The year was 2014. Microsoft had effectively nuked its brand image with a troubled Xbox One launch. And we were blissfully ignorant of the non-stop roller coaster of dramatic world events about to unfold not even a decade later. It was also the first year I started blogging as a hobby — a bit of Xbox here, a dash of Windows Phone there, in between shifts in my old IT job.
As awkward as the Xbox One launch was, Microsoft still managed to put together a slate of great exclusives for the launch period: Killer Instinct, the grossly underrated RYSE: Son of Rome, and my personal favorite, Titanfall.
Today, Respawn Entertainment, now part of EA, announced that Titanfall 1 is leaving storefronts for good, and won't be welcoming new players. It pledged to keep the dedicated servers online for the time being, but we all know that it won't be forever.
Titanfall was Respawn's first game, and probably the first game I truly fell in love with last gen. Its unique blend of unmistakable Call of Duty: Modern Warfare DNA spliced with truly ambitious tactical "titan" mech gameplay was unlike anything we'd seen on the market. And even now, its successor, Titanfall 2, remains an oasis of uniqueness in a AAA games industry that at times feels like it's running out of ideas.
Titanfall as an IP lives on in the success of the titan-less (for now) Apex Legends, EA's unlikely smash-hit battle royale that saw Respawn head Vince Zampella promoted to the upper echelons of EA's creative output. Fans, however, cry out for a faithful sequel to Titanfall 2 amidst vague hints from both Respawn and EA.
With Titanfall 1 riding off into the sunset, I reflect back on what made it so utterly incredible, and why cynicism makes me wonder if it was the last twitch-styled shooter I may ever truly love.
Among the ashes and chaos of Microsoft's Xbox One pitch, Respawn cut through the drama with a console exclusive like lightning through darkened skies. Titanfall was among the first titles Microsoft used to showcase its vague promises around how Xbox One would utilize the "cloud" to power next-gen gaming experiences. It's a tad ironic considering the cloud has technically been a staple part of the Xbox diet long before it became a marketing phrase, typically in the form of dedicated servers for multiplayer games. Even in 2021, Microsoft is still trying to figure out what a fully cloud-native game might look like according to reports, but that's a discussion for another time.
With regards to Titanfall, I remember Microsoft making a large deal out of how the game's swarming AI mobs had their behaviors calculated remotely, away from your local Xbox. It's weird looking back how little about the game I knew beyond the fact it was using the cloud in some way. I ended up grabbing it because it just looked awesome. I saw huge robots across rich extraterrestrial worlds and lumbering alien behemoths in the background, with sci-fi weaponry that also looked authentic and grounded in reality. Titanfall was truly inspired, and given the game's pedigree, it's not hard to see why.
Some old Titanfall clips from my Xbox One — note the glorious 720p capture resolution.
Respawn Entertainment literally respawned out of Infinity Ward's notorious litigation between Zampella and others, who alledged parent company Activision had cheated them out of owed royalties. After all, Zampella and his team were responsible for Call of Duty's rise into the mega-hit that it is today, on the backs of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and the technology powering the various spin-offs and sequels.
Titanfall had all the best aspects of Call of Duty, with reactive, and restlessly satisfying gunplay execution, with thoughtful map designs and, crucially, tons of reasons to keep returning to the game.
Titanfall elevated the first-person shooter formula with incredible parkour gameplay, turning what would've been largely flat Call of Duty maps into towering arcades, giving players various sci-fi tools that simply didn't make sense in the Call of Duty setting. And the cherry on top of this most delicious of video game cakes was the titan gameplay, which let you flip seamlessly from the twitchy and reactive infantry gameplay into a more methodical cover-oriented metagame. To read it like that sounds almost like it shouldn't work, but it did work — and it worked so well, I played the game adoringly for several hundred hours.
Titanfall was a true masterpiece: a masterclass in online competitive FPS gameplay, and something that still wholly holds up today. Or at least, if EA wanted it to hold up.
Respawn joined EA in 2017 in a deal with echoes of Bioware after Mass Effect 1. It's easy to point blame at EA for problems with its games and services, but it makes sense. After watching Battlefield 2042 struggle recently and Battlefront V and Battlefront II before that, it's hard to really give EA any benefit of the doubt.
