There is a curse placed upon these Titanfall beta impressions. It's as if some benevolent good is looking down upon me and saying, "No, Rory, those impressions simply won't do," followed shortly by: a brief power outage, an error in my word processor, an error in my internet browser, or a mystery so grand I don't remember what happened but three hours of work disappeared off my computer and I'll never know why. Four times have I had to rewrite this most important of sentences. This is the fifth. Titanfall is great.
Technically Titanfall starts with a series of training levels to help players get acclimated, but honestly I believe the game would do better getting rid of this and shoving players right into the game. Taking those first step, tentative and wary. It look like Call of Duty; it feels like Call of Duty. You look down your iron sights and imagine how disappointed you'll be as soon as combat starts and despite firing at their head for five seconds they don't die, but you do to a knife at your back. The expectation of imminent heartbreak is the first emotion I experienced in Titanfall.
Then you press the sprint button and it feels good, it feels smooth. Then there's a wall in front of you and a voice in your head says, "Hey, remember, this game lets you climb and jump off walls." I pressed jump, I ran along the wall, I double jumped off of it and my feet never left the ground again for the next twelve hours I spent playing Titanfall. For lovers of console multiplayer games who have grown to be lethargic about years of Call of Duty, Titanfall is like sprouting wings and learning to fly.
Wall jumping, wall running, double jumping and dexterous climbing, all of the increased mobility features don't have anything on Titans. To be honest, they're nothing special in terms of features or gameplay. They're large mechanical suits that players can summon from time to time with decreased mobility over uneven terrain and increased mobility over flat ground. Hitting people is basically a one-shot kill, but hitting them in the first place can be challenging. Yes, Titan's are nothing more than bigger, stronger, sitting ducks.
Yet the way Titanfall changes as a result of Titans being introduced to the game is tangible and immediate. Boom, the ground shakes, and suddenly the streets aren't safe anymore. Half the players speed to the roofs and windows with rocket launchers buzzing, the other half carefully guard their locations counting down the seconds until their own Titans become available. Heartbeats pound on the enemy team, because one Titan is easy to take down, but if left ignored can turn into two Titans, then three, then four, and suddenly they're a speeding wall of steel and explosives impenetrable without a concerted effort.
Half of the strength of the Titan lies in their firepower, but the other half revolves around the pilot's relative invulnerability inside of the machines. Upon taking severe damage a Titan enters Doomsday mode, where a pilot can either eject or escape just by opening the door and leaping out. With certain perks an exploding Titan can become a humongous bomb, a threatening in death as it was alive. Just to clarify, the beta only provided (easy) access to one of three Titans. I don't even know what sort of insanity awaits the launch of the full game.
One last aspect of gameplay completely unique to Titanfall's multiplayer, which I find inspired, is the addition of AI controlled fighters. The dumb "Grunts" and beefier "Spectres" rarely contribute meaningfully to the fight, but they change how every game is played in subtle and potentially striking ways. For one, they keep most players on the map fighting, all the time. There's always an AI somewhere near you which means killing them quickly or taking light gunfire, both of which give away your position, or traveling a different and potentially riskier route. These guys can also help out by peppering Titans with gunfire, since Titans are so big and loud, and over time it can add up to a lot of damage. 6v6 may not seem like many players, but with the AI every match feels as intense as a there were much larger teams battling it out.
No, Titanfall is nothing like Call of Duty, but it does understand where Call of Duty was great and strives to improve on it. This includes a leveling system that will feel familiar to console shooter players. While the beta only featured 14 oh so short levels, it still felt good to unlock what Respawn had made available. This included player and Titan customizations, access to progressively larger features. Items like weapon modifications require players to take those weapons into game and succeed with them, which was easy enough considering the cannon fodder that's pervasive.
Burn cards. These are another addition from Respawn and just happen to be my least favorite aspect of the game. These are cards that players randomly earn after each match, though they often reflect the play-style you had in the game. After acquired, players take as many as three Burn Cards in the next match and then consume them for a brief power up or boon that expires upon death. At times they're great, like when they shorten Titan drop countdowns or when they make you permanently stealthed. Good cards are rare, however, so most of the time cards are utter crap and when used they don't feel impactful in any way. In other words, they should be more meaningful, otherwise why even have them in the game. Also, what the hell are "Burn Cards" anyway? At least make them fit into the universe of Titanfall. "I played my Pokemon card, so my Titanfall can use Sand Attack!" Give me a break.
I have very few other complaints. I wasn't a fan of one of the maps, which was wide-open and poorly organized. There was very little to jump off of and Titans took too long to get from one end of the map to the other. Plus, the NPCs would often flounder in the most ridiculous of places, easily farmable and never contributing. Well, contributing less than usual.
I'd also like to come out and say that while 6v6 works perfectly fine -- great, in fact -- I want more. 8v8 or 10v10 would be absolutely brilliant. My favorite part of Titanfall is the intensity, the frantic moments players discover are often unavoidable. More players means more depth to every fight, as opposed to jumping on a Titan, killing it's pilot while dodging gunfire only to discover there are no other real human players anywhere around you. The Titan was AI controlled and the enemy gunfire came from grunts. Sure, I pulled off an epic move, but I still feel like an idiot. Custom matches, maybe? Titanfall 2, maybe? Gah, we'll give this a try and see how perfectly these maps are balanced for 6v6.
That's Titanfall to me. I can't really comment on the story yet, because I experienced very little of it beyond what was ambient in training and the two maps. I'd be disappointed if that was it, though. I could have played much more of the game, but held myself back because I had maxed level so quickly and wasn't particularly interested in grinding unlocks -- yet. When Titanfall fully launches I can see myself printing out a spreadsheet and scheduling out my equipment grinding for two months ahead.
In other words, I played just enough Titanfall to say it was an incredible experience. Intense, frantic, great with friends, refreshingly new (contrary to my worries it would be too similar to Call of Duty) and with outstanding production standards. For 14 levels, across 2 maps, Titanfall was great. Hopefully I didn't get the full experience already. Burn 'Em if You Got 'Em, soldiers. To be continued.