RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 23rd: Titanfall 2
2016's best shooter
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...
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.