Titanfall 2’s Campaign Is Joyous, Memorable And Brief

Titanfall 2 [official site] doesn’t quite have my favourite FPS campaign of the year but it’s so close that one extra burst of power from its jump kit might have boosted it into first place. To even be close to the gold in the year that brought us id’s blisteringly-paced reinvention of DOOM is a hell of an achivement though. Respawn have crafted a singleplayer story that shifts gears more often and more efficiently than a top notch rally driver.

Before getting into the good stuff, a quick note on length. I haven’t quite finished the campaign, code for the game only having arrived today, but I fear I’m already close to the end. I’m only four hours in but reviews on Eurogamer and elsewhere (console code went out earlier) reckon the whole thing is around five hours long. I’m taking my time and trying to find what few collectibles there are – mostly because the levels are attractive enough and movement is satisfying enough that I enjoy exploring every nook and cranny – but I doubt I’ll break into double digits.

That means I’m going to find it hard to recommend Titanfall 2 on the strength of its campaign alone right now, given the price. Yes, how much you’re willing to spend for a few hours of top notch entertainment is entirely your choice, and depends how much cash you have, but strong as it is, the campaign here is a supplement to the bulky multiplayer offering, and I’ll be digging into that for a full review that you can expect next week.

Brief it may be, but the campaign has more ideas packed into its running time than many singleplayer games more than twice its length. It’s one of those games that has never found an idea that it isn’t willing to discard once you’ve had some time to play with it. The level design reminds me of Portal 2 in a weird way. It’s not built around puzzles, but it jumps from one idea to the next in a similar fashion. Unlike Portal 2 it never lingers on one mechanic or situation long enough for the cracks to start showing. If anything, Respawn behave like over-enthusiastic gallery attendants, hurrying visitors from one room to the next to ensure they see everything before leaving. I’d have been happy to linger for a while longer in some of what I’ve seen.

With a minimum of fuss, the opening establishes who you are – a rifleman who wants to be a Titan pilot – and then drops you onto a planet full of baddies. The plot deals in the expected, using familiar beats to lead you through a war that is well-used as a backdrop for some brutally efficient militaristic sci-fi. I don’t remember the name of any characters – apart from my Titan who is named after my ISP and the first boss who is called Kane as if Respawn just selected randomly from the big box of evil names – but there are dozens of memorable moments.

The level design isn’t thrilling throughout, though even such FPS staples as ‘Long Corridor With Pipes #560’ and ‘Some Kind Of Powerstation With Crates?’ are livelier than you’d expect thanks to movement and shooting that feel fantastic. Despite your early bond with a Titan, you spend a lot of time on foot for various reasons, and walljumping and shoot-sliding are so entertaining that jumping back into the bot’s belly is sometimes a drag. Respawn have made a game with giant robots in it that manages to make being an infantry soldier one long highlight reel.

Whether you’re using your cloaking ability to sneak up on enemies and punch them in the back of the head so hard they fall off a cliff, or pinballing around a room while bullets kick up dust behind you, Titanfall constantly reminds you that its environments are playgrounds. There’s not quite enough freedom at times, with a tendency to place deadly hazards and too-steep walls around the place, but you are in control of a kinetic bundle of energy. If you want to play the game as a sort of cover shooter, you can, but the lure of giddily jumping from wall to wall while swivelling and headshotting entire squads is always there. It’s not easy to turn on the style effectively but making the attempt is simplicity itself – accurate shooting from the weird angles you find yourself propelled into by double-jumps off the scenery comes with practice.

I should talk about guns. You’ll find plenty of different firearms quite early in the game and you can pick up weapons dropped by fallen enemies and allies at any time. Rather than organising them into tiers, so that you’re moving from peashooter to Titankiller, Respawn give you options. When you pick up a weapon, you’re told what to expect from it – “fully automatic shotgun” “burst fire assault weapon” “semi-auto sniper rifle” and so forth – and you could probably get through most situations using just about anything you find. If you want to sprint toward an armoured position with a shotgun and a handful of incendiary shuriken, you can probably make that work, but if you’d rather lob a couple of ARC grenades and then snipe from a distance, that’s your call.

