Title: Titanfall 2
Alternative title:
TF2
Developers: Respawn Entertainment
Publishers: Electronic Arts
Genre: First-person shooter/platformer/puzzle
Engine: Source
Format: PS4 (reviewed), X1, PC
Release: October 28, 2016

Call of Duty, up to its 2009 incarnation, was always headed by Infinity Ward’s Jason West and Vince Zampella; their vision and gift for video game design was proven time after time with their then-revolutionary shooter series, alongside the few dozens people who worked with them. This resulted in shock when publisher Activision decided to fire them.

Both men founded Respawn and immediately started working on a game they felt could evolve the old Call of Duty formula and compete with their former creation. That was Titanfall, a massively hyped multiplayer-only shooter released in 2014. Aside from a ridiculous full-price budge attached to it, it was a fine progression from its peers. Sadly, the hype for it died out weeks after its release, thanks to EA’s not-so-subtle coverage of it.

Titanfall 2 aimed to fix any problems the original game had, including an all-new single-player mode built from scrap. Probably one of the worst mismatched release windows in gaming history (between the hyped Battlefield 1 and the always-selling Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare), it seemed like people at EA had little hope for this game.

And shame that’s how they felt. As far as I am concerned, this is one of the best games in recent memory. Period.

Story & Setting

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In the distant future, humanity is spread across a large system of planets simply referred to as “the Frontier” (naming is not Respawn’s strongest part). Two factions exist in this Frontier: the Militia, and the IMC corporation. Each faction fights the other over the control of the Frontier, wishing to obtain the system’s resources, lands and energy. The IMC is larger, better organized and is helped by an intimidating group of mercenaries known as the Apex Predators. In contrast the Militia is much smaller and weaker than its rival, possessing dated equipment and lacking the immense funds of the IMC. Despite this, the Militia continues to fight. Both groups are in possession of Titans, large exoskeletons capable of devastating damage. Those Titans are controlled by elite soldiers called Pilots – not the most original name, but meh – who are also equipped with small jet-packs that allow them limited flight and wall-walking.

That was little backstory of Titanfall’s universe before you’ll jump into it. The main campaign itself follows the rise of Jack Cooper from a simple rifleman in service of the Militia to a deadly Pilot feared by the IMC and their mercenary forces. By his side stands BT, a Titan formerly belonged to Cooper’s mentor and instructor.

Cooper differs from many other military/sci-fi shooter protagonists by the mere fact he talks during the actual gameplay. And even frequently, too. The story itself is told entirely from either Cooper’s eye perspective, or BT’s, and control is rarely truly taken from the player.

To put the bad things out the way early on, I will say right now that Titanfall 2’s greatest flaws of its story lie in its predictability and usage of typical shooter and buddy-buddy game tropes. Not to mention classic sci-fi themes of humans and machines co-existing: its core idea. It’s a well-worn premise with known themes and ideas.

And that’s it.

What could have been a half-baked excuse for a plot that tries too hard to be another sci-fi Call of Duty or Halo becomes so much more thanks to an impressive mixture of slick presentation, stylish direction and superb performances. While the main characters of Cooper and BT don’t really stand out in terms of development or growth, they do just enough to make you care about them and enjoy their bonding over the course of the game.

Cooper’s human emotions positively affect BT’s cold perspective into becoming a more sensible and sentient being, and in return the Titan’s analytical and serious tone aid in the maturing and rise of the Pilot. It’s not a particularly deep or unique development, nor is it a fresh idea of a narrative, yes, but the excellent execution of the story does justice with Titanfall 2’s themes of man-machine bonding and friendship, and machine’s role in man’s wars. The chemistry between the two is touching and true.

Despite some criminally short screen-time – we’ll talk about the overall length later – the supporting cast is surprisingly diverse and memorable, if underdeveloped. Most interesting are the game’s main slew of villains: the Apex Predators. Those greedy, murderous, Titan-riding killers are mercenaries hired by the IMC to serve as lieutenants under the corporation. They range from ruthless cyborgs to cheesy parodies of the 1980’s to flying vultures hungry for some metal flesh.

None of them gets any character development, and they mostly serve as boss fights. But they are ridiculously colorful and enjoyable, and their leader — a character from the previous game — serves as an excellent big bad despite what many would consider as a lackluster ending to his role.

