Platforms PC, PS4, XBO (reviewed)
Developer Respawn Entertainment
Publisher Electronic Arts
Release Date October 28, 2016

The first Titanfall might actually have been the progenitor of the hype culture that is now common around the AAA video game industry. Titanfall was fine for what it was, but it was crushed under the weight of an unreasonable amount of hype that, quite frankly, no first-person shooter could have ever lived up to. It didn’t help that outlets would literally be saying in their reviews “believe the hype” to what amounted to a fun, satisfying FPS. For the hype to have been true, Titanfall would have needed to be the first ever first-person shooter in existence.

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Now, with that off my chest, it’s time to turn my attention to the sequel. Titanfall 2 is the greatly expanded sequel to Respawn Entertainment’s original FPS/Gundam mash-up. As well as being a fully fledged multiplayer shooter, the game now also comes with a single-player campaign, which tells the story of Jack Cooper – a rifleman who, through a quirk of fate, ends up with his very own Titan; BT. Jack and BT set off on a mission to stop the evil bad guys from doing evil bad guy stuff. It’s a quintessential buddy road trip story. With giant robots. And time travel (yes, really).

I was one of the few people who didn’t hammer Titanfall for its lack of a single-player campaign. I didn’t mind its exclusion since the multiplayer was a lot of fun while it lasted, thinking that a campaign would simply be a tacked on, extended tutorial for the online modes. Imagine my surprise to find that the campaign Respawn has included with Titanfall 2 is almost flawless.

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Don’t get me wrong, the story is pretty standard. Good guys have to stop bad guys from doing bad guy things or else loads of good guys will die. It hits so many familiar story beats that its protagonists might as well be playing bongos, and if you ask me to describe Titanfall 2’s plot in any great detail I’ll probably fail miserably. But it’s passable, giving you a reasonable excuse to go from point A to point Z, which is all it really needs to do. There are plenty of returning characters from Titanfall too, which is worth mentioning, although since I don’t remember any of the first games characters it’s also kind of a moot point.

What Titanfall 2 is actually about is the budding relationship between Jack Cooper and BT. After deploying into a mission that quickly goes sideways, Jack ends up being linked with giant robot death machine BT after the original pilot dies. At regular intervals during the game you’re given a choice between two lines of dialogue, generally “earnest” or “snark”. These lines don’t really affect much in the game other than BT’s response, but they have a great impact on immersing you in the game and making you give a damn about BT and Jack.

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I ended up actually caring about BT, which is massive credit to Respawn and the work they’ve done with this campaign. There are some great lines in the game, both scripted and otherwise. From moments such as BT and Jack discussing the definition of a shortcut to BT mathematically calculating how much he loves a newly acquired weapon, there are some absolute stand-outs of back and forth dialogue between the pair. For all its Sci-Fi action adventure ambitions, Titanfall 2 works best at being a story about two buddies. The real star of Titanfall 2’s campaign, however, is the gameplay itself.

The basics of combat and movement mechanics are transferred over from the original game. Shooting is as tight and precise as you’d expect if you’ve played the predecessor. Or any of the older Infinity Ward entries in the Call of Duty series that many at Respawn were responsible for. Gunplay brings with it a great deal of weight and satisfaction and engaging in combat is incredibly rewarding in its own right. There are also boss fights against Titans piloted by the most absurdly awesome, OTT villains of the year.

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Movement is also very similar to the last game. As a pilot, you still move incredibly quickly, with double-jumps, wall-running and parkour just a part of your everyday life. Nothing quite beats the rush of simply traversing an environment in Titanfall 2, with the mixture of speed and sweet, sweet parkour being eminently satisfying to pull off. What Titanfall 2 does brilliantly in its single-player (and its multiplayer too, in fairness) is to combine its movement and combat mechanics into an exceptional gameplay loop.

There are essentially three phases of play in Titanfall 2 – combat (whether on foot or while controlling BT), platforming or a combination of the two. While combat and platforming separately are a lot of fun to play, each playing to the inherent strengths of Titanfall 2’s core gameplay, it’s the mixture of these two mechanics where the game comes alive and really feels very different from other single-player shooters.This excellence is achieved via some of the best level design I’ve experienced in a video game in 2016. I don’t want to spoil any of the specifics of Titanfall 2’s levels, but Respawn have put on a masterclass in this regard.

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Fantastic shooting arenas give way to extended sections of platforming that put your unique parkour abilities to the test. Then, the game merges both, with levels designed around combining the two to exhilarating effect. Titanfall 2’s single-player campaign is a triumph of excellent game design, wrapped around an oddly endearing story of two unlikely buddies. Honestly, the only criticism I can level at Titanfall 2’s campaign is that its AI poses almost no challenge at Regular difficulty. It’s an issue that is quickly addressed by cranking the difficulty up, if you’re looking for a challenge.

