Titanfall 2: Angel City Map (Xbox One) Review

Titanfall 2: Angel City Map (Xbox One) Review

I feel like Titanfall finally established its universe. It’s weird that it took a DLC map to do it, but the once-pointless universe has now come full circle. In the beginning, the series was kind of a mess. There was one faction fighting another, and mechs were involved — that’s about the extent of how far the exposition went, and within mere weeks of its launch, I forgot about nearly every named character or organization. But with Titanfall 2, we’re promptly reminded of the worldbuilding efforts, augmented by a decent and well-paced campaign.

But it wasn’t until I played Angel City that everything came together. While most players would groan at the prospect of bringing back a “fan favorite map” (Activision frequently does this for Call of Duty, and charges $15 for the privilege), Respawn, and by extension, EA, are doing this right. Angel City is part of Titanfall 2‘s free DLC program, and although a cosmetic microtransaction store accompanies it, free is free.

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If this is any indication of what maps in the future might be like too, the game is in good hands. Angel City is a wonderful outdoor map with plenty of buildings to duck into, providing sufficient cover from enemy Titans, but roadside battles and rooftop skirmishes are completely possible too. It’s perfect for hardpoint, as each section feels isolated, leading to some intense on-the-point battles. I’ve been spamming the “Angel City 24/7” playlist nonstop this past week enjoying it much more than I thought I would, and the layout is conducive to all sorts of different loadouts.

If you haven’t bought into Titanfall 2 yet, it’s worth a look. Respawn kind of dug their own grave hyping up a completely new IP with basically no backstory – which resulted in ghost town servers very quickly – but the sequel shows a level of polish that benefits from an IP that’s incubated for years. I hope this one doesn’t meet the same fate, especially with its plan to inject more free content down the line.

Titanfall 2 (PlayStation 4) Review

Titanfall 2 (PlayStation 4) Review

Try to remember what it was like in 2014. Robin Williams passed away, the Ebola virus became a global epidemic, Cuba and the United States made up, Malaysian aircraft kept disappearing, and a marketing campaign made people think that Titanfall was going to be the best thing since penicillin. Fast forward to today and we finally have a Titanfall game that is worth playing, but after the realities of the first game, is anyone still interested?

Titanfall 2 (PlayStation 4) Review 3I hope some people are willing to keep an open mind, because Respawn Entertainment tried to address every complaint about the original when they made Titanfall 2. They changed so much that the biggest issue with the original Titanfall is now the biggest reason to play the sequel. Of course I am talking about the brief radio messages that made up Titanfall’s single-player campaign, for which, I think we can all agree, using the word “campaign”  is being particularly generous.

This time those brief messages have been replaced with something you can actually call a single-player campaign.It is not, however, what you would expect from a triple-A narrative. Imagine a collection of the greatest set pieces you can think of for a first person shooter with giant robots and wall-running. Connect those set pieces with a disjointed-feeling story, and you have the campaign of Titanfall 2. I hope that doesn’t give you a bad impression of the campaign. Yes the game could use a little work in the story telling department, but you won’t care once you get to the really good stuff.

I won’t spoil anything for you, since the campaign is why you should show up for Titanfall 2; however, I would like to offer a few examples. It should come as no surprise that the majority of the first level is a series of jumping puzzles meant to teach you how to maneuver your character. Later in Titanfall 2 there are similar puzzles, but Respawn ratchets up the difficulty since you’re more experienced by then. I would say that you spend the majority of your time outside of the robot, but some levels are all out titan brawls with no reason to go on foot.

