Preview: Titanfall

With the recent announcement of an open beta for all Xbox One and most PC users, the hotly anticipated first person shooter slash mech warfare title Titanfall has opened the floodgates to a huge community of voracious fans that have been anticipating the debut game of developer Respawn Entertainment. Formed largely by veterans of the Call of Duty series, Respawn has taken an ambitious creative leap in moving away from their team members’ core experiences on modern day shooters to create a new future universe which blends conceptually fantastic weapons, new modes of travel (double jumping parkour!), the namesake Titan combat battle suits and more.

Now that we have access to the beta of Titanfall, let’s discuss the features being demonstrated (and in some cases, how they have evolved since the early game convention demos):

 

Weapons: The standard assault rifle, sidearm pistol and shotgun are present in the beta, but there are a slew of new guns that fit every preferred play style. A smart pistol can lock on to targets with homing bullets that take a few to kill an enemy, while a data knife can be used for hacking artificial intelligence spectre soldiers to join your pilot and wedge as a hold from a wall while running or jumping against a higher surface. Titans have an assault and heavy rifle, but also more interesting choices such as a quad rocket gun designed specifically to take out other Titans on the field of battle. The preview trailers have revealed other interesting weapons such as arc energy guns, and the Titan suits can also punch up close as well as directly rip through a cockpit to snare enemy pilots.

Travel: Titanfall does something that will likely become standard in many subsequent games in offering a set range of regular console sprinting (click and hold the left stick down while moving), automatically sprinting at all times or a delayed mode where a directional movement starts at a regular speed and toggles to sprinting after approximately a second. Every pilot is equipped with a default jump pack that enables double jumps to reach higher points, but also to sprint along services parkour style to reach higher vantage points and build up speed while traversing the level on foot. In a game focused on combat, it is remarkable that Titanfall has grasped the obscure challenge of first person free running and delivered the best experience of that kind in any game (yes, including Mirror’s Edge). It takes some getting used to, but the speed and freedom of travelling in this game is extremely hard to regress from in more traditional shooters.

Titans: The beta only provides access to the standard issue Atlas, the balanced Titan that strikes a balance between durability and speed. It serves as a chassis to load an assortment of weapons (described above) as well as abilities such as a vortex shield to catch and return projectile weapons, a smoke screen for camouflage and lateral jump jets to quickly accelerate or dodge in any direction.

Additional Features: But wait, there’s more! The 6 versus 6 combat arenas are supplemented by a steady stream of computer controlled Grunts and Spectre fighters akin to creeps from DOTA or League of Legends, who have surprisingly adept artificial intelligence: I was astounded to view a grunt pull his fallen counterpart behind cover in an attempt to save his life. Combatants are equipped with single consumable use Burn Cards for a myriad of bonuses such as starting a Titan with a damage core or an individual use of a specially boosted Sidewinder weapon for their pilot. It’s a fresh, challenging new take on the now standardized perk system from Call of Duty, and adds an additional degree of unpredictability even between spawns during a round of combat. Last but not least, a defeated team has an additional opportunity to earn some points by reaching a designated escape point, which the victorious team has a chance to shoot down and doom all pilots inside. I have already experienced both a last second escape while furiously double jumping up the stairs as well as a last second escape dropship destruction using my 40mm Titan heavy rifle, and both experiences are incredibly satisfying.

 

From what Respawn Entertainment has shown in playable versions and video content, Titanfall is the most ambitious new first person shooter series since Unreal Tournament took PC gaming by storm over a decade ago. By combining a wide variety of fresh, new ideas with the development and gameplay expertise honed over many installments of Call of Duty, the team at Respawn look set to deliver the first truly must-have game of 2014 and the next (or now, current) console generation in Titanfall.

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