Watching people abandon the original Titanfall in droves was like watching my favourite pub burn down. While it lacked somewhat in content and variety, it was close to being mechanically flawless and managed something that only a meagre handful of FPS titles can claim to have achieved in what is a grossly oversaturated market: true innovation. The fact that it was a Microsoft exclusive did it few favours (the Xbox One was still languishing in the doldrums of negative opinion), and it was also a prime example of the fact that even if a game has a laser focus on solid multiplayer, your average punter will still feel ripped off if a game ships without a single-player campaign. Enter Titanfall 2. The talented folk at Respawn were given a chance to right the wrongs of the past by bringing the same tight gameplay to multiple platforms, inject some more variety and include a single-player campaign. So what have they done with this chance then? True to form, Respawn have absolutely nailed it. Titanfall 2 is a resounding success in every aspect that counts, particularly in its stellar multiplayer. With a focus on online match quality that doesn’t miss a beat and a competitive and rewarding match atmosphere, this is how an FPS should be.
The passing of the torch
I never begrudged the original Titanfall for not including a single-player campaign, but its inclusion here is obviously a smart and necessary move. Putting you in the shoes of aspiring Pilot Jack Cooper (who when we first meet him is a lowly Rifleman still in training), you are quickly promoted after a Titan known as BT-7274 is forced to transfer control to you after his Pilot (who happens to be your mentor) is killed on the frontlines. Jack is part of the Militia forces of the Frontier, a rebel military outfit that resist the relentless march of the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC). The IMC’s raison d’être is the ruthless expansion of their dominion from the centre of the galaxy outwards, and their grand aspirations are paired with a callous disregard for human life. The IMC are not above destroying Frontier settlements and murdering their inhabitants if it helps their bottom line, and the basic plot revolves around you completing the mission to investigate and ultimately shut down the IMC’s dodgy plans for planet-scale obliteration on the Frontier.
BT phone home
This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends
The campaign does a great job of establishing the importance of the bond between Pilot and Titan, the same bond that allows the holy pairing of man and machine to be so ruthlessly effective in combat. While the plot ends up being fairly simple, the banter between Jack and BT is constantly entertaining, and there are even some rudimentary dialogue options for how you want to respond in a given situation. BT proves to be more than just a gigantic robot with huge guns, he has a dry, sarcastically self-aware wit that gives him some surprising depth.
It should be said that the campaign is fairly short, weighing in on the leaner side of 6-8 hours. This works in its favour though, as the pacing is on point and the narrative doesn’t overstay its welcome. Gameplay is a mix of open combat sections against both humanoid enemies and other Pilots/Titans with some light puzzle-platforming that utilises the tight parkour movement to good effect. There are some very creative scenarios that have been crafted around the movement, including a constantly shifting factory assembly line that has you both fending off foes while running through its treacherous gauntlet. While I wouldn’t hail it as the Second Coming, the campaign ends up being short and sweet forgettable fun, and does a commendable job of transposing Titanfall’s unique fast-paced parkour into some cool environments and set-pieces.
The multiplayer is of course where Titanfall 2 really shines, but I’ll be the first to admit that I was initially surprised (and worried) when I saw how much had changed from the original. I would have quite gladly accepted a carbon copy of the original Titanfall’s gameplay propped up with a little more weapon variety, but Respawn have been determined to make it quite distinct from the original’s gameplay, but have also managed to retain that unique Titanfall flavour. Gameplay is fast and frantic, but nonetheless features an uncompressed skill gap and learnability that rewards patience and strategy as well as basic gun skill. It’s that beautiful balance of control and chaos; every match seemingly features some sort of epic moment, be it a daring escape from a rampaging Titan whose battery you’ve just stolen or some clutch multikill that saves your bacon and turns the tide of the match.