Titanfall 2 (PlayStation 4) Review 9Some levels also include mechanics that no one would have expected in a shooter. The most unique mechanic in Titanfall 2 allows you to jump between two dimensions that have different paths you can traverse. The different dimensions also have different opponent A.I.s in them, and switching between the dimensions usually allows you to run away when overpowered. That said, the amazing thing about this level is how the two dimensions are entangled. I was able to manipulate items in one dimension and my interference caused them to change in the other. It’s a neat trick that doesn’t always work perfectly, and thus breaks the immersion on occasion, but I was so enthralled that I sat in one room testing out the causality of my actions for ten minutes. Titanfall 2 even avoids the issue that many people had with the original Mirror’s Edge by just showing you where to go. At the start of every platforming puzzle is a hologram that will show you how to proceed if you get lost.

Titanfall 2 (PlayStation 4) Review 4If pressed I would say that I have three complaints about Titanfall 2’s campaign, and the big one it is that it is short. I completed the campaign in a single sitting on the regular difficulty. To make matters worse, the very end of the story is rather boring. The campaign of Titanfall 2 is all about the journey, but the destination feels a little lackluster for a campaign that pulled out all the stops. It’s less important, but I also have an issue with how your player character, a titan pilot named Jack Cooper, is treated. Before the game starts, you watch a cinematic that explains that titan pilots are the Halo Spartans/Space Marines/Destiny Guardians of this franchise. One of them is worth 20 regular men, but that idea comes off as being a little disingenuous when the main theme of the story is that you are a fish out of water. If the jet pack strapped to my butt really makes me that deadly, then stop building titans and make butt jet packs for everyone. Three-dimensional maneuverability really is the only difference between the pinnacle and gutter of Titanfall society. Yes, I know this comes off as nitpicking, but the way everyone worships your pilot is a little silly.

The other half of Titanfall 2, the multiplayer, is just as strong as the campaign. Since it is brought to you by the developers who revolutionized Call of Duty, expect a lot of similarities between Titanfall and Call of Duty. In both games you move around fast, die in only a few hits, and unlock your equipment through gameplay. Also, in both games your gear is divided up among various classes of items with different abilities (rifles, machine guns, shotguns, etc.). On top of that, Titanfall also adds the ability to wall-run, double jump, and call down the robots that give the game its name.

Titanfall 2 (PlayStation 4) Review 6The strange thing about the multiplayer modes is that you can’t play as your campaign titan, and the way you interact with titans is very different than it is in the campaign. I once commented that the titans in the original Titanfall felt like bigger versions of your player-controlled pilot, and that titans really didn’t affect gameplay that much. This time around the titans feel like a crucial part of the game, but that’s mostly due to a new dynamic between the pilots and titans. In multiplayer, every titan drops with a single battery that you can steal when you’re not in a titan. Once you have the battery, it can be placed inside any titan on your team. The stolen battery then gives that titan a shield, and now it can take far more damage than other titans. This means that success is no longer the domain of the team with the best set of digital trading cards, especially since the digital trading cards from the original Titanfall are not in this sequel. Instead, the victorious team is usually the one that works together to steal batteries while also completing various other tasks. This new symbiotic relationship really does change how you approach the multiplayer modes by forcing you to employ some sort of strategy if you want to win.

Titanfall 2 (PlayStation 4) Review 5Strategy is something you will have to consider every time you make a decision in Titanfall 2. Even the titan you call down will affect the flow of a match. Titanfall 2 offers up six different multiplayer titans with different skillsets. You can also think of them as the rifleman, scout, support and the other classes that most first person shooters use. As with those classes, Titanfall 2 forces you to learn the capabilities of every titan to succeed. Would you rush a distant sniper’s nest with a sub-machine gun? That’s a bad strategy, but the same level of thinking is applied to the titans. The Ironman chest laser of the Ion titan might be your favorite thing in the game, but it won’t do you any good if you try to fight in close quarters with the melee focused sword swinging Ronin titan.

