Titanfall may just have solved the problem that has kept mech shooters from being nothing more than rarely appearing niche or cult titles. On paper it sounds nothing short of awesome to be able to strap yourself into a fifty foot high, 100 ton mech bristling with weapons, but in practice it usually does fall short. Give everybody a mech and a wide open battlefield for the giants to fight on and before long everyone realizes that you've got just another shooter, the mech cool factor lost to slow-moving combatants and a neutered sense of scale. But Titanfall is different, and for a number of reasons.
First of all, you're not in a mech (hereafter referred to as a 'titan' in the game's parlance) all of the time. In fact, in all but one of the game modes you don't even start a match in a titan. Spending time as a soldier on foot makes you appreciate the size and power of the titans because the street level perspective is completely different from the view from the controls of a titan, especially when you find yourself looking up at an enemy titan staring down at you and deciding whether to step on you or to swat you aside. And when it comes time for you to climb on board your own titan, the elevated view, thunderous gait, and powerful weapons at your fingertips make you feel far more powerful, just like you really are a titan.
Titans are a limited resource in the game, and when you respawn or eject from a crippled titan a two minute countdown timer is started. Once the timer expires, a new titan is made available for you to call into battle. In the game's world titans are deployed from orbit, so when you call yours in you'll see it come streaking down from the sky (the 'fall' in 'Titanfall').
While you're on foot you won't be simply hiding in a corner, hoping you don't see any enemy titans before you can call in one of your own. Playing on foot is all about speed, agility, and athleticism, a counterpoint to the relative plodding of the titans. Soldiers in the game wear special suits that give them enhanced athleticism and parkour style capabilities. Super sprinting, double-jumping, and wall-running abilities can all be used in concert and chained together to turn city streets and military installations into your own personal playground. While titans are looking to go toe-to-toe with the enemy, on foot you need to be constantly moving, looking to jump in for a quick strike and then get out.
This mobility serves you well when you take on titans. You carry an anti-titan weapon as part of your loadout, but these weapons are not powerful enough to let your survive a head-on fight with a titan. However, if you can get in a few licks, quickly move to a new position, and repeat the process you can wear one down. The more daring can also go for a rodeo kill in which you jump onto the back of an enemy titan, tear off an access panel, and fire your weapon into the titan's control circuitry.
Battles in the game are certainly exciting. Players can be battling from room to room in a building while titans are trading missile salvos on the street outside. Two titans trading punches can easily trample a player caught underfoot and never know it. Every time that you play something different happens, and plenty of times it's unlike anything that you've seen happen in another game.
There's story behind all of this man versus titan warfare, but it's surprisingly thin and clich�d and it's disappointing that a game this fun doesn't exist in a richer world. There are two factions, one a space-faring mega-corporation that runs everything and the other a coalition of planets trying to escape its yoke. The game's campaign isn't so much a campaign as a series of nine multiplayer matches, first played on the corporate (IMC) side and then played again from the rebel (Militia) one. There are some short voice overs between the matches that serve as the narrative, but it's nothing that interesting or worth relating here. I'd recommend just saving the two hours or so that it will take you to play through the eighteen multiplayer matches that make up the campaign, but you'll need to play through it to unlock two of the three available titan chassis for play.
Matches are surprisingly small in that they only support two teams of six players each. To keep battles from looking sparse, the game adds a couple dozen AI controlled soldiers to the mix. These soldiers are pretty brain dead and won't challenge any players, but at least they do their job as seat-fillers and make the battles feel larger and more populated. Game modes include two team death match modes, Attrition and Pilot Hunter, the difference between the two being the first awards points for killing AI soldiers while the second only for killing other players. A control point mode, Hardpoint, and Capture the Flag should be familiar to anyone who's played a shooter before. The final mode is the most unique, Last Titan Standing. Both teams begin with all players in titans, but if you lose your titan you won't be able to call in another one and will have to play the rest of the round on foot. If a team loses their final titan, the other team wins the round. First team to win four rounds wins the match.
Most modes feature an endgame bonus round in which the losing team makes a last-ditch dash for an evacuation shuttle while the winning team tries to stop them. There's no respawning during this phase of the match, so players on the losing team face a challenge in getting to the evac point alive and then in getting onto it while facing heavy fire from the opposing team converging on the site. If a player manages to board the shuttle, the effort is rewarded with bonus experience points to help take a bit of the sting out of the loss. The winning team also has the chance to put an exclamation point on their win by preventing any enemy players from escaping and, even more so, by destroying the evac shuttle before it can leave. This bonus time mad dash to safety certainly adds additional excitement to the game, and I preferred it to the usual abrupt ending you see in multiplayer games that unceremoniously drop you to the results screen the instant a match ends.
Titans are customizable by selecting a starting chassis and loadout. There are three chassis available that progressively trade speed for armor, and about a half dozen primary weapons with varying rates of fire, range, and damage. Secondary weapons include rockets and smart missiles, and you can equip special items like a vortex shield which catches enemy projectiles and sends them back at the shooter or a charged smoke cloud that chokes nearby players including anyone trying to rodeo kill your titan.
Similarly you can set you loadout when you're not piloting a titan. The game doesn't have player classes, unless you count the three default loadouts provided. There are about a dozen primary weapons available which run from shotguns to sniper rifles (and since the game moves so quickly the sniper rifles aren't that useful). The only unusual weapon in the arsenal is the smart pistol. Keep enemies within its kill box for long enough and it will lock on to them - and it can lock on to multiple enemies at a time. Pull the trigger and it will automatically hit every enemy that it locked onto. This can be a pretty powerful weapon, but that power is balanced by the relatively long lock time; you won't be able to lock onto a fast moving target in time to do anything. Secondary items that you can equip include a short-term cloak and enhanced parkour abilities.
Loadouts and titans are the same for both factions, which serve to make the already generic factions even more so. It's easy to forget which faction you're fighting for during a match since everyone looks the same, but it doesn't matter since you'll just shoot everyone whose name appears in orange above their heads and do fine. It would have been nice if at least the two factions' titans looked different, or at the very least if you could customize the colors and markings on your titan to distinguish it a little bit from other titans.
The game also features burn cards, one-use power-ups and boosts that last until you're killed. You're awarded new cards after each match, and can make up to three cards from your deck available for play before the next match. The cards add a little variety to the game, but they feel like they were added as an afterthought to make up for the relatively thin number of loadout options available.
Titanfall is a lot of fun to play, but some of its shortfalls left me a little disappointed. I wish there was a story behind the game that lived up to its gameplay, and that there was a real single player campaign to convey that story. Loadout options feel pretty thin for a top-tier shooter, and customization options should also extend to the look of your soldier and titan. Finally, a game this unique begs for a more original collection of modes. Overall, though, it's easy enough to recommend to gamers who enjoy shooters and stick exclusively to the multiplayer modes.
Final Rating: 82%. A lot ot fun, but a little thin.