Titanfall Xbox One Review: Hopped Up on Jump Jets and Big Mechs

Titanfall Xbox One Review: Hopped Up on Jump Jets and Big Mechs

Respawn Entertainment's first game brings man and machine together. Is Titanfall good enough to save the Xbox One?

Primary Reviewer Mike Williams

So here's Titanfall, the first title that sprang from the studio created by the Infinity Ward debacle. It represents Respawn Entertainment's first salvo into the industry. A game that Microsoft expects to push a ton of Xbox Ones for the next few months.

One half of Titanfall is an odd hybrid between current shooters and Splash Damage's Brink. The core of the shooting isn't all that different from what you may already be playing in Call of Duty and Battlefield. Automatic and semi-automatic weapons, iron sights, reloading, and many an explosion. The Brink comparison comes in the movement of your pilot, leaping and wall-running across the terrain like a well-armed Sebastien Foucan. You'll string together that wall-running with double jumps and mantling to traverse each level. There's also the random zipline that pilots can ride to move from building to building.

While Brink's method required holding down a button to enter parkour mode, Titanfall's movement system is seamless. This works well most of the time, but runs into the same problems that occasionally pop up in Assassin's Creed: you'll leap at a wall at an angle that you believe will result in a lateral wall-run, only to the scale it straight up. Most of the time I felt in control of my jump-jet assisted soldier, but sometimes I would find myself or another player vainly hopping against a surface in order to get somewhere; the reality didn't match up to the moves we had planned in our heads. I'm guessing this is mostly a skill problem, as some of my opponents made it look easy.

Even when it doesn't look easy, it does look awesome. Opening each match you'll tumble out of the sky from your dropship, land, and begin to sprint to your objective. It's pretty goddamn cool to sit there and watch your team spread out from the landing zone; ducking into buildings, leaping over crates, moving from wall-run to rooftop. When you're running and leaping alongside your teammates, you really do feel like a team of badasses.

The "Titanfall" name refers to the other half of the game, the mechanized Titan power suit. When a match starts, you'll get a countdown until the next time you can drop your Titan. Yes, drop; the Titan itself comes screaming down from the atmosphere and its drop zone can actually be used as a weapon if you're good enough. Killing pilots and grunts lowers your Titanfall time, so those of you with FPS skills will be seeing your Titans sooner than others. (Like me.)

Here's a tip, pilots: Always be leaping.

Once inside your Titan, the matches stick closer to the Call of Duty or Battlefield core, albeit with more weight to the proceedings. Titans are grounded and slower than the nimble pilots. In fact, the jump button does a quick dash when you're in a Titan, instead of leaping into the sky. What Titan operators gain is size, firepower, and overall speed. Yes, the Titan cannot leap about across buildings, but unless you're a master at parkour, the Titan's size allows it cross more ground quicker. Especially in modes like Capture The Flag or Hardpoint Domination, this can be important. Titasn also have a rechargeable shield that needs to be taken down before your or your enemies can damage a Titan's core.

Not a big fan for Titans? You don't need to ride your Titan to use it to its fullest. When you exit your Titan, you can leave it in Guard or Follow modes. Guard leaves it at a specific spot, aimed in the direction, and ready to shoot at any enemy it sees. Follow mode has it doing its best to stay near you, while also bringing pain to your foes. When you're not controlling it, the Titan AI isn't all that great, but it's preferable to the damn thing standing there, doing nothing.

You're not defenseless if you're not in a Titan.

Respawn Entertainment has obviously put a lot of effort into making sure that the Titans aren't the end-all, be-all for each match. Yes, Titans can punch pilots into a fine, bloody mist. Yes, they can step on them. Yes, they have much bigger weapons that can end pilots quickly. But pilots can take to the high ground and duck into buildings to protect themselves. They have anti-Titan weapons to deal major damage to Titans from cover. And they can equal the playing field by rodeo-ing a Titan. This is when a pilot leaps on a Titan's back to deal damage directly to the core, bypassing a Titan's shield.

Rodeo-ing may be one of my favorite mechanics in a shooter ever. I'm not a very big fan of the Titans, because for me, the fun of the game is hopping around. As I've said before, the enhanced vertical movement reminds me of older FPS games like Unreal Tournament. It brings me back to days where shooters were a bit more fantastic, before Call of Duty: Modern Warfare dragged the market back to terra firma. So, entering a Titan does very little for me, but hopping on top of one and using my little pea-shooter to take it down? Awesome. Titan riders aren't helpless though: they can disembark to scrape off any pilot barnacles at gunpoint and certain Titan weapons can clear off any potential cowboys.

