Game Review: Titanfall 2 (Xbox One)

It’s hard to look at the Titanfall franchise and not immediately think of the current state of the Call of Duty games, and it is obviously for good reasons. Developer Respawn Entertainment is housed of individuals whom are responsible for much of what Call of Duty has become, before leaving the Activision umbrella for greener pastures. The series made its debut during the launch of the Xbox One, going next-gen exclusive during a time of a low install base with an unproven system that was caught in controversy during its initial reveal. Titanfall also did not launch with a single player campaign, instead putting all of its chips on its multiplayer-only offerings, and given the lack of modes and maps available at launch, it just didn’t pan out as well as they hoped.

Titanfall 2 is the game we wanted to play back then, packing not only a more robust and rewarding multiplayer experience, but a fantastic singleplayer campaign as well. Prepare for Titanfall.

Titanfall 2 revolves around taking the fight to the IMC, the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation. The IMC, which was originally called Hammond Engineering, was a massive industrial conglomerate based on Earth. With full support of the planet behind them, they deployed their fleet into deep space, looking to gather resources off of independent human colonized worlds. These colonists formed the Frontier Militia to fight back, often stealing technology and gear from the IMC to combat the large forces they would often attack with.

Lead writer Jesse Stern has stated that the game “will portray a world in which science meets magic, but a world which will still be grounded, dirty, human and real.” The main focus of the battle between the IMC and the Frontier Militia is “global colonial warfare, retelling the story of the American Revolution and the American Civil War in space.”

Much of how Titanfall 2 is explained or shown is through its inspirations from various film and TV shows. Everything from Star Wars to your typical buddy-cop movie is everywhere here. While the overall story to Titanfall 2 isn’t original or praise worthy, it has fantastic character moments and great dialogue between Jack and his Titan, BT. Their relationship is at the forefront of this game and that dynamic is what makes Titanfall 2’s single campaign so enthralling. There are some intense character moments in the game and their relationship makes you feel each and every one with genuine emotion.

You play as Rifleman Jack Cooper, whom is voiced by Matthew Mercer. At first I assumed it was Troy Baker as Mercer sounds so much like Baker that it can be somewhat distracting. Jack has dreams of being a Titan Pilot and it just so happens that right off the bat you are paired up with Titan BT-7274 after a mission goes sideways and BT’s original pilot is killed. BT is voiced by Glenn Steinbaum and is easily the star of this game, and in some ways, the main character. I felt that not only does BT have the best lines in the game, playing the straight man opposite Jack Cooper, but he has the best scenes here as well.

There are several moments in the game where you would think Jack would react or join in the conversation, but he doesn’t. BT is the focal point to nearly every conversation with another human being. Sarah Briggs, your commanding officer has many moments with Jack and BT and I don’t think that Jack responds to anything Sarah has to say, even when it is with regard to getting BT a “real” pilot once the mission is over. While these moments are minimal throughout the 6-8 hour campaign, they are noticeable and it makes Jack Cooper feel like an outsider rather than the game’s intentional main character. There are also a few slow motion scenes during the credits that come off more awkward than I think they intended. Make sure to watch through the credits for a scene that, while predictable, is very satisfying.

When you are paired with BT it is on the planet Typhon. This planet is not only dangerous because of the IMC threat looming everywhere, it is also inhabited by dangerous creatures that will attack you should you get too close. Each location on Typhon is gorgeous and colorful. This isn’t like most first person shooters that generally have a muted color dynamic that doesn’t involve bright colors or vibrant landscapes. Typhon’s early levels are packed with much vegetation and breathtaking vistas. Its levels are also designed with the games’ movement mechanics in mind. Nearly every section of every level is designed around making you constantly in motion. Titanfall 2 has a double jump and wall running mechanic where nearly every surface is usable in traversing and for combat.

