The original Titanfall became the butt of quite a few inaccurate jokes during its run. Quips about how it was deader than X or less popular than Y were commonplace, though the biggest (and laziest) go-to was “Call of Duty with robots”. Although the team behind it, Respawn Entertainment, had previously been involved with Activision’s monolithic series, Titanfall was actually much more than what met the eye.
Featuring high-energy matches that were breathless from the start to the end, Titanfall held a strong playerbase during its initial release window. The blend of parkour and Titans worked wonders to reintroduce pure nineties FPS fun back into the genre and it received a warm reception from critics as a result. Not long after, however, the amount of people playing it started to dwindle, but not to the extent that was popularly believed. Titanfall wasn’t the most popular shooter on the market, but it most certainly hadn’t died.
One of the biggest points many made about its “downfall” was that it lacked depth. With lessons learned and a franchise solidified, is Titanfall 2 what the original could have been? Thanks to an enthralling single-player campaign and a multiplayer that’s almost impossible to stop playing, Titanfall 2 is not only an improvement on the original but also a serious contender for the best FPS of recent years.
It could have been all too easy for Respawn to bundle a half-baked collection of narrative-light challenges together and passed them off as a campaign mode. Although it isn’t going to last you a whole weekend, Titanfall 2’s single-player is a case of all killer, no filler – its 5-6 hours of playtime fly by thanks to how little downtime there is. There’s no seemingly endless cutscenes and barely interactive sequences for you to sit through: it’s all action, all the time. It’s how things used to be and possibly should be for most FPS single-player campaigns from now on. Battlefield 1 already proved that sometimes brevity is better than lethargy and Titanfall 2 makes the case again, but arguably even better.
Putting you in the boots of rifleman (read: grunt) Jack Cooper, who has aspirations to one day become a pilot, you’re first greeted with a tutorial that instantly lets you know just how smooth the experience of traversing walls and making great leaps is within the game. It’s a rare thing when I choose to replay a tutorial just so I can do better, but Titanfall 2’s tutorial challenge of beating the course times is worth the effort.
When a mission goes awry as mercenaries cut down Cooper’s teammates, things appear bleak, but then the star of the show makes himself known. BT-7424, despite being a monotonous hunk of metal, is one of the most charismatic sidekicks in gaming in some time. Thanks to his intervention, you survive the aftermath of the attack and become symbiotically paired with him after his pilot (and your mentor) is killed in action. Cooper’s growth from a budding pilot into one of the best in the Militia is a story told well and it’s all thanks to the chemistry between he and BT.
Quite how Respawn could introduce a single-player component into what always felt like a multiplayer game was the biggest question facing Titanfall 2. By never letting the pace dip low enough for you to do anything other than inhale, the case could be made that it’s an even more enrapturing experience than the mayhem found in the multiplayer. BT and Cooper are always coming up against rival Titans and a variety of enemies, though Titanfall 2’s greatest trick is never letting familiarity set in. Certain areas cannot be traversed by BT, so it’s up to Cooper to take the lead on foot, whether he reaches these areas by wall-running or a football throw courtesy of BT. Given a choice between a 10-hour campaign which is just an excuse to nudge you along from one explosion to the next or a 6-hour campaign which has genuine heart, there is only going to be one winner.
That’s not to say that Titanfall 2’s campaign is perfect, though. Boss battles are a mixed bag, challenging and exciting at times, straightforward and basic at others. The last fight in particular feels like an anti-climax compared to the challenge that preceded it: a hectic scrap atop a ship during a large-scale battle between the two rival groups. It’s also far too easy on regular difficulty, especially with the sometimes sleepy AI. If you’re picking up Titanfall 2, going for one of the higher difficulty levels is recommended if you want to get the most out of its single-player.
The spine of Titanfall 2, the multiplayer is where the majority of your time will be spent; time that you won’t even realise has passed as the hours tick by. Almost every match of Titanfall 2 speeds by, so much so that it has that “just-one-more” appeal. In truth, I could have had this review with you on Saturday, but Titanfall 2’s multiplayer whispered sweet nothings in my ear and implored me to spend another five hours with it.
The breadth of the eight modes available means that if one doesn’t sit right with you, another almost certainly will. Amped Hardpoint and Bounty Hunt are the two main new attractions this time out with the latter probably being the better option. It’s a frenetic mix of Capture the Flag and several cans of energy drink that will see you trying to take down other players and AI to stack up cash, which can then be banked and added to your team’s total as a bonus. There’s one big catch, though: if you die, you lose 50% of your earnings, which means that you can either go for broke and rack up a serious amount of cash at the risk of handing the opposition half of it or play it safe, collecting a modest amount as you avoid risky firefights. Amped Hardpoint is similar to Battlefield’s Conquest and just like DICE’s FPS, it can either be incredibly fun or frustrating. Depending on how your team starts the match, you will typically either coast to victory with a monopoly of the hardpoints or face a grind as a wall of enemy Titans cuts you down again and again.
You’re almost spoilt for choice with the Titans on offer, though it must be said that it’s a bit of a grind before you can unlock them all. Starting off with Ion before working your way up to Legion certainly takes some time and it seems to be the case that the later you unlock a Titan, the better they are. It’s a little unforgiving for new players as they will no doubt come face to face with a wall of Legions and Ronins with alarming regularity – perseverance is recommended, though. Once Titanfall 2 has its hooks in you, you won’t be able to break free, but you won’t even want to.
It’s not just the Titans that have changed, either. Pilots feel more responsive and fluid to control than before and as if they’re gliding across the battlefield. It’s hard to put to words just how satisfying the game is to control, which is helped by whatever you pick for your loadout. The best addition is undoubtedly the grappling hook, which when combined with a keen eye for the ludicrous can see you leaping across the map in a matter of seconds. There are other Tactical options available, such as the ability to speed up and heal or produce a large shield, but the grappling hook is the erm, hook.
Many players point to the original Titanfall’s lack of multiplayer depth as a reason why so many abandoned it. That’s been addressed for its sequel as Titanfall 2 has more customisation options, weapons to unlock and master, and Titans to give some pretty paint jobs than before by some distance. Again, it feels like Respawn have deliberately tried to force players to stay invested by drip feeding all the good stuff and this grind may frustrate some. There are also “Advocate Gifts” for performing well, which typically provide cosmetic items – you can also unlock these by competing in the bizarre Coliseum mode. It’s 1V1 action which awards the victor an Advocate Gift, but as you need to pay credits to compete, it doesn’t particularly seem worth it.
Any multiplayer games is only as good as its maps, and although Titanfall 2’s offerings may not provide many instant classics, they’re all solid. The maligned maps from the beta make a return along with six others that are better suited to zipping and shooting and it’s clear that fan feedback has been appreciated. In fact, almost all of the most vocal complaints people had about the beta have been addressed, which is all down to Respawn’s community understanding. Instead of staying the course and risking upsetting fans, they’ve listened to concerns and done their best to sort them. You don’t see that enough.
It may have been rather unfairly wedged between the two biggest games of the year in the release schedule, but Titanfall cannot and should not be considered an also-ran. At the risk of getting hyperbolic, it’s an incredible experience from the ground up that should be played by anyone who loves a first-person shooter with ambition and heart. It’s on another level to its predecessor and almost all of its rivals.