RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 23rd: Titanfall 2

If DOOM was the year’s second best hell then what was its best first-person shooter? Day 23 of The RPS Advent Calendar, which highlights our favourite games of the year, brings…

Titanfall 2!

Brendan: You can rock them and you can sock them: they are robots. But honestly, the lumbering mechanical monsters are not the best thing about Titanfall 2. That’s you, the wall-running, double-jumping, head-shotting, battery-stealing pilot of said robots. And this time you have a quite-good campaign on top of the multiplayer. It burns bright as phosphorus. But it also goes out quickly. There was an old Videogamer joke, which saw one of their team’s presenters saying that they loved Titanfall “for the week that everyone was playing it”. And sadly, I think that’s still applicable to the sequel.

On the other hand, it has one of the most refreshing gimmicks of recent multiplayer shooters, continued from the first game. When your team loses a match, the fight doesn’t just end. You get a message to retreat, to get back to the dropship ASAP. Cue you and your entire team making a mad and desperate dash for the landing zone and trying to fend off your opponents as the ship arrives, latching on with your grappling hook, or leaping up between walls to get inside the ship’s belly just in time as your foes focus everything they’ve got on it. This is such a neat compensation prize for the losing side – not a prize offered in ‘participation XP’ or a replay of the best ‘play of the game’ – but an adventurous addendum to the fighting itself with a totally different goal, to GET THE HELL OUTTA THERE SOLDIER.

Alec: Oh, I like it well enough. It’s slick and changeable, the boss battles are expertly-tuned for maximum thrillpower and it works hard to make being on foot as, if not more interesting than being in a Titan. Buuuuuuuut I don’t quite understand some of the genuflections I saw being offered in its direction. I’d go for ‘solid and flashy’ more than I would ‘actual marvel’, and I’ve wondered if some of what I’ve read about it stems from a desire to root for the underdog more than it does real human love.

As soon as word got around that it wasn’t selling well – cannibalised by its stablemate Battlefield 1 but also a victim of the wider malaise in silly season sales this year – there seemed to be this rush of ‘guys, guys, you have to play this’, as though sharing a tip for some underground band or overlooked indie flick. Which this very much is not: it’s a sequel from a studio owned by multi-millionaires, published by one of the richest firms in the world, made with a budget almost no other game can dream of. This is not David against Destiny’s Goliath, but a perfectly good shooter given every chance in the world, but whose marketing was then mishandled.

I do encourage you to play it. As a singleplayer game it’s more than solid, if on the brief side, the movement is particularly well-handled and the robot is surprisingly charming. I just want you to check expectations before you dive in – I know more than one person who bought it thinking he was getting Half-Life 2 and left feeling distinctly underwhelmed. In terms of shooters this year, yeah, this is near the top. But we also got Doom and Devil Daggers this year. Can’t even begin to compete.

John: I find the love for Titanfall 2 very interesting, not least because I share it. I really enjoyed playing it. It was a good two-day romp. But it also wasn’t exceptional, and I think this incredibly neatly underlines what a mess the FPS is in. Simple competence has become outstanding in the field.

There are a couple of stand-out levels in the game, and they’ve been celebrated at great length all over the place, but even these are heavily dependent on repetition. It’s genuinely fantastic to watch that world-building machine unfurl entire neighbourhoods, but at the same time you’re just jumping between conveniently placed vertical walls over and over and over until it’s done. And each excellent on-foot section rewards you with the utterly bland mech sections, which are cumbersome yet overly easy. Even as someone who loathes boss fights, it’s kind of weird to realise you’ve already won one when you thought it was just getting started.

Yet I spent a very pleasurable weekend with the game, enjoyed its spectacle, couldn’t tell you a single thing about its shouty-man story, and then pretty much instantly forgot the vast majority of it. And that’s deserving of celebration: just a good time, if utterly forgettable but for a couple of set-pieces.

Alice: Titanfall 2 is a good time! Good, that. Its campaign fizzes with ideas, exploring then casually throwing away ideas other games would spend hours on. The factory! The time travel! Wall-running along aircraft in flight! All of those are good. The robot buddy? Really quite good. The shooting? Also good. Big budget games rarely have the imagination of Titanfall 2 and I was delighted to see it explore them in full shine-o-vision. I’m sure several hours are bland but looking back, I always smile and feel good about it. That’s good. A good time.

What really makes Titanfall 2 for me is the understanding of how fun movement can be in first-person shooters. I cut my teeth on Quake 2, strafe-jumping all over the place, and felt a similar pleasure wall-running and boosting all over the place. Simply getting about is fun. I’m also delighted that its levels are lenient with their invisible walls, letting me lark about and reach distant places that serve no strict function.

Multiplayer’s fine but not really what I’m looking for, so, sure, okay.

