Titanfall was among the Xbox One's first great exclusives, securing a sequel under EA publishing.
Developed by the team behind Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Respawn Entertainment promised to inject more context into the Titanfall universe with a full blown campaign for its sequel — fixing one of the previous game's biggest criticisms.
Launching alongside the likes of Gears of War 4, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, Battlefield 1, and indeed, Modern Warfare Remastered, has undoubtedly hindered Titanfall 2, which has apparently so far failed to achieve sales of its predecessor despite going multi-platform.
Is the launch window entirely to blame? Did the beta's mixed-reception hinder the game's launch? Or is there something wrong with Titanfall 2? Here are my thoughts.
Titanfall 2 visuals and sound
Moving from Titanfall 1, described by Respawn as a low-budget effort, one would expect Titanfall 2 to pick up significant upgrades in the visuals department, but I'm not sure this is the case on Xbox One. Titanfall 2 runs at a pretty ugly 720p on Xbox One, giving it a blurry appearance. Considering the gargantuan open-world battlegrounds of Battlefield 1 managed to achieve 900p resolution fairly easily on Xbox One, it's a hard pill to swallow.
Most AAA titles manage to hit higher resolutions on Xbox One in 2016 with the latest SDK updates, so I'm not entirely sure why this isn't the case for Titanfall 2. Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, for example, manages to hit near-full HD on Xbox One, giving it a crisp veneer. I'm not usually particular about resolution, but in shooters, being able to see snipers who otherwise appear like pixelated blurs makes for a better experience, and Titanfall 2 already feels dated in this department. That said, Titanfall 2 does massively improve its lighting effects, texture detail, and frame rate stability, perhaps at the cost of those extra pixels.
Even if it looks a little blurry, the game's art direction is on point. The new weapons, sound effects, music treatment, and new Titans are brimming with personality and authenticity. The campaign's eclectic cast of villains, alien creatures, and sci-fi structures also gives the franchise some much-needed context. I find myself intrigued to learn more about Titanfall's world, and the execution of the game's characters, particularly the campaign's stoic Titan "BT," certainly help proceedings.
Titanfall 2's visual treatment is something of a mixed bag.
Some of Titanfall 2's visuals occasionally appear dated by time constraints, rather than the limitations of its engine. The game's campaign makes heavy use of flat, 2D static skyboxes that look woefully obsolete. They are gorgeous renderings for sure, up there with other high-quality space, sci-fi vistas, but it's hard to ignore their compressed quality in 2016. I'd argue they belong in a concept art book, rather than attached to the game's backgrounds.
Ultimately, I felt as though Titanfall 2's visual treatment was a mixed bag. Obviously, they have made some significant improvements with their customized Source engine, building in new effects and tech that give the series new dimensions. However, Titanfall 2 still feels like it's lagging behind the competition in the graphics department on Xbox One. Titanfall 2 launched along far more visually impressive titles like Gears of War 4 and Battlefield 1, which perhaps exacerbated my assessments. But with EA's backing, I expected more from the team behind Modern Warfare.
Titanfall 2 multiplayer gameplay
For my gripes about Titanfall 2's presentation, I'd never suggest they trade performance for pixels. One of the things that typified Titanfall was its sharp responsiveness. Titanfall 2 delivers that with gusto.
Titanfall 2's parkour gameplay was also a strong feature. Double-jumping, wall-running, ledge-vaulting, Titanfall 1 had it all, and so does its successor. Not a lot has changed between the first game and the new regarding movement, the sci-fi acrobatics feel as fast and fluid as ever, and the very rapid time-to-kill allows you to pull off some stunning moves that are usually only possible in action movies. Titanfall 2's new sliding and grappling hook mechanics adds new ways to capitalize on momentum while transitioning from the air to the ground, and some of the new multiplayer maps allow well-learned players to exploit these new features to powerful effect.
