I got a chance to play Titanfall at TGS and loved it. But that was a long time ago, and it was one round of one game mode only. Over time, I began to wonder whether the game was really as great as I remembered, or whether Respawn Entertainment could really deliver that experience on a larger scale. But after playing the closed beta of the game’s PC version that kicked off today, I realize I shouldn’t have worried.
Gameplay: right on target
Titanfall is a futuristic first-person shooter that puts you into the combat boots of a titan pilot on a distant planet. Humanity has colonized other words, and this one is the site of an ongoing struggle between the IMC (a corporate military force) and the civilian Milita. You’ll play as either side interchangeably, and in the beta the story is pretty much irrelevant because they have the same equipment loadouts.
Before you go into a match, you can choose from one of three pilot loadouts, and one of three titan loadouts. At first, your only options are presets in the assault, scout/sniper, and heavy molds, but after you advance a few levels you’ll start unlocking new weapons and the ability to customize your loadouts. There’s still not a ton of variety on display yet, but Respawn has said that the beta is showcasing only a small amount of the content from the final game, so there may be more coming on this front.
This isn’t Call of Duty, though. In addition to all the usual FPS stuff, your pilot is capable of wall-running, can go semi-invisible for brief periods, and is equipped with a jetpack that can be used to shoot through the air for a limited time. This adds a vertical element to the game, and in some ways it feels a little bit like Tribes. It takes a little while to get used to all the running and jumping and start noticing the ways you can take advantage of it, but the controls feel fantastic and it adds a very necessary level of mobility most FPS games don’t have.
That extra mobility is necessary because of the other thing that sets Titanfall apart from other FPS games: the titans. These giant mechs can be called down from the sky every so often, and your pilot can climb inside one and wreak havoc or choose to have it patrol and area or follow the pilot on foot. (Thankfully, no one can climb inside a titan you’ve called down except you, so there’s no titan-stealing). Titans have shields and they can take (and dish out) a beating, but they don’t last forever. Every pilot is equipped with anti-titan weapons, and you’ll often be fighting enemy titans as well. Luckily, when your titan dies you can eject and continue the game on foot until your next titan is ready.
Another major difference is the addition of minions: AI-controlled soldiers that fill out the battlefield and that cannot pilot titans. These guys were at the center of some controversy after Respawn announced that Titanfall games would be capped at 6 vs. 6 players, with the rest of the game being filled out by bots. Having played the beta, I can understand why: a 15 vs. 15 player match would be utter chaos because everyone could call their titans at once. I promise you, more than six players on a team would not be fun, at least on the small maps available in the beta. The AI minions help keep the game fast-paced and action-packed even when enemy pilots aren’t nearby, and they also provide some satisfaction for less-skilled players like me: I may not be racking up kills of enemy pilots or titans, but at least I’m helping my team by killing enemy grunts.
I’m playing the PC version of the beta using a gamepad, and it feels fantastic. Gamepad players are aided on PC by a little bit of auto-assist, but to be honest it’s not enough to compensate for the difference in precision offered by a mouse and keyboard. I don’t care, though. The gamepad controls are so satisfying that I genuinely don’t even mind losing.
If you played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Titanfall‘s controls will feel very familiar. If you’ve played any of the subsequent Call of Duty games, Titanfall will remind you how much you missed this polished-to-perfection feel. It’s no surprise the Respawn team has managed to recreate the finely-tuned feel of COD4 considering that a large part of Respawn migrated from Infinity Ward following that project. But it would honestly be hard to overstate how much I like the way this game feels. It’s going to make it hard to go back to playing other FPS games on the gamepad, to be honest.
Game mode: Tutorial
The beta comes with three main game modes and a tutorial. You can check out my first play-through of the tutorial above; it’s a pretty good walk-through of all of the game’s core mechanics that gives you a chance to practice them all one-by-one, and you’re going to need it because once you get out onto a real battlefield, things get much more chaotic.
