Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: October 27, 2016
Copy purchased (EA is scared of me)
May contain microtransactions
The first Titanfall was a legendary example of hype culture in action, a culture the game’s promotion went out of its way to embrace. An embarrassing IGN quote – “believe the hype” – was circulated by Electronic Arts itself, a testament to how games media and games marketing are often indistinguishable.
Titanfall itself was a pretty great game, but it could never live up to the ridiculously overblown expectations generated by publisher and press alike. Looking back, it’s mostly notorious for the quickness with which interest in the thing dropped post-launch. That’s a shame, because like I said, it was a good fun while anybody cared.
With Titanfall 2, Respawn hopes to retain investment not just in the multiplayer but the world built to house it. Now boasting a real narrative campaign as well as new ways of hooking online players, this is a sequel that truly does what it can address its predecessor’s failings while keeping all the enjoyable stuff.
What really shocked me about the campaign is how well crafted it turned out to be. It would have been easy for Respawn to simply cobble together a facsimile of the multiplayer experience and wrap a story around it, but the level design and directing showcases a genuine effort to produce a standout experience.
Titanfall 2‘s story is about the bond between a pilot and their Titan, which for the sequel runs much deeper than simply calling down a giant disposable robot. Apparently they can talk and have some semblance of feeling, as seen when our hero Cooper first becomes acquainted with his new robotic partner, the affably tone deaf BT.
Cooper and BT’s relationship is an archetypal one that goes back further than Flight of the Navigator as machine struggles to comprehend man’s sarcasm and emotional responses.
Much of the dialog between the two principle characters is trite – BT doesn’t get Cooper’s jokes, Cooper is put off by BT’s cold analytical approach, etcetera – but their personalities are likable enough to where it’s usually forgivable.
While much of the plot treads well-worn sci-fi ground (evil military corporations, destructive superweapons, you know the drill), the characters driving it and the stylish presentation do a fine job of covering up what could have been a yawnfest.
Its cadre of villains – a band of mercenaries working on behalf of the nefarious IMC – are surprisingly memorable even though they get criminally minimal screentime. From sadistic cyborgs to scene-chewing Schwarzenegger parodies, the Titan-riding Marauders are all fun to fight, and the way in which their leader’s arc resolves is strangely satisfying despite what some may consider a lack of payoff.
Nevertheless, much of the story is predictable, enough to where I was a little annoyed when the credits started rolling. I won’t spoil anything, but the most obvious thing to happen at the end happens, bold-faced and unashamed, in all its hackneyed glory. I’m sure many of you familiar with bromidic “AAA” game writing will guess it from miles away – and you’d be correct.
Sad really, because the whole thing is put together so well and it deserves more than shopworn mawkishness.
Rather than simply deliver big shooter arenas full of soldiers and robots, levels have been designed to make use of all that Titanfall provides. The campaign finds plenty of ways to separate Cooper and BT, which means it’s always a powerful reward when the two reunite and players get to stomp on everything.
While outside his robotic friend, Cooper navigates fantastically designed sections that make use of wallrunning, jumping, cloaking, and more to create a challenging game of environmental navigation as well as fast-paced shootouts. Just for the heck of it, time travel gets thrown as a temporary mechanic, because why not?
One standout stage takes place in a factory that’s building an entire new world from scratch. Full of moving platforms that shift and twist as they become prefabricated settlements, it’s truly creative and not something I’d have expected to see in a series that once considered a campaign completey nonessential.
While the campaign is shockingly good, the multiplayer holds up its end of the bargain admirably. Changes from Titanfall are subtle, especially if you abandoned the game a week in like most people, but some things have been reconfigured and expanded.
Character customization allows for a huge range of alterations, both functional and cosmetic. The card system of the last game is gone in favor of a more traditional upgrade structure, with weapons, mods, boosts, and Titans funneled to the player as they rank up. Almost everything available via ranking can also be obtained early with an in-game currency, though that currency isn’t generously awarded.
Despite the slow currency gain, unlocks are frequent thanks to the fast accumulation of XP-earning Merits per match, as well as the large number of gameplay challenges that award skins and modifications to weaponry.
Gameplay itself is the same fast-paced, parkour-infused pilot-on-pilot gunfire disrupted by the dropping of humongous mecha that can make mincemeat of regular soldier and get into brutal fights with their Titanic brethren. The contrast between the elegant, acrobatic pilot gameplay and the unpretty mess that is Titan combat works really well.
I can’t say I like the maps as much as the ones found in the original game. They’re alright, but they’re not quite as memorable as the alien deserts and destroyed cities of the last game.
There are some great game modes, with Bounty Hunt being the new hot flavor. This mode pits opposing teams against waves of CPU-controlled enemies, individual players earning cash every time they kill something. Between waves, the teams must bank their cash in one of two drop areas, and can steal money from opponents by gunning them down.
Titanfall 2 also retains epilogues, those post-match escapes where the losing team has to get to a dropship before the winners slaughter them all. While not a game changer, it was always a neat touch in Titanfall and I’m glad to see it return.
One-on-one fights are entered by spending the coliseum tickets that appear as random rewards. Victory in this single combat arena will net players a rare Advocate award. Advocate awards often contain the juiciest cosmetics, and can occasionally be earned outside of the Coliseum as players progress.
Efforts have been made to keep online combatants returning, with various joinable factions and even a “Happy Hour” that awards extra Merits for a limited time a day. Titanfall 2 borrows a few mobile gaming tricks to keep customers coming back, but not to an egregious degree.
Respawn has promised free maps in future – including a returning fan favorite – as well as DLC, but be aware that microtransactions may be coming. At this current time, there are stories claiming they’ve been confirmed and denied. Electronic Arts has started a new trend of adding them into games post-launch though, so be on the lookout for any fee-to-pay elements in future.
Currently, the game does not boast any, and works well enough without such grasping tactics.
Respawn’s roboticized sequel is gorgeous, perhaps moreso than Battlefield 1, with vivid environments and fantastic designs for Titans, pilot loadouts, and the assorted flora and fauna of Titanfall‘s universe. Music and sound effects aren’t particularly remarkable, providing more of an underscoring service, but in that regard they do their job without drawing much attention.
Of particular note are the animations. In both the campaign and multiplayer, characters move superbly, especially the Titans. Their mechanical motions give off a real sense of personality, and the Apex Predators’ unique mechs give off a terrific menacing vibe.
Titanfall 2 is everything Titanfall should have been – storified, robust, and sufficiently multiplatform. The real series starts here, and I’m surprised at how nothing at all feels phoned in or tacked-on.
The campaign’s story may suffer from frequent moments of banality, but its inventive gameplay, entertaining baddies, and glossy pacing make for an unexpectedly catchy adventure. Meanwhile, the multiplayer is swift and chaotic in all the right ways, adding to the impressive crop of multiplayer shooters EA’s been able to cultivate this past year.