The weapons of Titanfall 2 are as satisfying as ever to use in combat and feel well balanced in general, rewarding your skill with gory impact kills, visceral execution animations and satisfying sound effects. Titanfall 2 makes up for the previous game's shortcomings by adding a much wider arsenal for gamers to play with, allowing you to mix and match different playstyles to tailor your experience. You don't need to take anti-Titan weapons at all in Titanfall 2, you're free to wield a pistol in your off-hand, but the game's notorious Smart Pistol is now part of Titanfall 2's new Boost system.
Spawning Titans and using Boosts are now based on a meter that charges by performing competitive actions in multi-player. The meter also builds up passively if you're not having the best luck. Typically, obtaining Titans feels largely at a similar speed to the previous game, which was a big concern from Titanfall 2's tech test.
On the way to obtaining your Titan at full charge, you can use a Boost in the middle. Some of the abilities include amplified damage, sentry turrets, the ability to see through walls, and the aim-botting Smart Pistol. The system adds a much-needed extra way to customize your character.
Given the speed of Titan accrual, and the brief 5-8 minute length of Titanfall 2 matches, the Boosts feel a little fire-and-forget while you wait for the main event — your Titan, which will override the need to use most Boosts anyway. But sadly, even the game's signature feature now feels a little anti-climatic.
While there are some awesome new Titans, such as the katana-wielding Ronin and the fire-spewing Scorch, Respawn has significantly weakened Titan durability for this game. The logic behind the move, according to the developer, was to promote team play. You see, Titans in Titanfall 1 had regenerating shields, but in Titanfall 2, their shields deplete permanently and can only be replenished with shield batteries, dropped or ripped from enemy Titans. Players can steal enemy Titan shield batteries and deposit them into friendly players, and you can also jump out of your own Titan to scoop up batteries of your own.
The sentiment is fair enough, but the execution wreaks havoc on Titanfall 2's flow and feel, forcing you to play a World of Warcraft-style "fetch the glowing Duracell" quest in the midst of what is otherwise one of the slickest, most fluid shooters out there. It just doesn't feel good, and the risk vs. reward of running towards these objects, displayed on the map, is rarely worth the effort. The entire shield battery mechanic feels like the product of overthinking, rather than good design.
The entire shield battery mechanic feels like the product of overthinking, rather than good design.
Even with a shield battery, Titans die incredibly fast compared to the previous game. Each Titan gets defensive abilities to mitigate incoming damage, but overall, they stop feeling like your wildest anime mech fantasy and feel like little more than a fleeting power up. Hiding around corners in your gigantic, gattling gun-wielding mech makes you feel a whole lot less powerful than you did in Titanfall 1.
The new Titan design detracts from the entire experience for me, neutering Titanfall 2's key differentiator in a busy shooter scene. Titanfall 2's parkour combat is as resoundingly exciting and fluid as ever, but the same was true of the first game. For me, on balance, there's simply more to be annoyed with than excited about in Titanfall 2's multiplayer.
Titanfall 2 single-player campaign
So, what about that campaign everyone's been talking about? One of Titanfall 1's biggest criticisms was its lack of story content, and Respawn has attempted to address that with Titanfall 2.
Titanfall 2 follows the story of a lone rifleman and a Titan, BT, who acquires the unqualified Jack Cooper in the field. The story throws a spotlight on the battle between the IMC and the Frontier Militia, who's war over resources and self-determination has destabilized the galactic region.
Throughout the campaign, you're steadily introduced to the game's various mechanics, including Titans, parkour combat, and more. It even makes a plot point out of the shield battery mechanics I'm really not a fan of, but for some reason, BT has the technology to acquire batteries simply by running over them, which makes it a little less annoying than in multiplayer.
I played Titanfall 2's campaign on hard difficulty and found it to be a satisfying challenge that utilized Titanfall's unique mechanics in extremely creative ways. My favorite level took place in a gigantic assembly line, which was effectively 3D printing buildings for rapid colonization. Wall-running, shooting and leaping across shifting platforms in this gigantic factory made for exciting play, and really speaks to Respawn's creativity. Platforming gameplay in the campaign's imaginative environments was very satisfying across the board, and while I decried some of the visuals at a technical in the above section, the art direction is on point.