Game mode: Attrition
As you can see from the video above, Attrition is your standard team deathmatch game mode. Because of the addition of minions and titans, though, the scoring is a bit more complex than simply counting each team’s kills. Kills of different types are rewarded with different sums of “attrition points”. It’s not as complex as it might sound, and it’s a necessary addition to ensure that taking down a player-controlled titan is more valuable than taking out an AI-controlled minion.
Game mode: Hardpoint Domination
Hardpoint domination is the exact same thing as domination from the Call of Duty series (and lots of other shooters). Two teams fight over a map with three separate control points. When your team controls a point by occupying that area uncontested, your score goes up. The goal is to control more points for a longer period of time, thus racking up a higher score than your opponents.
As you can see, I’ve been experiencing a sound bug in this mode you can catch near the end of the video. It’s annoying, but it seems to be limited to Domination for some reason.
Game mode: Last Titan Standing
Last Titan Standing is exactly what it sounds like: two teams spawn on a map already inside their titans, and you battle it out until there’s only one titan left. What I’ve got above is just a video of one round, but the full game mode gives each team three rounds starting from each side of the map. In each round, if your titan is destroyed and you eject in time you’re able to run around on foot attacking the other titans, but if you get killed you’re out for good. Thankfully, the rounds tend to be pretty short so you’re never going to spend too much time spectating.
Performance: this is incredible
When they were at Infinity Ward, the guys now running Respawn were famous for making games with solid framerates and very few technical issues. I guess there was no reason not to expect the same level of perfection from Titanfall, but I have to say I’m quite surprised by how smoothly everything has run so far, considering that this is a beta. I turned all the graphics settings up to high and I was recording HD video as I played; a combination that can cause severe framerate drops in a lot of PC games, especially given that my GPU is a few years old at this point. But Titanfall had no problem whatsoever with it; I didn’t notice any framerate issues and when I checked it myself I found that even with a video recorder and several other programs running, it almost never dropped below 50.
PC gamers will also be pleased to know that this is a proper PC game rather than some crappy console port, and as such it includes all the graphical options you’d expect from this kind of game, including an adjustable FOV. You will need a 64-bit OS to play the game, though, so if you’ve been putting off upgrading to Windows 7 (don’t bother with Windows 8), now’s the time to get that done.
It’s not completely perfect. As previously mentioned, I have been experiencing a very strange audio bug in Hardpoint Domination mode where sounds cut and drop out. And then there are the current server issues. It’s pretty annoying, but then, this is a beta. Hopefully Respawn will have that sorted out by launch time.
Sound and visuals: a treat
Titanfall looks and sounds excellent, as you would expect of any triple-A game coming from a developer of this caliber. The sound effects, from the sharp reports of the machine guns to the groans and clanks of the titans, make things feel very real, and the visuals are quite impressive. It’s hard to compare the photorealism of a game like Battlefield 4 to the ruined sci-fi chaos of Titanfall, so I will just say this: I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed with Titanfall‘s graphics. The game looks great.
This extends to the game’s UI and menu systems as well. Granted, this is just the beta so a lot of options are probably missing, but it is immediately easy to understand and navigate, and even the button-press noise sounds cool. Having recently been playing Splinter Cell: Blacklist, a fun game that sports one of the world’s worst menu systems, the difference is very stark.
The music is, to be honest, pretty forgettable, at least from what I’ve heard so far. I don’t mean that it’s bad, I just mean that you’re literally not going to remember it because there’s so much else going on in this game. It does what you’d expect it to and adds to the tension of the game’s already-frenzied firefights, but that’s about it. You likely won’t be disappointed with the music, but you’re probably not going to go running out to buy the soundtrack either.
I realize that this post sounds a lot like an advertisement for Titanfall, and the journalist in me feels a little guilty about it. But look guys: I’ve been playing this beta for hours already and I’m genuinely having a hard time finding anything I don’t like. My biggest complaint is that I want more of everything: more maps, more game modes, more customization options for pilots and titans, etc. But I’m pretty sure all of that is coming when the full game launches next month.
We’ll have lots more Titanfall content coming over the next few days as the beta continues, though, so if you’re not convinced and want to see more, stay tuned!