Much like its predecessor, Titanfall 2 has proven to be a very pleasant surprise. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting – “more Titanfall with a bit of new stuff”, I guess – but what I’ve actually discovered is a really solid multiplayer experience, plus one of the most entertaining and inventive FPS campaigns I’ve played in a good long while. Up there with Doom, certainly, since that’s probably the most recent AAA-shooter with a really good campaign. Hell: part of me wants to claim that the campaign is up there with the good Modern Warfare ones, although that might just be because it’s been a good long time since I’ve played a campaign that feels quite this inventive.
So yes: I’m going to talk about Titanfall 2‘s campaign quite a bit, because it deserves it. Sorry.
It doesn’t start off too promisingly, I’ll grant you. You play Generico Shootman, a bog-standard grunt who dreams of being a Titan pilot, and after a promising tutorial that has you trying out all the wonderful pilot stuff of wall-running and double-jumping you’re thrown head-first into the ill-fated battle of Typhon where you have exactly none of these abilities. Fear not: once the first couple of levels are over and done with, things get better.
From what I can gather, the campaign was at least partly designed by people going “Oh, hey, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a section where you could do this?” bearing in mind all of the unique mechanics that Titanfall 2 possesses. You might assume that this leads the campaign to feeling a bit scattershot, introducing ideas and then discarding them. You’re half-right, but it largely works in the game’s favour.
I can’t talk about most of the mechanics that actually surprised me because of spoilers (and even though the game has been out awhile, I don’t really want to ruin the really cool stuff for anybody) but almost every level introduced a new idea in a manner akin to the best puzzle games, even if those new ideas weren’t exactly completely original. There are fast-paced platforming bits that Mirror’s Edge wishes it had, high-speed shooter stuff that rivals basically any other shooter you’d care to mention, and then the really inventive stuff I refuse to actually talk about.
With one notable exception, the last couple of levels of the game are actually the worst, as that’s when it goes a bit Call of Battlefield or whatever and you spend a bit of time following a squad of very boring people as they do all the interesting stuff, or following a very linear path according to the voice in your ear. Prior to that, you’re mostly leaping around large levels doing entertaining stuff however the hell you like.
And thank Christ for that, says I. Titanfall 2‘s campaign could very easily have been chunked up into segments of platforming, cover-shooting, and Titan riding, and it doesn’t really do this – or at least, not particularly obviously. Indeed, sections of shooting from cover are a relative rarity, especially since moving quickly tends to make enemies miss you. Instead you might have a series of platforms connected by tempting-looking hanging slabs of wall, each of which have enemy grunts on them, and you can leap through the skies while blasting away. Or maybe you’re in your Titan while enemies are coming from all around you, but there are also plenty of buildings for cover, so if you really want to then you can hop out of your Titan and leave him in auto mode while you head into the buildings to deal with the entrenched foes. Or get a sniper rifle and hide on top of a building, if you fancy. Up to you. Just don’t hide behind cover and shoot things, because that’s boring.
Barring those last few levels and a couple of segments that last just a little too long, the only real problem is the plot, which is so incredibly generic you can almost certainly see where it’s going from about 20 minutes in. The opening battle goes badly and you’re stranded on the planet, and you wind up bonding with a Titan, and you discover that the planet is hiding a terrible MacGuffin, and then you have to try to retrieve the MacGuffin before the bad guys can use it to do bad things.
It’s reasonably well-written, certainly. There are some great, wry little exchanges you can have with your Titan, and if you’re willing to suspend your cynicism then the occasional bit of melodrama might actually prove to be the tiniest bit touching. Pointless as it is, I also like that you can actually choose your conversation options: it makes absolutely no bloody difference, but it’s fun to pick different things when replaying a difficult section, and it helps distract from Default Gunnerguy’s complete lack of personality.
In any case, at six hours or so, the campaign doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s pretty bloody great, and I intend to go back and play a few levels again at a time when people aren’t releasing a billion games. I will grant you that six hours isn’t particularly long (less, if you play on a low difficulty or manage to never die) but for once it’s a campaign where pretty much every minute of that is actually good. I’ll happily take that over 20 hours of filler.
Then there’s the multiplayer, which I suspect is the main reason most people would buy Titanfall 2. Surprise! This is also good. (Okay, that’s not much of a surprise. Shush.)
In raw fundamentals, it’s the same as Titanfall. You are a tiny pilot man doing objectives, and when you accrue enough nebulous points, you can call down your Titan and use that to do objectives instead. And yes, you still level up to unlock new stuff.
Let’s talk about the removals, first. Burn Cards – the one-off power-ups – are no longer a thing, largely replaced with “Boosts” instead (yet another wotsit that charges up as you play each round… which also goes for grenades and ). AI soldiers are in fewer modes. When you rodeo an enemy Titan, you no longer just rip open its hatch and shoot it. Also, the target-locking Smart Pistol is now one of those Boosts, and I’m very sad about this.
Mostly, though, this is because things have actually been expanded. While I still miss having AI soldiers in the capture-the-locations Hardpoints mode (which no longer appears to be a thing, oddly) there are more modes in general. When you rodeo an enemy Titan, you now inflict heavy damage by stealing one of its batteries… which you can then deliver to a friendly Titan in order to recover some of its health, and grant it a shield. Or the previous owner shoots you and picks it back up, but hey, you can’t have everything.