To have made such exquisitely crafted areas and ensured that they do support different playstyles is admirable. That flexible approach isn’t quite intact when you hop into your Titan. While there are different loadouts unlocked throughout the campaign, forced Titan sections are often the most limiting sections of the game. While on-foot you’re combining your prowess with weaponry and mobility, in the Titan you’re locked into slower-paced battles of attrition. It’s enjoyable, throwing down shields and using abilities to disrupt enemy Titans, but I often felt as if I was blasting my way through a fun interlude while looking forward to the next bit of on-foot action.

I referred to ‘forced Titan sections’ because the game’s strongest moments let you embark and disembark at will. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of leaping out of the cockpit (it’s more of a bellypit given its location in the torso) and then realising that my big lovely robot chum is still stomping around, providing cover, and taking out anyone who tries to do me harm. I still expect the Titan to become a big solid static lump when I leave the controls but there it is, beautiful and mighty and WHAT A GOOD BOY.

Let me be clear that BT, my Titan, really is A GOOD BOY THE BEST BOY OH HE’S SO GOOD YES HE IS. The dialogue between Titan and pilot occasionally has fun with the friendship between them – “Are you in love?” asks the pilot when BT finds a new loadout, to which he receives a dry logical response – but I wish the characters were having as much fun as I am. Tone-wise, it’s serious business with a side order of war horrors and military glory, and I sometimes wished for either more of the grim or more of the buddy movie quips.

I spent quite a lot of time thinking that Respawn would make a fucking great Imperial Guard game as well. The Call of Duty legacy is felt, in the best possible way, in how well Titanfall 2 captures the small details of combat. Soldiers sometimes die at first impact but they’re just as likely to stumble, crawl and struggle to fight back.

It’s not just military matters that Titanfall 2 captures so well though. There are scenes that make an artbook of these sci-fi settings and designs seem incredibly desirable, and neat alien flora and fauna alongside killer robots that are plucked straight from the jerkily animated horrors at the close of The Terminator. That goes back to the way the campaign moves through ideas; though it never switches genres entirely, it explores so many areas within its military sci-fi setting that it never gets tired. In fact, I’d argue it burns through its ideas too quickly, if anything.

A couple of duff but not catastrophic boss battles aside, I’ve enjoyed just about every minute so far. This is the game that Shogo: Mobile Armor Division wanted to be all those years ago, and that Monolith took another swing at with F.E.A.R. 2’s mech sections. For all of its very modern beauty and technical smarts, it has the feel of an FPS from an earlier generation, rewarding skill and placing the player in well-constructed areas rather than vast shooting galleries.

More than anything, I’m reminded of a time when people spoke in amazement of specific levels in FPS campaigns, sections that stood out for both their brilliance and their boldness. You will have a favourite section of Titanfall 2. I can probably guess what it is already.

I’ll cover further details of the campaign and the full extent of the multiplayer in my review next week. For now, mark me down as a bot lover. I’ve fallen for Titanfall.

Titanfall 2 is out now for Windows via Origin for £50.

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27 Comments

  1. JakeOfRavenclaw says:

    I know that the movement options are the real attraction here, but man, those are some bland-looking environments. I think this is the thing I’ve become most obnoxious about with regards to the video games I’m willing to play–industrial sci-fi corridors just aren’t doing it for me anymore :-/

    • crazyd says:

      There are more impressive vistas than the one chosen for these shots. A bunch of outside stuff, and some cool weird stuff that would get spoilery that pops up closer to the end. And tight corridors are rare, it’s largely about open areas with obstacles and run lines.

  2. April March says:

    Honestly, if someone asked me what sort of single-player campaign a multiplayer-focused FPS should have and I wasn’t allowed to answer ‘none’, I might respond with those very three words.

    I won’t be able to play Titanfall 2, because my computer can’t run it and it will likely have fizzled out by the time I can be bothered to upgrade it, but it seems I’d enjoy it.

    • Premium User Badge

      AutonomyLost says:

      What’s holding you back on the computer front? The entire system or specifically graphics card(s)? Just wondering, as I have two 980Tis I will never use again and wouldn’t mind giving them up to a gamer in need of an upgrade. No bullshit.

      • ktulu117 says:

        If your offer is still good, how can I get in touch with you?

