Titanfall Beta Preview
Respawn Entertainment (to give the studio its full title) is the product of Jason West and Vince Zampella and after some mucky business with Activision they went on to form Respawn. Whats important to know here is that West and Zampella were responsible for one of the biggest franchises in the history of video games: Call of Duty.
If you've been living under a stone, Call of Duty sold a staggering 65 bazillion copies and earned Activision enough money to build their new headquarters on the moon, in gold bullion. While West and Zampella no longer have the rights to COD (bloody hell I hate that acronym) they've taken all that knowledge and have thrown it straight into Titanfall.
Having played Titanfall during Eurogamer 2013, the game won all my praise for the fact it was slick, polished and just a damn good product. It helped that you could control hulking great Titans but considering the limited hands on time with it, I really was keen to play more. Im glad I havent been disappointed and for all intents and purposes, Titanfall is an excellent product. When Respawn set out to make it, its clear theyve learnt valuable lessons from the success of Call of Dutys multiplayer. Everyone knows COD was a hugely successful multiplayer game and its evident that Titanfall has borrowed heavily from it. From my perspective, thats both a blessing and a curse.
Titanfall looks and feels like Call of Duty. Its fundamental mechanics, right down to instant kill melee attacks are all here. The only difference, at first glance, is the setting and the Titans themselves. In some ways Im a little disappointed that Respawn didn't shed their COD skin entirely and choose to have a more unique aesthetic for the game world and its inhabitants. Undoubtedly Titanfall looks great and the futuristic setting, across the 2 playable maps, looks wonderful. It does however feel like a mod at times as opposed to an entirely original product.
Part of the reason for that, I suspect, is the fact youre still very much grounded on Earth with bullet based weapons. With both products sharing the similar engines, with little effort made in applying a truly unique art style to differentiate both, comparisons are inevitable. One might think that futuristic versus modern warfare is massively different and to some degree thats right, but it all boils down to how it feels while playing and both products mirror very heavily. What I would have preferred is if Respawn took a leaf out of Splash Damages book and gone in a truly unique visual direction, such as that of Brink. I can appreciate their apprehension to do that, with this being their first product, but it does feel a little too safe.
Where the game is concerned, sounds, visuals and weaponry all pack a punch. Weapons are particularly satisfying and unlocking new ones in the Beta is relatively easy exercise due to the speed at which you can acquire experience points. Capturing points, killing AI controlled bots or opposing Pilots, destroying Titans or defending all allow you to wrack up significant numbers quickly. In just a few hours play Id reached level 11 and had unlocked a whole host of goodies. Just like Call of Duty, youll unlock Titan, class and weaponry improvements based on the achievements you complete. For example, to improve the Smart Pistol (thats the one that locks on to players) youll need to kill X amount of Pilots or Spectres. Its a relatively simple system that provides a sense of progression albeit one thats limited at this stage. I would have liked the ability to track my achievements on my HUD will in game, similar to an MMOG down the right hand side, though its a minor inconvenience.
When it comes to Titanfall's X Factor, its clearly the Titans themselves, free running, and its MOBA influences (though the latter is debatable). First up, Im still a little undecided on how I feel about the titans and its primarily because of the map designs and their overall functionality. These hulking machines feel satisfying to use, they look great and theyre fantastic at capturing points. The problem with them is their limitation and the fact youre cordoned into a specific area only Respawn want you to go. You cant climb, you cant jump and you can barely walk anywhere other than pre-defined routes. It feels like youre a killing machine in a straight jacket. Im not suggesting titans should have the freedom of Pilots, but it shouldnt be too dissimilar. As a result of the restraints youre often a sitting duck and its all too easy for other Pilots to destroy you quickly. Theres no real right or wrong here, as Im sure many players feel, from a balance perspective, that they need to be restrained in some way in order for the balance of power to remain in the Pilots hands: I was perhaps wrongly expecting a ZOE or Armored Core experience.
