It wasn’t meant to be like this.
Titanfall 2 was meant to be a mess. It was meant to be another fast-paced shooter, with a multiplayer mode that ruined it’s predecessors and a tacked on campaign that would be, at best, a boring diversion. So what happened? How did a game launching between two of the biggest first-person shooters of the year turn out to be such an essential purchase?
The most unexpected surprise in Titanfall 2 is the singleplayer campaign. What was expected to be a token gesture to those who bemoaned it’s absence in the original game, has somehow managed to be one of the most engaging and memorable of recent times. It’s Respawn reminding everyone of just how accomplished they are at crafting a campaign that is full of memorable moments and set-pieces. All this backed up with smooth, intuitive controls and surprisingly good writing.
The relationship the main character develops with their Titan, BT-7274, is both genuine and heartfelt. What could have very easily came across as forced and cliche, develops quite naturally during the 5-6 hours of the story. The selectable dialogue options you have when conversing, allow you to create the illusion of some real back and forth banter. As the game progresses, BT slowly begins to become more in sync with the player, even beginning to respond to and participate in some of the jokes. It’s a well constructed relationship, and while there are few surprises in how the story plays out it manages to create a genuine emotional connection to the character.
This is further cemented by some truly great level design. Over the course of eight missions, Respawn have managed to craft a hugely impressive game. Each mission essentially has it’s own gameplay premise. The first focuses heavily on wallrunning and training the player how to navigate the environments. The second introduces Titans. What really impresses is that later levels will introduce new mechanics, for example a gun that is used to power up equipment, and run with it. You’ll start off slowly, getting used to what each of these mechanics brings. Then, by the end of the mission, just as you’ve mastered it and things threaten to get repetitive it throws it away. It’s a bold, Nintendo-esque move, meaning that every mission has it’s own unique feel. No more so than mid-point mission “Effect and Cause” which is such a joy to play through and discover that I’ll say no more about it here. Suffice to say the mechanic it introduces slowly evolves over the course of the mission to an utterly fantastic and satisfying crescendo. If anything it makes the remainder of the campaign slightly dull by comparison, though it’s still immensely fun.
So the campaign is a beautiful, wonderful surprise. A reminder in these multiplayer focused times, that there is still much that can be done with a linear, scripted experience. If there are any criticisms to be given it’s that it does feel quite short. Five to six hours is not a lot of time, and it does feel like another couple of missions would have helped to alleviate that. In terms of the story though it does what it sets out to do without an ounce of filler. As the setup for more games in this universe it absolutely succeeds, though on it’s own it would be hard to justify the £50 price tag.
Luckily then it’s only part of the package. Multiplayer is absolutely Titanfalls main focus, and it returns here in stunning form, though it has received some tweaks.
It still follows the now well worn formula of gaining XP (Merits in this case) which level up every single aspect of your Pilot, Titan, Weapons and Abilities. This allows you to customise your pilot loadouts however you like, creating custom setups for bespoke situations. Titan’s however have lost a lot of customisation options.
There are a few abilities that can be swapped out, but for the most part they don’t change too much. This is compensated for with the increased number of Titan classes, each of which fulfills a specific role. There’s Scorch, who can deal massive damage as well as control the play space with his incendiary and thermite attacks. Ronin is fast and designed to get up close an personal with other Titans, while Legion is the very definition of a walking Fortress. Slow but extremely durable and powerful. It helps with identifying what you’re up against on the battlefield, meaning you’re more likely to know how to proceed.
Burn Cards, the once and done power-ups from the original game have gone, to be replaced by Boost’s. These abilities can be activated once the Titanfall meter reaches a specific point, giving the player further tools to aid them during a fight. Maphack, Smart Pistol and deployable sentries are just a few of those available.
In the game itself Titans no-longer have the regenerating shields they benefitted from in the first game. Instead, rodeo attacks on enemy Titans allow pilots to steal a battery from them. This has the benefit of stripping the enemy of a chunk of energy, giving the attacking pilot a boost to their Titanfall meter and, if they can get the battery to a friendly Titan, a boost to that Titan’s shield. It’s an interesting change and it encourages Pilots to get in close to enemy Titans more often. As a counter though, every Titan now has the Electric Smoke ability so Pilots are easily stopped by an alert Titan Pilot.
As a whole it still plays as well as the first game. Hardpoint and Attrition seem to have the lions share of the players, but additional modes such as Bounty Hunt, Last Titan Standing and the Colisseum add variety for those who are looking for it. The maps so far are probably the weakest point for the game. None of them are bad, but there’s no stand out “Great” maps either. Future maps and modes are all coming for free though and with Angel City from the original title promised for December, we can hopefully look forward to the line-up of stages only getting better with time.
So as a whole Titanfall 2 is impossible not to recommend. It won’t be for those who prefer more tactical, considered shooters, but for anyone else it’s going to be money well spent. The singleplayer Campaign is an absolute joy and a pleasant reminder that the minds behind Modern Warfare know exactly how to marry smooth gameplay and level design into a memorable experience. Topping it off with a refreshingly different type of multiplayer from it’s contemporaries makes this one of the best shooters of 2016. Hopefully it’ll be able to show the staying power that it’s predecessor lacked.
Titanfall 2 is out now on XB1, PS4 and PC (Origin)
PS4 Version Reviewed