Our first encounter with Respawn Entertainment’s ‘man meets machine‘ blockbuster Titanfall came back in 2014. The third-party Xbox exclusive from the brilliant minds of Modern Warfare and the much-coveted Call of Duty franchise catapulted us headlong into an ongoing conflict between two opposing factions; forced to take sides as an army of IMC fought it out on the frontline against the resistance of Frontier Militia soldiers with hulking Titans stomping about the battle plains; both allies and foe for the two rival factions in each other’s quest for power that would leave no corner of The Frontier unturned or unscathed.
The exclusion of a defining story campaign left Titanfall a multiplayer only experience with little to no notable single-player facet to fall back on other than a tacked on tutorial with loose story implications, and whilst its fast-paced shootouts, impressive wall running and all-out robotic based warfare duly favoured the masses, a lack of meaningful single-player campaign hurt those few seeking a more intimate experience. With Call of Duty, Call of Duty 2 and Medal of Honor poignant feathers attached to the very pristine bow of former Infinity Ward developers that came together to found Respawn, it really was no surprise to see the team and Titanfall return once again; flipping the scales to deliver a surprisingly diverse story of one pilot’s unique bond with his Titan.
Titanfall 2: Xbox One [Reviewed], PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 28 October 2016
Price: £54.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
For the record: I enjoyed Terminator 2: Judgement Day; the striking relationship shared between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong’s characters in 1995 captivated audiences worldwide as boy and machine went through hell, protecting one another as the pair sought to take down the infamous Skynet corporation before it turned the planet to field of skulls and bones. I hark back to James Cameron’s masterpiece of storytelling and action-packed suspense because of the sheer likeness in which it shares with Titanfall‘s well-executed successor. Respawn’s tale of one man’s relationship with a machine is a fitting inclusion to rival that of the connection shared between John Connor and Arnie’s T-800 over 20 years ago, as we’re introduced to Titanfall 2‘s protagonist Jack Cooper, a rifleman and Militia soldier by trade, who after the death of his long-time mentor and legendary pilot Captain Lastimosa unwittingly becomes one of the main focal points of this irresistible story.
Before Lastimosa passes his last breath he hands authorisation of his Titan, BT, down to Cooper to complete his final objective of an assault against the IMC on the planet of Typhon. The soldier quickly drops his training exercises and assumes his new responsibility with some aplomb. The relinquishing of baton from mentor to student transforms this nobody rifleman from aspiring pilot into a fully fledged wingman to a marauding Atlas Titan, towering almost three times the height of Cooper, and while what might have started out as a partnership born from sheer necessity or convenience ultimately blossoms into cleverly constructed moments of playful banter between the pair as their relationship escalates into a full-on ro-bro-mance. The measure of emotional closeness Cooper and BT share during their assault on the IMC ensures that what might have been nothing more than a generic 5-hour run and gun bullet fest became something a whole lot more meaningful. Through that emotional draw, that unique connection, Titanfall 2 opens its cockpit door to offer us an absorbing and enthralling story that fleshes out the multiplayer-only aspects of its predecessor, whilst offering players a better insight into the struggles facing the Militia in its never-ending fight against the morally corrupt IMC.
Throughout its 5-6 hour duration, Titanfall 2‘s campaign feels more measured with off the wall combat integrated with periods of reflection, all kitted out nicely with a dialogue system that offers some form of depth. With all the aforementioned cogs in play, Titanfall 2‘s campaign no longer feels like a tossed in extra or add-on luxury to retreat to when watching your neck continuously get snapped in Titanfall 2‘s unforgiving online modes becomes tiresome. The balance of power has been firmly shifted to accommodate a storyline worth sinking your teeth into; removing the shackles that painfully held back a very promising Titanfall in 2014. Now a willing runner for the Militia cause, Cooper spends a significant portion of the game’s storyline sprinting or scampering about the games gorgeous landscape; gathering up vital pieces of information, solving riddle fewer puzzles and eliminating an abundance of IMC threats. While scripted moments of combat or the game’s overuse of boss fights feel slightly monotonous at times, the parental-like tutelage of Cooper’s newly acquainted companion keeps the story entertaining enough to its brilliant conclusion.
Within the confines of BT, Cooper becomes adverse to high-octane combat scenarios but outside of his trusted rig the newly established Pilot excels with lightning speed and reflexes, achieving the unachievable, not to mention possessing the wherewithal to glide across walls with all the grace and finesse of an Olympic runner while executing hordes of IMC bullet sponges below him. Many of the tropes so indicative with 2014’s multiplayer-orientated experience make a welcome return here and in its early campaign exploits, Titanfall 2 teaches players to not only learn those techniques through its regimental style training drills but also run its tough gauntlets to gauge a better feel for the games many weapons; switching out between an assortment of rapid gunfire and volatile gadgets at free will, before putting those skills to the test deep within its story. As far as first-person shooters go, you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find another title from the genre that actively springs, sprints, slides and jump kicks with a smoother feel or precision than Titanfall, and rather than opting to rebuild from the ground up, Respawn has simply tweaked 2014’s blueprint to present a control system that willingly allows for the free-flowing fluidity found in Titanfall and now this.
