Titanfall: can Respawn convince millions to upgrade to Xbox One?

By Stace Harman
12 February 2014 17:00 GMT

It may be available on PC and Xbox 360, but after hands-on time with Titanfall, Stace Harman asks if this Microsoft-exclusive FPS can push gamers towards a brand new console.


“It is Titanfall’s billing as a next-gen Microsoft exclusive that the Redmond giant will hope can help it deliver both a significant return and an important advantage over its rival.”

The new console generation is yet to boast a bona fide system-seller. Forza Motorsport 5 and Killzone: Shadow Fall give a glimpse of what the new machines are capable of, but there’s been no one single game yet able to coax millions of people en masse to shell out the small fortune required to upgrade to an eighth generation console.

Microsoft will surely be hoping that Titanfall proves to be that title. While this new first-person shooter IP is also set for release on PC and 360, it is Titanfall’s billing as a next-gen Microsoft exclusive that the Redmond giant will hope can help it deliver both a significant return and an important advantage over its rival. Certainly on paper it has the chops to deliver: developer Respawn Entertainment is formed of a large number of ex-Infinity Ward staff after being founded by former Call of Duty major-players, Jason West and Vince Zampella.”. What’s more, Titanfall belongs to that most popular of genres, the FPS, and features giant robots/mechs/Titans that fall from the sky and invite you to climb inside to wreak merry hell. So, are you ready to hand over your cash yet?

A recent preview event held in London gave me the chance to have my first prolonged bash at Respawn’s debut project and to find out whether its preview build can elicit the same excitement for its potential as I felt during my recent time with 2K’s multiplayer offering, Evolve. However, while I’m most certainly impressed by Titanfall’s bombast, bullet-play and balance of combat, it’s going to take longer to convince me of its staying power.

Titanfall Screen 1

Some of this reticence is due to the load-outs, maps and game modes I was afforded time with, which were fun but rarely breathtaking. Three game modes were on offer; Attrition, Hardpoint and Last Titan Standing, all of which offered variations on familiar FPS staples. Attrition serves as a straight-forward jumping-off point in which you start on foot as a pilot and aim to take out both enemy pilots and AI grunts to expedite the delivery of your titan.

It’s a straightforward death-match as both teams race to a fixed point-target and while seeing two titans clash amidst the husks of ruined buildings is initially a sight to behold, it lacks the strategic edge of the second of the modes, Hardpoint. This is a familiar point-capture mode in which both teams vie for possession of three command posts and it offers an additional method of scoring XP and points, aside from an out and out fire-fight. The final mode, Last Titan Standing dispenses of the necessity to earn a titan and instead everyone starts with a one of these hulking suits of mechanised armour, forgoes the ability to respawn and, as the name suggests, fights for points awarded to the team that possess the last remaining titan on the map.

“While I’m most certainly impressed by Titanfall’s bombast, bullet-play and balance of combat, it’s going to take longer to convince me of its staying power.”

Just one titan of the three was available here, which nerfed tactical considerations to a degree. The Atlus titan initially comes in two configurations of Assault and Tank, whose differences are predicated on the load-outs of weapons, tactical ability, ordinance and kit. Once you level-up, an additional load-out becomes available but it’s only once you reach level ten that you can start to customise each element of your titan and start to really take ownership of your character selection.

Perhaps the biggest revelation for me was that it was the foot soldiers – or Pilots – who have the most immediately recognisable options for varied tactics. Like the titan, a pilot’s load-out comes in two flavours, Assassin and Rifleman, with the former boasting the strategic edge in its equipment and abilities. At level five, you can add three customisable pilot builds to the mix and cherry-pick weapons and abilities of the predefined classes, as well as focusing on completing challenges to unlock additional mods for weapons and kit.

Titanfall Screen 3

Unsurprisingly, the pilots are much more nimble than the titans. They’re equipped with the ability to double-jump and wall-run which makes for tense face-offs in confined quarters and gives you a genuine fighting chance against the less agile titan-bound pilots. It’s also possible to mount an enemy titan from above and to go to work on its wiring, with the encumbered party’s only option for defence being to have one of their own team shoot you off or for them to disembark from their titan to take you on themselves. These abilities, combined with each pilot’s standard issue anti-titan firearm, helps maintain an excellent balance in the fight between pilot and titan and ensures that each round ebbs and flows rather than becoming a race to a titan-heavy end.

Much has been made of Titanfall’s six-versus-six player limit but, unsurprisingly, experiencing it in person reveals it to be as a result of a careful balancing rather than an arbitrary and artificial cap. Although neither of the maps that I played were particularly memorable, both offer decent support for a mix of 12 human players in addition to a number of AI grunts and Spectres (more powerful soldiers that show-up once players start calling-in their titans).

In fact, each map is apparently capable of supporting up to 50 combatants, provided that 38 of them are AI foot soldiers. This suggests that should a mode exist in which titans are vetoed then the player-cap could theoretically exceed 12. However, trying to fit significantly more than 12 titans on a map at any one time could result in pandemonium as allies try to manoeuvre out of one another’s way and the street sections descend into farcical gridlock.

Titanfall Screen 3 (2)

By the end of the three-hour preview session I’m left impressed but not blown-away. Titanfall feels like it will live or die on its ability to offer a personal and highly customisable experience and to assess that I’ll need to spend time with all of the titan classes, some additional game modes and a handful of more varied maps. For now, it’s certainly fun but, on this evidence, I don’t feel that it’s quite yet the game that will make people sell their children to raise the money for an Xbox One. Maybe that’ll come with the game’s release next month or the DLC that’s planned for later this year.

Titanfall is set for release on PC and Xbox One from March 11 in the US, March 13 in Australia and March 14 in Europe. The 360 version will be available two weeks later in each territory. Registration for the beta is live now.

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