I used to be a Call of Duty fan. I say this with some not-insignificant amount of trepidation, as I know the reputation the series has around core gamers. That reputation ranging from “Madden with guns” to “barely a casual game.” I feel very strongly that the series peaked at COD4: Modern Warfare, and has been steadily going downhill since, with Treyarch’s recent Black Ops entries trying desperately to stem the tide of stagnation and entropy that’s been seeping into the series since 2009, when Infinity Ward seemed to stop caring about innovation and start recycling their work.
When I’d heard of the fracture at Infinity Ward, with a lot of the founders and team leaving to form Respawn, I was intrigued. I wasn’t happy to learn they’d landed at EA (I’ll leave the circle-jerking about EA for another time), but I was encouraged by some statement they’d made about maintaining creative control. I mean, these were the Modern Warfare guys. On the one hand, if anyone could, they could. But then, Bioware couldn’t..
Titanfall is the first release from Respawn, currently in an open Beta. It’s painfully Infinity Ward, too. Despite using the newest version of the Source engine (and the old girl’s looking pretty fantastic in her dotage), it feels just like the cobbled-up Quake engine that the COD series has been using since 2007’s COD4. Right down to bullets that magically curve around corners to kill you after you’ve taken cover. But it is fast, it is slick, and it handles incredibly well.
On foot, it calls comparisons to a less-than-successful shooter-with-legs in Brink. In an extensive (and surprisingly-not-boring) tutorial, you’ll be taught the basics in wall-running, ledge-climbing, and taking full advantage of the verticality of the levels. Which you’ll want to take advantage of. Because if you don’t, you’re going to die when another player spots you from a rooftop running across an open field. It also invites comparisons to Brink in that the story, according to the developers, comes not from a single-player campaign but from multiplayer matches themselves.
Titanfall also borrows heavily from the MOBA genre, much like free-to-play Monday Night Combat, with squads of AI-controlled NPCs which are less agile, less intelligent, and far less deadly than you and your fellow players that, as far as I can tell, exist solely to inflate your scores and lower the time needed to call down your Titan. And when your Titan falls, the game changes from Call of Parkour to Mechwarrior on speed. The Titans, while not terribly different from your average mechanized armor division, manage to convey a sturdy sense of weight while still remaining agile and not breaking the flow of gameplay.
A few minor niggles in the PC porting that I’ve noticed. The refresh rate is… strange. FRAPS tells me I’m getting a solid 60 frames per second, but I can still see frames jerking periodically, like it’s not *really* hitting that solid 60. It could have been my imagination, but there seemed to be a very mild mouse acceleration effect. Swapping over to a gamepad was easy enough, and the game handles button prompt switching on the fly among the best that I’ve seen.
Titanfall is pushing the multiplayer shooter genre in a pleasantly non-modern-military direction, considering how tired and overpopulated that subgenre has gotten, mainlining some serious sci-fi civil war into the mix. It’s a proper good time, with only a few marks against it. Sadly, those are pretty significant marks for me. It’s an EA game, which means that if you’re on PC, you’ll be using Origin. And there’s no single-player campaign. While I’ve made a few exceptions before for games without single-player story campaigns, they’re very few and far between. I’ll pass on Titanfall, but that doesn’t mean you should. If you enjoy manic, fast-paced competitive shooters, this one holds a ton of promise.