The levels are built to cater to both playstyles, with wide streets and cargo-bay doors for Titans, and indoor areas and vertical surfaces for pilots. There's fifteen levels, but they all feel different. My preference leans on levels like the ruined future-suburban landscape of Fracture (the one from the beta), the high-tech offices of Corporate, or the slums of Colony. All these levels have more buildings to hide in and towers to climb, which favors the pilot side of things. Comparatively, the open Airbase, tropical Lagoon, and the flat, boring Training Ground all have more open space for Titans to play in.

Even outside of that, each level has a different feel and look: the dusty Rise is a lengthy expanse that caters to snipers, while the metropolis of Angel City feels better for close-combat. Respawn obviously took its time on this launch list of levels. Out of the entire list, the only one I actively dread playing in is the boring and open Training Ground. One out of fifteen is a pretty good number for me.

The tropical Lagoon plays better in a Titan.

You'll run across all these levels in the game's six modes: Attrition, Hardpoint Domination, Last Titan Standing, Capture the Flag, Pilot Hunter, and Campaign. Attrition is this game's deathmatch, where you gain points for killing pilots, Titan, and NPCs. Capture the Flag is self-explanatory. Hardpoint Domination has you holding three areas on the map for points. Last Titan Standing starts everyone inside a Titan, their only one for the match: whichever side still has one Titan standing wins. Pilot Hunter removes the point gains for killing the NPC grunts in each match, meaning you only gain score here for killing actual players.

Finally, there's Campaign. There's no single-player campaign in Titanfall. Instead it puts you and your group on one side (the freedom fighting Militia or the corporate IMC) and pits you against each other in an ongoing war. It's largely similar to multiplayer, except with in-game cinematics that are providing you with the world's backstory. It equals many of the campaigns you'll find in other FPS games, outside of the lack of a ton of scripted scenes. There are a few, like being trapped in a crashing gunship or racing outside of a set of buildings before they explode, but they're not the focus like they would be in a single-player campaign.

Campaign has two problems though. One, your foes in the campaign mode seem locked like the other multiplayer modes. So if you're on the losing side, you're on the losing side for the whole campaign. Enjoy. Two, it's online. After waiting forever to get into a campaign for the first time - pre-launch multiplayer can be a desert at times - I got disconnected from the server a few matches in. Since there's no way to get back into a pickup group, I had to go back to the lobby and find a group of players are the same point in the campaign or earlier. Annoying, but it should be less of a problem if you have a group of friends to tackle Titanfall's campaign together.

Titanfall's progression system is based on XP and challenges. Everything you do that's good nets you XP: killing pilots, Titans, and grunts, completing challenges, capturing objectives in each game mode, and surviving the end-of-match sprint to the drop ship if you're on the losing side. Earn enough XP and you gain a level, which unlocks more weapons, pilot and Titan customization slots, and more abilities. Challenges include things like killing 25 enemies with a specific weapon, rodeo-ing a certain number of Titans, or simply playing a certain number of matches. Completing these unlocks bits for weapon customization and other items. Get to level 50 and your can regenerate, which starts you at level 1 again, but with accelerated experience and other perks.

Bit of a noob? Try the Smart Pistol.

You'll also gain burn cards by playing through the game. These are single-use items you can equip and use when you're respawning. Burn cards improve your damage, give you better weapons, increase your movement speed, or even boost your XP. They're a semi-limited resource: when you use them, they'll last until the match ends or you die. If you use a ton of them and die a lot, I could see you running out of burn cards, but I personally had no problems remaining stocked at all times.

Does it look good on Xbox One? Yes. Titanfall plays out at an odd 762p resolution; that's better than 720p, but that's the highest Respawn could get on Xbox One and still preserve framerate and image quality. That said, while the framerate is mostly stable at around 50-60 FPS, it's got some issues. There's a bit of screen-tearing and the framerate can drop when there's heavy Titan combat; I saw a big, big stutter when I was at the ankles of three Titans fighting, while one was going down in flames. That's to be expected, but I wonder how the same scene would've played out on a powerful gaming PC. That said, textures are mostly good, colors are bright, and there's particle effects everywhere.

