A Boy And His Bot
I want to preface this review with a confession. I wasn’t really enamored with the original Titanfall when it released back in 2014. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that developer Respawn’s debut title was one of my biggest disappointments of the year. That’s not to say I didn’t think the former Call of Duty developer’s shooter didn’t have promise. The fusion of parkour and mech-based gunplay was certainly fun on a primal level. However, as a guy who prefers a healthy dose of narrative to pair with my gunslinging, the game’s anemic single player experience and focus on online multiplayer just left me wanting more. I wanted to know more about the universe these skilled pilots inhabited and to dig deeper into the lore behind the war-ravaged frontier they called home.
Thankfully, it looks like the developer got the message. More than two years since the original game stomped onto the Xbox One and PC, Respawn has returned with one supercharged sequel that manages to deliver everything the original game was missing. The most notable of these additions comes in the form of a single player campaign that not only does a great job of adding some much needed context to the fight between the militia and the nefarious Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation, it also just so happens to feature the best campaign we’ve blasted our way through since id Software’s sensational Doom reboot released earlier this year.
Titanfall 2’s story puts players in the combat boots of rifleman Jack Cooper, a militia grunt with hopes of one day becoming an elite pilot. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Cooper to get his wish, though probably not quite with all of the pomp and fanfare he was hoping for. Moments into an assault on the IMC controlled stronghold of Typhon, Cooper’s mentor and militia pilot, Captain Lastimosa, is mortally wounded by a merciless group of mercenaries working for the IMC known as the Apex Predators. In his dying breath, Lastimosa assigns his damaged Vanguard-class Titan, BT-7274, to Cooper so that he can carry out their mission of investigating a strange relic known as the Ark which has the power to reduce entire planets to embers. Sure, wrestling a weapon of ultimate destuction from the hands of villains is a MacGuffin that’s been done countless times in sci-fi shooters, but it’s the interplay between the bond between a frontier boy and his bot that makes all of the difference here.
Clocking in at about 5 hours long, the game’s campaign is more than just a big budget shooting gallery. Sure, you’ll level entire planets, clash with heavily-armed soldiers of fortune, and rack up a body count well into the thousands before the credits roll, but it’s the relationship between Cooper and the towering Titan BT that takes center stage here. The chemistry between your pilot and his mechanical ally is easily one of the most heartwarming cases of digital camaraderie I’ve seen in ages. BT is gruff, logical, and completely deadpan in his delivery, which works to great comedic effect when paired with Cooper’s abundant use of colloquialisms that soar over the head of his AI companion. That’s not to say it’s all fun and games with this odd couple. In fact, there are more so many heartwarming and tragic moments shared between this dynamic duo that had me caring more for the game’s starring Titan than I have many organic lifeforms in other titles. This is thanks in no small part to Titanfall 2’s masterful writing, that breathes plenty of life into both the game’s protagonists and the cast of ne’er-do-wells you’ll encounter throughout the story’s nine distinct chapters.
The scope of the campaign is nothing short of spectacular, too. One mission places you aboard a militia gunship as you’re chasing a powerful relic in a low-altitude pursuit over a hostile planet. Moments into the mission, a flying Titan sends Cooper plummeting onto the fuselage of a nearby drop ship, forcing him to play an aerobatic game of leap frog through an entire convoy of craft bristling with grunts and weaponry to continue his pursuit. Another mission set in a ruined research facility gives players the ability to travel between the past and the present to creatively solve puzzles. Killing a solider in the past only to shift to the present day and see his skeletal, moldy remains at your feet where he fell is a brilliant sensation. These are just a few examples of Respawn’s razor-sharp focus on creating compelling worlds to explore that manage to tower leagues above the competition in terms of both execution and presentation. The way the studio has managed to perfectly couple white-knuckle gunplay with tense platforming is really without compare. The only real downside is that at just five hours the main campaign is a fast burn. And while the conclusion sets the stage for a sequel, you’ll likely still be left craving more. But given the numerous difficulty modes to conquer and collectibles to uncover, there’s still enough here for completionists to warrant a second playthrough.