Titanfall 2 (PlayStation 4) Review 7At every level, Titanfall 2 creates a meta-game of rock, paper, scissors that encourages you to consider the pros and cons of the equipment you take into the game. That meta-game is also why I can’t figure out how modes like pilot vs pilot or coliseum made it into the final product. Pilot vs pilot is exactly what you imagine and does not allow anyone to call down a robot to assist them. In coliseum you’re forced to take on another pilot by yourself. Neither of these modes allows the multi-layered gameplay mechanics to come into play. That’s probably why most people seem to play the bounty hunt mode. In that new mode you find yourself in a three-way fight between your team, an opponent team of real people, and another team of A.I. controlled NPCs. It creates a real cat and mouse game as everyone fights across each map to take down whatever NPC has a bounty on its head.

Titanfall 2 (PlayStation 4) Review 8Since it’s a Titanfall game, I wasn’t surprised to find long load times in the multiplayer modes (when compared to contemporary games); however, I was surprised to find that some of the equipment for each class/gun only unlocks once you’ve used it for a while. This is especially confusing when you realize that Titanfall 2 encourages a general understanding of all guns, maps, and titans. As a result I found myself using the same gun over and over again. The reason for this was simple; I had unlocked a lot of attachments for it. I could have tried another gun, but with no attachments unlocked I was only putting myself at a disadvantage.

In the end there isn’t that much in Titanfall 2 to criticize. It’s not a perfect game by any definition, but what game is? It’s also not a game that will convert random people into first person shooter fans. What you will find in this game is a series of shooting and platforming set pieces that will make you think, “Wow! I just did that? I am awesome, all hail me!” Those set pieces are accompanied by a multiplayer that is fast paced and cleverly designed. My recommendation is to pay the sticker price and enjoy the roller coaster ride.

Titanfall 2 Review Round-Up

Titanfall 2 Review Round-Up

Titanfall 2 is headed to retail shelves on Oct 28th, and the game’s reviews are already online. Developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by EA, Titanfall 2 follows in the wake of the original Titanfall, a first-person sci-fi mech shooter that introduced compelling hybrid multiplayer combat but saw mixed sales. So how is Titanfall 2 in comparison? Check out some of the top reviews below.

Read moreTitanfall 2 Review Round-Up

Titanfall 2 Tech Test Preview Didn’t (Grapple) Hook Me

Titanfall 2 Tech Test Preview Didn’t (Grapple) Hook Me

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.

Read moreTitanfall 2 Tech Test Preview Didn’t (Grapple) Hook Me

Giant Robots are Fun Again – Titanfall 2 Preview

Giant Robots are Fun Again - Titanfall 2 Preview

The original Titanfall only managed to hold my attention for about a week before I went back to playing the budget-price Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare that had released just before it. It wasn’t because Titanfall was a bad game, very much the opposite, but because it lacked enough content to keep players playing aside from the Call of Duty like unlocks and the prestige system. On top of that, the campaign was multiplayer only and could be completed in a few short hours and barely had a story.

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Thankfully the developers at Respawn Entertainment have answered every complaint I had with the original game while at the same time adding in a killer feature I didn’t know I wanted: grappling hooks. Want to get on top of a building? Hook it. Get to your titan quickly? Hook it. Get on top of an enemy’s titan? Hook it. I can’t stress how useful and fun using grappling hooks are in this game, but trust me when I say they are a huge game changer.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare players are already familiar with the grappling hooks as the Ascendance DLC added them into the game, but unlike those, the hooks in Titanfall 2 have you moving at a slower, steadier speed. Players that have mastered wall running and double jumping should be able to dominate people that heavily rely on hooking alone.

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You might expect grappling hooks to make it far too easy to take down player’s titans, but that wasn’t the case in my time with the game. Yes, you can use them to rodeo an enemy’s mech, but now you’re required to do so at least a few times to topple the giant walking machine. The first time you rodeo a titan, you’ll pull out its protective core, and the next time you’ll be putting a grenade in the hole where the core was previously. Even after two mounts titans can remain standing depending on the amount of damage they’ve taken.  The soldier versus titan gameplay feels a bit more balanced in comparison to the original, where skilled players could quickly take down titans without much fuss, yet it doesn’t make titans feel overpowered.

