The original Titanfall had a lot to prove, being the first game from Respawn Entertainment, the fledgling studio founded by the remnants of Infinity Ward. While it was critically well-received, the PC version suffered from a multitude of technical issues that weren’t ironed out for some time, and the post-launch support in general was severely lacking. This all led to a rapidly hemorrhaging player base and after a month or so Titanfall was essentially dead in the water. Fast-forward two years and we’ve got Titanfall 2, a sequel determined to do it right this time and build upon the solid foundations laid by its predecessor. It’s brought a campaign along this time, and performance seems pretty solid across the board, relatively speaking. But does Titanfall 2 barge its way into the smoky VIP room alongside Halo, Call of Duty and Battlefield? Or is it destined to go the way of Evolve and Battleborn?
In the campaign you play as rifleman Jack Cooper (voiced by Matthew Mercer), who due to unforeseen circumstances is forced to take up his mentor’s Titan, BT-7274 (voiced by Glenn Steinbaum). The story Titanfall 2 tells is a simple one, elevated by the relationship that develops between pilot and Titan, as well some truly original mechanics and level design. The campaign takes itself seriously enough to elicit real emotions when it needs to (seriously, I was not expecting Titanfall 2 to make me feel things), but never overwhelms with grim realism or exposition. Steinbaum’s performance as BT is particularly enjoyable, I was laughing out loud more than once at his deadpan delivery. The game looks crisp as hell, and while it may not pull off the same level of visual fidelity as Battlefield 1, it still manages to impress with a more stylised look. As already mentioned I had little to no performance issues and man does this game look phenomenal running at 60fps.
As a pilot you are able to double jump, wall-run and crouch-slide which all feels intuitive and satisfying. Having played very little of the first game, it wasn’t long before I was gliding and sliding around the early levels with ease. It helps that there’s a repeatable ‘gauntlet’ tutorial level, allowing you to hone your skills for as long as you want. The first few levels feel like they’re training you for multiplayer, but things soon get interesting. More than once I was pleasantly surprised at how clever and fresh it all felt. After a certain point, each level starts doing something completely different to the last. It never feels like too much too fast though, just when I was starting to think I’d had enough of a certain mechanic or locale, it moved me on to the next. Even standard FPS environments like caves, underground factories and ruined labs are made to feel unique. For example, one level takes place in factory that makes prefab houses. You have to jump from half-built house to half-built house as they move along the factory line, using the recently attached walls as cover. Another level is on a series of huge spacecraft flying within the atmosphere, with yet another allowing you to move between two different time periods at the press of a button. The campaign is short, taking me around five hours to complete, but it’ll leave you wanting more in the best possible way.
Of course it’s not perfect, there are some very intrusive objective markers that can’t be switched off, and Jack’s arsenal never feels all that special. The weapons are all ported over from multiplayer so they’re all slight variations of what you’d expect: pistols, rifles, SMGs, snipers, shotguns etc. The weapons art design is clunky and generic. If you asked me right now to tell you the name of a single weapon in Titanfall 2 I’d struggle. I think maybe one’s called a Volter? Anyway, this is offset by gradually unlocking new loadouts for BT. These actually feel like an event when you come across them, but again they’re ripped straight from the multiplayer. Speaking of which…
At first the multiplayer was a bit of a shock. I’d been playing a lot of Overwatch and Battlefield 1 and so the more tight-knit level design and incredibly frenetic movement of Titanfall 2 caught me off guard. By the time I had a few matches under my belt it began to fall into place and the fun started. I amazed myself at all the twitch action I was managing to pull off by combining double jumps, wall-running, sliding round corners, grappling up high and piggybacking onto enemy Titans. It’s fluid and fast-paced and yet you always feel in control. All the different loadouts, weapons and classes are quite overwhelming and while it doesn’t take much to start unlocking new stuff, I have to admit it doesn’t really excite me. If anything I feel fatigued by the sheer amount of stuff to rank up or unlock or purchase.
Two weeks out from launch and I’ve seen PC player counts ranging from 3-4k in the Australian region. This is likely to rise to 5-6k on weekends. Not huge numbers but enough to get a game after a short time queueing. I recommend joining a local network, which acts as a sort of clan, this makes organizing matches a little easier. The general UI of multiplayer is definitely ported straight over from console, the main menu is needlessly cramped and there’s no server browser, but it does the trick for the most part.
It’s hard to deny that 2016 has been a fantastic year for shooters. DOOM, Overwatch and Battlefield 1 are not only exceptional, they happily co-exist, with each title offering something completely unique. Titanfall 2 joins these heavy-hitters and manages to hold its own. This is no small feat, and Respawn should be commended for sticking to their guns and fixing everything that was lacking with the original Titanfall. The campaign is more than just a box being ticked by their marketing team, it’s full of heart and creativity. The multiplayer is similarly solid, ensuring there’s plenty for the players to do and that it feels good doing it. If fast-paced, acrobatic gun-play and feeling emotions for weaponised robots is your thing, you can’t go wrong with Titanfall 2.