No doubt one of the biggest and perhaps most promising next generation titles in development, TitanFall finally presented itself in playable form at Gamescom this year. The pitch describes the game as a fusion between cinematic campaign gameplay and multiplayer. That is, while the game is not playable in offline form, the multiplayer is designed to provide some of the experiences you might expect from a proper campaign. It’s an interesting idea and one that has been toyed with in the past (The Crossing anyone?). Of course, as someone who has struggled to really enjoy Call of Duty multiplayer gameplay, I approached TitanFall with a bit of apprehension. The experience proved surprising.
Fall of Duty
The PC demo we played focused on team deathmatch with one such twist; when the match is over, the losing team actually has 60 seconds to reach the extraction point and make it inside the drop ship. It’s a neat idea that certainly adds a little something extra to the typical deathmatch experience and provides a bit of insight into what they mean when talking about single player integration into multiplayer. What’s more important, however, is the core gameplay design and its focus on an expanded set of actions available to the player. Call of Duty, for all intents and purposes, hinged on split second target acquisition. If you failed to spot your enemy and open fire first, you were probably going to die.
TitanFall focuses on a wider variety of actions, however, with wall running, double jumping, and ledge mounting completely changing the way players move through the stage. As you connect each wall run to the next, your speed and jumping distance increase as well really bringing a sense of momentum to traversal. This focus on traversal is the first noticeable differentiator here. More in line with something like Unreal Tournament than Call of Duty, this newfound freedom of movement completely changes the way firefights can play out.
Wrath of the Titans
The demo showcased three character classes along with three Titans to choose from. The typical assault and heavy classes were in tow with a standard assortment of rifles, shotguns, and side arms alongside anti-Titan weaponry and support gear. It was tactician class with her auto-targeting “smart” pistol, however, that really caught my eye. When in close proximity to other enemies, the smart pistol can actually target and follow multiple players allowing for some interesting hit and run tactics. It wasn’t entirely clear how the auto-targeting actually worked but it does seem that, once the enemy returns fire, the automatic nature of the weapon becomes disabled. Naturally, with the game still in development, balance changes will no doubt continue to shape the game even after release but the current results are promising.
Calling down your Titan obviously stands as another major differentiator. A timer controls availability of your Titan with a solid performance seemingly speeding things up a bit. When the Titan becomes available, tapping the designated button places a mark on the ground where your Titan will be dropped seconds after. Climb aboard and you’re presented with a different viewpoint along with a dramatic change in movement style. Dashing replaces jumping, for instance, and previously accessible areas are now too large to move through. Battling a Titan on foot from the window of a four story building is indeed quite thrilling for all parties. The Titans are tough, but the changes in movement speed and weapon characteristics still give ground infantry a shot at taking one down.
Running on Titan
As noted above, only the PC version was on display so we were unable to gauge the current status of the XBOX One version of the game. While the game still has a ways to go in development the framerate wasn’t as steady as one would have expected on the PCs they had on offer. While it’s unlikely to remain a problem for PC gamers in the long run, one can’t help but wonder if pulling off a rock solid 60 fps on XBOX One will be possible. Call of Duty traditionally aimed for the perception of 60 fps despite not always maintaining it. In the midst of combat, when slowdown occurs, they count on most players not actually catching it. The footage shown at EA’s conference was recorded at 60 fps and featured plenty of dips throughout. Visually speaking the game looks quite lovely, though it’s missing some of the nicer post processing effects available in the Source engine.
It’s the easy to learn, difficult to master approach that really helps give more players a real shot at enjoying the experience. Wall jumping seems so natural, but chaining together massive runs without ever touching the ground will no doubt require practice. Alongside that, death never managed to feel cheap. It’s not that TitanFall has been simplified, it has more unique systems in play than any Call of Duty title, rather it caters to a wider range of play styles and does so with a sense of energy often lacking in modern console shooters. Fans of the genre will no doubt be satisfied with the experience but it’s nice to see Respawn building something that can offer a lot for those of us who typically shy away from multiplayer shooters as well.