Respawn Entertainment has been a success story since before the studio’s inception, birthed from the talent over at Infinity Ward. The original Titanfall was an underdog achievement. It was exactly the kind of game you’d think they would want to make if it weren’t for the Call of Duty treadmill that Activision had set them on. Despite the fact that the original had no campaign, and multiplayer with limited bells and whistles, it was still held as one of the more successful Xbox One titles, albeit for a short amount of time. In Titanfall 2, Infinity Ward’s veterans deliver something that they haven’t done since 2009: make a single-player campaign. As those responsible for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which is regarded as one of the best first person shooters of all time, Respawn commands a single player experience with the same showmanship of brilliant pacing and diversification they achieved almost ten years ago. And oh, they’re also delivering one of the best multiplayer shooters you’ll find on console.
Titanfall 1 made interesting compromises in introducing players to its lore by baking story elements into its strange campaign/multiplayer hybrid. It was enough to illustrate that there was a universe at play without getting into much detail past a few character interactions via voice over. Titanfall 2, on the other hand, reaches farther than fans might have wanted, by trying to retell the tale of relationship between man and machine. In the continuous war between the IMC and the Militia, Rifleman Jack Cooper happens upon Captain Lastimosa, a dying Pilot who then relinquishes his command of Titan BT-7274 over to Cooper. Cooper then needs to prove himself as a Pilot to both BT, and to other resistance fighter pilots. Titanfall 2 tries many things with its story, including incorporating a simple dialogue system, illustrating how Cooper frequency converses with BT. However, unlike games such as Halo 4, where a somewhat romantic relationship was being developed between Chief and Cortana, the banter between Cooper and BT hardly rises above quips and mild world building . To its credit, it does lend a decent enough pay-off near the game’s final act which is more than many other modern day shooters can do.
The pivoting between Jack Cooper and BT-7274 expertly realises how Titan and Pilot gameplay are intertwined, a delicate balance that Respawn’s openly admits it wasn’t confident to could pull off with Titanfall 1, explaining why there was no campaign. Titanfall 2’s biggest strength is the wide variety of applications through which its mechanics are used, which are impressively diversified over the course of six hours; the most creative ideas, however, are front loaded in the first half of the campaign. One moment you’re platforming across a military simulation assembly line which resembles some of the finer moments in Portal 2, and the next you’re time travelling at will to solve simple platforming puzzles, and avoiding or choosing between different enemies to fight. The campaign eventually leads to a more traditional climax that’s no less impressive. However, what deserves the most recognition is how Respawn boldly introduces ideas as quickly as they abandon them. Many games would have tried to shoehorn the time shifting mechanic in multiple parts of the game, or would have looked for other areas to use the Arc Tool – a sort of key that uses an arc beam to manipulate machinery from a distance. But in Titanfall 2, no idea is too precious to preserve long term. It’s this philosophy that made Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare so brilliant, and it works to great effect in Respawn’s first single-player campaign.
The singleplayer stands all on its own as an improvement on the franchise, and while the multiplayer doesn’t quite represent the perfect evolution, Titanfall 2 still proves that Respawn does this style of shooter far better than everyone else. Respawn narrowed the series’ focus on making the player feel incredibly dangerous while staying mobile. One simple change that makes a world difference is redesigning the player’s crosshairs by inserting a dot in the middle. Unlike the vast majority of shooters, where the crosshairs point you in a general direction, this tiny addition makes it easy to fire from the hip, even while pulling off feats such as wall running, double jumping, and knee sliding, which feels awesome. The developer also made a point to highlight enemy Pilots during matches with a clear red outline with glowing jets and helmets. This almost ensures that there’s no mistaking Pilots for A.I. Grunts and Specters, a slip-up that far too many Titanfall veterans made. Maps overall have also been more discretely and smartly organised. Whereas Titanfall 1 had clear wall-running panels which signposted pathways, the assorted sides of buildings and well placed terrain here make the player feel as if they’ve discovered their own groundless routes around the map.
