It’s Raining War Machines: My experience with Titanfall

I’m not an especially seasoned FPS-player. I’ve played a lot of shooters overall, even enjoyed a lot of them, but in essence, a first-person shooter is a near-perfect opposite of my game of choice: the experience leans on reflexes, intuition and precision in your actions, while I usually prefer games such as turn-based strategy or tactics games where you have all the time in the world to plan out your next move, and if you fail, it is not because you were too slow or clicked in the wrong spot (usually), but because your more or less carefully developed plan didn’t work out. Despite this, I’ve come to love Titanfall in the brief time I’ve been playing it.

I bought a new PC just recently, and I felt like I needed a new game to try out its capabilities in terms of game graphics, so I landed on Titanfall. I didn’t really expect to get too much into it, but right from my first Attrition match, I felt like I didn’t want to stop playing. I found the game was really easy to get into, even for one such as myself who doesn’t play shooters a whole lot. And I have to say, Titanfall differentiates itself from other shooters I’ve played in a variety of ways.

It has been said that Titanfall is essentially “Call of Duty with mechs”. The general opinion is that such a description is far from accurate, but myself, I believe it’s an entirely mistaken statement. After only a few matches, I realized it was not the Titans that set the game aside from others in terms of gameplay – it was the Pilots.

When you really get into it, you’ll notice that when controlling a Titan, the gameplay is the as close to “traditional” FPS games as this game gets: Titans aren’t awkward and clumsy, but actually quite intuitive in their movements, and their only definitive restriction is that they only move in two dimensions, as they cannot jump or otherwise traverse vertically. This basically corresponds to most shooters – sure you can jump, but it doesn’t usually grant all that much in terms of accessing areas or such. Most of the abilities accessible to the Titans are also nothing new – there have been force fields and rocket volleys in games before.

The Pilots, however, make the gameplay feel special, in that they can practically go anywhere. Not only can they jump (and double-jump) to reach hard-to-access areas, but they can cover great distances of challenging terrain by wall-running. When controlling a Pilot, you don’t often get the feeling of “you can’t go there”. The freedom of movement feels spectacular in a game like this – in fact, I find myself leaving my Titan on autopilot just so I don’t have to constrict my movement by embarking one.

But this definitely does not mean that the Titans are obsolete, or more hype than they’re worth. Even if you don’t pilot one yourself, they make the game much more exciting by providing a layer of drama into a match: Right from the start, you find yourself checking your own Titanfall timer and estimating when it will start raining war machines. And when it does, gameplay changes noticeably.

However, one of the most impressive features of the game is the balance between Titans and Pilots. While the lumbering mechs invoke a certain sense of urgency and “raised stakes”, it doesn’t take a coordinated full squad assault to fell one. It doesn’t make you feel desperate (in comparison to Natural Selection II‘s Onos, for example), but rather empowers you with a feeling of “it can be done” – even if it’s just you, a Pilot, against it, a Titan.

The Titan’s massive size, armor and firepower easily outpower a Pilot, but a Titan will find it hard to keep up with a skilled Pilot’s fluid free-form movement. The fact that the developer has accomplished this in a fun way without making the Titans feel clumsy and unwieldy is fantastic – it is fun to play either way, and both a Pilot and a Titan feel equally formidable. A game like this really benefits from such a balance – for a different experience, I’m really looking forward to the 4-on-1 action of the upcoming Evolve. And you should too.

Aside from gameplay, Titanfall is fun to play because it has a general sense of low pressure, and it tracks statistics individually. Being on the losing team does not hinder the evolution of your character, and the “evacuation” post-game after a match effectively eliminates the feeling of dissatisfaction upon losing a game. Furthermore, so far I’ve only run into one player who called people names or otherwise behaved badly, so the player base seems decent enough – an important factor in any solely multiplayer game, albeit practically entirely out of the hands of the developers.

Since I’m not a shooter specialist, it may not amount to much, but I have to say Titanfall is probably the best multiplayer FPS I’ve played – at least it somehow fits into my tastes. And I love the fact that in comparison to most games I play, you can play it for just 15 minutes if that’s all the downtime you have (Have you ever tried playing Civilization for a “while”?) I just wish it catered more to my vanity in the form of appearance customization. I know it doesn’t make a difference as far as gameplay is concerned, but I always crave immersion and personalization.

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