Respawn’s Titanfall 2, the sequel to the popular Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC title Titanfall, released last week to a somewhat muted reception. In a large part, this was due to the release timing, coming out just a short few days after EA’s other big shooter for the holiday season, Battlefield 1. Still, whether the title is performing to sales expectations is irrelevant to us here at Pure PlayStation – we just want to know if it’s fun to gib people into meat-mist with a giant robot (spoiler alert: it is). In that spirit, our intrepid pilot Dom O’Leary has bested the campaign and had his arse handed to him in so many multiplayer matches that he’s ready to bring you the full review. Standby for Titanfall, Pilot.
Titanfall 2 is an interesting one for me. I never got to play the original and I’m no hardcore player of online shooters. The addition of a single player mode, the ability to pilot a giant robot, and the game’s availability on my console of choice, all conspired to get me interested in Titanfall’s sequel, though. What I found pleasantly surprised me, despite a short-lived single player campaign. It turns out that the developers at Respawn know how to craft an entertaining single-player mode, as well as a deep and chaotic multiplayer game. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, given their pedigree. I’m sure most readers are aware of Respawn’s founders Jason West and Vince Zampanella’s high-profile departure from Infinity Ward in 2010.
Anyone who played the recent open beta knows how the game opens; you take the role of Jack Cooper, in training to be a Pilot – the name for the gifted and enhanced soldiers who take control of the titular Titans. As these things tend to, it all goes wrong conveniently just around the time you’ve been taught how to move. You’re shot out of orbit and will spend some time as a rifleman, pushing the front with your fellow infantry, before you get your pilot abilities and find your Titan buddy. Through a series of unfortunate events, you’ll eventually be field-promoted to pilot and form a link with your new best friend, BT-7274. This is where the campaign starts to get interesting.
As in the original multiplayer game established in Titanfall, you can fight both in your Titan and in tandem with its own AI as a wall-running, double-jumping pilot. In the campaign, this is utilised intelligently and split into various sections throughout where you’ll be fighting both in and out of the Titan or on your own altogether. There are a lot of good gameplay ideas in the campaign and some aspects actually surprised me. I mean that, as in, mechanics were introduced that made me literally say out loud ‘oh, I wasn’t expecting that.’ The only problem with this is that, given the campaign’s roughly 5-6 hour length, some of these ideas feel under-utilised and aren’t allowed much time in the limelight before you’re ushered on to the next task.
In a letter sent out with review copies of the game, Respawn said that “We learned quickly that trying to fit our flavour of gameplay into a typical cinematic shooter campaign just wouldn’t work. So we let our designers go off and experiment and come up with whatever they could think of in the Titanfall universe whether it be a platforming challenge, combat scenario, puzzles, or a boss fight.” It shows, and there certainly is a lot of variety to be found in the campaign’s gameplay. This works as somewhat of a double-edged sword, though. Each level is well-crafted, elegantly designed, and just fun to play in, but just as you’re enjoying seeing a gameplay aspect hit its stride you’re on to the next. One example I can give that isn’t too much of a spoiler; part of the game features a sort of puzzle where you’ll need to move objects to be able to use your acrobatic skills to reach new areas and open a series of doors. It was interesting to figure out and it was a blast fighting enemies in the newly-created space, but it was literally limited to a couple of firefights and an objective to reach within that area. Then, it never featured again. It ranks as one of my favourite single player moments, but it left me wanting more. As you can probably tell, I have mixed feelings about this.
Titanfall 2’s story is nothing ground-breaking, but it is engaging. On the one side, it’s quite a standard story of a soldier fighting against the odds to save the day. On the other side, it tells the more human tale, ironically, of a man forming a bond with a robot that is similar to what you would find between old war buddies. It ploughs an old furrow in BT’s almost deliberate misinterpretation of human banter, but the light-hearted comedy works. By the end of the story, I did have some investment in the characters and despite the fact that it’s signposted, the ending made me feel something. That’s high praise for an FPS campaign story in my book. Like the gameplay, though, the quick pace of the campaign plus its length makes me wish the plot could have been fleshed out a little bit more.
The voice acting is high-quality and adds to the effect of the general plot, as well as helping to reinforce the relationship between Cooper and his Titan, but again it feels like some well-realised characters aren’t given enough time to shine. The crew of mercenaries you’re going up against has some interesting personalities among the group, but the only way you get to experience them is through headset chatter and their eventual boss fight. While the campaign is great fun to play, it just fell short, due to its length and pacing, of reaching greatness – for me anyway.
As the old saying goes; “The proof of the pudding is in the multiplayer mode.” With Titanfall 2, also, the real long-term appeal comes from the various multiplayer modes on offer. Full disclosure time; for the purposes of bringing you a timely review, I have to admit I haven’t hit the level cap or anything like that, but I have played every Titan, every mode, a bunch of different Pilot classes, and every weapon category. I’ve even earned my way into the Coliseum, the game’s ticket-only 1 v 1 Pilot-duel. As you can see from my gameplay videos on the Pure PlayStation YouTube channel, I’m not likely to be picking up many MVP awards, but the merits have flowed steadily and I’m fully prepared to bring you a balanced opinion. You can be sure that as Titanfall 2 updates and changes, I’ll be bringing you the news right here at PP.