Speaking of triumphs, Titanfall 2’s multiplayer component has also been delivered in an almost flawless fashion. It’s the same blisteringly fast-paced, vertical, man versus machine gameplay that you’ll remember if you played Titanfall. It’s not a carbon copy of that game, however, with Respawn making some great tweaks and changes to the original blueprint and going out of their way to address some of the criticisms of the franchise’s first outing.

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The biggest change is to the Titans themselves and how they work. For starters, there’s a bigger variety of Titans to choose from. They don’t have shields any more, taking all of their damage directly to their hull. Their health is instead governed by batteries. The only place to get more batteries is from other Titans, something they’re not going to give up willingly. Whereas rodeoing a Titan in the previous game would allow you to potentially destroy it, now it allows you to extract a battery, which will also take a chunk out of the donor Titan’s health.

Batteries can be taken to your Titan or to one of your teammates, which can create more of an element of team play than before, especially in modes such as Last Titan Standing. Because Titans don’t have shields, they’re a bit more fragile than they used to be, so you’ll need to be a bit smarter and more tactical with your engagements. The way players get Titans has also changed – now you’ll need to be actively participating in matches to get a Titanfall, as the meter doesn’t continuously tick upwards as before, but rather is only filled by damaging opponents.

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Customisation has also been given somewhat of an overhaul. The game has a fairly traditional unlocking system. You’ll advance in level fairly rapidly, which will unlock new weapons, Titan types and abilities. Mods for the various weapons and equipment will unlock the more you use specific bits of kit – sights for guns, for example, unlock as you use them and level them up. Burn cards have been replaced with boosts, equippable power-ups that allow you to employ potentially game changing abilities (such as revealing enemies on the map or deploying sentry turrets), which operate on cooldowns rather than being single-use.

While all of these unlocks are tied to progression in one form or another, all of them can be unlocked early with the use of in-game currency. If you’re after a specific Titan class or weapon or anything else, you can spend credits that you earn from matches to unlock it. Earning credits is slow going, and some of the unlockables have some staggeringly high prices. Once you’ve unlocked something, however, it’s yours to keep, even if you regen (which resets everything to zero once you hit max level).

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Titanfall 2 also features a mixture of old and new game types. The standout is still Attrition, a score attack mode which sees two teams fight a large-scale battle complete with armies of NPC grunts on either side. Thanks to the variety of enemies in single-player, Attrition is now populated by a bunch of different opponents, including some that will actually give you a tough time, as opposed to the standard, nameless Grunts who couldn’t hit you even if you’re standing right in front of them (protip: they can in Titanfall 2). The whole package comes together quite nicely. And when everything is kicking off all around you it can make you feel like you’re really in the heart of a massive battle.

Other modes making the transition include Pilot vs Pilot, which plays like a standard team deathmatch sans Titans, and Last Titan Standing that, as the name might suggest, puts players in Titans right from the start of the match but only gives them one life. Hardpoint returns as Amped Hardpoint, which sees capture points output points faster the longer they’re held. New modes include Bounty Hunt, which is a wave-based horde mode that has players kill NPCs for cash, which must be deposited between waves.

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There’s also Coliseum, a 1v1 mode that puts players on a flat, round surface with just a single-shot plasma weapon and absolutely no cover. On paper it sounds like it would be dull, but in practice it actually works quite well. Matches are fairly tense as opponents dodge each others attack and attempt to psyche each other out before landing the killer blow. You’ll need to spend a tickets that are earned as random rewards to enter a match, with rare Advocate rewards (cosmetics) up for grabs for the winner.

The only place that Titanfall 2’s multiplayer is lacking when compared to its predecessor is in its maps. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with the maps here, they don’t feel quite as tightly designed as those found in the original Titanfall. There are some good maps as well as one or two duds, as with any multiplayer shooter, and I imagine opinions will differ from player to player. I imagine this will be rectified as Respawn adds more maps in the future. And with the developer confirming that all maps will be available for free, everyone will get to enjoy them.

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All in all, Titanfall 2 fixed the biggest problem Titanfall had – a lack of variety and content at launch. Where Titanfall eventually felt like a finished game after all of its DLC and updates had been released, which was well past the point that its community was still engaged, Titanfall 2 feels like a more robust package right out of the gate. There are more game modes and a veritable buffet of unlocks, both cosmetic and practical. It’s probably fair to say that Titanfall 2 is the game Titanfall should have been when it was first released.


Summary

Titanfall 2 is a fantastic evolution of the original. Its campaign is surprisingly excellent, focusing on the endearing relationship between protagonist Jack Cooper and his robotic companion. It makes excellent use of the franchise’s core gameplay mechanics to provide plenty of breathtaking, exhilarating moments. Similarly, its multiplayer is absolutely fantastic, returning with its signature style of blisteringly fast first-person shooting. Not only is it excellent in its own right, but it manages to improve upon the previous game in every way, fixing just about every criticism of Titanfall along the way. 

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