. Legion is good for taking and dishing out damage with a chain-gun while Ronin is the only Titan with a sword and ideal for close-quarters combat. The additional Titans and abilities are welcome but that feeling of discovering “your” Titan is lost.
Pilots see an increase in weapons added in from the last game along with the removal of burn cards: a set of one-time use cards. In their place are boosts, special tools or abilities that are used when you reach a certain percentage of build-time for your Titan. New traversal mechanics such as the grappling hook and phase shift vary up the gameplay in Titanfall 2 and each one has been balanced and refined to not over-power another player. A curious omission is the removal of the first-person executions for the Pilot and the Titans. When executions are performed, you’re pulled out a third-person view to make the kill seem more cinematic. But it’s a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” - Respawn has responded that they may add it in the future.
Titanfall 2’s biggest sin is its release. Titanfall 2 is sandwiched between Battlefield 1 and the upcoming Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and its sales are suffering because of it. Whether it was Respawn or EA that set the release, stay the course - Titanfall 2 deserves your time. It is one of the few shooters that deviates from the mold and excels in its genre. With an excellent, albeit enjoyably clichéd, single-player and fast, riveting multiplayer, Titanfall 2 is an evolution and revolution for first-person shooters.