The huge assembly line still lives in my head as one of the most exciting places I’ve visited in a video game. I still smile when I think about a good-looking megawall I simply ran back and forth across, higher and higher. Titanfall 2’s a good time then a some good lasting memories and ideas.

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36 Comments

  1. Meat Circus says:

    Just like Titanfall did, this game has sunk without trace only weeks after release. Which is a shame. The campaign was great. I think the multiplayer would be great, but there’s no practice mode to get to know the maps. Which is a shame.

    Sooooooooo. Dark Souls 3 gets GOTY nod?

    • Faldrath says:

      I would bet on Devil Daggers.

      • mukuste says:

        Devil Daggers HAS to be on it… so does this mean Dark Souls 3 isn’t even on the calendar? :(

    • Vandelay says:

      It really does baffle me as to why this game has bombed twice. Okay, so it was fairly obvious why it didn’t hit the ground running being sandwiched between BF1 and CoD, but why the sales from the excellent word of mouth it has gotten don’t seem to have given it a significant boast is depressing, whilst those other two games have gotten a fairly negative reception, yet are selling big (albeit, supposedly not as well as previous entries.)

      2016 once again proofs the general public are good at making poor decisions.

      Edit: and I second Devil Daggers being the GotY.

      • try2bcool69 says:

        BF1 did NOT get a negative reception by any stretch of the imagination, it has an Metacritic review average of 88, and user average of 7.6 (PC version, consoles are both higher).
        The negative reception of COD:IW was just childish backlash for a) Not being WW1 or WW2, and b) Forcing people to buy it if they wanted the remastered Modern Warfare.

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          Topperfalkon says:

          Actually, the crap ending ruined Infinite Warfare for me.

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      johannsebastianbach says:

      Stardew Valley simply has to be GOTY. Every other choice would be ridiculous, ludicrous, scandalous.

      • Wellsin says:

        Agreed. Been betting on Stardew Valley for the last few days. Can’t imagine anything else grabbing first place.

      • Vinraith says:

        I agree with you, but it’s clearly going to be Devil Daggers considering all the “second best hell” references.

    • Ejia says:

      Oh dear, it’s going to be Pony Island, isn’t it?

    • emotionengine says:

      As others have mentioned already, I really wish people would stop propagating this myth that the game is dead or dying. I’m in Far East Asia, and even I have no problems finding a game within 20 to 90 seconds at any given time of day (or night for that matter). You know if people like you and others who read your comment keep repeating it, it becomes a self fulfilling prohecy at some point. This game did everything right to avoid the fate of its predecessor, having learned from its past mistakes, including a more than decent single player campaign and a commitment to updates and all future content for free (no paid DLC maps/season pass). It’s unfortunate that EA decided to cannibalise it on the, err, Battlefield (1).

      Also, there is a way to practice on the maps on your own if you start a Private Match. Bounty Hunt is a good mode for this with plenty of AI spawns as easy cannon fodder.

  2. Meat Circus says:

    The decision to release this slap bang between the release of your Battlefields Ones and your Calls of Doodies has to be one of the single most baffling decisions EA have made, and they’re a company famed for their baffling decisions.

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    Nauallis says:

    Yep, this is a weird one all right. I keep entirely forgetting that I actually own the game.

    I think John nails it with the part about competence though – the campaign is chock-full of neat ideas but it never really blends all of those together into something else, which for the story and duration is totally fine, because it was just flat-out fun to play.

    What’s interesting is that the campaign actually does EVERYTHING well. The story is cohesive while you play and wraps up to a finale that doesn’t leave a player asking “now what?”, the sound design is fantastic, the voice acting is great if somewhat cheesy at times, the engine doesn’t stutter, everything seems to load properly, and the guns all “feel right.” Even the in-game gimmicks are well balanced – the game never really throws anything at you that feels cheap or lame, and that’s the best part by far… but I don’t know if I’d have been able to tell somebody that right away after I finished the campaign.

    So the sad part is really that this should be our baseline for an all-around excellent quality game, and that hints at some disturbing revelations for the quality of Titanfall’s competition.

  4. TychoCelchuuu says:

    Everyone keeps talking about how this game is dead but I play it all the time and enjoy it quite a bit. I really liked the original and this one’s even better: the battery mechanic and the Titan loadouts are neat and the EPG is the Tribes Spinfusor all over again and I love it.

  5. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    So, Devil Daggers?

  6. Fnord73 says:

    If they make a serious singleplayer campaign as a DLC, its on my list. But for those of us who are not into CoD or Battlefield, we are not going to spend a lot of cash on a small 1p shooter wich is basically a tutorial into a multiplayer that is dead.

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      oggnogg says:

      Dead you say? I never waited more than a minute to join a game — even when playing at 4 AM in the morning.
      But I mostly just play attrition, not sure about the other game modes.

    • shaydeeadi says:

      The multiplayer isn’t dead at all and it’s pretty quick to get into games. I usually go mixtape and the search is max 20 seconds.