I’ll start off with the Coliseum, as this is by far the low point of what’s on offer. The one on one mode pits two pilots, set with the same loadout, together against one another, with ‘enhanced mobility.’ The duels take place in a circular arena and the ability of each pilot to ‘phase’ (move a short distance while invisible to your opponent) replaces your tactical ability from the other modes. Potentially, they have the scope to create exciting gunfights full of acrobatic moves. However, the loadout limitation and the lack of any actual scenery mean they tend to devolve into two Pilots madly bouncing, sliding, and flinging energy rockets and grenades at each other in practice. It’s odd that this is your reward for earning tickets through random ‘gifts’ given at certain leveling milestones, or through paying ‘credits’ (in-game currency) to enter. I freely admit, however, that a skilled player may get more out of this mode than I did.
The rest of the multiplayer modes held much more appeal for me. There are new and returning modes; Amped Hardpoint builds upon a classic multiplayer formula of two teams vying for control of three points across a map. The twist being that if a team member stays to defend a point, they can ‘amp’ it to earn tickets at a faster rate… Well, that and the giant robots of course. This is actually a great mode to play, leading to a natural race around the map as a control point rarely stays active or amped for long. The Titans are great for locking down territory, but they generally can’t get to the control points themselves and you’ll have to dismount in your squishy pilot form to actually capture and hold one. That’s not to say that Pilots are totally defenseless against Titans, however, there are some effective anti-titan weapons and you have the ability to mount an opponent and ‘rodeo’ to remove a power core for big damage.
Attrition returns from the original game and features two teams and waves of AI on either side fighting across a map to get kills and earn tickets. Titans are permitted and they can swing matches with clever deployment. It’s a chaotic mode with a lot of out-and-out gunfights and general insanity – if you’ve ever wanted to punch people into a meaty paste with a giant robot fist, this is the mode for you. I found I preferred the Bounty Hunt mode when it comes to Team v Team v AI though. This mode has you and another team collecting bounties for kills of target AI’s and players, then trying to bank those bounties without being killed to increase their team’s total. If you’re killed by another player, they claim half your total bounty and the banks only open after a wave of enemies is defeated. This drives some frantic kill-or-be-killed action and the Titan fights that ensue in this mode can be truly epic. There’s also a very tactical element to matches as getting kills earns you your titan, as well as the cash, and it leads to all kinds of possibilities with kill-denying tactics and more.
The multiplayer suite is rounded out by capture the flag, pilot v pilot in teams (both with and without Titans), free-for-all – where everyone is fighting everyone else, and the self-explanatory ‘Last Titan Standing’ which is actually enjoyable for the Titan team tactics you can often see on display. The latter mode is one I didn’t start out a fan of but grew to like as I saw what was possible when players work as a team. There’s also a couple of variety playlists (which for some unknown reason have been renamed ‘mixtapes’ the last I checked) and a private match setting for friends only. Performance is top-drawer with no server issues at launch, and even with reportedly low player numbers, I’ve had no trouble finding games. If you hadn’t noticed from the screenshots, it looks pretty damn nice too.
Pilot classes are determined by your tactical ability (a buff or item ability with an associated cool down) and weapon loadout, and as such are highly customisable. Take the cloaking ability and be a sniper, sure, or you could use it get up close and execute your foes. You get heightened mobility with the grapple, but how you use it is up to you. There’s a host of other abilities, from sonar detection to personal shields, and you can add to this the ‘boost’ abilities that become available in-game on your way to earning your Titan. These grant some useful special abilities like walking mines, turrets, and team based buffs. All of this gives a nice pace to the progression as you’re leveling up your pilot across all classes and unlocking new items and abilities with experience earned in matches (merits), then leveling your Titan and your weapons in combat based on performance and how you use them.
The Titans themselves have some ‘rock-paper-scissors’ elements – the Legion’s gattling-gun makes short work of the Tone’s shield, for example, but every Titan can beat every other Titan with the correct use and circumstances. The only Titan I’ve seen that is perhaps under-used is the ‘Northstar’ sniper class, and some still seem to make good use of it. All six Titan classes are new to Titanfall 2 and it’s a decent selection of abilities to choose from, you’ve got ‘up close and personal’ covered with the sword-wielding and phase-shifting Ronin, the homing missiles of the Tone, and the brute force of the Legion, even the three starting Titans; Scorch, Ion, and Northstar, hold up to the later unlocks with differing traits. It’s fairly evenly balanced for a multiplayer shooter at release, even when you take into account the frequent Pilot vs Titan gameplay and the amount content on offer is fair, if not massively varied. It was recently announced that the multiplayer is being expanded through DLC that will be free to all players, so it remains to be seen whether this holds true in a few months time.
On the whole, I’d recommend this one to most shooter fans, but be warned, this is most definitely a ‘twitch’ or reflex-based FPS and if you’re used to tactical shooters like Rainbow Six or Battlefield, it might seem a somewhat ‘casual’ at first. Dig away at the multiplayer, though, and you’ll find layers of tactics and team play waiting to be revealed. I’m a little let down by the single player campaign in terms of length, but it’s certainly not among the worst FPS single player offerings. The plot is mostly forgettable, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll remember the relationship between man and bot a lot more fondly. As a complete package, I liked Titanfall 2 a bit more than I expected, but at the same time, it’s not pushing any boundaries. Having said that, I’ll be returning to the multiplayer for a good while yet.
Titanfall 2 is available now for PS4, Xbox One, and PC and the season pass is available nowhere, ever. Don’t standby for Titanfall, Pilot, drop us a line in the comments below right now or give us a user rating for Titanfall 2.
This review was conducted using a physical copy of the game provided by the publisher. This has no effect on the content of the review or the final score awarded. For more information, please see our review policy.