Titanfall is not just Call of Duty with mechs. Not quite.
While that would be an apt top-level description, it does not fully encompass what Titanfall is and what it manages to do. Respawn has managed to breathe new life into first-person shooters for the second time and it’s beautiful. And as the saying goes, beauty goes beyond the Titan’s armor.
Titanfall does indeed take many aspects from Call of Duty. It runs at a (mostly) stable 60 frames per second and the shooting feels remarkably similar, all the way down to the “X” in the reticle will your bullets connect with a target. Aiming down the sights, “knifing” (jump-kicking in Titanfall), and shooting all feel familiar and satisfying.
There’s also a leveling system and unlocks for weapons, abilities, and attachments. It’s simpler than Call of Duty’s and there are fewer guns and other unlocks, but it never feels limited or limiting. Each weapon, to my experience so far, feels balanced. I’ve yet to get the impression that any one weapon is overpowered and that includes the Smart Pistol, which locks on to targets when aimed in their general direction.
What sets Titanfall apart are its namesake Titans (I’ll get to those in a second) and the parkour-style movement. Pilots in Titanfall have a ridiculous amount of freedom. They have unlimited sprint, a double jump, wall runs that can be chained to increase speed, can mantle over ledges, and take no fall damage. Titanfall not only unlocks the potential of vertical gameplay, but it allows players to do so at breakneck speeds. All of the sudden, players not only need to watch their back, but literally all around them, as someone could be doing a Spider-Man style wall-cling above them, waiting for an unsuspecting Pilot to run by.
The Titans, in contrast, have less flexibility. They’re not exactly lumbering, but due to their size, they can’t go everywhere the Pilots can. The Titans are powerful, but also vulnerable; a single Pilot has the ability to take down a Titan, either by jumping on its back and shooting a weak point (called Rodeoing) or using their Anti-Titan weapon that all Pilots have available to them. The Titans provide a fun alternative to the typical shooting gallery gameplay and the blend of Titans, Pilots, and NPCs make for an interesting and lively mix.
The best part? At some point, everyone gets to call their Titan at least once. Each match (aside from Last Titan Standing games) begins with a timer that counts down until you’re able to call in your Titan and taking out AI, other Pilots, or Titans decreases that time. Once your Titan is ready, you can call it in and let the mayhem begin. You can choose to board your Titan or have it fight alongside you in Auto-Titan mode. Your Titan can be commanded to guard an area or follow you around the map. If you’re in your Titan, you can exit at any time. Point is, you have plenty of options and it depends entirely on how you want to fight.
Despite only being 6v6, Titanfall’s 15 maps never feel dead or empty. Titans take up huge swaths of the battlefield, Pilots can cover distances in a hurry, and there are plenty of AI characters constantly being dropped into the fight. While they can kill you, they’re generally not a real threat. They’re meant to be farmed. Killing AI-controlled Grunts and Spectres contributes to your XP gain, challenges, Titan build time, and team score (in certain modes), so they do play an important role. Even when you’re having a bad match or just aren’t very skilled, taking out Grunts is still a great way to contribute and have fun doing it. Jump-kicking Grunts is more fun than it should be.
All this madness can result in some slight performance hits. There have been times with multiple Titans fighting at once that have results in framerate drops, typically lasting a second or two. In my experience, they’ve been infrequent but noticeable, as matches move at such a frantic pace. I’ve heard some have experienced screen tearing, but I have not experienced or noticed it, so your mileage may vary.
There is also room to grow; Titanfall only has a few game modes. Each playlist is a pretty standard variation of what you’re used to: Capture the Flag, holding capture points, and a couple iterations of Team Deathmatch. Sorry, no special modes like “Cranked” or “Grifball” here. The “campaign” is almost not worth mentioning. The story it tries to tell quickly becomes white noise, drowned out by the sounds of combat.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Call of Duty model – spawn, shoot, die – but Titanfall mitigates that complaint with spacious, well-designed maps and plenty of fodder to mow down. Any player can enjoy Titanfall, winning or losing. Fun factor is important for any multiplayer game to have legs, and especially so for one that doesn’t have a single-player mode to fall back on. Thankfully, Titanfall has those legs, and you can call in two more.
Available on Xbox One (reviewed), Xbox 360 (release: 4/8/14), PC
Dev: Respawn Entertainment
Buy: Titanfall (Amazon)
Full disclosure: Approximately 15 hours were spent playing this game. At the time of writing, I was level 46.