  7. Eightball says:

    I liked the single player, but I think RPS hyped it up a bit too far. I’m still not quite clear what the point was for the bad guys to have a world-manufacturing factory in the middle of a planet, and I feel like I missed something on that (besides the opportunity to showcase the wall running and stuff).

    It also just turns out I’m too old and slow for the multiplayer. :/

  8. Lucid Spleen says:

    Before you guys mentioned that this game’s SP was good, it wasn’t even on my radar, I’d dismissed Titanfall as another failed MP shooter. I bought it on sale a couple of weeks ago and my expectations weren’t high. Well, I think I’ve had the most fun with this game out of all the shooters this year and, strangely, that includes Doom. Something about the movement and the way the guns felt, and the fact that it was just so competently realised in a technical sense. And a visual treat, of course. It’s become one of those games that I jump into when I need a lift or a buzz, if you know what I mean.
    This year has been great for games (in many other ways it has been a terrible year) and now the winter sales have started I’m spoiled for choice. The most artful would be Dishonored 2 (an absolute triumph of design), the most thrilling, XCOM 2 or Dark Souls 3, Titanfall 2 wouldn’t be the highest in any of those subjective categories but as a package it is excellent, exhilarating and satisfying. And kinda bite-sized, I suppose, which for me is a boon. Thanks RPS.

  9. TheMightyEthan says:

    I’m confused. Doom was the best FPS of 2016 on your calendar. This is also an FPS. How is it then the best shooter? Shouldn’t the best shooter be either the best FPS or the best TPS? How can an FPS not be the best FPS, but still be a better shooter than the FPS that was the best FPS?

  10. mcnostril says:

    I really don’t understand this “the game is dead” thing.
    Apparently this might be the case in some geographical areas, but in north america I don’t see how that’s true at all. Do people just look at numbers and roll their eyes if they’re not large enough? I have yet to launch the game and be unable to find a match within 30 seconds, and everyone I’ve spoken to who plays regularly reports the same thing (and if you go on the various communities you’ll see similar things). There’s this weird expectation vs player experience thing happening.
    The CTF and skirmish queues are problematic, but that’s more due to the baffling decision of putting them in a separate screen rather than player population – most people don’t even realize there’s a second page to the game mode selection screen.

    For a “dead” game, it seems to be doing fairly well.
    It’s also interesting that most of RPS’ discussion on this is about the singleplayer. It’s a great SP campaign because it does all the things it sets out to do as well as it could (spectacle shooter with robuts) and it just carries that momentum all the way through, but the meat of the game is the multiplayer, which is just this constant collection of “holy shit” and “did that just happen” moments. Go on the reddit and look through the four million gifs of weird, unlikely things and crazy shots, and I can guarantee that in most matches you’ll have at least one of those experiences. Even when you’re losing, it’s still fun; when some guy throws a shuriken across the map that just so happens to hit you square in the head while you’re bouncing off walls at mach 5, you can’t even be mad.

    • Lucid Spleen says:

      I don’t know, I think I never gave the MP part a chance. But, you sir, have just given my poor SP-only soul a kick into the multi-verse. Let’s see what happens with that.

  11. Pozzo says:

    Did anyone else find this profoundly equivocal? I mean a really underwhelmed response from RPS at large. It makes me sad because I really like the game. :(

    Titanfall 2 is definitely one of the most entertaining games of I’ve played in ages. It’s got me into online multiplayer to an extent I’ve more or less never bothered with. I mean the single player is very entertaining as well, as far as it goes, but the multiplayer is why I love it.

    • derfg says:

      I’ve found this game to be pure brilliance, in the potential for gaming frisson, if you stick with it long enough to gain some fluency with the controls and mechanics. It contains a fair share of cliché, machismo and perhaps suffers from an expectation of anything resembling unusual design to act as a messiah to the FPS. But I haven’t enjoyed casual competitive online play in any genre this much since I first got into games, and Titanfall engages player skills in a balanced but varied enough way to find your happy niche with a little experimentation. Exploring the possibilities of movement alone is a thrill once you get a feel for it, but online it’s possible to feel like a ninja on a regular basis. There are some incredibly skilled players online, but even on a bad day matches still scratch the itch.

    • Deadly Sinner says:

      Because most of RPS doesn’t usually play multiplayer games that require reflex or a time investment to get good, so they’re basically judging it on its appetizer.

