Titanfall Preview: Call of Duty with Mechs it Most Certainly Ain't

Mike, Kat and Jaz have all been busy playing Titanfall Beta. Is running along walls and stomping around in kick-ass mechs as fun as it sounds?

After investing many hours playing Respawn's much-anticipated Titanfall, three USgamer editors come together to discuss their experiences.

Mike: Titanfall is an odd game to classify. You can see the core of Call of Duty in there. Certain weapons like the Assault class’s starting rifle are quite low-key, featuring the same iron sights and shake when you pull the trigger as you find in that earlier title. I assume having Titanfall start there is intended to make COD player feel at home, but then Respawn adds a whole host of new mechanics to liven up the formula.

Let’s start with the Parkour aspect. Your pilot is a spritely little fellow or gal, running along walls, double jumping, and wall jumping with ease. The mechanic makes Titanfall into a far more vertical shooter than the mainstream game industry has had in a while. If you hang back at the beginning of a match with semi-skilled players, you’ll see your team spread outward and upward. It’s pretty cool.

In fact, the leaping about brings me back to an older time. I’ve said previously that I’m not into shooters, but really, I’m not into modern shooters. I used to be a big fan of arena shooters in the early 2000’s; games like Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena were my jam. That trend ultimately died around 2008, just a short while after Call of Duty: Modern Warfare launched and sucked up all the oxygen in the environment. I like to think of Titanfall as former Infinity Ward boss Vince Zampella saying, “Sorry about that.”

Jaz: I started Titanfall with a high degree of excitement, having played a few demos beforehand. But as I whittled away the first few hours, I became increasingly less enamored. It just felt a bit too Call of Duty-ish, spiced up with a little packet marked “Big Robots.” The lightning, the landscaping, and even the feel and presentation just felt like the chaps at Respawn couldn’t quite let go of their roots and move on.

But then things began to click. I started out playing it like Call of Duty, and because of that it felt like Call of Duty. But it’s not Call of Duty. Titanfall’s differences are subtle, but important. I began to remember how I used to play Unreal Tournament, and started bouncing and Parkour-ing across the landscape like the futuristic, machine-assisted soldier I’m supposed to be. I expanded my vision and began to use the landscape to my advantage, rather than playing with tunnel vision down the barrel of my gun. And I became more patient, settling into the kind of roles I’m most comfortable with - which was helped enormously when I reached level nine and was granted access to the sniper rifle. Ah! There you are. My first and forever battlefield sweetheart. Just me and her, sittin’ on the roof, cappin’ all the peeps. Joy.

And that was pretty much that. I’ve got my weapon, I’ve got my style, and I’ve got a whole lotta killing going on. If truth be told, I’m not that great at Titanfall. Playing on Xbox One using a stick is just a tad clumsy. No fault of the controls, that’s for sure. Others I’ve played with are nowhere near as spray-and-pray as I am: it’s simply I’m a mouse guy, and just can’t aim as well with a joypad.

Mike: Yeah, I would’ve preferred to play with keyboard and mouse, but the Xbox One controller is still a fine option.

I’m not a big fan of the Titans themselves, getting inside one just replicates the pilot controls without the sense of freedom. I tend to leave mine in auto-Titan mode and stick to the high ground on foot. Hopping onto an enemy Titan to destroy its core is just too cool. I’m actually surprised how not-invincible the Titans themselves are. It’s quite balanced; if you never want to get in a Titan yourself, you don’t really have to.

The Titan just feels less dynamic than the pilot, and the dynamism is what attracts me to the game. Leaping like a mad jackrabbit across each level is where I find my fun, though I have yet to try that sniper rifle Jaz speaks of. I think Titanfall could also do with some more fantastic weapons, but I understand why they’re not going that route.

Jaz: That’s funny, because I looooove rolling in a big stompy bot. And for some stupid reason - probably because I can’t aim for crap - I find punching other big bots in the face endlessly entertaining. As soon as I strap in, it’s route one, right up the grille of the first bot I see, with the occasional power slide for style points.

