Friday, 9 December 2016

Titanfall 2 - Review

Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: EA 
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One (version played) 

Titanfall was the natural evolution of Modern Warfare’s stop-and-pop shooter-fest. It was bold, too, by modern shooter standards, completing eschewing the single player campaign (because, let’s be honest, the hardcore fans of these types of games couldn’t care less, they’re here for the multiplayer), and jumping wholeheartedly into an online-only experience.

This has certainly worked out for some games. Overwatch is great fun, and part of the reason I suspect is because it’s so laser-focused on its core game design of team-based combat. It has nothing else to distract it from that one important goal.

It’s with a bit of disappointment then, that Titanfall 2 caves in a little and doles out a single player campaign this time. I’ve mentioned multiple times on this site that I’m typically not the kind of player that enjoys hours of player-versus-player combat, and usually prefer the slower pace of a good single player game. Yet, Titanfall was oodles of fun, and I doubt having a solo campaign would have made it any better.

Well, Titanfall 2 has proven me right. Just as games like Spec Ops: The Line and Bioshock 2 really don’t need tacked on multi-player, this game really didn’t need a tacked on story. It’s less a campaign and more a reluctant sigh; a box-checking exercise.

The solo campaign sticks you in the boots of Jack Cooper, a shooty-Mcshoot kind of guy who’s soon thrust into a budding human-robot bromance with dead-pan titan BT. The story tries to inject some charm into the proceedings, with dialogue choices and BT’s literal interpretation of metaphors, but the bland, gung-ho military plot and generic villains don’t do much to endear it. Likewise, the relationship between Jack and BT comes across less as genuine and more as a forced connection; an Emotional Moment that the game can shove on the back of the box, rather than something that’s earned.

Respawn try their hardest to do something gameplay-wise to give the single player some spark. Given the series’ focus on constant movement and rapid-fire reaction, the campaign plays out like a mix between Call of Duty and Mirror’s Edge. One entire level is devoted to zipping around a factory that’s constructing combat environments and shooting galleries. It’s weird and ridiculous, but arguably more inventive than it needed to be.

One level even throws in some time travel into the mix. Jack switches from past to present at the push of a button, turning the whole experience into some weird, platforming, rhythm-action game. It's a novel idea. There’s sparks of creativity in the single player campaign, it’s just that they’re wedged between filler.

At best the bulk of that filler acts as a tutorial, splitting up the chapters between basic fire fights and more spectacular mech-on-mech battles. They’re the highlight of the solo gameplay, primarily because stomping around in a mech is so darn fun.

Ironically, the biggest flaw here, aside from the general blandness of the whole affair, is the core shooting. Titanfall’s twitch-shooting is perfect for multiplayer, where one bad move and split-second decision can mean the difference between life and death. In  a solo environment however, it becomes tedious, and when divorced from the RPG-strategy aspects of tooling up your character, also lacks a lot of depth.

When set aside however, in favour of the multiplayer, Titanfall 2 is as much fun as the original. The core mechanics are still intact; momentum, shooter-twitch and a surprisingly robust and deep range of customization options give the online matches a surprising amount of longevity for players, regardless of their skill level.

A lot of the genius behind Titanfall’s combat comes from its level design. Maps have a solid mix of wide open spaces and smaller narrow corridors. It’s a brilliant way of balancing the lightning-fast, yet vulnerable, pilot gameplay with the lumbering strength you get as a Titan.

Titans have been given perhaps the most significant overhaul for the sequel. There’s now six classes in total. These range from the more agile Ronin chassis that’s capable of lightning-fast melee attacks through, to the hulking, chain-gun-wielding Legion titan.

One of the most important aspects of multiplayer combat is finding the right pacing, and that’s what the Titan’s manage to provide. There’s a solid “build-up”, for lack of a better word, to the combat in Titanfall 2’s online battles. Matches start out with a hoard of speedy pilots, and then, by the mid-point, the Titans start dropping in, completely shifting the focus and pace of the combat.

The pilot-on-titan combat has been given some tweaks from the original game, too. Yanking a battery out of a titan can be kept for your own or doled out to a team-mate’s mech, encouraging a degree of cooperation. Likewise, the range of anti-Titan weaponry has been boosted, ensuring that, whilst arguably at a disadvantage, pilots aren’t completely left in the lurch should they find themselves up against one of the super-sized robots.

Whilst Attrition, the game’s team deathmatch, is certainly its most popular game variant, Respawn do ensure there’s some variety.  Capture the Flag and Amped Hardpoint, a basic area control match based around three objectives, are the most conventional alternatives. There’s also Bounty Hunt, which uses the games AI units as a kind of scoring mechanism, with points needing to be “banked” between rounds to win the match.

Whilst there is variety in Titanfall 2’s matches, as with Overwatch, there’s an awkward pull between the gameplay’s focus and the alternative objectives that the game variants provide. Amped Hardpoint is a standard game mode for most online shooters, but in Titanfall 2 it almost contradicts the emphasis on movement and speed, with players instead locking down and defending points.

A few more maps also wouldn't go amiss. Titanfall had plenty of fairly memorable locales to battle in, but the sequel seems happy to dump you in generic, sci-fi industrial landscapes for the most part. Well-crafted the maps may be, but that doesn't mean they're all that exciting to look at.

Still, none of this takes away too much from the central thrill that Titanfall 2 provides. It’s a cautious update, and one that’s only going to get more cautious given the game’s lacklustre sales, but the improvements on the whole are welcome.

Ignore the single player campaign, or, if you really want to play it, treat it like a really long tutorial. Instead jump online and enjoy blasting the bejeezus out of everybody in a giant robot. Titanfall 2 might be slightly disappointing, given how refreshing the original was in 2014, and it might have to live under the shadow of Overwatch as this year’s best online shooter, but overall, it satisfies some really basic thrills, and sometimes that’s enough.


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