Of course there are more named changes to Titanfall’s multiplayer, which feel like natural evolutions rather than re-imaginings of the original formula. Tacticals make a return, bringing back Claocking, Stim Packs, and Active Radar Pulse. However the biggest addition is the Grappling Hook Tactical, which inserts a major wrinkle to Titanfall’s movement. The grappling hook is surprisingly malleable; its momentum-based physics can allow players to pull off all sorts of interesting tricks and manoeuvres, including making it easier to mount Titans and reach the Escape Ship for the losing team. You can even reel in enemies, which is more difficult and perhaps less practical than you think, but having it as a combat option is appreciated all on its own. Titanfall 2 also now gives players six Titans to choose from, most of which admittedly don’t set itself apart from what was offered in the original. However, new Titan classes such as the sword-wielding Ronin lends a dramatically different play option to Titan combat with its Led Wall shotgun and ability to teleport when compared to more traditional shells like Tone and Ion.
The relationship between Titan and Pilot has changed dramatically in Titanfall 2, which opens up the brand’s multiplayer formula to be a more team-based affair. No longer can Pilots mount enemy Titans and simply empty clips into their circuits. There’s now a battery pack system that creates emergent moments of capture the flag, and adds an all new dynamic of risk and reward. When a Pilot boards an enemy Titan’s back, they automatically yank a battery pack out of their hull – subsequent boarding will simply have the Pilot drop a grenade in the empty socket. The battery pack can be added to a friendly Titan to grant them a shield (since Titans no longer start with a shield, leveling all Titans to endure permanent damage), or you can add it to your own. It’s fun engaging in this little game of keep-away, but it’s also massively rewarding as it grants a considerable amount of points towards earning your Titan.
And herein lays Titanfall 2’s most controversial change. Part of what made the first Titanfall so rewarding to play was the question of not if you’ll earn a Titan, but when. In Titanfall 2, however, earning a Titan is strictly merit-based which has resulted in decreased Titan presence in modes such as Hardpoint and CTF. Though many take issue with the rate of which you earn your Titans, I for one am most disappointed in Titanfall 2’s un-remedied progression system from the first game. Respawn’s “much deeper progression system” simply entails employing a currency system that results in an incredibly slow grind to unlock custom options. This grind is seen at its worst in what has replaced the beloved Burn Card system: Boosts. These middle-ground abilities such as increased weapon damage and spawned turrets are awarded before calling down your Titan. Respawn seems to have thought that the dozens of hours it’ll take to unlock all of the Boosts somehow aptly replaces Burn Cards, which were consumable abilities that were awarded endlessly so long as you continued to play Titanfall. I’ve been playing Titanfall 2’s multiplayer for a better part of 8 hours now and saved up a little over 200 of its in-game currency, but I’ve only unlocked 4 out of the 12 Boosts without purchasing a single one. The only worthwhile side effect here was taking the Smart Pistol – a weapon introduced in the first that that locks onto enemies’ heads when in close proximity – and using it as an Boost instead of a base weapon.
Multiplayer games like Titanfall 2 that award experience points and currency typically incentivise the community to find modes that earn them the most kickback. For me, that mode happens to be the new Bounty Hunt. Bounty Hunt feels like Respawn’s perfected response to those who took issue with Attrition’s lack of focus, where A.I. opponents were ignored, and competitive players opted for the half-baked Pilots vs Pilots instead. Think of it as a better-balanced version of Halo 5’s Warzone where players must score more points by targeting A.I. as objectives around the map and earning cash along the way. The catch here is that cash must be banked at the end of each round, and killing enemy players automatically rewards you half of their collected bounty. The banks themselves are in neutral locations where you can expect to get ambushed at a moment’s notice. Though the round-based, fragmented location set up of Bounty Hunt might not be quite as spectacular as the cacophony that occurs in Attrition, this is undoubtedly the best version of Titanfall multiplayer. Here, players are encouraged to dedicate equal focus on both human and A.I. opponents – not to mention that the ability to steal the enemy’s bounty means that almost any match can go either way until the very end.
Leaving you with a gratifying sensation at the end of a campaign mission, or a multiplayer match is what Titanfall 2 does best. It’s a feel-good shooter, something that Respawn set out to achieve since the first game. Titanfall 2’s campaign is a culinary delight, a main dish that was tasted, scrapped, and prepared again and again until they crafted something that the studio could be proud of. For a campaign coming from a team that hasn’t delivered a singleplayer in seven years, Titanfall 2 is a tremendous success. The same could largely be said for the return of multiplayer. While setbacks such as a constrictive progression system is a disappointing follow-up from the first game, Titanfall 2’s multiplayer overcomes this hurtle with new mechanics, perfected design, and an overall spectacular online experience.
Excellent multiplayer accompanied by equally strong single-player
The devs at Respawn more than succeed at delivering their first full-bodied first person shooter experience.