Review: Titanfall

While I wouldn't say it's going to be a classic, Titanfall is nonetheless a solid, well-balanced, and fast-paced FPS, marred only by a mediocre engine and weak meta.  There's a variety of problems to choose from with that engine - be it the large install size from uncompressed audio, the many "exposed wires" in configuration files that no doubt exposes the game to cheating, or the kind of patchy-at-best texture quality and general video fidelity even on highest settings, and the weak meta progression can make longetivity questionable.  I might not have bought it at the full 45 quid they asked here at release, but 20 quid seems very reasonable indeed.  Worth taking a try with Origin Game Time if you're interested.
Review: Titanfall
Date published: Apr 8, 2015
2 / 3 stars

Editor's Note: Update 2016-07-07 - It's worth noting that since the publication of this review, EA has added a new DRM to the digital copies of Titanfall on Origin, and this DRM has been giving people technical problems.  Some people have run it fine, and the gameplay commentary stands, since they haven't changed the core mechanics, but it's a point of consideration that you might run into technical issues running the game.

Titanfall is a first-person multi-player-only shooter designed by Respawn Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts.  I have to admit I kind of expected to come into a very average shooter.  The developers involved in Respawn Entertainment aren't precisely known for rocking the boat when it comes to the game formula and so hearing that Titanfall was a multi-player-only title only fueled my skepticism, since it seemed to be subtracting from the formula.  That's probably true, and indeed there is a campaign mode and AI bots in the game, so there really isn't much of an excuse not to have one, but they took that effort that would have been spent on the single-player to refine the multi-player experience.  It was a pleasant surprise that I had as much fun as I did with Titanfall, though it is not without flaws.

The highly-mobile shooting feels great

Really, this is what a multiplayer shooter has to nail - if the shooting feels awful there isn't much in the way of alternate game modes or fancy addons that can save a shooter, but to Titanfall's credit, it not only presents a decent shooter, but a very strong one.  The firearms themselves look and feel pretty great, are reliable in their patterns when they have them, and behaviours either way, while requiring a skill to use them regardless.  As was also the case recently in my review play-through of COD:AW's movement, it really is to the game's improvement, to me, when you are able to be highly mobile through the game, and Titanfall's parkour system, while it isn't reinventing the wheel, keep things quite fluid and mobile, making the game a very fun case of whoosh-bang-kapow fun times, threading through different encounters at either a very slow and methodical pace or breakneck "they've gone plaid" speed at your leisure, rather than being trapped in the traditional plodding boots of military shooters.  The game feels very mobile and fast-paced, and it's refreshing indeed.

The weapons on offer are a strength as well, and they all serve different tactical uses and offer a great deal of tactical flexibility.  For example, the starting line-up is an assault rifle for long-range shooting, pretty much a decent all-rounder, a SMG for hip-shooting, a "smart pistol" that will automatically lock on to multiple targets and is therefore highly accurate, but is also loud and takes quite a bit of time to lock on (few seconds), and a silenced but regular pistol that will be suppressed but lacks the lock on capability.  Along with those, you level to get additional weapons: a punchy CQB shotgun, some more specialised weapons to take out the titular Titan mechs than the HMG type thing you have by default (such as a high-damage but high-skill-required railgun) and the like.  They each fill a very specific role on the battlefield, and they do a good job of feeling unique, and also looking unique, so that a skillful and well-versed player can identify the weapon a player is using and their possible tactics at a glance.

Notably, the time to death is short, but not twitch-shooter short - unless you take a shot to the head or heart, or got relocated underneath the foot of a Titan, a quick-thinking player can often escape and recuperate, so once again it adds to the skill-ceiling of the game with the parkour giving many escape options in any given map.

(Though an aside nitpick: Titanfall is yet another modern FPS that has gun models that take up almost a quarter of the screen, no doubt so the X-Box 360 that was the primary platform for the game didn't burst into flames having to render a fraction more of the game world)

Titans might seem like a gimmick but the game sells them well

It's easy to see those titular mech suit things the game has on its cover as a gimmick, but they really are the central mechanic here, just .. not quite in the way you might expect, and frankly, I find it more interesting that way.  They aren't the central combat mechanic, unless you actively choose you want to suit up whenever possible, but they are definitely a force multiplier.  You get them every three minutes or so - but one of the rewards for doing well, such as by killing enemies, capturing hardpoints, or disabling enemy titans, is to have time knocked off that timer.  Want to make sure that you are helping keep your team combat effective and still stay on the ground?  After a short cooldown from the drop-pod style entrance the Titan makes when you call it, an AI will engage and follow you around if you haven't entered it, and indeed you can and often have to enter and exit the suit occasionally, as the Titans are big, and cant fit everywheres you might need to go, to say nothing of removing pesky enemies whom decide to take a ride on your Titan.

The Titans could just as easily also be over-powered, but they are actually pretty well-balanced, and fit well with the game's design and focus.  A single player can take almost nothing from a Titan without dying - so you have to stay mobile to avoid the fire from Titans.  Titans can easily squish players underfoot too (and it never gets old using big robots to stomp on people, anyone telling you otherwise is lying) but players that aptly avoid that untimely end can "rodeo" onto the Titan in Shadows of the Colossus style, and once on its difficult for the player within the Titan to remove that enemy - they can hope to scrape them off on terrain (and I was quite impressed to find this worked, even though I died in the name of scientific inquiry!), that team-mates might help them out and snipe them off, or they can disengage and get out, letting the AI take over while they deal with the enemy.  It's something they have to do quickly themselves, because getting in and out of the Titans isn't something that just takes a second, so again, the fast pace is kept up.