There are lots of modes, although a few of them are sufficiently underplayed that I was never able to find a match (I’m looking at you, Capture the Flag, where 10 minutes of queueing led to an entire one other person joining the queue). Realistically, the main three are Attrition, Amped Hardpoints, and Bounty Hunt – along with “Mixtapes”; playlists offering a mix of modes – each of which offers a twist on the usual fare.
Attrition is the most basic, pretty much boiling down to team deathmatch with AI. Killing AI grunts, Stalkers, and Reapers doesn’t get you much in the way of points, but knocking out a pilot or Titan raises your team’s score rather more dramatically. Amped Hardpoints has two teams fighting it out over three control points, with one difference: staying at a hardpoint you’ve already captured “Amps” it, doubling the number of points it gives you, and encouraging actual defence rather than the usual merry-go-round of captures that ensues in those modes.
Bounty Hunt is actually rather original. This is sort of like playing a competitive horde mode: waves of enemies (ranging from soldiers to Titans) drop, and your team accrues money for killing them. At the end of each wave, banks open, where you can deposit your hard-earned loot. The thing is that the other team is doing the exact same thing, and if they kill you, they steal 50% of the cash you’re currently carrying. Taking out the bounty targets is important, but not getting murdered by the other team right as you go to cash in is pretty important too. I do wish there were a few more modes and maps to play with, and I miss having more modes with AI grunts to brutalise, but I’m still having a rather good time with the ones on offer. It’s hard to complain about some of the little changes when the grand scope is so good.
I’m rather keen on the weapon selection, too. Respawn have let their imaginations run free developing future weapons that mostly aren’t just Machine Gun and Shotgun With Shiny Bits, and the fact that Titanfall 2 lets you sprint across walls and soar through the sky means that things which would be ludicrously overpowered in other games feel pretty balanced here. There’s a micro-missile launcher that fires out tiny rockets at machine gun pace, and an SMG with absolutely no recoil. There are modifications for all of these weapons to change the scope, or let you shoot while sprinting. There’s your “class”, too, which gives you a charging boost, from grappling hooks to cloaks to health-regenerating, speed-boosting stims.
If there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s the obligatory goddamn unlock system. There are two things I do like, so we’ll quickly cover those: you level up by earning a certain number of “merits”, which you can acquire at frightening pace. Finishing a match earns you one. Winning a match earns you one. Doing well earns you one. Levelling up a weapon or Titan earns you one (which also means there’s incentive to try out new guns, because their first few levels are awfully fast to earn). You always feel like you’re progressing.
Equally, you can actually spend those merits to unlock stuff early. If you really want to unlock a particular gun, or the nuclear ejection for a Titan, you can do so by shelling out these merits – and as far as I can tell you can’t buy them with real money.
Here’s the problem: not everything can be unlocked by spending your merits, and a lot of the fun stuff requires an obscene amount of them. Yes, I can unlock a low-level gun or a Titan pretty quickly, but to get my hands on the Smart Pistol would require something like 125 Merits, which – having spent absolutely none – took me about six hours to earn, from the first time I played multiplayer. Which might not sound like much, but when you factor in that most matches are shorter than ten minutes, it feels like a lot. It’s a little more galling if you’ve already playing the single-player, too, because you’ve already got plenty of experience with the level-locked Titans and weapons, and grinding your way up to the Tone or the Double Take sniper rifle feels a little needless. But, y’know, I’m not the biggest fan of levelling systems.
The matchmaking, too, is a bit ass, but that doesn’t surprise me much. It’s very Call of Duty in that it tries to create reasonably balanced teams (with mixed success) rather than making sure everyone is of a consistent skill level. For the most part that works out okay, but when starting out it’s a little irritating to get murdered by a level 50 asshole dropping sentry guns or leaping around with a smart pistol, but at least Titanfall 2 is very heavily based on player skill so it doesn’t feel too unfair. No server browser, either, but again – not a surprise. I’m also not quite sure about the level design, with most of it feeling a little bit less unique than that of Titanfall, but it’s possible I haven’t spent quite enough time with the game yet.
Multiplayer is very much its own beast, also offering up Networks (joinable groups of like-minded individuals) and Happy Hours (bonus merits for playing during your chosen Network’s period of time) to try to expand the experience beyond the usual “log on and search for a game.” So yes, it’s a full thing. You can even join different “factions” to get different cosmetic rewards, and these change the announcer you hear and the person giving your briefing at the start of each match. Minor, but a wonderful touch.
Titanfall 2 also runs incredibly well, speeding along at 60 FPS on my i7-3820 / 16 GB RAM / GeForce GTX 970 with most settings on High or Ultra. The trade-off is that a few of the textures look a little bit rubbish up close, but considering the gargantuan levels and the fact that you really shouldn’t be standing still at all, I’m relatively okay with this.
Titanfall 2 is a giant of a game. Whether you want to play this or Battlefield 1 or Call of Duty is really a matter of personal taste, because all three offer rather different experiences, but right now (without having played Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare just yet) this would be my pick for fast-paced, innovative carnage. Good single-player, good multiplayer, and good optimisation means that Titanfall 2 is the full package.