I got into Titanfall pretty late. As in, “all the DLC was out, and the thing was on EA Access” kind of late. Yet all the time I sunk into it last year managed to grab me. Even after the initial rush, Respawn’s arena shooter had enough depth and variety for me to find some legitimate excitement in. The basic concept of Call of Duty-lite, but with parkour and robots, went a long way. Despite some pretty noticeable graphical limitations, the gameplay carried it into being how I spent a good portion of last summer.
Needless to say, I was excited to get my hands on the follow-up this past weekend during the Tech Test on PlayStation 4. From the looks of what was shown at E3, Titanfall 2 was on its way to greatness. With new mechanics, a story mode, and a promise of tightened gameplay, it was an instant sell for me. But after getting my hands on the alpha build, I’m a bit more apprehensive. While Respawn Entertainment has delivered what people expected, they’ve also sort of mixed up the formula in a way I’m concerned about.
That isn’t to say that what I’ve played of Titanfall 2 was bad. Not anything close, even. The basic mechanics are as sound as ever. It’s clearly a game made by people who love shooters, both from a designer and player standpoint. Every weapon, from a Spartan Laser-esque sniper rifle to a super-accurate SMG, has a certain heft and feel to it that makes it fun to wield. The controls, and what you can do with them, are oriented in a way that encourages fast, twitchy gameplay, and split-second decisions. This is aided by the series’ signature parkour, which is as fluid and fun as the last game.
It’s when Titanfall 2 started messing with things, though, that it started losing me. For starters, your rocket-assisted slide doesn’t function the same anymore. This go-around, its trajectory and range is reliant on slope. Try to slide up a paved hill, and you’ll grind to a halt; slide down through a muddy cave, and you’ll go several yards. It’s a neat idea, sure, but its execution feels a bit sloppy. I could never get a great feel for how sloped something had to be to propel or stop me. Furthermore, not having a set distance for the slide adds a degree of strategy that I don’t think fits.
Some of the new mechanics in Titanfall 2 also didn’t stick with me. Most notably, the much-hyped grappling hook failed to impress. Frankly, the physics behind it are kind of wonky and counterintuitive. The line gets snagged on scenery in ways that it shouldn’t, and perfectly planned jumps are jeopardized by the line yanking me in a confusing direction. Maybe I’m just awful with it, but it really didn’t feel like a fleshed out mechanic. The limited usage doesn’t help either, and I’m also liable to say a lot of other players agree, as I barely saw people using it.
I found much more success with a class that swapped out the grapple for high-powered dagger. That was when I felt like I was back in the saddle, so to speak. But then, the maps were something I had to contend with. The two included in the alpha, “Boomtown” and “Homestead”, felt sort of same-y. An introductory video insisted that the two were oh-so-different, but I just wasn’t seeing it. Both had dilapidated buildings and plant overgrowth, with a similar grey sky hanging above, and practically the same color palette covering it all. Of course, it’s unfair to judge a game by two maps, so I’ll wait until the final product to comment on that front. Still, it’s disappointing that the two I played are a blur in my mind. Distinctive maps were such a big part of what made Titanfall work, and I hope that carries over to its sequel.
The modes I tried out in this build were Pilot Versus Pilot and Bounty Hunter. That latter mode brought some really interesting and compelling things to the table. It incentivizes taking out waves of enemy grunts to wrack up kills. Once you’ve done that long enough, you have to contend with a “bounty Titan,” which your whole squad works to take down in order to insure victory. Both teams race to take out the grunts and Titans, and whoever has the highest score wins. It’s half deathmatch, half score attack, and all-in-all, a fun addition. I’m usually one to just stick to vanilla Free-For-All and Team Deathmatch modes, but I’ll definitely put some time into Bounty Hunt when Titanfall 2 launches.
Ultimately, I came away from my time with this build of Titanfall 2 with mixed feelings. There’s no one way around it – I really don’t like the grappling mechanic, the tweaks to the slide throw me off, and the two maps were pretty unmemorable. Yet the core gameplay is still compelling, and Titans are still lumbering forces to be reckoned with. Respawn’s given me a lot of what I loved about their first game, but thrown on some mechanics that I feel pretty ambivalent about. Furthermore, I’m afraid that the same-y maps could be reflective of the finished product having an indistinct, uniform sort of feel.
But a few modes and two maps aren’t enough to make a judgement call. Despite some apprehensions, I’ll give Titanfall 2 the benefit of the doubt come this October.