One of the more intriguing matchups of the year for me was seeing how Titanfall 2 was going to compare to Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. With the former created by Respawn, a team of people led by ex-Infinity Ward employees, and the latter produced by Infinity Ward themselves, I was interested to see how both developers were going to approach their respective single-player campaigns from a design perspective. Beware - mild spoilers!
On the face of it, both of these marquee shooters are superficially similar. Beyond their sci-fi settings and field-promoted protagonists, they feature almost identical free-flowing chained movement systems that enable players to fluidly wall-run and parkour their way around their respective game environments, and pack varied armories of similar-functioning weapons that can be used throughout the campaign. They also both feature vehicular facets, with Infinite Warfare giving the player the opportunity to jump into a space fighter and partake in some flight combat missions, while Titanfall 2 gives you a companion mech in which to stomp about.
However, both games are very different when it comes to presentation. Infinite Warfare is a big-budget bonanza, with an impressive selection of cut scenes driving the action. Titanfall 2, on the other hand, feels far more modest in scope. It does have a few key cinematics here and there, but for the most part it dispenses with visual narrative in favor of static interim screens that feel oldschool in their design.
The two games also approach their gameplay style from two distinct angles. As you might expect from the Call of Duty series, Infinite Warfare is heavy on bombast: From its spectacular settings to its explosive gameplay moments, it's a game that's constantly trying to impress. Sometimes it feels like it's trying to be as much of a "ride" as it is a game, with sequences designed to provide the player with thrilling and shocking surprises. Conversely, Titanfall 2 is far slower-paced and much more considered in the way it articulates its story. While the game does feature plenty of twists and turns, they are presented in a quite matter-of-fact way, feeling like natural junctures of the plot, rather than blockbuster moments.
These differences are very much in evidence the instant you start both games. Infinite Warfare goes all-out from the very beginning, literally dropping you into the action as you and two squad-mates fall from orbit HALO-style to participate in a covert mission on Jupiter's icy moon, Europa. Apart from a prompt telling you when to press a button to activate your jets and arrest your fall, there's nothing to prepare you for what's going on: You're thrown into an intense firefight that's quite challenging, and you barely have time to get your bearings before you're confronted with a giant war mech that you have to destroy before it tears your small team apart. It's an explosive start to the game that's made even more shocking when your team is met by antagonist Salen Kotch and executed in a cinematic sequence that draws the prologue to a conclusion. The game was clearly designed on the assumption that you know what they're doing – that you'd be able to jump right into the thick of combat without the need for any training levels or introductory sequences.
Titanfall 2 takes the opposite approach. Its opening effectively establishes two key characters, and runs you through a detailed training mission that enables you to get to grips with the game's comprehensive movement system. It's a classic piece of design that hearkens back to the sort of introductory mini-games featured in the likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Once you've run through the training mission, Titanfall 2's action gets underway proper, with you being dropped onto the surface of the planet in an attack that goes disastrously wrong.
Even at this point, however, you're still being acclimatized to the action. While there is a modicum of shooting involved, the main focus of the gameplay is on applying the moves you just learned in the training mission to a series of platforming sections as you attempt to retrieve a battery to power up your new Titan sidekick, BT-7274. Complete that, and you're sent on another mission that this time involves a more complex set-up, presenting yet more platforming as you navigate the walls of a river-cut ravine, and then giving your shooting skills a work-out with a fairly straightforward infiltration of an enemy encampment.
The third part of the mission sees you climbing inside your Titan, and taking it into combat for the first time. While it's mildly challenging and fun, when you really look at this level, it's basically yet another introductory sequence, designed to bring you up to speed on BT-7274's controls and gunplay. Personally, I really like the pacing and structure of Titanfall 2's opening. While it might lack the dramatic punch of Infinite Warfare's prologue, I think it's a much better piece of design that doesn't make any assumptions about the player, and instead enables anyone of any skill to be able to ease themselves into the action.
Infinite Warfare follows up its kinetic opening with a series of impressive interactive cinematic-type sequences that introduce its main characters, sets some historical context, and very quickly thereafter establishes its premise – which leads almost immediately to yet another intense and quite lengthy shooting sequence. It certainly delivers in terms of immediate action, but gives you very little chance to catch your breath and take in what's going on. Titanfall 2 is comparatively much slower-paced and more deliberate in the way that its missions unfold. You're under no illusions about what's going on, and objectives are made crystal clear thanks to them being so intricately wrapped up within its storyline.