While it can be easy to get lost in where you need to go, or how to approach a section due to the constant moving around attacking IMC forces in all directions, it never leads to frustration. The large open factory level is a masterpiece of design, with large home-like structures being built around you, and sometimes, under your very feet. These areas shift and move and rotate in every direction, making you think twice about how you want to approach an incoming firefight. There is also a level that has you phasing in and out of a single area, showing you two different sides to the same location. To tell you anymore would ruin the surprise, but be rest assured, this level is stunning.

Playing as Jack or in the cockpit of BT is a very different experience from one another. Jack is nimble, agile and fast. You can bounce from wall to wall, taking out enemies with a well placed shot. You can slide along the ground to fly under the spray of incoming bullets. Jack can double jump and mantle if your close enough to grab onto a ledge. BT, while not totally lethargic, is slower and more like traditional first person shooters. You can swap to a total number of 8 classes like the fire blasting Scorch, the sword wielding Ronin and the minigun packing Legion. Each Titan has a unique special move and various other skills that make the use of them perfect for each type of encounter.

Controlling your agile pilot can lead to a bit of a learning curve since most first person shooters usually have you fall into the same routine game in and game out. Titanfall 2 has such a wide range of movement mechanics that offer you much more freedom that the typical Call of Duty or Halo game would usually provide. In the midst of a combat scenario you’d find yourself sliding along the ground to pop off a few well placed head-shots and then immediately into a wall run to avoid some incoming fire. This would then lead to you jumping off the wall to melee kick a grunt square in the face just in time to throw a grenade at some incoming soldiers while instantly turning around to melee execute an unaware grunt soldier. This describes most of the combat in the game, with that example taking place entirely within maybe 8-10 seconds. Most firefights in Titanfall 2 are a ballet of destruction that is so tightly handled that you would assume each encounter was scripted when it most certainly is not.

The IMC’s variety in forces is somewhat minimal; you have human forces and robotic forces, each with different types within. The human soldiers are fun to attack, often yelling and screaming that they can’t find me when I am cloaked, or panic when I have taken out their whole team. Robotic forces can be pretty interesting to combat as you can hack the Spectre class types and have them join your side. There are sections later in the game when you can have up to six of them join you. You’ll also come up against dozen and dozens of enemy titans, all sporting one of the classes you can also equip to BT. Unlike in mulitplayer, BT can swap to these classes at any time, once you unlock them that is. The enemy titans use cover, run away and will charge you when low on health, trying to get in one last strike before their inevitable destruction. You’ll often get swarmed by forces but the pacing and amount of them is trimmed to make the game flow and for combat to give you a sense of “I can do this.”

At the end of most chapters, you will have a boss encounter. These come with a small cutscene of the villain smack talking you before the fight. These scenes are really enjoyable but sadly the enemy pilots themselves are not that formidable. It doesn’t take too much to take them down, and they sort of reminded me of Mega Man villains. While you don’t get a power-up following their demise, they each have a different class equipped to them, giving you a taste of what power-up is next to be equipped. While these fights are enjoyable, I wish they had some type of creative way in how to beat them. One of the most enjoyable fights was with Viper, on the top of a large ship. The fight is intense and the scene following it, even more so.

There is only one big complaint I had with how the single player campaign was handled and that is with regards to its checkpoint system. Often I would die in the middle of a conversation, or would want to attempt a particular jump again after activating something in the story. The checkpoints would often skip over these events and start me off where I died, with the conversation already having taken place. I must have missed at least half a dozen Jack and BT conversations because of this. There is also a platforming section later on in the game where you jump to a platform, activate a switch, then jump, activate, jump, activate and make it to the other side. I died just before the last jump and my checkpoint placed me all the way back, but with all the switches activated, removing the tension of redoing that exercise. There is also a checkpoint in the final level that when you die, has you restart a massive battle all over again, even if you die in the next section after it.

Titanfall’s multiplayer is back in a big way. Nearly everything that was either missing or lacking in the last game has been addressed here. Progression is vastly improved with each round rewarding me with some sort of new weapon, mod, or customizable element to visually enhance my pilot, titan or player card. You also earn packages that have exclusive loot within them. These packages are earned very frequently, making sure that you are always unlocking something new. It is a reward system that every other game needs to emulate as you consistently feel like you are either getting stronger in some way, or earning some new cool reward.

