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.
Preview: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Warcraft is an interesting franchise for Blizzard Entertainment, in that it seems to be the original entry in almost every genre that they expand into (sadly, Blackthorne and their DC Comics related games did not spawn more platformers). From the original Warcraft: Orcs and Humans marking their debut in strategy games to World of Warcraft becoming a massively multiplayer online gaming sensation (as well as the unreleased Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans which was poised to bring Blizzard into the adventure gaming space), the fantasy universe has brought the developer to the forefront of the gaming industry with its blend of rock solid gameplay, wit and rich narrative universe. What has historically united the disparate Warcraft entries are their scope as games about epic journeys by larger than life heroes and villains in a battle for the fate of their respective worlds.
As a result, the latest genre foray by Blizzard into the online collectible card game market has been surprising to say the least. It is a space with few entrants but also a dominant player in Magic: The Gathering by Wizards of the Coast which has established itself as the preeminent developer of fantasy card games for adults (as CCGs such as Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh are designed for a very different audience). Built by a team that at one point comprised only 7 team members, Hearthstone is an attempt by Blizzard to combine their rich fantasy narrative with a faster, simpler set of collectible card game mechanics that feels fun and fast paced.
The game breaks down into a 1 on 1 duel between 2 players that stands out by streamlining the main combat mechanics down to allowing attacks against whoever and whatever you want (with the exception of creatures empowered with the Taunt ability). Every hero and creature on a given side can attack any of their counterparts on the opposing side, facilitating a focus fire style attack that progresses through games much faster than games such as Magic: Duel of the Planeswalkers. Hearthstone also stands out by simplifying the resource management into a standard increment every turn with an eventual 10 slot cap that prevents mana/land/other resource cards from becoming a distraction from the myriad of creatures, spells and artifacts in the various decks. Each hero character has their own set of base and advanced cards that can be earned by completing battles, as well as an online store that sells packs either with in-game gold or real money purchases. Blizzard does a good job of keeping the new cards flowing to players who wish to avoid micro transactions with a steady stream of daily challenges as well as the option to dispel unwanted cards into dust to be converted towards more packs.
The game is designed around rapid fire decisions and short sessions per game, which can easily be played around other experiences: a growing number of casual and professional game streamers will play a quick round of Hearthstone while their other featured game is loading between matches. With plans to release mobile and tablet versions as well, the game has an opportunity to proliferate very rapidly and bring a lot of new fans into the Warcraft universe (and by extension, the rest of Blizzard’s library of games).
Maybe it shouldn’t work…but it works. Hearthstone is a fun, fast and fresh take on an addictive genre that has an opportunity to turn its fresh genre updates and a broad platform launch strategy into becoming the next massive hit for Blizzard and their legion of fans.