Military shooters have, through ubiquity, been ground into a dull, indistinguishable brown sludge of gritty men and loud guns. I feel little need to return to Call of Duty games, saw no hope after Battlefield: Hardline and couldn’t name anyone who bothered with that last Medal of Honor game. Something was needed to stir that sludge into something worth diving into and it turns out that something was a giant bloody robot.
Though I had not played the first one – due to its being a multiplayer-only experience – Titanfall 2 does present the series first single-player campaign. Very little is presented about the world and it seems to presume knowledge about the “IMC” (?) or whatever from the player. All we’re told is that “Pilots” are, basically, superheroes. The opening moments we hear from lead character, Jack Cooper, talking in a mesmerised voice about how incredible Pilots are – and his dreams of becoming one.
I couldn’t tell you who Jack was fighting for, who the enemies are, why they’re fighting and so on. All of that, actually, becomes irrelevant. The brevity of the campaign, compounded by continuously diverse mission goals and playstyle, means any semblance of world-building is left in the dust of rapid progress.
What’s the story
Not long into the campaign, Jack finds himself in command of a Titan – these are the games’ iconic giant robots, capable of using weapons and unique abilities. BT, your Titan, is a monotoned bulk of charm you can have actual dialogue with. Though it doesn’t have the sophistication of a Bioware or Witcher 3 dialogue system, the game provides a few options when BT speaks to Jack.
BT and Jack aren’t vehicle and driver, but a team. Each helps the other to accomplish goals, even when Jack is put inside BT to complete missions.
The plot involves Jack and BT tracking down a thing which is essentially every world-destroying laser you’ve seen a thousand times before. Nonetheless, you travel to various locations – from mountains and forests to rain-washed planets with dead future cities. I still don’t really understand why this war is happening, but it really proved irrelevant. Weird thing: Cooper doesn’t know the name of the commanding officer who seems to be in charge of the army he fights for?
The campaign is not very long (I finished it in my second play session), but every moment was interesting, enjoyable and provided difference to keep it consistently fresh.
This is a fast-moving game requiring comfort with that speed. It presents to us what we should’ve got out of Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, a game I forgot about until I discussed the “feel” of Titanfall 2 with others.
This is the greatest “feeling” in a game I’ve ever experienced. Controls just seem right. I was able to pull off moves which showed more of the designers’ skills than my own. Cooper has remarkable feats of wall-running, double-jumping and sliding – all while being able to shoot and reload. But it’s not merely that Cooper is capable of performing these moves, but how easily you can chain these together so fluidly. I could lob a grenade, run on a wall, leap to another wall, kill off fleeing soldiers, land and slide to take out one hiding behind a crate and double jump to use a shotgun on the last man standing. This is all done within seconds, without me thinking about it, all due to the truly excellent design.
You know it’s a well-designed because if you watched even an unskilled person like me playing it, it comes off looking like a professional esports player’s moves.
Then you climb into the Titan and things change.
You are more restricted, but everything still “just works”. You use the shoulder buttons to block and use heavy weapons. You can dash out the way, switch weapon types on the fly. Damage feels real. The best thing about switching between Titan controls and on-foot pilot parkour was neither felt like they got in the way. It was a wonderful balance between forcing me into the cockpit and letting me run on walls.
What you do
Naturally, this is a shooter so expect to use a ton of weapons to kill lots of faceless goons. It’s not particularly challenging but it remains fun, since you’re encouraged to constantly move. Sometimes you have to complete platform puzzles – a weird feature is this is a game dependent on perfect landings where you can’t see your character’s feet.
Boss battles are genuinely enjoyable, as enemies in their unique Titans lumber out the smoke to fight you. These are the most intense moments of the game, since I was often near death by the end – scraping through by the skin of my teeth. The characters, like the story, are pretty forgettable and chew through the scenery whenever they confront you.
Don’t expect a lot of downtime. You’ll be powering your way through missions and landscapes. I’d rather not spoil what you do, but sometimes you really do feel Respawn’s plan of getting individual designers to present something new, which they tied into the game. Let’s just say time-travel has never been cooler and leave it at that.
Here come the rains
This game was made on the Source engine, not exactly renowned for beauty. Yet, this fast-moving game is one of the most beautiful I’ve looked at. Sure, character models are unimpressive, but the detail on suits, Titans, the world is all just astounding.
The back of guns blur, depending how far they are from your character’s face– it’s one of the most amazing effects. The game sounds lovely, too, with epic music and stunning sound direction. The noise of the Titans remains unique, especially with metal scrapes and explosions, as swords clash against rockets. (Yes, some Titans have swords.)
Play with others
Of course, Titanfall is known for its multiplayer – I’m pleased to say you can expect frenetic, but fun combat. I was quickly able to build up enough points to summon a Titan. Maps are quite big and varied and, wonderfully, any new maps will be free for everyone (there is no Season Pass and no paid DLC).
In multiplayer, you level up everything by using them – thus guns improve if you use them on the field. I loved being on my feet, being able to take on a Titan by jumping on its back and ripping out batteries. Expect the usual mixture of shock and hatred that comes with a competitive multiplayer aspect. Unfortunately, there’s no wave-based co-op mode which could’ve been quite fun for you and your buddies to do. Instead, everything that must die is played by someone else in multiplayer. That’s a bit of a shame.
There’s little I can criticise about Titanfall 2, except for its extremely brief campaign, forgettable bad guys, non-existent plot and terrible world-building. But a lot of these didn’t feel necessary. This is one of the few times I think the campaign should’ve been longer.
Cooper is remarkably boring, but BT is jaw-droppingly cute. The game feels amazing, it’s constantly shifting and everything just… works. I still don’t know the story nor had a reason to care, but thankfully it’s irrelevant to enjoyment. If you have no interest in multiplayer, I would not purchase it now at its current high price – but it is definitely worth playing and experiencing. Titanfall 2 has such a fantastic campaign mode, I’m genuinely surprised by how good it is.