One thing I will criticize Titanfall 2 for is its rather timid world-building. Both this game and its predecessor have done a fine job at establishing Titanfall’s setting as a vibrant, diverse planet system stuck at war times. That said, so much is yet to be seen, entire backstories to the unfold the basic backstory, unseen motivations for multiple characters and factions. We learn a lot more about Titanfall’s setting in this entry, but some questions are still left unanswered and some points are left unexplored.

Again, the story of Titanfall 2 is not an original one: it is filled with genre tropes and roles seen in many previous games. However, those are generally negated by the game’s self-awareness, and those drawbacks are countered with a powerful sense of presentation and style.
Oh, and there’s that adorable moment where BT copies Cooper’s thumbing up. That’s awesome.

Gameplay & Design

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Titanfall 2 continues the ‘evolution’ of the established Call of Duty formula that Respawn began with the original Titanfall. You know the deal: a lot of shooting while being powered up with both high-jump jet-packs and piloting a huge mech that comes with different loadouts.

Titanfall 2 is a beautiful example of a masterful game design: levels are large and detailed, built to utilize the player’s means of maneuvering to the best. Walls and platforms and other exotic constructions are smartly scattered across each level and its respective sections. While controlling Cooper himself, players would be surprised to find a game that not only present you with multiple gadgets and playthings and features, but also demand you to use and master them, less you’ll die.

More so than that, almost every level or major event in the game adds some flavor and variety to the already fun and addicting action of Titanfall 2. One level takes place in a lush, jungle-like environment filled with dangerous tiger/lizard predators that attack both the player and their enemies during shootouts. Another level drops you in a massive factory that changes every single minute with shifting walls and twisting floors. And later levels even include weird time travel and power shutting mechanics. Needless to say, Titanfall 2 knows how to keep players engaged and it is not short of brilliant and innovative ideas.

The outstanding level design also allows for some cleverly crafted puzzle sections for Cooper to solve. The aforementioned factory and time traveling levels are just two small examples from the huge, complex maps Respawn developed that are filled with smart puzzles that involve speed and free-running. Those puzzles are surprisingly balanced enough so they will not be too simple for players to just dash in, but at the same time challenging enough so players would think for a moment before taking the next jump.

Weapons include your usual deal of handguns, rifles and snipers that come in different shapes and power. They all have slick designs that mix modern day guns with futuristic style.

Titan combat remains a powerful ace up Titanfall 2’s sleeve. Titan control feels appropriately heavy and slow, but rarely ever sluggish and de-powering. BT, as the unique Vanguard class Titan he is, is capable of using many different loadouts the player can pick as they progress the story. The Titan loadouts range from flamethrowers and shotguns to deadly swords. Each loadout feels unique and distinguished, with its own strengths and weaknesses, and players are constantly reminded that it is better to keep switching between loadouts as fights get bigger and bigger.

The boss fights within Titanfall 2 are the closest thing to criticism that I can give to the gameplay. They vary in quality and challenge. Some, like the very first boss fight, are surprisingly well-crafted and thought about, featuring a patient game of cat-and-mouse as players have to take cover most of the time and attack once the enemy show them their back. Without digging too much to spoiler territory, others can be disappointingly straightforward and easy, featuring nothing but row power and mindless shooting.

Multiplayer remains just as good as it was in the previous game, if not better. Action is incredibly fast-paced while the superbly designed maps offered are large, varied and open, if somewhat disappointingly forgettable. Exclusive gadgets and tools such as grappling hooks and thrown knives are added to the mix and increase player mobility, effectiveness and deception.

Customization runs here in spades, offering multiple options for weapons and loadouts as well as cosmetic affairs. By using a streamlined leveling up system, everything Titanfall 2 offers is available as players raise through the ranks. It’s also possible to buy equipment via in-game money, but be warned that obtaining it is no easy task.

The various modes available test players’ skill and agility in a dynamic showcase of the contrasting gameplay types in the game. Aside from more ‘traditional’ modes found in other multiplayer games, Titanfall 2 also includes Pilot vs. Pilot mode which pits Titanless-pilots against each other with no ability to call for their metal giants for battle, and the Last Titan Standing which is almost the complete opposite, pitting several Titans together where the slow-moving iron beasts rip and tear one another until the hardest one remains. The classic Attrition is also back, somewhat of a typical deathmatch mode but littered with AI soldiers and androids keen on gunning down both teams.