The campaign doesn't outstay its welcome, clocking in at around 5 hours depending on your playstyle. It does offer some limited opportunities to stray from the main path, exploring for collectible helmets and so on, but it's a mostly linear affair that offers little replayability. Respawn knows multiplayer is the main event, and the studio seems to have prioritized appropriately.
The campaign plays almost like a tutorial for the game's mechanics. BT can inexplicably switch between any of Titanfall 2's mech loadouts, and each boss battle allows you to explore the capabilities of each enemy mech in combat. Positively, the majority of Titanfall 2's achievements are tied to the campaign, giving it an edge of replayability if you're so inclined
Between boss battles and swarms of cannon fodder to slaughter, Titanfall 2's campaign is inter-spliced with epic set pieces and a genuinely heartwarming plot between Jack Cooper and his Titan, BT. It also primes us with information about the game's world, through the cold malevolence of the IMC, the eclectic cast of crazed mercenaries they work with, and the scrappy uprising of the Frontier Militia.
The plot and even the interactions between Cooper and BT will be readily familiar to any Star Wars fan. Cooper and BT's exchanges are always entertaining, playing on the "socially naive A.I." trope that has been prevalent in pop culture since Terminator 2. Titanfall 2's campaign doesn't do a great deal to stray from the mold, and its ending was predictable even before launching the game.
At least during gameplay, Respawn combines elements from other games with their unique brand of first-person parkour gameplay. One level, in particular, stands out in this instance, where the player obtains a time manipulation gauntlet which allows you to switch between two different timelines in the same area instantly. It makes for some exciting platforming segments, switching between timelines to avoid obstacles. I immediately thought of Raven Software's underrated Singularity during that level, which revolves heavily around a wrist-mounted time manipulation device. It's a little ironic, considering the studio now works on Call of Duty, the former charge of ex-Infinity Ward employees now at Respawn Entertainment.
Overall, Titanfall 2's campaign is as well-rounded as it is well-executed. The characters are solid, the art direction is on point, and the level design plays to the game's strengths. Is it ground-breaking? A must-buy for the campaign alone? I don't think so, but it helps elevate the overall value of the package in a big way. While it's nice to see a multiplayer-focussed FPS produce a decent campaign, I still find myself hoping that the next installment will be a little more ambitious in scale and depth.
Titanfall 2: The Bottom Line
So why isn't Titanfall 2 meeting sales expectations? At least in part, I think it's a case of poor differentiation. Titanfall 1 was pretty groundbreaking, but since then, Activision's Call of Duty has strong-armed its way into Titanfall's sci-fi parkour playground, delivering mechs, space combat and many other tools and tricks that Titanfall loyalists will find familiar.
Titanfall 2 barely even distinguishes itself from the first game, with combat that largely feels familiar, and its biggest changes hindered my experience, rather than improved it. I still think Titanfall 2 is far more exciting and dynamic than its closest twitch-FPS competition. However, with its signature feature, Titans, being reduced to little more than squishy power-ups, Titanfall 2 does less to stand out in a busy crowd than Titanfall 1.
- Parkour combat is as fun and fluid as ever
- Campaign is solid and engaging
- Way more content than Titanfall 1
- Multiplayer gameplay isn't as good as the previous game
- Poor resolution on Xbox One, giving it a blurry finish
Titanfall 2 had every opportunity to lean more on its outer-space environments, develop its mech combat, but it shies away from both opportunities. "More of the same" isn't always a big problem. Gears of War 4 makes little room for innovation on its classic formula, but the latest installment had to weather a dormant period while showing long-term fans that the new studio understands the franchise. Titanfall 1 is still fresh in Xbox fan's minds, and with wallets stretched over its launch window, Titanfall 2 simply isn't as critical a purchase as its predecessor.
I still enjoy Titanfall 2, and I'm excited to see what Respawn does with it over the coming months, but EA hasn't proven itself to be the most committed publisher out there. Respawn should be praised for offering all future content for free to keep the community in-step with each other, and Titanfall 2 already boasts a strong community. I can only hope the franchise pulls through with mainstream gamers and realizes its full potential.
This review was conducted using a copy purchased by the reviewer.