Were it not for its wide range of robotic juggernauts and many high-powered weapons, Titanfall wouldn’t be quite the impressive spectacle that it is, but thankfully for us it does and boy does it do it with some style. Blessed with a seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of freely interchangeable weapons; every aspect of combat throughout Titanfall 2 remains fresh and energetic throughout proceedings as Cooper continues to whip through assault rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles faster than a young boy bursting through his presents on Christmas morning. In fact, Titanfall 2 does so many things right by the shooter genre that its pristine precision when firing off a short burst and the feather lite yet meaty feel of its weapons ensure the games free-flowing nature remains comfortably intact while still bang for your buck. Firing off a round into a group of enemies feels far more effective with each weapon capable of wreaking its own form of carnage and with its beautifully designed levels, corridors littered with enemy A.I’s and wide open combative spaces with which to hone your skills, Titanfall 2 actively encourages players to fully express themselves with a blend of out-of-the-box thinking and Matrix-like outlandish maneuvers.
Of course, Titanfall isn’t all about mankind, it also features machines and its marauding, overly powerful Titans return looking more menacing and shinier than ever before. With Cooper in complete control of BT, the Atlas Titan demonstrates all the power of a fully weaponised articulated lorry; able to shoot off a swirl of rockets like the 4th of July, while equally capable of protecting itself when the need arises through various defence abilities. Returning weapons and abilities collide to great effect with a whole batch of new inventive toys to delight those already acquainted with the original game and hungry newcomers. Sadly the campaign mode removes the option to tinker and customise BT, forcing players to pick and choose between the game’s preordained loadouts; but that isn’t to say these don’t each have their own advantages.
With a mere tap of a button, BT rises up from the ground like a phoenix from the ashes to hover mid-air, picking off incoming Titans, Spectres and Grunts with all the might and will of a Greek god. While on the ground, the hulking powerhouse is able to unleash a collection of new tactical, defensive, core and ordinance abilities that allow players to attack with a wider array of choice even if it is by design. Tripwires can be devilishly scattered about the battlefield to halt an attacking Scorch Titan in its prime, while building up enough power can see BT fire a prolonged core laser burst towards oncoming enemies, incinerating anything in its wake. With an army of Titans to square off against during the game’s campaign, it was a nice touch to see Respawn throw in health perks to keep the fight going, something similarly implemented in multiplayer.
Titanfall 2‘s campaign, while most certainly no longer looked upon as a tacked on tutorial, provides a great learning platform to better understand the variety of Titan loadout’s on offer before venturing into the demanding world of online play. The variety of combinations for both primary and secondary weapons along with an abundance of new gadgets ensures that by the time the credits begin to roll you’ll feel far more confident and better equipped to handle the demands of online play, rather than meander about blindly to be met by continuous death and frustration. Speaking of that online play…
As competitive and entertaining as Titanfall undeniably was, it lacked a hefty amount of modes for a title focused almost exclusively on online play, something that has continued again with its successor, and while Respawn has indeed promised more maps and modes to come at a later date as free DLC, for now, we make do with returning modes and a single new introduction. Titanfall 2‘s multiplayer balance remains largely the same as 2014, with a variance of modes suited to both Pilots and Titans with fan favourites Attrition, Hardpoint, Capture the Flag and Last Titan Standing all making a return, however, it is the introduction of a new mode – Bounty Hunt which will surely garner a lot of player attention and interest. Not too dissimilar to Battlefield Hardline‘s Bloody Money mode or Call of Duty‘s Kill Confirmed where players collect fallen enemies dog tags to confirm their death, Bounty Hunt sees players looking to bank money earned from killing Grunts, Spectres enemy players and targeted Titans, with the team to either reach the targeted score or boasting the highest amount of cash at the end declared the winner. Bounty Hunt is a perfectly balanced mode where either inside or outside a Titan, players can rack up chunks of money for their team, which must be then delivered to a specific bank in order to register for the respective side.
When not enjoying the feel of the newly introduced grappling hook which allows players to zip from building to building like Spider-Man on steroids, Titanfall 2‘s Call of Duty influence evidently courses through its veins as Respawn replace the iconic Burn Cards of 2014 with a constant steady stream of COD-esque style rewards gained from competing in matches across the games exciting modes, coupled with a progression system that truly feels as rewarding as Titanfall‘s Generation system did before it. With points acquired per match, players can steadily start to unlock Titan’s, loadouts, weapons and upgrades along with a plethora of cosmetic attachments to give your character and weapon that Hollywood effect. The sheer depth of customisable options readily available means that no two players ever likely to look the same, something Titanfall sorely missed and a welcome sight.
In 2014, Respawn knocked loudly on the door of the video game industry with Titanfall, and with their blockbuster of a follow-up have promptly returned to blast that very same door completely from its hinges. Its fantastic combination of fast fluid gunplay and mechanised combat in both multiplayer and through its enticingly solid single player campaign easily make Titanfall 2 one of the best and must have first-person shooters on the current market, even if Respawn did somehow manage to find itself in the unfortunate position of being wedged between the release of already well-loved franchise heavyweights Battlefield and Call of Duty. While its story isn’t without faults, Titanfall 2‘s tale of one man and his mech’s quest to push back the villainous IMC will keep players in its clutches until the very end before hopping online to twist some necks at breakneck speed in a quest for personal and team glory.