There currently is nine maps to use throughout 12 modes in the game. While nine doesn’t sound like a huge amount, all future maps will be free to download. That’s right, Titanfall 2 will have no season pass or paid DLC at all. This is probably because Titanfall 2 releases right between the new Battlefield and Call of Duty this year, making it the attractive purchase because of its lack of paid DLC. It’s the smart play and stops the community from being divided on who has what maps and who does not.

The maps are pretty enjoyable with some great areas for some open Titan on Titan warfare while also giving pilots some superb areas to wall run or grapple to. I did find that some maps resembled ones found in the first Titanfall a bit too much, as if they copied and pasted certain pathways since they worked so well the first time.

The newest addition to Titanfall 2’s multiplayer offerings is Bounty Hunt. It’s the mode I’ve spent the majority of my time with and for good reason, it’s addictive. Bounty Hunt has you up against both online players and the computer AI grunts that litter the battlefield. There are two zones that drop enemies onto the field and killing them will grant you credits. AI kills will offer fewer credits than real players and between rounds it will allow you to deposit those credits in a bank. The first team to bank 5,000 credits will win the round. When you die, you will drop half of the credits you are carrying and reward those credits to the other player who put you down. Throughout the round a bounty will drop a player worth a huge payday. Killing that player will net you a huge sum to hopefully deposit into one of the two banks around the level, should you be lucky to make it there.

There is also the Coliseum which is a one on one mode between you and another player that to the winner comes the spoils. You will be granted special rewards for winning. This mode is locked behind a ticket wall. You can earn tickets in-game or through EA’s partnership with Doritos and Mountain Dew. In fact, my first Mountain Dew also rewarded me a Titan skin, which is pretty awesome looking, and a ticket for this mode. My second Mountain Dew rewarded me an exclusive pilot execution that is pretty slick.

The other modes in Titanfall 2 are good, but come off as a bit typical. Capture the flag and Amped Hardpoint, which is more like King of Hill than anything else, are enjoyable, but lack the creativity that Titanfall 2 has brought to the table with Bounty Hunt. Attrition is your typical team deathmatch mode as well as Free-for-All, where it is every player for themselves. Last Titan Standing is fairly self-explanatory, as are Private matches and Pilots vs Pilots. Rounding out the last of the modes is Variety Pack, which is a bit of everything, Ground War, which is another mixed mode, and Skirmish, which are small-scale conflicts. One of the few flaws in the multiplayer here is the spawn points, as sometimes I have spawned back into battle in the middle of a Titan on Titan war, dying instantly.

The customization for your pilot and titans is vast, as there are dozens of skins to unlock. Each gun will have its own experience bar and leveling it up will allow you to add more mods like faster reloading, a bigger ammo clip or just to make it more effective through better scopes. You’ll unlock skins for both your pilot, titan and gun. The only blemish I can see with this unlock system is the lack of any weapon modification for the Titans. You can create custom loadouts for your pilot, but not for your Titan, which seems a bit at odds with how much freedom this game gives you.

You can also join networks; groups of like-minded players who can invite you to a round of whatever they are queuing up for. I joined the Network called NOOBS as I am usually not terribly great at PVE modes.

Each pilot has access to a variety of different classes, much like their Titans. Pilots can either equip a grappling hook to make traversal fast and furious, cloak themselves to hide from other players, put up a bullet wall that block incoming shots, and many more. Titans have access to six classes, leaving two from the campaign unable to be used, at least for now.

Titanfall 2 is a far more confident game than its predecessor. Its multiplayer is more enjoyable and far more rewarding than the first time around. The single player campaign is superb, well-written and the interactions between Jack Cooper and BT is some of the best character work of this genre. While the bosses are not exactly stellar, they do provide a nice distraction from the nameless grunts and generic titan encounters the games throws at you. The campaign is fast paced, and thoroughly designed around always making you be on the move. Titanfall 2 is one of the best shooters released this year and with the promise of all future maps being free, well.. Prepare for Titanfall.


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