Titanfall is Call of Duty with giant robots. If that sounds like the coolest thing ever to you, go buy it and ignore the rest of this review. For everyone else, please stick around while I gripe about playing the beta.
Let’s start with the good. The training mode does an adequate job of teaching all of Titanfall’s mechanics. There’s nothing very complex but the training is neither insulting, mandatory, nor overlong. It shows you the weapons, how to operate a mecha, and the various tools you have while both suited and on foot. The training does involve a lot of parkour that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time did better a decade ago, and of which you’ll see little while actually playing (aside from climbing up the side of buildings you can almost scale). Your character controls fluidly and there is nothing wrong with the control scheme.
One of the most common complaints about Titanfall is the auto-aim pistol that you start with. You hover your crosshairs over an enemy for a couple of seconds and then all of your shots will automatically fly in their direction. This has not been necessary in a first-person shooter since the advent of mouselook and is a definite step towards dumbing down the genre even more than it already is. Mercifully it is not overpowered and you’ll occasionally use your rifle. Yay? Let’s hope that the dozens of weapons in the final version have more function and variety, like in 1999’s Unreal Tournament, the benchmark for arena shooters.
The auto-aim pistol is only one problem that is symptomatic of the overly simplistic combat. It’s the basic not-skill-intensive slog you’d expect from the post-Halo FPS: Slow-moving characters, minimal weapon choices, few strategies possible on the bland maps full of empty, crumbling buildings. You have (sigh) regenerating health but most attacks will instagib you anyway. The “titans” themselves appear to be made of wet toilet paper; you’d think that a giant robot would take more than two seconds of fire to demolish. Perhaps I’m just unskilled and not using the reflective shield and dashes properly, but my experience is that getting in a titan means firing off a few salvos of rockets then getting the alert that my titan was about to explode and I should eject. Steel Battalion this is not.
Don’t worry about dying all the time, though. Instant respawns are there to erase most of the penalty for failure. You can also grind experience for bonuses and unlocks, further rewarding the players with free time as opposed to the talented ones. This is an element that does not belong in any sort of game (I’ve chastised League of Legends plenty of times for Riot Games’ greed in this regard) and while it provides that hamster wheel incentive for many to keep playing, it is quite an annoyance.
The beta is lacking in polish—which is to be expected—though I have no faith that EA will improve things for the final release. They don’t even have automatic team balancing. My first couple matches were 6 skilled players against 4 of us noobs. I played on Team Fortress Classic servers in 2000 that had auto team balancing, so there’s no excuse for this. And the minimal team size (6v6 maximum!) might make for less chaotic games where you won’t get instantly killed after respawning, but it also ensures that big plays will be pointlessly difficult. A player on a kill streak will probably just crush the enemy team with little chance of counterplay.
The Titanfall beta is over now but you can experience this mediocrity on PC and Xbone on March 11 and March 25 for the Xbox 360 version. At least I know I’m going to spend my money elsewhere unless EA (at the very least) opens Titanfall up for modding like all good first-person shooters.
Titanfall is competent but (despite the hype) quite unoriginal. I was mocking its ad campaign with my friends on IRC and one (who is working on the upcoming Hyper Light Drifter) joked that this must be the first game to let the player switch between being on foot and in a fighting robot, because there is no such thing as games like Shogo: Mobile Armor Division or even Blaster Master. Nearly everyone promised an amazing life-changing game here, but all that appeared in the Titanfall beta was an undistinguished lump of AAA flotsam.
I might buy the final version if Titanfall ever goes on Steam (Death to Origin!) to see if it ever improves in the future, but hopes are slim. Don’t buy this game, and certainly don’t buy the horrid Xbox One console in order to play it.