A welcome newcomer to Titanfall 2’s modes is the instantly-addicting Bounty Hunt which throws players into a violent area occupied by enemy teams and hostile AIs as they rush to kill their opponents and earn currency. Then the currency must be deposited at certain “Bank” locations – often being guarded by the rival team. Players are pursued to be quick and precise while also aware of their surroundings, because if a rival player kills you, say bye to half of your score.

Regardless of Titanfall 2’s various modes, what dominates their success is the game’s careful attention to balance and pace. No side is more advantageous than the other, swiftness and brute strength are traded whenever you choose to be a Pilot or Titan, and the overall gameplay is easy to learn, but requires mastering through multiple matches and fights. Both the single-player and the different multiplayer modes touch on certain aspects and play-styles in Titanfall. Players are awarded for their tactics and thinking – be it on foot or inside a colossal mech – and those who come believing this to be just another guns blazing game through tight corridors will be appropriately punished.

Visuals & Sound

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Titanfall 2’s graphics are rather dated for a 2016 release, especially in comparison to fellow EA-published shooter Battlefield 1, powered by DICE’s unbeatable Frostbite 3 engine. While Titanfall 2 uses a modified Source engine… which is over a decade old. Indeed, when it comes to row power, Titanfall 2 flatters.

In contrast to Battlefield’s duller scenery and Infinite Warfare’s shiny metals and dark spaces, however, Titanfall 2 is significantly more vibrant, striking and creative.

Environments are varied and memorable, vividly green grasslands against burning machines, monstrous metal and concrete factories, lovingly rendered waterfalls, and abandoned research facilities. Titanfall 2 is yet another strong showcase of the beautiful contrast between nature and metal, and I can’t help but admire some of the visuals I encounter here.

Animations are delightfully fluid, detailed and organic. From the swift and deadly movements of Pilots, to the clunky and slow approach of Titans to the feral attacks by the game’s sparse fauna, Respawn pretty much nailed it here. Set pieces are also a jaw-dropping sight to behold; explosive, massive and screen-covering, with some unbelievable scenes, especially when a new gadget is involved.

Aside from the bland and boring ally and enemy designs, character design is splendid – particularly the Titans, with their iconic appearances, shapes, colors and armors.

Voice acting in Titanfall 2 is top-notch, especially the Apex Predators that still the show. They have such a sinister, self-aware tone to their voices, and the delivery is particularly strong. Hell, nearly every cast member, even the minor ones, delivers an all-around solid performance.

The soundtrack is nothing of notice. It’s there, and it does its job. It doesn’t overshadow any scenes, and is okay, if generic.

Final Verdict

After several hours at multiplayer and finishing the campaign a couple times, I can’t help but wish for more. That is also probably my biggest complain about it; Titanfall 2’s 6-hour campaign is just so short. It’s superbly paced and executed, nothing feels like filler or last-minute addition/removal, but I wouldn’t mind a bit more from it. Titanfall 2 is, after all, a masterful example of game design and narrative execution that far outdoes the rest of the competition.

In its always-surprising single-player campaign, in its dynamic multiplayer modes, Titanfall 2 is genius. Though the plot is nothing especially new, everything surrounding it is executed with such an amazing level of style and polish that showcase the unique storytelling approach of video games. World-building could get a little more spotlight, but we still got plenty. Gunplay is fast and furious, while the acrobatics and giant mechs make battles far more flexible and unpredictable.

Titanfall 2 is simply fantastic, probably one of the best shooters released this entire generation. Design, creativity, action, fun. Titanfall 2 excels in all those departments. This is the true spiritual successor for 2007’s highly acclaimed classic Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, evolving the formula further, and it blows its 2014 predecessor out the water. Titanfall 2 deserves to be remembered as one of the smartest, coolest and most fun first-person shooters of recent years, rubbing elbows with timeless classics such as Doom, Half-Life, Bioshock and of course, Modern Warfare.

You owe yourself buying this title. Because very few games offer so much quality and creativity nowadays.

In points:

The Good:

  • Expertly crafted single-player campaign with excellent level design, variety and visual style, coupled with a surprisingly solid story and likable leads
  • Dynamic gameplay that focuses on agility and awareness with always-shifting perspectives and pacing
  • Polished multiplayer modes with plenty of variety to different types of players
  • Beautiful art design and top-notch animations

The Bad:

  • Plot is rather predictable and relies on many well-known tropes from the sci-fi and shooter genres
  • Boss fights are a bit of hit-and-miss

& The Ugly:

  • There is a murderous masked she-cyborg in the campaign, and damn is she hot
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Titanfall 2 review – Rise of the Titans

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