Map design is fairly competent, but there isn't much standouts, unfortunately, but worthy of note here is that as I mentioned, each map does have multiple paths through, some of which are only available to player infantry, so even when you're being pushed and the enemy has Titan supremacy you can always have safe places to try to strike from, it never just becomes butchery.  That design is something I appreciated, certainly.  There was never a game I didn't feel was wasting my time because it was a clear victory - there was always at least the hope you could turn it back.

Matchmaking and private matches are both available and sound

Not much to say here - the matchmaking is regional (NA, EU, Asia/Australia) like many recent modern shooters, but I was never waiting long to get into a match, and it did a good job of rapidly finding players.  Private matches, essentially player-hosted dedicated servers, are also available, which COD:AW didn't have on release and Battlefield 4 still isn't working properly for me to review, and they work quite well, also.  In short, I was never waiting long for a match, and given how much that can be a problem sometimes, it was a good mark in the game's favour.

If there's anything about that whole rigmarole that is weak, though, really, it's the meta.  There is a meta progression - barely - so little of one really beyond some simple weapon unlocks that it doesn't even justify its own separate heading.  So here we are with this little footnote complaining.  It does raise questions about longetivity for some people, but personally, I wasn't that bothered by it.

There's a variety of varied game modes, but the community only plays a few

From the typical team deathmatch mode in "Attrition" to more diverse things like hardpoint captures, to an interesting "Frontier Defense" mode that's cooperative, the game offers quite a few different game modes, and they're pretty diverse as I said and offer different maps each (as opposed to COD's typical different modes on the same map),m but the problem I had at least is the community is mostly only playing the Campaign mode or the Attrition mode, so finding matches online for the others is a little more difficult - though I do have to say I never was left waiting as long as I had to, trying to play BF4 online, so there's that.

The chief different dynamic somewhat unique to Titanfall is the introduction of AI bots, rather MOBA-esque in that regard, which keeps the battlefields full of targets and things shooting at you, and also helps to the pace since you're in what might be called a "target-rich environment".  The AI is fairly apt, does a good job about pressing objectives and moving in squads, but tends to be very squishy, and as such, they will intelligently use cover, advance with Titans, and try to stick with player "pilots" to help them and also stay alive.  I was rather impressed with that aspect, it keeps the octane high and also adds a little more intelligent an aspect to play since you are put in a more tactical frame of mind.  It also makes the take and hold play of hardpoints and like more tenable in smaller matches as well, since the AI will try to hold them for you as well, which helps keep boots on the ground and sights on the advancing enemy.

Quite a few technical issues mar the engine and therefore the game experience

First of all, let me get one thing off my chest: the "very high" option for texture quality lies - many of the textures on offer, even with that "very high" option, look like stuff out of the original Half-Life.  They're bad quality, quite plainly.  To be fair, the game looks good in motion, but the texture quality stands out as rather bad in places where it really shouldn't be, including what I'm pretty sure is a 16-bit skybox texture in one place.  There's the standard slew of options in regards to visual fidelity, but the highest settings aren't all that impressive, especially compared to COD:AW or Battlefield 4.  On the other hand, I was happy with the inclusion of a FOV slider and the three major brands of colour-blindness in their colour-blind mode.

However, even with a nice set of options, the game engine has a lot of "exposed wires" in the file assets that make me wary of cheating online, and oh dear god the uncompressed audio.  This is a game to which 30GB of its install size is audio, because the developers felt it would be too "processor intensive" according to interviews to have the audio decoding by the processor (which is nonsense on any modern PC with an Intel processor since the Core 2 Duo days if not earlier) and it bloats both the install size and the memory required by the game a fair bit, though the former much more than the latter.  There really is no good reason a game of this visual fidelity should be over 50 gigabytes in size, and I feel bad now for having given Tesla Effect a bit of flak for the size of its install with the FMV, but it's worth noting a game with full 2K resolution video and 40 hours of it, came down to about a third of the size of Titanfall on PC.

There's a bunch of smaller things that add up to be a larger bother as well: there's no borderless window mode, the game when fullscreen blanks the second monitor, it wouldn't size properly to my primary monitor's resolution, and I had some not insignificant screen-tearing issues playing it on TV or monitor both, when I gave it a quick whirl on a friend's PC to see if it was just something with my mid-grade GPU, which was probably related to their SLI setup since it stopped entirely when we disabled SLI.  I also had some weird problems with the game alt-tabbing out to the desktop (still running) despite me not having alt-tabbed.

The Final Word: Recommended - Let's level: had I paid the full MSRP that Titanfall went for when it first released, I probably would have been much less forgiving of the technical flaws in the game, but for the current price, and on the strength of the core combat mechanics, I had a lot of fun with my time in Titanfall, and it was money well spent for its reduced price, where it fits just fine in my opinion.  If you're skeptical, at time of writing it's on Origin Game Time, so give it a whirl for free.