TITANFALL 2 REVIEW

TITANFALL 2 REVIEW

A long-awaited single-player campaign puts Titanfall 2's feelgood mobility onto a sprawling platforming playground. 

When Respawn Entertainment first showed off its concept for Titanfall and hinted at a single- and multiplayer first-person shooter full of acrobatic action and towering robot warriors that could rival Call of Duty, Titanfall 2 is the game that I wanted to play. Respawn has doubled down on its compelling formula of breakneck movement and grandiose scale, tapping the vein of those literal and figurative explosive moments that we brag about afterwards. And this time around, the first game’s lacking single-player component has been addressed with admirable results, offering an engaging trek through a universe that was begging to be fleshed out. 

On The Campaign Trail

Titanfall 2’s campaign is the tale of rifleman Jack Cooper, who’s unexpectedly given the reins of Vanguard-class titan BT-7274 (AKA “BT”) when the two are stranded on the planet Typhon after their starship was brought down in an ambush by the evil mega-corp IMC. Their pairing is a good one, if somewhat predictable, with both characters playing off one another in the fashion of their archetypes. BT’s artificial intelligence personality is dry, logical, and ready to misunderstand Jack’s human colloquialisms and turns-of-phrase for slight comedic effect, while Jack is the relatable everyman grunt who knows next to nothing about being a pilot, much less a hero. Though their dynamic doesn’t quite reach the level of witty buddy-comedy quips and playful banter that some of the dialogue options strive for, what does come across is a genuine mutual respect and, in time, caring that these two find for one another.

his sets the stage for the pair to work together through nine chapters of excellent level design that showcases Respawn’s genuine talent for conveying scale. Each chapter is a sprawling playground of twisting jungle valleys, massive factories, military structures, and debris fields, each seeped in their own dense atmosphere thanks to gorgeous vistas and dramatic lighting.

Playing through the approximately six-hour campaign I was impressed that each level felt big enough for me to sprint, hurdle, double-jump, and wall-run through while also being well enough organized that I never felt lost. It’s linear, but open enough to create an illusion of freedom. Only occasionally was I forced to stop and consult the objective beacon, which is great considering the amount of time I spent dashing through mazes of massive air ducts or across assembly lines big enough to construct entire buildings.

Everywhere I looked I was reminded of my relatively insignificant size. I felt small standing next to a titan and significantly larger when piloting BT, but always dwarfed by the unbelievably large and intricate structures that tower over even your bulky robot. Levels are deftly crafted with both titan and pilot in mind, requiring you to wade through toxic sludge or a cloud of poison while inside the titan until a bottomless chasm or narrow catwalk forces you to hop out and pinball between walls and railings with strings of leaps and dashes in order to clear a path for your companion to follow.

In fact, Typhon’s environments are as much your enemy in Titanfall 2 as the humans and robots that bar your progression. Extreme heat, cold, fatal falls, hazardous waste, and deadly electrical discharges are ever-present obstacles that provide a sense of weight to learning and excelling at Titanfall 2’s signature movement abilities.

Jumping Jack (Cooper) Flash

To Respawn’s credit, the platforming design is as refreshing as any I’ve encountered in a first-person shooter. Throughout the campaign, new mechanics are consistently introduced that range from neat additions to wholly new puzzle elements, like using cranes to move wall-running surfaces into place to create paths. By the end, you’re fully expected to be able to combine them all to get through a series of complex obstacle courses that mix acrobatics and combat. In one late-game on-foot section I was forced to bounce from wall to wall while swapping items midair to power switches that swung the next wall into place for me to land on it. This kind of frantic precision is electrifying when you’re sprinting above the floorless abyss, where poor timing or a missed input of the smooth and intuitive controls means falling to your death.

And throughout each dense level, swarms of IMC grunts, humanesque elite robots, Typhon’s indigenous fauna, and massive titans all punctuate the platforming with heavy combat encounters. While most of the soldiers and robots serve as cannon fodder with predictable but effective AI, their numbers, explosive ordinance, and well-equipped titans are still lethal if not respected.

Though your impressive on-foot mobility can often allow you to dash through combat areas toward the objective without firing a single shot or stopping to clean up the enemies, doing so would be a disservice. Titanfall 2 is loaded with an enjoyable collection of punchy firearm types, like the powerhouse automatic shotgun and the electric-sphere-firing rocket launcher, most of Titanfall 2’s firearms have a sci-fi flare - culminating in the infamous fire-and-forget accuracy of the smart pistol. When combined with the smooth movement and melee attacks, this varied arsenal offers moments of catharsis and satisfaction when you decimate a room full of enemies without being tagged. Hearing an enemy soldier call out, “Where did he go?” after annihilating his entire squad like a shotgun tornado and disappearing into the rafters with a few precise leaps is next-level empowering.