      • BobbyFizz says:

        I’d happily buy one off you, send me a message on the forums or add me on steam, username is robdollar

      • fabronaut says:

        I’d be happy to take one off your hands, as I’ve been eyeing the current 1060 6GB / 1070 cards with envy, leaning towards wanting that 980 Ti level of performance.

        Happy to pay for shipping and a reasonable price for the card? It’ll be the last major upgrade I put into my beloved desktop, and will probably tide me over for another couple of years, assuming my modest overclock doesn’t somehow cook another motherboard…

  3. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    The wait for this to be <$20 begins.

    • Banks says:

      Pretty much. I hope the game isn’t dead by then.

    • Antongranis says:

      Each to their own ofc, but it gets a glowing reccomendation from me, even at full price. And i havent even tried the MP yet! Awsome campaign.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        I have no problem with games being short. In this instance though given that the main game is the MP side which I am not likely to get much use out of I will wait until the price is much lower than the current $80 price tag.

        • Antongranis says:

          Fuck me, thats alot of money. I can see your point. Its not as expensive here…

          • Premium User Badge

            DelrueOfDetroit says:

            It’s the standard Canadian price for AAA big releases. It is the same price as US after conversion. I don’t mind paying it for some games but this isn’t one I’ve been overly psyched about or anything so I can wait. It’s weird though, some companies will charge $65 when the US is $60 (No Man’s Sky and Dark Souls 3 for example.) Green Man Gaming used to be a good way to get new releases for closer to the US price but they no longer have those broad 20% off anything deals.

  4. Premium User Badge

    AutonomyLost says:

    I am loving the campaign so far. It performs spectacularly, it looks great, and both the shooting and movement are fast and accurate. The maneuverability of the player-character coupled with the layout of the levels give it a distinctly NEW-DOOM feel, which is quite a compliment.

    I’m probably 1/4 of the way through the campaign, and it feels like it will be the perfect conduit for jumping into the multi-player, which I’m quite excited for; and I’m not generally a MP fan of any sort.

    Impressive.

    • crazyd says:

      MP is sooo good. I dug the campaign, but MP is where it’s at. If you can keep your speed up and aim worth half a damn, you will destroy out there.

      • Premium User Badge

        AutonomyLost says:

        Very nice; good to know. I’m genuinely stoked to step into the MP for the first time. Thanks!

      • Petethegoat says:

        How does it compare to the first game? If I found the MP in the original insufferably boring is this one much different?

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Is the auto-pistol in the game again?

        • Faults says:

          The smart-pistol is in there again, but it’s a powerup, rather than a straight secondary weapon now. It’s also had pretty severe nerfs to its lock-on time (now dependent on range from target), and ammo capacity, which largely removes the cheapness prevalent in TF1’s multiplayer.

  5. Rao Dao Zao says:

    Sounds like a definite candidate for GOTY edition once they’ve released a singleplayer expansion pack or two. :>

    • Leonick says:

      An since they’ve said no multiplayer content will be paid DLC there just might actually be a sliver of hope for singleplayer DLC.

  6. Synesthesia says:

    Wait, if a bellypit is on the torso, where does an actual cockpit go?

  7. Fropp says:

    The only thing that annoys me is the South African accents on the all the baddies. Sorry but I just don’t like it.

    • Kirudub says:

      Yeah, that accent for “dystopian sci-fi” got old quick after District 9. Then Chappie rubbed it in. But for this game, would a SA accent even exist at this point in the future? Would any distinct Earth accent?

      As for the game itself, I agree w/ Adam. It’s a very fun campaign (I think the time counter after I finished the 1st run was 6hrs), and I’m on my second play through, this time on “Hard”. Despite it’s age, the Source engine can still make some nice levels, which were crafted quite well in this game. No over-bearing set dressing… for the most part, all the bits had a logical reason to be there.

      I’ve got everything running maxed out except for AA at 2560×1600 using an R9 290 and it looks great.

      I tried MP for a few minutes, but I’ll most likely have to dial down the settings to not get stuttering (it was a slide show for a few seconds in the game I was playing after a few mechs started fighting and lots of particle effects where in play.)

  8. Premium User Badge

    Nauallis says:

    Pilot, I am 50% in love.

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