Art by Citrus King
Last year gave us the reveal of Titanfall, a first-person shooter from the folks who brought us Call of Duty that would usher in this next generation of gaming heading our way, particularly as a centerpiece for the Xbox One. "Oh goody, the future of gaming shall be represented with another damn military shooter," I initially said to this reveal with all of the enthusiasm I typically reserve for military shooters or an announcement of a Michael Bay-produced Dinosaucers remake. So I dismissed it and moved on. But as time moved forward, I found myself being gradually intrigued by Titanfall, bit by bit...
Maybe it was the fact that it would be a Team Fortress 2-style multiplayer shooter, or maybe it was the gameplay built around fancy moves with jetpacks and giant robots, and we all know there isn't anything that can't be improved with the addition of jetpacks and giant robots. And I also realized that if I'm ever to truly become any sort of professional video game critic, I will need to step out of my comfort zone from time to time. And since the only other thing close to a military shooter I've played was Spec Ops: The Line - which was actually a deconstruction and takedown of the genre which hit me so hard that it gave me PTSD (I still have flashbacks about the burns, the horrible burns) - I decided to let curiosity get the better of me and give Titanfall a shot. So would it be a surprising success, or would it be, as Zero Punctuation would put it, another case of spunkgargleweewee? Let's find out...
And as a bonus, to test out the Xbox One's new Twitch streaming service introduced alongside the game, I decided to add in my own full-on Let's Play of Titanfall! Come watch me experience the game for the first time as I awkwardly try out my first-ever Let's Play, and regret picking a game where you can't talk much because at least five other people can hear you and a stream of gunfire is always on. Um, yay?
The Lows of Titanfall
3. Cheating Bastards and Overly Experienced Players
Now to be fair, I can't necessarily call this the fault of Titanfall myself, more like the fault of more than a few dickhole players. But needless to say, it does sap a little bit of one's enjoyment to walk in as a fresh-faced new player, unload an entire round's worth of ammo onto another player to the point where that if a small breeze passed by, their body would able to play an entire rendition of "Whistle While You Work", only to have that player shrug it off and kill you in one shot like they were simply swatting a fly. Several players I saw on the very first day of release were already up to Level 25 and beyond, thus giving them access to the greater variety of toys and means to turn obstacles into worm food. It seems as though more than a few people have too much time on their hands, and possibly access to an IV drip and a bedpan.
But players with a huge advantage due to a gap in experience earned by playing the game is one thing; straight up cheating is another. Titanfall seem to have been plagued by cheaters so far, using hacks such as aimbots and the like to score easy kills and pump up their experience quicker. Because who needs to develop actual skills to lead them to victory when you can just lift a few hacks off of a shady website? Enjoyment of other players be damned! Respawn is busy working on logging those who cheat in order to ban them, though hopefully not before before finding a way to send someone over to their houses and shove a giant metal fist up their asses.
...Or it could just be possible that I stink at this game. Meh, highly unlikely.
2. The Visuals Can Still Feel a Bit Samey
So it kind of goes without saying that Titanfall has some gorgeous graphics and landscapes...unfortunately, getting more variety into those landscapes was apparently too much to ask for. There are some notable touches, like evacuated business rooms with office supplies still on the tables, abandoned colonies with closed-up Electric Chicken booths in the streets to add a little levity, or even frickin' dragons that swoop down from the sky and pick off the occasional grunt, depending on the map. But alas, more often than not it still stoops to the levels of the oh-so-popular wrecked buildings decked out in brown/gray/green colors seen in so many modern shooters.
I never found this to be too much of a trouble...at least not as much as trying to tell all the pilots, grunts and robot soldiers apart, and whether or not they're on your side. I realize a realistic military unit would opt for more practically-colored uniforms, but here's the thing, Titanfall: You're a game with fucking giant robots in it. I think this means you're allowed a little leeway when it comes to realistic uniform design.
At the very least, there's no friendly fire, so you're never in danger of accidentally killing your teammates due to any mixups. But in the heat of battle, the only way to tell the difference between friend and foe is to wait for the red or blue user name to pop up above their heads, and the second or so before that happens means the difference between a successful kill and having to do your best impression of Sonny Corleone.
Good luck trying to differentiate between the aforementioned pilots, grunts and robot soldiers as well, especially in Pilot Hunter, where the goal is to specifically kill pilots, surprisingly enough. Everyone just has the same gray outfit, free of any distinguishing features to easily notice. I wish they had taken some inspiration from fellow arena shooter Team Fortress 2's design choices: you are a red-colored guy. See the blue-colored guys? Kill them. That wasn't so hard, was it (okay, so spy checking involves attacking your own team, but still)?
1. The Campaign Mode Is a Complete Joke
So the developers of Titanfall made quite a big deal about how they would bring forth a unique marriage between the story-driven Campaign Mode and the player-versus-player shooter, a type of genre not particularly known for strong stories. As it turned out, this marriage was more akin to a green-card wedding, in that the two partners have no real affection to another and are just doing this for convenience and for show, while anyone watching will quickly see it for the shallow, loveless sham it really is.
Where to begin? Well, there's always the story, I suppose. So in the future, we perfected a warp-like form of space travel, then something something giant robots something something huge corporation something something militia who hate said corporation and then they fight, they bite, they fight and bite and fight etc. To say that the whole scenario is poorly explained is somewhat of an understatement. Whatever glimpses of plot explaining who you're fighting and why you're doing this are there either get explained in a thirty-second-or-so voiceover before each mission while you're trying to prepare your pilot, or during said mission via character conversations that take place while a hail of gunfire and rockets is upon you and you're just trying to concentrate on surviving. It's sort of like the classic scenario of being asked to solve a difficult math equation while thirty TVs are blaring in your face at full volume, but the equation here shouldn't even be that difficult.
But I haven't even gotten to the structure of the Campaign Mode yet. After ending my first point capture match for the initial mission, I noticed that the story was still continuing, despite our team having lost. I initially figured this might have been setting up some sort of branching plot or sorts, where maybe the ongoing story, next map, or next type match might be different depending on your results. But nope, win or lose, the story continues on, the same as usual. You see, all of the events that move the plot forward? They happen offscreen with NPCs or via communications and video between them and you happening via a tiny screen in your HUD. they move everything forward; you're just there so your battle gives them support or cover, or so they say.
So looking at that, you might ask yourself: As a nameless pilot, what exactly is one's role in Titanfall's story? What do you contribute to it? The answer, to put it politely, is JACK FUCKING SHIT. Not to bring up another blatant Zero Punctuation reference, but in his Ryse: Son of Rome review, Yahtzee joked about how in the future, games will just consist of one button you push that makes the game play itself for six hours. Well Yahtzee, I'm positive you'll be glad to know that Titanfall is certainly ahead of its time when it comes to the Campaign mode. Sure, you can still participate in the actual multiplayer battles, but anything you actually do is pointless when it comes to the story. Hell, in the most damning proof of this, one player was actually able to beat the campaign without firing a single shot.
So to recap, the plot is a mess and you play no real part in it anyway. It's all just background noise, tucked away behind actual background noise. And sorry if I've ragged on for quite a bit about this (I didn't even mention how you have to play the campaign twice in a vain attempt to present the whole story), but Christ on a bike, not since Arkham City have I personally seen a triple-A game with such a shoddy handling of its story. But thankfully, the plot is still only secondary to the game's multiplayer action, despite trying to be front and center. So maybe there we can find some redeeming features...