Titanfall 2 is the best robot shooting game of all time. It might even be the best shooting game of all time. Up until now, I would have awarded those accolades to either Binary Domain or Vanquish.
Binary Domain was a clever exercise in shooting robots. Every encounter was a puzzle, and every solution was guns, but the satisfying impact of bullet on metal and the myriad possibilities for dealing with different arrangements of enemy robots kept it engaging from start to finish. This was combined with a great story that asked not just if the player can shoot all the robots, but if they should.
Vanquish was more interested in Hollywood blockbuster thrills, with cheesy dialogue and shiny, solid visuals. The enemy robots and the configurations they came in weren’t as interesting or well thought-out as in Binary Domain, but the mechanics and controls were built around phenomenal movement. The player was rewarded for constantly moving and engaging, and the moves all felt effortlessly cool.
Titanfall 2 represents the best of both worlds, with a story that’s full of heart even as dumb heroics and over-the-top action pound you into submission. Levels are full of interesting mechanics, and are built around a player character that can make use of all three dimensions.
All of this, of course, is built on top of the foundation of the multiplayer game which remains as fantastic as it ever was. The original Titanfall built up a following despite featuring no singleplayer campaign at all and when Titanfall 2 was initially teased, many people felt it didn’t need one.
Firing it up for the first time, it feels much as one would imagine it to. Excellent, but fairly standard, run and gun gameplay with level design that uses the series’ freedom of movement to provide many ways to approach each gunfight.
Every new moment of gameplay finds a way to surprise you. The first level loops cleverly around on itself to avoid backtracking. The Titan, BT-7274, is integrated excellently into the on-foot combat. The game paces it just right between sections where the player is separated from him and ones where they can team up.
It doesn’t stop there. After proving they can create one of the most competent shooters ever, Respawn push the boundaries with each new level. Rather than being afterthoughts, each clever gameplay mechanic from the multiplayer is worked brilliantly into the campaign. The wall-running mechanics are utilised in fantastic platforming puzzles, which challenge the mind without relying on fiddly controls, and are called into play for levels where the whole world tilts around the player.
Weapons and gizmos familiar to players are combined with cool new bits and bobs, leading to time-bending stealth and a section with a hacking gun that manages to feel fresh and fun. The Titans themselves are a constant source of joy, be it the budding friendship between BT and Cooper, the player characters, or the assortment of boss battles against mercenaries in unique Titans.
These fights, which punctuate the game fairly steadily, are real highlights. In what could have been a dull tutorial in the game’s multiple Titan classes is instead a parade of hilarious action movie stereotype send-ups.
Much has been said of Richter and the voice actor’s Schwarzenegger impression, but he rubs shoulders with a creepy AI and a kick-ass British lass who makes Tracer feel culturally sensitive. A personal favourite is the fighter pilot straight out of Top Gun, mixing generic dogfight phrases with cheesy lines like “You’ll have to be faster than that, son. Speed is life.”
With this parade of goofy villains, you can tell Respawn are in on the joke. At the same time, it’s no coincidence they call to mind the action movie greats. The difference between the true greats, like Die Hard and Terminator 2, and throwaway popcorn cinema is the editing. You know exactly what John McClane is up against, and you’re with him as he comes up with his schemes and stunts to pull through. In T2, all the action is derived from the actions and interactions of the characters. You’re always as aware of what’s happening as the cast, and this keeps you grounded with them and worried for them.
This is a game with no fluff. The story can be played through in a day, but you’ll be on the edge of your seat the whole time. While linear overall, the levels are built out of scenarios, which can be experimented and played with. Enemies don’t just pour in endlessly until you walk over an invisible checkpoint, but instead are a tangible threat which can be dealt with intelligently. It’s always a good sign when a game gives me a loadout that works but I prefer to swap and change and experiment anyway.
The comparison to T2 is apt for other reasons. The best action is the action you care about, and just like in that film Titanfall 2 is built around a genuinely cute little relationship between man and machine. The big story beats can be seen a mile away, but the little touches along the way are what make it. Tiny animations and spots of inter-character banter made me care what happened to these two, who might have just been generic white man with stubble #127 and his car in the wrong hands.
The larger story is admittedly fairly generic, with the faceless bureaucrats of the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation fighting the brave militia of the frontier. It does raise some interesting parallels with history, reminding me a little of the capitalistic tyranny of the East India Trading Company. If there was ever a good time to tell a story where the villains represent British foreign policy and big business, it’s now.
Brilliant though the campaign is, it isn’t very long. It left me wanting more, which is definitely preferable to outstaying its welcome, but alone this escapade wouldn’t justify the price tag. Thankfully, the multiplayer is back and better than ever.
Titanfall is the only online shooter I’ve ever gotten into, barring Splatoon, and the appeal comes from no two games ever being the same. The levels are built so smartly, climbing up and dropping down, twisting around and through themselves so action is never constrained to one plane. Every second is filled with fun interactions, from picking off grunts and tense duels with other players to basic traversal.
Some innovations from the first game, like the burn cards, have been simplified. One boost can be equipped at a time now, and Titanfall itself has lost the timer and become something more akin to killstreak rewards in COD. Overall, it didn’t take a couple of games before I forgot all about what was missing and was able to concentrate on the sheer joy of interaction.
Moment to moment gameplay is as sumptuous as it ever was, if not better. The array of weapons on offer all have a heft and thrill to their use, and are balanced for a range of styles. The grunts who fill the battlefield have their numbers bolstered by a few interesting additions. New Titan classes add some more variety to the mech combat. Most excitingly, the parkour movement has been added to with gadgets like a grappling hook, which can feel almost Attack On Titan-esque in execution.
Titanfall 2 is a blast to play. I normally find myself shot to death by someone I never even saw when I play online, but the infinite escape routes and kinetics of combat avoid that here. The Titans can feel unbeatable at times, empowering at others. Everything is clicked together perfectly by masters of the craft.
Despite all this, despite being one of the best shooters I can remember playing and gathering a similar response from pundits all over the internet, Titanfall 2’s sales have dropped faster than one of the titular mechs. Callously left to die in a release window between Battlefield and Call of Duty, it’s already being dropped to £20 or so a month out from launch. You owe it to yourself, and the future of games, to buy a copy. This is a game that already captures the spirits of Binary Domain and Vanquish, don’t let it suffer their fate as well.
Sometimes, from the way I harp on about Life is Strange, Brothers or Her Story, I might come across as someone who doesn’t like violence and shooting, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. I saw all four Transformers films multiple times at the cinema. I love Halo so much I’ve been crowned the Master Cheese by Dominos. I like shooting- but I like good shooting. Shooting waves of foreigners as they pop up from cover doesn’t do it for me year in, year out. But give me something inventive, meticulously put together and hugely generous like Titanfall 2 and I’ll be there with bells on.
By Luke Summerhayes