The Iron Giant

But when you’re inside your slower and more grounded titan the combat becomes more conventional first-person shooting, though just as impactful thanks to its unusual flexibility. Unlike the multiplayer titans, BT is capable of swapping loadouts on the fly to become a totally different class, equipping unique weapons, abilities, and defensive items just by calling up the menu and selecting what you need at the time.

I’d regularly default to the standard machine gun loadout for its versatility, but when a fast, nimble enemy titan took the field, switching to a loadout with heat-seeking rockets and a jetpack is much more effective for connecting shots. When dozens of smaller grunts and robots peppered me with rockets, I’d swap to the napalm-infused Scorch loadout for its area-of-effect destructiveness.

It’s a refreshing change of pace, especially considering each of these loadouts becomes available shortly after defeating a named boss titan – a la Mega Man – lending a sense of earned progression. These bosses are part of a mercenary corp called the Apex Predators, and each sports their own personality and cosmetically unique titan. When you finally square off against one, you’re treated to a brief introductory cinematic which helps to ratchet up the stakes, but I unfortunately found these chapter-punctuating encounters to be underwhelming. On normal difficulty, they regularly only took slightly more effort to bring down than the standard titans of similar chassis I’d fought before. Their personas and rewards are the memorable parts.

The advantage of BT’s versatility for the story is that it allows you to use several of the titan chassis from multiplayer without without having to swap out titans, keeping the focus squarely on BT and his relationship with Jack. At times, though, it seemed too convenient: BT is so knowledgeable and capable that at some points I had to wonder why this powerful and seemingly self-sufficient titan needs a pilot in the first place. He nearly always has the answer to any question Jack poses, points him in the right direction when they’re separated, gives him orders and instructions toward the next objective, and explains what’s happening no matter the heady sci-fi circumstance.

Ultimately the relationship does find its footing as the two grow more dependant on each other, especially as the plot ramps up sharply in the third act’s enjoyable climax. As both characters begin to buckle under the weight of their situation that relationship begins to take on new meaning, and it becomes one of Titanfall 2’s highlights.

While I thoroughly enjoyed Titanfall 2’s story, its secretive plot twists and character drama probably wouldn’t sustain me on another playthrough alone. However, with four total difficulty settings (two more above the default ‘normal’ setting I experienced), combined with its welcomingly brisk runtime, I’m definitely interested in going back to see if my mobility skills are enough to keep me alive with the odds stacked against me. And to hunt down those collectibles that are placed so tantalizingly out of reach. 

Clash of the Titans

But what does keep me coming back day after day – and likely will for some time to come – is Titanfall 2’s slick and much more fleshed-out multiplayer modes. In our review of the original Titanfall, the biggest complaint was the lack of variety in modes, but this time around Respawn has learned from that mistake and built upon what it did right in its first game. Progression, customization, and content have all been ratcheted up, while elements that bogged down its balance have been trimmed down.

As you’d expect from a sequel, Titanfall 2’s multiplayer is very much still the fast-paced, run, jump,  and gun action of the first game. The movement here feels great, and even when you’re simply running back to the action after being killed there’s a sense of engaging freedom. Knowing the best routes and stringing together jump after jump into wall-running and sliding to get across the map as quickly as possible is a minigame in and of itself. Though while this fast, fluid movement and twitchy gunplay is the centerpiece, multiplayer has evolved in a number of ways that let you put it to good use.

The biggest change to multiplayer balance is, fittingly, to the titans themselves: they’re much more vulnerable in Titanfall 2 because they don’t come equipped with a regenerating shield. Every shot that connects damages the hull, so you can’t simply fight and then back off to reset like a giant Call of Duty soldier. This both diminishes and greatly increases the value of titans: they’re weaker on offense without support because a single on-foot player can eventually bring one down with hit-and-run tactics, but stronger when you work as a team to keep them up and running.

“Rodeoing” an enemy titan has also undergone an evolution that makes it a more dynamic game with a goal beyond simply destroying the enemy, and promotes teamwork in a new and interesting way. When you jump on an enemy titan’s back you automatically pull out its glowing green battery, which damages its overall health. If you can escape with that battery in tow you can hop on a friendly titan and insert it to restore some health and grant a small overshield. From the perspective of the rodeoed titan’s pilot, if your battery is pilfered and you can kill the enemy pilot holding it, you can hop out, grab it, and return it to your mech to regain some of that lost health. It’s sort of a miniature version of capture the flag that takes place within every multiplayer game, and having to fight for those scraps in the heat of battle creates some great extra tension.

The new fragility of titans isn’t the only change in the name of balance. Burn Cards, those one-time-use perks you could activate any time during a match, are no more. They were neat in theory, but having multiple players pop free-titan cards at the start of the match shined a light on some balance issues around the system. In their place, that "game changer" element is replaced by Pilot Boosts, which are a perks, powers, or abilities that you equip before a match, and work toward unlocking it mid-game on the same meter you work toward calling in a titan. This makes the perks much more consistent, and activatable faster or slower in-game based on your performance, rather than just a freebie. And while they’re all useful – like amping your weapon damage, calling in turrets or walking mines, and even the dreaded Smart Pistol – they’re well balanced and not overpowered.