While I didn’t get hands-on time with it, Titanfall 2 features a full-length campaign that is single player only; an odd move after the original was multiplayer only. I expected the campaign to at least allow co-op, but that isn’t the case, as confirmed by an on-site developer.

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I went into my preview for Titanfall 2 not expecting to be impressed, and I left feeling like this is going to be the must-own shooter of the year and I can’t wait to get back to hooking when it releases in later this year.

Destiny’s Beta is a Smart Sales Pitch

Destiny’s Beta is a Smart Sales Pitch

Playable demos don’t seem to have the kind of popularity they used to. Maybe it’s the rise of easily accessible YouTube “Let’s Play” videos that are responsible for their decline. Maybe it’s due to internal marketing budgets and advertising plans that emphasize spreading the word about a studio’s new game through trailers and website banners. I can only theorize as to exactly what has caused the demo to lose prominence, but there is one thing I know for sure: they sure can be a fantastic way to sell a videogame.

I spent a handful of hours last weekend playing the Beta for Destiny, Bungie’s upcoming multiplayer shooter/role-playing game hybrid. If the description of the game I just wrote seems confusing it’s probably because there is no real way to communicate what Destiny is without either a whole lot of words or simply letting people try it for themselves. My impression of the game before playing the Beta—for all intents and purposes a demo—was that it wasn’t something I’d be interested in. I’m not a big fan of MMORPG or Borderlands-style RPG design and both of these genres have been the only real reference points for what Destiny is like. Saying that the game is similar to these games is fair enough; Destiny is very much a mash-up of MMO and RPG design styles and trying to describe it otherwise would require some pretty elaborate explanations. The only problem is that actually playing the game is different from what audiences would expect based on these very reasonable comparisons.

Even after watching a few gameplay videos I wasn’t prepared for Bungie’s latest to play the way it does. Aside from the numbers popping off damaged enemies and the social hub where players gather to upgrade gear and chat with others, Destiny is very much a traditional shooter. Running around the Old Russia level featured in the Beta, clearing roomfuls of enemies with guns and grenades, feels a lot like a well-honed version of, say, Call of Duty or Halo’s familiar mechanics. Even after upgrading the player character’s weapons and boosting their numerical values in proper RPG fashion, fighting through mobs of aliens is closer in feel to a shooter than anything else. To me, this is a good thing. The game’s marketing has been confusing, Bungie seemingly unsure of which aspects of the game to promote and how to go about explaining them. Getting a chance to experience firsthand how Destiny’s much talked-about RPG and MMO components blend with its shooting gameplay has made me interested in this game in a way that I wasn’t before—and I doubt I’m alone. Turns out that letting players just try the game for themselves can be the best advertising method of all.

“Demos—even when labelled as Betas—show a degree of confidence in a developer’s vision.”

If a game is good enough, the best way to pitch it to potential buyers may be the most obvious one: a playable demo. Demos—even when labelled as Betas—show a degree of confidence in a developer’s vision. They cut through the white noise of text previews and carefully edited trailers, allowing players to simply try the experience and see if they like it. Just like Destiny, Respawn Entertainment’s online shooter Titanfall wasn’t much more than a curiosity to me until it opened a limited-time Beta. I wouldn’t have bought Titanfall without having had a chance to double-jump and wall-run across its maps. It can be tough to communicate exactly why a game is fun and, in the case of Destiny and Titanfall, the best way to convince players that something is worth their time is to let them give it a shot. Developers who can spare the resources to make a demo available—and have a game they aren’t afraid to show off publicly—can benefit from doing so.

It seems a shame that now, in the age of digital distribution and widespread broadband connections, demos aren’t more common. It’s never been easier to provide access to samples of upcoming games and, as Destiny’s Beta shows, letting players have a chance to try an experience out can have a far greater effect than any number of non-interactive advertisements.