When it comes to presentation, Titanfall 2 really manages to raise the bar for the first person shooter genre. Each area is simply massive and is brought to life with impressive lighting effects and stunning vistas that will leave your jaw on the floor. Small flourishes, like the lifelike flicking of BT’s clicking actuators and hissing hydraulics as he lumbers around the screen to the lifelike way Typhon’s hostile wildlife scurry about the wilderness do a stellar job of pulling you into the experience. The game also manages to run at a solid 60 frames per second even during skirmishes where numerous Titans, ground troops, and explosions fill the screen. Simply put, you won’t find much room to knock Titanfall 2 when it comes to its meticulously crafted aesthetics and smooth performance.
As good as the game looks, Titanfall 2 is no slouch in the audio department either. Composer Stephen Barton’s score soars over the on-screen mayhem. Each stage is filled with breathtaking orchestral compositions that fit each scene like a well-worn glove, perfectly capturing the moment-to-moment action. And as great as the music is, the satisfying cacophony gunshots and explosions that accompany your burgeoning arsenal is so convincing that you’ll swear you smell gun smoke.
Of course, multiplayer is a huge part of the equation for fans of the series, and Respawn has once again managed to hit the mark with Titanfall 2’s online component. There’s a wealth of modes to master here, with the standouts being Amped Hardpoint and the new Bounty Hunt. Amped Hardpoint is essentially domination, with players compete to control various objectives on the map. Capturing a node will turn it to your favor, and staying longer will “amp” it, insulating the node from capture while providing a heftier score payout. As someone who generally gets slaughtered in the more fast-paced modes, I’m a big fan of digging in my heels and defending the waypoints in this revamped take on the classic Hardpoint formula, and the methodical pace is a nice alternative to the more frantic game types found in Titanfall 2’s package. Bounty Hunt puts a fresh spin on the classic Attrition mode by making the player bank the cash they’ve earned before getting killed in-between waves. This smart mechanic forces players to play defensively or risk losing a huge payout, as a hotheaded approach or hoarding your spoils can often lead to a humiliating defeat.
The rest of the modes are pretty straightforward, but no less enjoyable. There’s a Titan-less Pilot-vs.-pilot mode, Team Deathmatch, and a Free-For-All Mode that is just as chaotic as you’d expect. There’s also Last Titan Standing, which gives every team member a Titan right from the start, with the first team to lose all of their Titans being declared the loser. These modes feel a bit more mindless than the rest of what’s on offer, but they still do a good job of scratching that primal shooter itch when you’re simply craving something to blast to smithereens.
While some of these modes doubtlessly have longer legs than others, each of the six multiplayer game types is enjoyable in its own right. And the variety of weapons and Boosters you unlock as your character climbs through the ranks makes reaping the rewards of these online shootouts immensely satisfying. To top it off, the matchmaking on the Xbox One build we reviewed was seamless, making it incredibly easy to find a lobby for each game type and jump into the action. Even better, any perceptible lag was nonexistent, which is no big surprise considering the team’s pedigree as the masters of the multiplayer shooter.
To be perfectly candid, I didn’t expect to be floored by Titanfall 2. Given publisher EA’s relative radio silence on this title and my personal lack of enthusiasm for the original game, I went into this titanic sequel hoping for the best but honestly expecting more of the same. That said, I can’t think of the last time I was so eager to eat some crow with a side of humble pie, because Titanfall 2 is a shooter that defies all expectations. Developer Respawn Entertainment has crafted a nearly flawless campaign that’s full of heart and adrenaline-pumping thrills that easily gives some of the best shooters in recent years a run for their money. And though the single player component steals the show, the game’s online offerings prove to be just as top-notch as you could hope for, refining old modes and introducing new ones that will get their hooks in you for months to come. While Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is still over a week away, it’s looking like Titanfall 2 just may be 2016’s shooter to beat.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Xbox One (reviewed), Playstation 4, PC ; Publisher: Electronic Arts ; Developer: Respawn Entertainment ; Players: 1-16 ; Released: October 28, 2016 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $59.99
This review is based on a retail version of Titanfall 2 purchased by Hey Poor Player