Titanfall as a franchise is in a bit of a state right now. After Titanfall 1's success, Respawn got to work on Titanfall 2, this time with a full-blown story campaign. I think Titanfall 2 took the world by surprise when it launched because the campaign was actually amazing, and holds up even now as one of the best examples of a multiplayer-focused FPS actually having a good story on the side. It was heartfelt with a mountain of variety, good and memorable characters and set pieces, and a ton of lore and world-building infrastructure that could've been utilized to catapult it into a much larger franchise. It didn't make the biggest splash upon release, but appreciation for the game has grown over time.
Alas, Respawn's unexpected smash hit Apex Legends has EA chasing the Fortnite crown in the realm of the service-based battle royale, wholly bereft of titan gameplay. Apex Legends is an incredible game too, and is also set in the Titanfall universe, but it's not Titanfall. And many of the franchise's faithful remain somewhat marooned inside Titanfall 2, which is no longer being updated with new content, and it's a shame.
Titanfall 2 didn't click with me for some reason like the original did, and I think the same is true many fans of the original. I think I'd played Titanfall 1 so much that the differences in Titanfall 2's multiplayer made it hard to adapt to. I'd always bounced between Titanfall, Overwatch, and Battlefield 1 as my go-to shooters through most of Gen 8, and then moved to Battlefront II after DICE implemented some fixes in response to a notorious backlash.
Titanfall 2's multiplayer seemed to polarize some fans at the time. For me, the titans no longer felt like the walking tanks they had been in the previous game, and instead felt a little flimsier. It was ultimately for that reason I bounced off the game, alongside an increasing workload — increasingly I find it difficult to find time to git gud like I used to. That's certainly a me problem, though. Titanfall 2 went on to enjoy a passionate and dedicated fanbase, complete with an active subreddit community.
You'd think it was enough of a base for EA to expand on the game, adding new titans, new weapons, new maps, and so on. But it became abandoned not too long after launch, with Respawn pivoting hard to Apex Legends and then another unexpected hit in the form of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
Ceasing the creation of content is one thing, but Respawn seemed to largely abandon server maintenance as well. The servers became the frequent target of DDoS attacks and cheaters, and it made the game unplayable to many.
EA is awash with cash from its predatory FIFA Ultimate Team mechanics and other microtransactions. It just reported its strongest second quarter in the company's history. You'd hope it would be willing to throw a bit of cash on Titanfall 2, but alas, it wasn't meant to be.
With Titanfall 1 being removed from sale, one has to wonder just how much longer Titanfall 2 has left.
Titanfall: My last twitch shooter
These clips are so old, my Xbox kept throwing up an error while trying to send them to OneDrive.
I call Titanfall a twitch shooter, but it was really so much more than that. The layered and disruptive tactical play from its titan mechanics elevates Titanfall far above the Call of Duty protozoa that spawned it.
I say it's my last because I often wonder if my aging brain and unwieldy workload will prevent me from building the reaction speed necessary to keep up with modern gameplay curves. It makes me sad, but I can't be too sad, because of all the great memories I have playing Titanfall with my buddies and by myself. Titanfall was fun in its purest, most innocent form — smashing a dude into a red mist with a giant, robotic arm.
Respawn says Titanfall is part of its DNA, and has frequently made vague claims about the franchise's potential for sequels, yet none have materialized beyond whispered rumors and dashed hopes. It made the DNA claim right after a developer stated that there's "nothing" coming for the franchise any time soon, though, which isn't exactly confidence-inspiring.
Both Titanfall 1 and Titanfall 2 are playable on EA Play with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate too, if you fancy giving it a try (Titanfall 1 is leaving in March 2022). For the fans who are still holding up the banner of Titanfall I salute you, and I sorely hope you get the sequel you deserve.
To the devs who worked on Titanfall 1, thank you.
Even if you just play Titanfall 2 for the story, you'll have a great time. Titanfall 2 is an underrated classic that deserved a bit more love from EA.
Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!
Not a fan of the Doom series?
I wouldnt call doom a twitch shooter, that's more of constantly running away or at foes. While you do need quick reflexes, it seems more fluid to me. Maybe I misunderstand the label.
Could be that I misunderstand the label as well. I just assumed twitch shooter meant fast paced.
No you're not, Doom is a twitch shooter. TF is not. Twitch shooters are FPS with very fast regular movement i. e. The player is ALWAYS moving at full tilt. If the game has a WALK button and not a SPRINT button, chances are you are playing a twitch shooter, thus forcing you to make very fast joystick or movements (twitching). Quake and Unreal Tournament are pretty much what created the term. Doom essentially plays like Quake, so it IS a twitch shooter.