So I found myself nursing the first hangover that I’ve had in years, struggling to get a Turtle Beach wireless headset to work.
It was all Titanfall‘s fault.
The hangover was the result of EA’s Titanfall launch party which I was using as a test to see if I could navigate myself home via Sydney’s public transport total smashed. I did get home, although I had to walk the last kilometer in the pissing rain.
The launch party was quite a bash and open to the general public, which was a great way for EA to cosy up to the local gaming community. There were plenty of gaming pods running Titanfall and a free bar. The venue was all decked out as the corporate HQ of Hammond Robotics, the company responsible for the game’s Titans. As the night wore on I soaked up the beer and probably embarrassed myself whilst conversing with the assembled members of Sydney’s technology press.
There was a certain irony in that the launch party was actually dragging me away from Titanfall, which I’d been playing all week.
I have a love/hate relationship with the multiplayer portion of video games. I actually like the story-driven narrative of single-player campaigns. Whilst the multiplayer component serves as an extension of the game, shooting a load of strangers whilst listening to the the arsehole banter on Xbox Live, doesn’t come close to the fun I get being immersed in a decent single player game.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy multiplayer, I do. But I’m more your calculated Battlefield player than a twitch ninja’d Call of Duty dude.
So Titanfall, then.
I first played it at the EB Expo last October. The queue for the game was a mile long with fans waiting in line for an hour or so for a go. I had an interview booked with Respawn’s Abbie Heppe and my friends at at EA Australia were keen to get me on the game before hand. So right to the front of the queue I went. I could feel the daggers from the waiting gamers as I effectively pushed in front of a hundred or so people.
I had my go on Titanfall and was met by my EA friend grinning ear-to-ear (as PR peeps must). “What did you think?”. My response, “S’alright” with a shrug, actually meant “not much”.
My problem was the sci-fi thing. I’d been presented with something that looked like Battlefield 2142 (which I hated) and Mechwarrior (which I didn’t really care for either) and been told that it was the Next Big Thing. Playing the game involved a load of indecipherable crazy leaping, punctuated with piloting a lumbering lump of metal.
I can’t say I liked it.
Later on I quizzed Respawn’s community manager, Abbie Heppe, about the single-player omission. Her answer was simple: they wanted to concentrate on the multiplayer game. I’ve long lamented about single-player games having pointless multiplayer modes bolted on; the recent Tomb Raider, for instance. Who actually plays Tomb Raider online? Imagine how many man hours were wasted bringing that game mode into existence.
Whilst Titanfall was the flip-side of my argument, I could dig exactly where Abbie was coming from.
Titanfall doesn’t abandon single-player altogether, there is the mild narrative of the Campaign mode, which has intros, outros and incidental audio fleshing out the struggle between the militia and the IMC. It’s alright and you get a couple of extra Titan chassis as a reward completing it. Even so, I’d still have liked to see a proper single-player mode.
When the beta was announced of course EA sent be a code, hoping to hook me in. Despite some eye-watering pings to the distant Asian servers I enjoyed the game a lot more than my first go. I think I lot of it was down to the compulsory tutorial showing me the ropes.
So all was not lost.
Apparently, according to Titanfall‘s rather splendid introduction movie, in the future the human race has harnessed the power to bend space, creating a new frontier among the stars. as you’d expect from the human race, the colonist have managed to fuck everything up and fallen out with each other. In one corner we have the resource deprived civilian Militia and in the other the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation engaged in bloody conflict.
Titanfall has two game modes. In Campaign Multiplayer mode, players get to try out both sides of the conflict across a range of maps and match types. Classic mode is more your traditional multiplayer lobby experience allowing players to choose match type and take it from there. Both modes are online only and against real players.
EA Games have bet big on Titanfall in making it online multiplayer only. The lack of proper single-player campaign is a bold move, and one that could easily alienate gamers who prefer a solo experience.
Nevertheless, Titanfall is a very familiar game in that is doesn’t really set out to be something totally new. Instead it builds on what we’ve played in the past. On the surface the game is a fairly standard team-based sci-fi shooter experience; two teams battling it out across a set of familiar match types. It’s only after some extended play, when you start to go deeper that things start to get interesting.
Taking on the role of a Titan pilot, players can jump, climb onto buildings and wall run. Combine all three and you are in twitch-fingered ninja heaven. The vertical gameplay that Titanfall employs is breathtaking and allows for some pretty spectacular moves.
Each side is beefed up by AI controlled infantry. These grunts serve to offer up a bit more resistance and give the newbies a way of progressing within the game without having to confront veteran players.
After a couple of minutes of play, pilots are notified that their Titan is ready. With the press of a button the player’s huge mechanised exo-skeleton thunders to the ground. As Titans enter play everything changes. These huge armoured beasts can easily take on enemy infantry, and yet they are very vulnerable to attacks from pilots using anti-Titan weapons.
There’s also Titan-on-Titan skirmishes, with the metal hulks trading bullets and rockets in devastating battles. These epic confrontations end in explosions, pilot ejection or, my favourite, pilots being physically torn from their Titan and thrown to one side.
Pilots can get out of their machines at any time useful for dispatching enemy pilots riding your Titan rodeo-style as he shoots the machines exposed innards. Unmanned Titans can be ordered to follow their pilot and will stand their ground if assaulted.
With game mechanics like this, the possibilities are practically endless. It didn’t take long before some of my antics gave me a shit-eating grin.
Running up an incline I found myself face-to-face with an enemy pilot who was as shocked to see me as I was them. A quick boot in the face took him out as I leap up onto the wall behind him. Down below me was a Titan lumbering passed engaging another mechanical beast. Looking again it was my Titan. So I jumped pressing the X button as I reached it; my Titan plucking me out of the air and positioning me in its belly. On launching a salvo of rockets the enemy Titan exploded as I stomped away.
It’s these personal moments of glory that make Titanfall so wonderful to play and will keep players come back for more.