Titanfall Is No Revolution

Titanfall Is No Revolution

I thought Titanfall was going to be a bigger deal than it is. That’s on me. As much as I try to resist the promises of marketing and previews—knowing that reality is always less exciting than pre-release coverage makes it out to be—I’ll admit that I was under the impression that Respawn Entertainment’s debut shooter would be pretty revolutionary. Instead, Titanfall is nothing more than a really good game. That should be enough, but it’s still a little bit disappointing.

Multiplayer shooters have been stagnating for quite a while now. Since the innovations introduced by Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, nothing much has changed. The mechanics that Modern Warfare blended into otherwise traditional styles of play (like team death matches and capture the flag) fundamentally altered how people interacted with the game. Experience points, previously found almost exclusively in role-playing games, were tied into increasing skills (or “perks), unlocking new equipment, and customizing weapons. Rather than concentrate on improving their reflexes and enjoying each round of multiplayer competition for its own sake, players were given the overarching goal of levelling up their profile. After Modern Warfare’s release, these persistent RPG-style statistics became multiplayer staples. And they worked because a sense of progression keeps people invested—keeps them logging in and trying to get better at a game over a longer period of time than they may otherwise have committed to it. The only problem is that Call of Duty 4 came out in 2007 and since then nothing else has been able to introduce the kinds of innovations that made it such a landmark.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Titanfall seemed like it might have been this next step forward when it was first unveiled. Its developer is comprised of ex-Call of Duty designers, the same Modern Warfare veterans who shook up an entire style of gameplay seven years ago before moving on to start Respawn Entertainment. If any studio has the experience, talent, and willingness to revolutionize the online shooter, it’s Respawn. Titanfall, with its mixture of controllable mechs and free-running foot soldiers, looked like the perfect opportunity to make something truly different. Leading up to its release, I imagined it as a new kind of middle ground between Call of Duty’s snappy gunplay and Battlefield’s vehicular chaos. Moving around the map seemed like a joy in and of itself and air-dropping giant robots into the middle of combat seemed like the kind of wild card that would discourage traditional gameplay. Before actually playing it, Titanfall appeared to be the shot in the arm that competitive multiplayer has needed for years now.

The reality is pretty great, but not the watershed moment I was hoping for. Even though the novelty of Titanfall’s systems makes it far more exhilarating than the familiarity of better established multiplayer games, it’s also cut from the same cloth as its competition. Each match boils down to a race to kill opposing players as quickly as possible. Piloting a Titan, while offering a nice change of pace from on-foot movement, doesn’t feel much different from a slightly slower take on traditional first-person shooter mechanics. The online enabled campaign levels shuffle plot points and world-building exposition far to the side and comes off as a lazy afterthought instead of an intelligent redesign of traditional single-player story modes. Nothing reinvents the wheel here. That doesn’t make Titanfall a bad game by any means (I’m still having loads of fun with it), just one that is disappointing in the wider context of multiplayer videogames.

Titanfall
Titanfall

It leaves me wondering what kind of innovation is necessary to change the genre as profoundly as Modern Warfare did nearly a decade ago. Probably the most imaginative multiplayer mode in recent years has come from Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, a game that switches pace from frantic action to slower and more deliberate struggles for survival. But even this, a competitive option that does attempt to stand out from the crowd, hasn’t caught on in the same way that any Call of Duty has. I can’t predict what type of experience will be able to accomplish that feat, but it will probably be fast-paced, easy to learn, and difficult to master. This time last year I would have pegged Titanfall as the game that best looked to fit that particular bill. Now, I’m back to keeping my eyes open for the next likely candidate

Steve Fukuda Speaks Titanfall, It’s Done (For Now)

Steve Fukuda Speaks Titanfall, It’s Done (For Now)

As Creative Director for Respawn Entertainment, Steve Fukuda is a busy man.