When it comes to free running, it sits somewhere between the standard movement of any first person shooter but below that of Brink. A vital piece missing is the ability to slide and although map trajectory is amazing when you managed to ping pong between buildings (it really is something you have to learn quickly) the amount of times Ive wanted to slide is a little concerning. Those hairy moments when you want to slide through a doorway as youre being gunned down or to shimmy under a pipe are few, but for someone like me who has played Brink, you do miss it. Other than that, its a joy to master free running and it makes a huge difference not only to survivability but also your chances of capturing points and killing AI controlled enemies.
On the subject of AI controlled enemies and for anyone who has played League of Legends or DOTA, Titanfall borrows creeps from these games and litters them as AI controlled enemies within the maps you play on. As your side (or your opposition) increases in power, your creeps (or Spectres/Ghosts) increase in power. Basically they act like cannon fodder to not only provide you with experience points, but to also reduce the time it takes for your Titan to respawn. Typically a Titan takes around 2 minutes to recharge but for each AI controlled enemy you kill, it shaves off some of that recharge time. Although its only mere seconds, if you manage to kill enough creeps quick enough you can soon find your titan arriving in no time at all. What I really like about this (besides the fact the Spectres/Ghosts are totally dumb and aim worse than Stormtroopers) is the fact its something different. Yes they take up space and yes they deal no damage to you, but the premise is solid. What Respawn need to do is beef them up to the point where they actually hurt you and where youd be afraid to take on packs of them. If theyre to expand on this system, it might be worthwhile taking further influences from the likes of LOL or DOTA2 and open up additional benefits for you as a player besides just reducing your Titan recharge time.
The last thing I wanted to talk about before I get onto my biggest gripe with the game, is the the Burn Card concept and I must admit, I absolutely love these. Basically, as you play through a match and accessible at level 7 you unlock cards which you can equip before a match begins. These disposable cards are designed to bridge the gap between high and low level players and they provide experience boosts, improvements to your pilot or a significant jump to the power of your weapon. Once youve used a card, it is disposed of permanently and will only last as long as youre alive. The flexibility comes in the fact that if youre clever, you can equip Burn Cards that allow you to mix up your play. For example, I tend to roam with an upgraded Smart Pistol because its so good for killing groups of Spectres but when Im in a pinch, Ill equip an alternative Burn Card weapon if I need a change or tactics. Although you burn through them quickly (no pun intended) they are also easy to unlock. Its a clever system and one Im really glad to see implemented.
Up to now then, its all pretty rosy. A couple of niggles here and there with the AI controlled bots being make or break for some players. The main problem I see with the product however, is the fact that its disposable, a relatively selfish play experience and offers absolutely no team work. If you want to be nothing but a lone wolf and shoot people in the face, Titanfall is perfect. If you want depth outside of your own improvement, it really is lacking. Unlike Battlefield, Quake Wars or Team Fortress 2, Titanfall offers no incentives to work together. The lack of a class structure (regardless of how loose) where players have some form of role would have done wonders for the game and yet instead, all were left with is everyone being Rambo.
Loadouts make little difference to the way you play and have no bearing on any sort of role. Yes you might orientate yourself to a spy-like style of play (complete with cloak and silenced pistol) but its all inherently pointless when brute force is the best method. What I think Respawn should have done is something similar to Battlefield and had 3 class types that you customise, but within those 3 would be unique tools and skills. The intention behind this would be to create a cohesion so that players could work together: repairing Titans, hacking outposts and keeping pilots alive. Without this framework, it feels somewhat dated and shallow
There is of course nothing wrong with a good old fashioned shooter and shooting people in the face with a hulking Titan doesnt get boring too quickly. My concern however is the fact that Titanfall will be compared against its competition and for me, at this stage during Beta, its lack of teamwork as a requirement is very worrying. As someone who adored Battlefield 2142, I still think it stands head and shoulders above Titanfall for depth, map design, sound and team work, but its unquestionable that Titanfall appeals at the heart of the Call of Duty faithful.
Stay tuned for further updates when we get our hands on more maps and modes.