Smart Core: For when you simply must kill every motherfucker in the room
Probably the greatest change to the multiplayer formula comes in the form of the Titans themselves, where instead of having basic frames that are customised with weapons and abilities, there are now six distinct Titans with their own predetermined weapon sets and ultimate abilities. For example, the nimble Ronin Titan is armed with a shotgun and sword combo and gifted with enhanced movement, whereas the hulking Legion Titan has a massive gatling gun known as the Predator Cannon that can switch between long-range and short-range modes for optimal results. Each Titan plays completely differently from one another, and are instantly recognisable when you meet them on the battlefield. This allows a skilled Pilot to adapt on-the-fly based on the type of Titan they’re fighting. In a cool twist some Titans are actually quite hard to use effectively (which the game indicates with a star ranking system), but if you persist and learn their subtleties it really pays dividends. For instance, the aforementioned Legion Titan is incredibly bulky with reload times that are as slow as molasses, but there is no stronger adversary at distance and if you choose your engagements wisely you will melt hapless Titans and Pilots from across the map.
Stealing batteries for fun and profit
Fear, Hot Pink Legion Titan be thy name
The second greatest shakeup to the multiplayer gameplay is the Pilot vs Titan balance, which has been purposefully tipped back in favour of the Pilots. In the original Titanfall, if you were caught out in the open as a Pilot, then any Titan player with a modicum of skill would eat you for breakfast. In Titanfall 2, Titan weapons are now nowhere near as easy to kill Pilots with, requiring a fair amount of gun skill and advanced anticipation of those pesky bastards’ movements. In line with this balance change the rodeo mechanic has also changed substantially. Jumping on an enemy Titan will now have you stealing a battery that you can slot into your own Titan to boost shields, or gift to a friendly Titan. Doing so will give you a massive reduction in your Titan build time (the time it takes for your Titan to become available during the match), incentivising the mechanic and making Pilots significantly more daring in this regard. It takes a little while to get used to the new dynamic, but once you do, the thrill of pilfering batteries for fun and profit is irresistible.
Titanfall 2’s multiplayer also mostly delivers on the promise of injecting more variety into the weapons, and you’ll encounter many different ones on the battlefield (compared to everyone running around with just the R-101C carbine). There’s also new abilities like the Grappling Hook (which allows enhanced movement options) as well as the return of the classic Cloak (near-invisibility) and Stim (temporarily enhanced health-regen and speed). I think you’d have to be a madman to not use the powerful Cloak ability, but there are plenty of people who seem to prefer the other abilities, which is a relatively good sign that they’re balanced. I do think that in terms of customisability the new Titan loadout system is a bit of a double-edged sword; on the one hand it gives you six very distinct Titans to choose from, but on the other it severely limits you to using only a single weapon, and in general the customisation options are fairly rudimentary and don’t have that greater impact. There are some slick aesthetic options though for both Pilot and Titan, which was a popular requested feature coming off the original. Time will tell if Titanfall 2 has an enticing enough carrot-on-a-stick progression system to keep the general gaming population interested, but personally I believe the gameplay is endearing enough to keep one engrossed for countless hours.
…every match seemingly features some sort of epic moment, be it a daring escape from a rampaging Titan whose battery you’ve just stolen or some clutch multikill that saves your bacon and turns the tide of the match…
The captain should go down with the ship
Pilot death imminent
The final point that should be made about the multiplayer is that the online match quality is flawless. For a fast-paced online adversarial game of this ilk this is of paramount importance, and gamers everywhere ought to be tipping their fedoras to Respawn for their clear and transparent dedication to providing the best possible online experience. Powered by dedicated servers which can be browsed and selected at will (with an in-game live ping tracker to boot), instances of poor hit detection or unfair lag compensation are non-existent. The online infrastructure lies in such clear contrast to the Call of Duty franchise, who for far too long have relied on shoddy peer-to-peer hosting and overzealous lag compensation. When all is said and done, Titanfall 2 makes an absolute mockery of the Call of Duty series in terms of online quality, and I sincerely hope Activision are watching.
Titanfall 2 is easily one of my favourite releases of this year, with a surprisingly fun single-player buoyed by a brilliant multiplayer component that is second to none. In terms of the multiplayer Respawn have made some bold decisions moving forward with Titanfall 2, but they’ve once again shown a deft hand at constructing a multilayered experience that delivers deliciously controlled yet chaotic fun by the veritable bucket load. Titanfall 2 rewards skill and the time spent learning the game’s ins and outs, while still managing to remain fun and accessible for those wanting to just jump in and wreak some havoc in a giant mech. If you hunger for buttery-smooth, fast-paced online action, then Titanfall 2 really is the current gold standard.
Reviewed on PS4