I’ll be honest - I haven’t had the same level of hype and anticipation for Titanfall as everyone else seems to have on this planet. I’m not that much of a fan of first-person shooters. I like them, but they’re not something I’ll go out of my way for - and my brief foray into the Xbox One beta didn’t really sell me on the game.
That’s why I was kind of surprised when a review copy for the Xbox 360 version of the game fell into my lap. I’m glad it did though, because despite (and perhaps aided by) my lack of excitement for the game, I’m really enjoying it. In a word, Titanfall is awesome.
Given the amount of media attention on the game, I’d be surprised if you weren’t already familiar with what Titanfall actually is, but I’ll fill you in anyway. Created by a team of former Call of Duty developers, Titanfall is a multiplayer first-person shooter that looks to breathe new life into the genre. Front and centre of Titanfall’s vision are the Titans themselves - big, hulking robots that will leave you hard pressed not to yell “today we are cancelling the apocalypse!”. As a Titan pilot, you get to summon these behemoths into battle and wreak havoc on all who stand in your way, and the better you perform, the more frequently your Titan will fall.
Titans are all well and good, but what really sets Titanfall apart from other shooters are the pilots themselves. When not behind the wheel (I guess?) of a giant robot, players have a level of mobility that I’ve never seen in an FPS . As well as the normal sprinting and jumping options, you can double jump and run on walls thanks to each pilot being equipped with a fancy jetpack.
Aside from looking cool, these manoeuvres serve to really open up the battlefield vertically. Maps are a multi-levelled affair, as they often are in shooters, but instead of having specific paths and staircases leading between floors you can move about more more less as you wish. Don’t want to climb the stairs into the enemy base, knowing that there’s someone waiting on the landing with a shotgun with your name on it? No worries, just use the surrounding scenery to wall-run and vault your way in through one of the many open windows. Titans are awe-inspiring without a doubt, but it’s this unprecedented level of mobility that makes Titanfall such a blast to play.
This is only made better by the stellar map design. They’re visually varied, with the likes of a tropical resort and a boneyard home to dragon-like creatures mixed into the usual war-torn urban battlefields. But more than that, they are really designed to play to the strengths of pilots, to the point that exploring can be just as much fun as actually engaging with your enemies.
The other big innovation with Titanfall is its singleplayer campaign. Specifically, in that it doesn’t have one - favouring instead to use a narrative which is built into the multiplayer mode. This hasn’t been the most popular move, judging from some opinion pieces I’ve seen, but it’s undoubtedly the right one as far as I’m concerned.
Games like Titanfall, Call of Duty, and Battlefield are multiplayer games, through and through. That’s the meat and bones of the experience, that’s why people buy them, and as such, a singleplayer campaign really serves no purpose. And yet, games keep shipping with a lacklustre, poorly put together solo mode simply because it’s the thing to do, when those resources could be better served working on the core part of the experience.
Titanfall didn’t just throw narrative out the window, though, instead opting to have a multiplayer campaign mode. It’s a fantastic idea, and certainly lays the foundation for more interesting storytelling in online games.
Having said that, it stumbles a lot in execution. The campaign mode essentially boils down to 18 predetermined matches, with a short cutscene at the start and end of each. The plot itself is tired and formulaic even by military FPS standards, and it all wraps up before it’s had a chance to really get moving. The worst part is that, despite spanning 18 matches, you’ll only get to play two of Titanfall’s five game modes during the campaign, making the good old Classic mode infinitely more interesting.
Where Titanfall falters is in the arena of polish and features. At the time of writing, the game lacks things that should be a given in a competitive multiplayer game, like private matches, leaderboards, and skill-based matchmaking. There are also a few minor “quality-of-life type” grievances - for example, the inability to turn down the horribly annoying announcer independently of other sound effects.
As for the Xbox 360 port, it’s decent, but doesn’t feel quite as good as it should be. The graphics are obviously trimmed down to accommodate the weaker hardware, though it still looks good, and you’ll hardly notice the lower-res textures in the heat of battle.
Much more obvious are the glitches. Though generally minor and rarely game-breaking, visual glitches occur with alarming frequency in Titanfall’s Xbox 360 version. Disappearing textures, HUD quirks, and clipping issues are all too common, and though hilarious, witnessing my firearm dancing uncontrollably in my hands is more than a bit distracting.
More concerning are the occasional mechanical bugs, like falling through the world, and some control issues relating to the Xbox 360 controller and it’s unreliable D-pad. Pilots in Titanfall are armed with three weapons, one of which is a specifically-designed anti-Titan weapon. You have to press left on the D-pad to pull out your robot-killer of choice, but it’s scary how often pressing the button does nothing. On the other hand, switching back to or between your regular weapons is a simple case of pressing the always-reliable Y button, and I can’t see why they couldn’t have just made Y cycle through all three.
I was also disappointed by the number of connection issues I encountered, which are likely due to the game’s launch and will hopefully be resolved before long. Of the game’s 10-odd data centres, including one in Australia, I was only ever able to connect to one - the West US server. Trying to log in to another would leave me with a “Data centre: searching” message ad infinitum, and judging from a quick Google search, this is fairly common. Xbox Support, and in particular the Xbox Support Twitter account, were immensely helpful and patient, but sadly nothing they advised was able to solve the issue.
Titanfall is a great game, there’s no doubt about it. It’s a breath of fresh air in an incredibly stagnant genre, and even though I’m not exactly a big fan of shooters, I’m enjoying this one. That said, the Xbox 360 port does feel a bit wanting - not due to graphical reductions, which are to be expected, but due to the overall lack of polish. These issues are noticeable but not game-breaking, however, and this is still a great option for those who don’t have an Xbox One or a capable PC.