I went into Titanfall expecting very little. I haven't been a big shooter fan since the Unreal Tournament series was put to bed, and if I have a choice, I tend to play single-player. But Titanfall was (is?) actually a ton of fun for me. Even as I'm writing this, I look forward to playing more. The Titans themselves I could leave behind completely, but I love the movement of the pilots and the competitive interplay between pilot and Titan just makes the game work. Is it the most innovative and game-changing title in the world? No. But it is well-designed and I'm enjoying it.

I balk a bit at the $60 pricetag, as I feel multiplayer-only is a bit easier to swallow at $40, but that's a personal value proposition. If you're staunchly against multiplayer, you can avoid Titanfall. If you're on the fence, head out to Redbox and give it a go. You could be surprised at what you find. All told, Respawn's first game is worth your time, however long you choose to spend in the world of Titanfall. Fingers crossed that the servers survive the flood of players.

Second Opinion Jaz Rignall

Typical. After waiting for what seems like years for something fresh and new to hit the shooter scene, two come along in the space of a few weeks. The first was Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare. That shook things up by delivering the kind of frenetic multiplayer action and intense, high body count battles that you expect from a great shooter, but presented in a way that’s humorous, accessible and entertainingly slapstick.

Now Titanfall has dropped from the skies, and it's bringing a level of dynamism to the FPS scene that makes its more established military-themed competitors feel flat-footed and two-dimensional. Boots-on-the-ground warfare has given way to athleticism that enables you to run, jump and gracefully sail Parkour-style across its many atmospheric, detailed and action-packed war zones. Yep. We’re going back to the good old days of Quake III and Unreal Tournament, when you could run-and-gun like some kind of superhero. And Titanfall's beautifully tight and intuitive controls let you do it so, so well. The way you can double-jump across huge gaps, transition a zig-zagging run into an impossible run along a wall into a window, or bounce up a building from ledge to ledge with the agility of a cat is hugely, hugely satisfying. The game challenges you to do the impossible, and while you might sometimes misjudge a jump and end up falling right underneath a Titan instead of on its back, when you do pull off a ridiculously ambitious series of maneuvers, you feel truly holy-crap-look-at-me-I’m-awesome.

Run Forrest!

Players can arm their kinetic avatar with a choice of very interesting weapons from a top-notch arsenal of pistols, rifles, missile launchers and compact machine guns - plus augments from a cache of personal arms, electronics, and counter-measures. I'm very impressed with the range of toys available, and this mix-and-max style of gearing up facilitates a wide spectrum of playstyles. Titans can be similarly customized, and I believe that the speed, style and dynamic nature of robot combat will have a significant influence on future mech games.

The beautifully-crafted action is paired to a very well structured game. I like the way the leveling system works, and how achievements are intrinsically baked into character progression. Indeed, it’s that aspect of the game that’s making it hard to not keep playing it. There always seems to be something that you might just be able to complete in the next battle – some achievement to finish up, or a level to reach that’ll unlock some handy little augment or weapon. I’m not sure how much that tails off as you progress, but most certainly over the first couple of very intense days of play, I’ve felt constantly rewarded, and always had something to play for.

And even if I didn’t, I’d still be playing it anyway: Titanfall is a phenomenal shooter. It’s dynamic, kinetic, and adds plenty of side distractions and ambient battlefield details to spice up the action beyond just pure PvP. Of course, the main focus on bringing down the opposition - but breaking away to activate gun turrets, or simply sniping down as many NPCs as possible can be a satisfying experience, even if your team is being decimated by superior competition.

But what really makes Titanfall a winner is the way it lets you play it. The action is always tight and intense, but gives players room to move, be creative and play to their own strengths. Gear your character up the right way, and you can be forward running and aggressive, own from the rooftops with with a sniper rifle, or sneak around slowly and patiently, picking people off to disrupt the enemy's flow. I just love the fact that the game lets you be you – or rather, a Parkour-ing, wall-running, run-and-gunning super-damn-awesome version of you.

Ultimately, Titanfall is an absolute peach of a game. Well, more like a peach-shaped explosive device that’ll absolutely blow your doors off, but I’m calling it a peach nonetheless. It’s not often that I encounter a game and just know I’m going to be investing many of hundreds, and perhaps even thousands of hours into it - but Titanfall is most certainly one .

Titanfall isn't the most innovative first-person shooter ever, but it is well-developed and quite fun. Respawn Entertainment brings back some of the high-flying shooting play that once graced titles like Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena, and marries it to the huge, lumbering mechs called Titans. Even more surprising, the game is still balanced no matter how you choose to play. It's multiplayer-only, so strict single-player gamers need not apply, but if you're open Titanfall has a lot to offer.


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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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