Status: Campaign complete
Most Intriguing Idea: Mirror’s Edge actually would have been better with more guns.
Best Design Decision: Enemies that can’t aim quickly.
Worst Design Decision: Sluggish, timer-based combat in Titans.
So look, I’m a sucker for immersive shooters where you’re meant to run around like a maniac. That affinity is why I loved DOOM so much and why I gave BioShock Infinite a higher score than it deserved. That’s the bias, and Titanfall 2 gave me what I wanted, so I enjoyed it.
One of the key principles of this shooter approach is that movement is defense. Classically this was achieved with slow bullets and melee-based enemies so that both projectiles and foes could be evaded to escape damage. Titanfall 2 instead uses a palette of enemies more typical for a modern first-person shooter and seemingly handicaps the aim of their ray-trace weapons proportionally to the player’s movement speed. It’s possible to crank through a fight without stopping and never get hit, and easily 90% of my combat deaths came while I was standing still or moving slowly, like an idiot.
Of course this system has its limitations. The need to allow relatively free movement forces most of the game to take place in arenas that are absurdly, illogically expansive. This is a game without cramped terrain, in which every human-built structure is vast and has copious free floor space. Within these arenas the total enemy number has to be low in order to give the movement-as-defense space to work. One way to deal with this is to make enemies arrive in waves—DOOM used this a lot—but Titanfall 2 is typically happy to serve up a brief firefight in a space that seems a bit too large for it and then move along. That keeps the pace brisk and, combined with some well made (though not particularly challenging) first-person platforming it allows for a snappy, diverse campaign.
Two things, I felt, mitigated the fun. The first was the arsenal, which was subpar for a sci-fi shooter. None of the guns were truly interesting or had much feel, and the only moment of actual shooting that felt memorable was the smart-gun bit in the final chapter. An even sharper disappointment was the combat in the Titans themselves, which felt sluggish and punchless in comparison to the freewheeling human-scale combat. Fighting as a mech wasn’t bad, really; it just felt sharply less dynamic than on foot. Now, obviously the giant metal titans won’t allow for much grace or speed, but dynamics could have been enhanced in another way, perhaps by forcing the player to grab weapons and loadouts from fallen enemies rather than giving the mechs unlimited ammo and cooldown timers.
Story-wise the game is… okay, I guess? It’s standard salty popcorn action fare, but honestly that feels a bit like a breath of fresh air in comparison to the bloody nihilism of CoD: Infinite Warfare. The plot is fairly rote journey-setback-triumph stuff that feels so off-the-shelf it sucks all the life out of the wild stuff (time travel! a colossal factory fabricating neighborhoods for combat training scenarios! ancient alien technology!) that happens in it. That’s not helped by the fact that Titanfall’s setting and characters are so generic I can barely remember anything about them. I played the game all weekend and I only know the protagonist’s name is Jack Cooper because I looked it up just now. The game doesn’t bother to give him a background, a personality, or even an interesting scar. The game’s talking Titan, BT-7274, is a more memorable character, even though he’s little more than a serviceable recapitulation of every robot-not-understanding-an-idiom conversation Star Trek: The Next Generation put Data through. The story’s struggles are not made any less severe by the obvious sequel-bait involved: the player doesn’t get to fight, much less defeat, either the primary antagonist or the shadowy figure pulling his strings.
All that said, I had a blast with the run-and-gun combat and first-person platforming, and even the generic story doesn’t seem so bad in comparison to the actively miserable stuff last fall’s other big AAA shooters put up. I won’t remember Jack whatsisface past next week but I’ll remember blowing away dudes while power-sliding and wall-running around a giant house factory for a long time to come.