That's not to say Infinite Warfare's goals aren't also clear – it's just that while both games follow the same linear formula where the plot is advanced by completing level objectives, Titanfall 2 gives the impression of being more of a continual and progressive narrative, whereas Infinite Warfare feels more like a series of disparate set pieces that have been stitched together. What's interesting to me is that both games play out over a relatively short period of time, but despite Infinite Warfare's gameplay feeling urgent, the pacing of its storyline doesn't quite reflect that same sense of immediacy. Missions feel like they could take place in the days and weeks following the SDF's attack on Earth, rather than the relatively short timeframe in which the game is actually set. Titanfall 2's story flows very smoothly, despite it actually playing out across a series of individual levels.
Another marked difference between the two games is how they make use of their movement systems. Titanfall 2 features missions that involve quite comprehensive platforming in which you have to use every maneuver at your disposal to navigate through hazard-packed environments. Indeed, later levels even introduce platforming puzzles into the proceedings, where you move objects with a crane so that you can make your way through a series of connected structures. It's a lot of fun, and helps break up the shooting action by giving you a completely different set of game mechanics to deal with.
Titanfall 2 also makes use of a time travel mechanic that lets you instantly switch from the present to the past. That gives rise to some really interesting sequences where you're using two temporal instances together to enable you to navigate through an environment that is otherwise impassable – basically leaping from a platform in the present, and switching time periods mid-jump so that you can land on a wall that existed in the past. It's incredibly creative and inventive, and for me is one of the more memorable aspects of Titanfall 2's campaign.
Infinite Warfare is unfortunately far less imaginative. There are precious few levels where you can actually take advantage of wall running and double-jumping, let alone missions that actively encourage you to parkour and wall-run around them. Most of the action consists of boots-on-the-ground combat where it's simply all about out-gunning the enemy. Sure, it's fun – but compared to Titanfall 2, the action can feel somewhat relentless, with little to break up the continual gunplay. Call of Duty might have evolved its movement system considerably over its last few iterations, but its latest campaign doesn't take advantage of it at all.
Another notable difference between the two games is that I found that I was generally far more mobile while participating in Titanfall 2's gunfights than I was with those in Infinite Warfare. Respawn's game feels a lot more open, encouraging you to run from cover to cover and exploit the environment to out-maneuver the enemy. Infinite Warfare feels a lot more like attrition. I did move around, but nowhere near as much. Instead, I'd find a safe spot, and sit there and snipe at enemies until they were all eliminated, before moving onto the next advantageous position. There are also occasions where the sheer volume of enemies that are thrown at you result in certain set pieces feeling unrelenting. It just makes the action drag a little in places. Titanfall 2 mixed up the action and in doing so avoided making the same pitfall.
Adding even more variety to Titanfall 2's action is its boss fights where you take on named enemies while driving BT-7274. They deliver intense and exciting mech vs. mech combat that, while ostensibly boiling down to shooting, nevertheless have a very different feel about them than game's regular gunplay. Infinite Warfare pretty much skips boss fights altogether. There are a couple of instances where you come up against the same kind of mech that you fight in the prologue, but they didn't really strike me as boss fights in the traditional sense. They're just tougher-than-normal enemies that you need to dispatch without much in the way of fuss or fanfare.
Infinite Warfare's equivalent of Titan battles is its flight combat sequences, which offer a nice respite from its otherwise fairly relentless shooting missions. Here, you get the chance to fly a space fighter into action in a variety of missions that involve taking down specific targets. While they look absolutely epic, the space battles largely all play out in the same fashion; an exercise in swinging your ship around to lock onto enemy craft so you can shoot them down, and firing off flares when you're prompted, so you can avoid getting hit by incoming missiles. It's quite entertaining, but compared to Titanfall 2's mech battles I found Infinite Warfare's flight combat far less involving and rewarding, despite them being grander in scope than Titanfall 2's set piece battles.
What I ultimately find fascinating is how two titles with such similar gameplay mechanics can feel so utterly different in terms of their design execution. Infinite Warfare has all the trappings of a grandiose blockbuster, but at its heart is surprisingly straightforward. Its plot twists and turns, and features a myriad of shocking moments – but underneath all that bombast is a fairly simple corridor shooter that's very much cast in the series' traditional mold. Yes, it does have all-new flight combat sequences, but despite looking absolutely spectacular, they lack gameplay sophistication. In the end, Infinite Warfare feels by-the-numbers: A compelling, but safe campaign designed to please, but not to innovate.
Titanfall 2 takes almost the opposite tack. I think Respawn took a risk blending platforming and puzzles into what most people expected would be a straightforward FPS campaign, but they really pulled it off, essentially delivering a really enjoyable action adventure that's varied and interesting. Clearly, its presentation doesn't stand up to the sheer spectacle that is Infinite Warfare, but bottom line, it's simply more fun – and that, for me, is the most important consideration of all.