      • emotionengine says:

        It’s unfortunate but I think this is true. Understandable though, as the time investment required to unlock all that it offers (and to reach proficiency) is not insignificant. It’s a pity as I think the contribution of Titanfall 2 with its high skill ceiling and extremely flexible movement to the evolution of the multiplayer shooter needs to be highlighted and discussed. Superbunny Hop explains this well in this vid: link to youtu.be

        I also have to echo the other comments mentioned here. As good as the singleplayer campaign is, the meat of the game is without doubt the multiplayer. I say this as someone who normally doesn’t bother with the hassle of online multiplayer at all. And yet here I am, absolutely hooked by what Titanfall 2 brings to the table to the extent that I haven’t touched my 2000+ games strong Steam library in the almost four weeks since I got the game. I find what I have tried of the Battlefields and Modern Warfares as dull as dishwater, their unrelenting cycles of killing and getting killed pointless and unappealing. Granted, I wasn’t any good at them. I still suck at Titanfall 2. But it’s different this time round. I lose a lot but I’m also enjoying the experience immensely. There’s magic here.

  12. Gunsmith says:

    I have to disagree, TF2 is a testament to what we’ve lost. its SP is nothing more than a shoddily tacked together series of ideas with a paper thin plot that could have been something but instead nose dives into the “archaeological super weapon” trope and its supposed golden goose; the relationship between you and BT boils down to nothing more than response A or response B, or a noisily and badly paced cut scene crammed into 4 seconds because we apparently have the attention span of peanuts.

    the whole experience feels like nothing more than a grown adult jangling a bunch of keys to distract us from the spoonful of shit its trying to feed us.

    “now now little gamer, you need to eat your mainstream so you’ll grow up big and strong”

    bollocks, we used to eat prime cut fillet steak up until 2007, its just been so long since we’ve had it that we’ve become accustomed to eating shit as a suitable replacement.

    it isn’t.

    • derfg says:

      But did you pay attention to the level design, and the ways you can choose to move through those levels in the campaign? I didn’t see it as more than an introduction to the mechanics, a warmup for online play. It’s a shame to judge Titanfall 2 on expectations of the story mode alone, which itself I found to be a solidly exciting demo for multiplayer – the core of the game.

      • Gunsmith says:

        they were very pretty but so linear it hurt, you were constantly told when to wallrun/when not to but you are right, the meat and potatoes is the multiplayer….of which it does quite poorly as well.

        to disguise the fact that the mainstream cant shoot for shit with their silly joypads (i shit you not i overheard a peasant say it was too fast and needed slowing down) there are perks galore to aid with skillless kills, and then theres the gimmicks such as wandering AI “bots” that get stuck underfoot, combine all this with the horrific and inconsistent art style made famous by epic megagames with GoW and you’ve got a messy multiplayer game akin to chess with airhorns and strobe lights.

        • derfg says:

          I wasn’t sure how or whether to reply, as you’re clearly firmly decided on this one. But I did come here to defend the game for all this flak I don’t quite understand, based on my own experience with it. I hope people considering a go will give it one. It’s a lot of fun, offers a unique and exciting online play, and is not at all ‘dead’ as people on RPS keep saying. Mainstream as it may be, when you find yourself referring to players who don’t live up to your level of skill as ‘peasants’ maybe the problem is less with the game itself, and more with your capacity to enjoy it.

        • emotionengine says:

          “there are perks galore to aid with skillless kills”

          I’ve been pondering this for a bit but I honestly have trouble thinking of what perks you are referring to. I can’t think of anything that you couldn’t easily counter with the tool set at your disposal apart from maybe the pilot sentry and ticks, but even those have their weaknesses. Also, at the hands of a skilled player who knows when, how and where to use them properly, the latter two are clinically lethal tools, as opposed to the haphazard hits a less experienced player may be lucky enough to get with their help. This actually applies to the skills and boosts in general. For example, if an enemy pilot hiding behind an amped wall is giving you trouble, throw a gravity star to literally pull him from behind cover and take him out with some quick shots, etc.

          I’d really like to hear where you see a problem with how these “perks” are balanced. It’s possible I missed something or didn’t think it through, but maybe you didn’t give the game its fair due in your frankly rather oddly opinionated appraisal. It does make one wonder how much of the game you have actually experienced.

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            Topperfalkon says:

            Agreed. The only OP perk is the Smart Pistol, but they at least learned from the first game and made it a perk rather than a standard loadout. The turrets are useless if they’re poorly positioned and only target what they can see (unlike those awful turrets in Overwatch), which makes flanking easy, and the ticks are bright orange and easily identifiable, so as long as you’re not sitting around waiting for one to creep up on you it shouldn’t be a problem

    • suibhne says:

      I’m a little puzzled by this response. I routinely go back and dip into retro games, and my glasses aren’t rose-colored – there are a whole lot of game design problems with Quake, Marathon, Half-Life, even Half-Life 2. Titanfall 2 may not be massively evolved, compared to where we might’ve hoped to be, but it’s clearly no worse than its antecedents – and better than almost all of its contemporaries.

      You can lament that there’s no visionary “next generation” of shooters, sure, but Titanfall 2 carries the standard much more than competently. It’s absolutely not a step backward.