I'm going to start off with Titanfall by giving you an insight into, I admit, my unimpressive journalistic methods. Being old-school I attend events with a notepad rather than an iPad, and while playing I dash down a few notes by hand – weapons, levels, how it feels, those kinds of things. Afterwards these disconnected scrawls jolt the memory as I'm writing, and a preview appears. Right now I am looking at the page of my notepad reserved for Titanfall, and it's only got three words on it. “Just fucking amazing.”
Let me explain why that is.
I wasn't hugely bothered about playing Titanfall – I'd watched the videos, knew it was being developed by the ex-Infinity Ward bunch at Respawn, and my opinion was basically “oh yeah, it's CoD with robots innit.” When you've played Titanfall this seems like shallow nonsense.
I haven't played an FPS this exciting in years. During a match it gets your endorphins pumping like crazy, the kind of sheer thrill-wave that makes your skin tingle.
It's amazing stuff. Ever since Bungie talked about the design of Halo, it's been popular to talk about this kind of modern FPS – that is, super-budget big-publisher hoo-ra BOOM – in terms of its 'core loop' of play. Titanfall doesn't have a loop, it's just got one long line of amazing shit happening constantly. You don't even know where to look: is that an enemy on the right? There's definitely one on the left! ARGH A TITAN'S RIGHT THERE.
The map on show was called Angel City, and what immediately hits you is the speed, and how much flexibility of movement you have as a trooper. The key to this is the jet-powered double-jump combined with a limited wallrunning ability, which lets you scarper over buildings, as well as escape into them through the windows. Why would you want to do that? Because if you take a straight fight with a Titan, you're dead.
The titular mechs are the focus of these battles, and their dual roles as brutal spearheads and team focal points instantly clicks in-game. As a trooper there's a level of protection afforded by being behind a massive robot, as well as the opportunity to scavenge kills and take out enemies trying to sneak up on your buddy – but beyond even this the Titans act as a kind of player magnet. There's always one within sight or earshot, and so you end up naturally gravitating towards them as a kind of default tactic, as does the other team.
As for enemy Titans, well, it's pretty binary. Take them head-on in any sense and you're dead meat. But it's possible to parkour onto them from odd angles and out of buildings at which point, depending on your angle of approach, the trooper either yanks off a panel to expose vulnerable wiring for a good blasting or – and this might just be the coolest thing in the game – takes out the enemy pilot and claims the Titan.
These moves are automated, and so is much of the wall-running; but Titanfall never feels like it's running on autopilot. That's a little contradictory, for sure, but it's best explained by the sheer speed of the game – there are multiple decisions to be made during every single movement anyway, plus you're always firing or lining up to fire at something. This is the hardest thing to communicate about Titanfall, because exhilarating is one of those words people throw around like candy – the speed at which the game plays out (even repsawns are more or less instant) and the amount of decisions you're making leaves you, at the end of a match, both trembling with excitement and mentally drained.
There's nothing like this, and I haven't even talked about the Titanfall itself. A little timer ticks down two minutes (this isn't affected by deaths) and, at the end of this, you can call in a personal Titan. It arrives from the sky and slams down with all the weight of CoD's gravestone. You climb in, a gorgeous mech-hub takes over (which also narrows your angles somewhat), and basically it's time to destroy whatever's ahead.
Being in a Titan is basically like being an armored giant in a world of paper dwarves. There are three types to choose from and, having picked one with an anti-infantry cannon, any player that showed their face for an instant was shredded. An enemy trooper appeared at my side. I turned, dashed a few metres forward and splatted them out of existence with the kind of satisfying WOOMPH that makes you do a little squeal of delight.
Fighting another Titan is equally amazing, not least because in comparison to the trooper fights these are more drawn-out encounters where you're blasting away while trying to take out their trooper support – another perspective on that team-focused draw these behemoths have. My long reign of terror finally came to an end after taking on one Titan too many but, even then, there was the delight of the ejector seat – hit it quick enough and you sail out of the explosion, landing without a beat and resuming fire.
That could stand for Titanfall writ large – there's always an extra touch, something that takes each one of its ideas a little further and makes it feel special. Take the ongoing narrative that frames the action – I can't remember for the life of me what was being said, apart from the Titan countdown, but various Aussie commanders crackled through the speakers at key points to give on-the-fly instructions, and alert you to changes in the match conditions. When our team won, the match didn't end.
Instead, the defeated opposition had to get to a zone for extraction while we tried to chase down the survivors with extreme prejudice. It's a brilliant idea, and adds a little cherry on top for the winners while allowing the losers to score a moral victory by living to fight another day – when a wily opponent slotted me before jumping on the evac ship, it felt like he'd given us the finger. Which to all intents and purposes he had.
From another angle that's what Titanfall is. This game is basically the creators of Modern Warfare sticking two fingers up to Activision and saying 'here's what happens next.' I expected Titanfall to be pretty fun, and instead it blew my face off and became a must-have. I know there's some cynicism about overwhelmingly positive previews of games – how could there not be? RPS isn't that kind of site and I'm not that kind of journalist, but I have told one little lie. There was an extra word on my notepad, bringing the total to four in about twenty minutes. “Wow.”
Titanfall is set for release in the first quarter of 2014.