Kat: I’m with Jaz regarding the Titan -- I love stomping around and crushing things. Of course, I’m a huge mech fan anyway, but that’s beside the point. The Titan just feels good to drive, which isn’t something I’ve been able to see about a mech sim since… what… MechWarrior 2? It’s fast, but not too fast; powerful, but not too powerful; and it does just enough to vary up the gameplay from the pilot. My only concern right now is that once one team gets a lead with the Titans, they can usually gang up and roll the other team right off the map. I think this is as much an issue of map balance and teamwork as anything though. At higher levels, I’m betting teams can recover with canny use of remaining mechs, rodeo attacks, and anti-Titan weapons. As for Mike’s concern about the lack of fantastic weapons, I would say wait until the final release. I’m guessing that Respawn has a few nifty ideas up their sleeve. The nuclear eject and the energy shield are probably just the beginning...

Jaz: Yeah. I’m sure there are plenty of things we haven’t seen yet, and I can’t wait. The game definitely feels like a throwback to a more ballistic, kinetic time where there’s a little more looseness about the game. UT and Q3A were a bit more free-for-all and improvisational than the modern military shooters that feel grounded in reality. Titanfall’s attitude of screw gravity - and here, have a big robot - brings a definite whiff of fun to an FPS scene that sometimes feels like it’s taking itself way too seriously.

Kat: I’m glad you brought up Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena, because my first thought when I played Titanfall was, “Dang, this really brings me back to the days of Halo.”

Without wishing to generalize too much, it feels like shooters have gotten slightly staid and conservative. I still like Battlefield 4; but good grief, it feels like it plays in slow motion at times. By comparison, I feel like I have total freedom of action in Titanfall. If I have a mind to, I can run along a wall, or scale a building in seconds. It’s a feeling I really haven’t had since Halo, where mobility is truly everything. The double jump truly makes all the difference.

At the same time though, it still manages to incorporate some much-needed elements of modern shooters as well. It has its perks, and from I’ve been able to see, they’re well designed and balanced. The guns, crucially, are all great thus far; you won’t find anything like the Needler among the selection of Titanfall’s firearms. And there’s a lot of depth to be found in the interactions between the Titans and the pilots, whether “rodeo-ing” a Titan and blasting out its CPU, or setting a machine to autopilot while sneaking around a corner with a Sidewinder.

Mostly though, Titanfall brings back fond memories of jumping around like a crazy person; sticking people with grenades, and mowing down chumps with the Warthog. I don’t know that it will be the game-changer that Halo was back in 2001 -- it might be too small for that -- but after having been inundated with military shooters for so long, it feels like a refreshing blast from the past.

Jaz: I like all the leveling up and achievements that are packed into the game. It almost feels MMO-y in a sense, and that’s definitely a good thing. But the bad thing is… well… it might not be a bad thing because it’s early days yet - but I do have concerns about tiering and player matching. I’m a big fan of close-level banding, but not level average matching. I prefer to play with players all close to one another in levels, rather than a mix of high and low level players that average out to the same number as the opposite team. I’m not quite sure how the release version of Titanfall will play out, but I’m hoping that we’ll see quality matchmaking, and not situations where you have a couple of overpowered high-level guys wasting all the n00bs. That’s simply not fun - at least, not for the people who’ve just started to level up.

But regardless, Titanfall’s giving me that itch. You know. That great game itch where you just keep thinking about it, which then makes you want to go and play it. It happened to me last night halfway through a movie. I watched the rest of the movie because I didn’t want to be an ass to my partner, but the whole time I was watching it, all I could see in my head was images of the landscape and bots, and my sniper scope and missile targeting system locking on.

Yep. My money’s ready to be thrown at the screen.

Mike: I’m not at the money-throwing level yet, but I’m more interested in Titanfall than I was before the beta. So, that’s a plus for Respawn!

Jaz: Oh. I forgot - and @sam stephens reminded me in the comments section. The end game! How could we forget talking about the end game? When you finish a round, it's not quite over yet. The losers have the chance to make it out alive by reaching an evac point and jumping on a rescue ship, while the victors need to wipe them out to prevent them from escaping. I love this last chance saloon aspect of the game - it's such a great idea. Indeed, some of my favorite Titanfall moments have been in the post game, where a loss has suddenly become a personal victory because I've managed to dodge a hail of gunfire, make the designated pick up point, and get out alive. When that happens, it feels seriously satisfying!