The Canadian launch party for Titanfall was a typically jubilant affair, with excited fans thronging demo stations, typical hors d’oeuvres making the rounds, and the excited chatter of happy gamers mingling with the sounds of future-warfare emanating from demo pods around the venue. While this revelry is taking place, Fukuda is attending via Skype connection, holding interviews from a sparsely-decorated office in LA, the only noteworthy feature of which is the whiteboard behind him that bears a three-inch inscription: “It’s Done. (For Now)”.

Fukuda seems gratified by the warm critical reception to the game so far. He cites the ‘freshness’ as a product of their initial goal to avoid a lot of what other people were doing, which required a certain amount of ignoring the commonly held assumptions about multiplayer shooters and making the most fun game they could, designing through iteration to overcome the challenges that arose. “That process happened to work out, and people seem to be responding to that”.

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Titanfall originally started out with a specific plan, but the final product today represents a lot of experimentation. “A lot of us got caught up in the top-down aspect – the story, the universe, and contextual explanations for everything that’s possible in the game. After a while, we increasingly grew convinced that maybe we should go in the opposite direction, and we started exploring abstract gameplay concepts that were separate from the context.”

“It’s a tough shift to make – especially when your background is to make the most cinematic levels possible – suddenly you’re looking at coming up with a whole new kind of way to play the game. That mental shift was a big part of the process.”

Fukuda doesn’t go into specifics, but gives a hypothetical to underline his point. “Let’s say you want to make a superhero game. People will say ‘Superheroes? Jumping across buildings in a single bound? Running on walls? Sounds goofy.’ But don’t think about the concept – don’t worry about the guy in tights – just think about how fun it is to have that amount of movement freedom. That’s an example of how gameplay and concept can fight each other, but ultimately, gameplay has to win.”

“It was a long road, with a lot of iteration involved.” Early on, the AI drones that populate the arenas caused issues – “we had to make sure that the AI were no shooting you in the back when you were dealing with an enemy player.” Every possible variable in the game was subjected to revision and playtesting – “we particularly iterated on the motion model – running on walls, the double-jump height, reconciling that with the geometry of the levels, and the motions of the Titans. Even the dash ability of the Titans – how often and how fast you could move – all these were being tweaked constantly to make it fun.”

It’s bold that as a flagship-console title, Titanfall is multiplayer only. There was a desire to keep the team small, which necessitated a certain amount of focus, and there was a lot of friction within Respawn initially as the team members grappled to avoid doing the same old thing. Many of the team came from a singleplayer background, which generally calls on a different skillset.

“When you’re working on singleplayer games, you can lock yourself away in an office and work on your level to the exclusion of all other things” Fukuda explains. The multiplayer approach involves a lot of interlocking game mechanics – “even the scale of your geometry and things like that have an effect on everything else. Everyone else needs to be working in tandem to get the feel right, otherwise it’s going to cause problems. Working closely as a team was critical.”

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With no traditional campaign mode, Fukuda wanted to cater to the “things that people may take for granted in single player – that sense of visceralness, the cinematic action, and cinematically charged game mechanics”. This is the mentality that brought about the bespoke animations that trigger when a player enters a Titan. “We hand-crafted all these very specific animations for certain situations. Depending on your angle of approach you’ll enter the hatch differently, or you’ll get the fun stuff when piloting the Titan, like ripping out a pilot, squishing him in your hand, or crushing him against the wall depending on the conditions when you melee.”

As for what’s next for the team, it doesn’t sound as though they plan on sitting back and enjoying the fruits of a successful launch anytime soon. “Right now we’re looking at how the public is reacting, and what kind of crazy exploits are going to show up. We’re thinking about what we want out of the game based on player input, because we definitely want to support it going forward. We have a list of things that we want to tackle, and we’ll prioritize it based on the feedback”

I ask Fukuda what kind of design challenges or genres he’d like to tackle after Titanfall, and he gets quiet. “I haven’t really thought that far ahead. We’re a small team, and we’re still really excited about exploring the design space within Titanfall, so there are no plans yet”.

Done for now, indeed.