Titan battles get another shot in the arm from increased variety of abilities. Where the original Titanfall has just three titan chassis to choose from (fast and weak, slow and strong, and somewhere in the middle) now six unique titans are available, each with distinct character. This class-based approach both adds variety and personality to each mech, and removes much of the guesswork when coming face to face with them. Spotting a nimble, sword-wielding Ronin class titan on the field tells me I need to keep my distance and pepper it from afar, whereas the seeing the Legion’s devastating chaingun starting spinning up means I’ll be better off dodging that bullet hose until it reloads so I can counterattack. That’s a welcome layer of strategy and decision-making that comes into play when considering both your team composition and game mode.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

And there are a variety of modes in Titanfall 2, almost all of which offer an experience that’s significantly different from the next. The marquee Attrition mode is back, pitting teams of eight against each other on a battlefield filled out by weak AI grunts that can be picked off for points. It’s as good as ever, but it’s overshadowed by the new AI-assisted mode, Bounty Hunt, where teams race to kill waves neutral grunts and titans while also fighting one another. A lot of extra tension comes from having to bank the cash you earn from kills before you’re killed yourself during a small window between waves, because if another player takes you out they score half of your money. Thus, hoarding your money is a surefire way to lose the game, and being caught at the start of a wave without a titan all but giftwraps your wallet for the enemy team. So far it’s my favorite way to experience Titanfall 2’s online competitive action in my roughly 20 hours of play.

The remaining six straightforward game types are conventional enough for any first-person shooter fan to recognize. There’s the classic team deathmatch and Free-For-All modes, along with the no-titans-allowed Pilots vs. Pilots, Last Titan Standing (where everyone starts with a mech and the first team to lose them all loses the match), and Amped Harpoint, which plays like a slower, campier form of domination where you’re incentivized to stick by a capture node for increased point accrual. Of those, Amped Hardpoint is my favorite because it’s a change of pace from the constant movement and hunting of most other modes, but all of them feel like they belong.

Lastly, the Coliseum game mode drops you into a walled-off arena where you and another pilot duke it out with lasers and burst-weapon projectiles in a Quake-style exhibition match. But this mode requires you to buy a ticket with your in-game currency, or earn one through leveling, and rewards you with a variety of unlockable skins or currency for wins, it’s lent an arcadey sense of risk-versus-reward gambling to progression. 

Leveling, Loot, and Longevity

And Titanfall 2’s multiplayer progression is an almost constant stream of experience and unlockables pouring into your profile, with relatively little time invested compared to other recent shooters. Rewards range in usefulness from new weapons and attachments, tactical and ordinance abilities, and titan modifiers to cosmetic enhancements: camo skins for weapons, pilots, and titans, plus banners and emblems earned by completing objectives and challenges used to decorate your player profile. And thankfully, you’re not required to both unlock an item by leveling and then purchase it with currency – nearly all items can be purchased with currency regardless of level, the exception being weapon attachments which are only unlocked by leveling its specific weapon through use. In my multiplayer career I’ve found that leveling up each individual weapon and titan alongside your overall pilot character imparts the feeling I’m constantly working toward something.

My hope is that at the same time Respawn is working toward something, specifically some additional maps. Though the current rotation is fine, good even, I haven’t found one I really love yet. There are some I really do enjoy playing – Homestead comes to mind because of its wide open fields and four-story silo in the center – but I regularly I find myself wishing there were more avenues of approach that employed more of the pilot’s jump kit capabilities rather than the crowded canyon walls or two-story standalone buildings. Respawn has promised a stream of free DLC without the need for a season pass, but it’s unclear exactly what or how much is planned.

Lastly, Titanfall 2’s new Networks are social hubs that help keep players coordinated with bonus XP – called merits – up for grabs at specific times throughout the day. But largely they’re a boon for people who want to play together, or play under a common banner – like IGN’s network, which I encourage you to join – for the sake of socializing. This addresses another of our specific complaints from the first Titanfall, and it’s a thoughtful addition that indicates that Respawn seems to have the happiness of Titanfall 2 playerbase foremost in mind when it comes to prolonging the life of its excellent multiplayer.

The Verdict

It’s rare that a sequel evolves on every part of the original concept so consistently for the better, but Titanfall 2 is that exception. Its feelgood movement is the foundation for both the engaging action and platforming gameplay of its strong campaign and its over-the-top competitive multiplayer. With bolstered progression, customization, variety, and a fleshed-out story, Respawn has made good on its original vision with Titanfall 2. And bottom line, it’s just damn fun to play.

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BIG Credit to BRANDIN TYRREL  IGN.com

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