Titanfall was playable at Gamescom this year, and after hearing about all the praise it received at E3, I knew that I had to get my hands on the game and have a chat with someone on the team – producer Drew McCoy, in this case. If you’re not familiar with how Titanfall works, it’s a multiplayer-focused game in which players can join in either regular online game modes like TDM, or play through a fixed, linear campaign with and against other players online. The game takes place in the distant future in which humans have travelled a great distance through space to reach the Frontier – a group of planets on which they’ll begin their lives anew. But all is not well in the Frontier; an industrialised military organisation known as the IMC has been displacing people in the effort to turn the planets into massive mining operations, and now the Militia has risen up to prevent this.
The mission we had available to us was called “Get Barker”, in which the Militia and IMC are both out to find an ace pilot known as Barker. The Militia need to sneak him out of the city with the IMC must attempt to prevent this, and this generated the objectives throughout the mission. We played a 6v6 game on high-spec PCs and were given a choice of keyboard/mouse or Xbox One gamepads. I have to admit, it was difficult to focus on the objectives while attempting to learn the gameplay and deal with the opposing team, but I found that it actually felt good to have the campaign stuff just in the background, causing the useable area of the map to shift and keeping the game fresh and alive. Maybe this isn’t a good thing, but I quite liked having the ability to simply ignore what was going on to focus on the action.
Of course, the big feature of Titanfall is the inclusion of Titans – large robotic frames that each pilot earns every couple of minutes. You don’t have to call in your Titan when it’s ready, but it acts very much like a killstreak reward in that the cooldown timer is reduced as you accomplish objectives and eliminate enemy forces, so it’s worth activating as soon as it’s viable to do so. But it’s not always a good idea to jump into your three-storey mech, as doing so might cut you off from some areas of the map – a point which the team has been acutely aware of as a tool to prevent the Titans from becoming overpowered. This also gives rise to the abilities that pilots have courtesy of their jet packs.
“We wanted to have big versus small, but not make it one-sided,” Drew tells me in an interview. “A tank versus a dude in Battlefield – the tank’s going to win. But a pilot versus a Titan – the pilot has a chance, and that’s not by accident.”
He explains that Titanfall has been a highly iterative process, with an entire year spent working on concepts, prototypes and playtesting. It’s here where the notion of incredible mobility came in, as Drew believes the best way to correct an imbalance is not with shifting around a few stats, but with the introduction of new tools.
“For a long time the game was seriously unbalanced, and we were frustrated every time we played it – that’s part of the creative process.”
The great mobility each player has while outside of a Titan includes the abilities to double-jump and run along walls, and the maps are designed in such a way that many areas are accessible only to those who take the time to master these abilities. During the pre-game presentation, it was explained that it’s even possible for players to manoeuvre around certain maps without ever touching the ground, with wall-running used to gain momentum and earn you another double-jump. If Tribes springs to mind, you wouldn’t be alone in that thought.
In practice, it certainly felt like each player was highly capable, and, while I did find myself doing massive damage to enemy AI soldiers who were also in the mission, I had to be acutely aware of any human players armed with anti-Titan weapons, as well as enemy Titans themselves – especially those armed with their own armour-piercing guns.
By the end of my first game, I was thoroughly impressed with Titanfall. I expected it to feel like a combination of Tribes, COD and Battlefield, but, while it certainly shares common elements with all of those games, the result feels distinct. Its mix of arcade-like movement and maps designed for loads of verticality mixes well with the tactical elements of objectives and the need to take down any Titans that are out to ruin your day. I can see this becoming one of those games that rewards team work over playing like a lone wolf, but then again, any especially skilled players in a Titan are going to put an instant damper on the opposing team’s progress.