As a journalist, my life is a never-ending series of embargos. I’m essentially Cuba, but instead of not being able to sell luxury cigars and fine rum, I’m burdened with the knowledge of all manner of cool pop culture ephemera that I can’t talk about with the general public until a predetermined date. Well, since last week, I’ve had a Giles Corey-sized weight on my chest that I am finally able to remove: I’ve played the Titanfall beta and it’s glorious. Really. No foolin’. The game that we deemed the Best in Show of E3 2013 is living up to its considerable hype, which is no small feat considering the buzz surrounding it.
Over the course of three or so hours in a giant hangar-like room filled with dozens of Xbox Ones, custom Titanfall-skinned controllers, and dozens of eager journalists, we got to try our sweaty hands at a variety of game modes – Attrition, Last Titan Standing, and Hardpoint – and two different maps. First, though, we had to make our way through the tutorial level, a short but informative sequence of training missions that acquaints you to the game’s controls and unique elements like its parkour-style wall-running and gets you acquainted with one of the most important features: piloting Titans.
The controls are instantly familiar to anyone who plays a reasonable amount of console first-person shooters, so I didn’t find myself struggling with much of a learning curve where that was concerned. Whether I was in a tutorial level or in the thick of a pitched battle, the controls were highly responsive and the frame rate never seemed to sputter or dip, which is an impressive feat for a frenetic multiplayer title like this. The only time I found myself checking my watch a bit impatiently was when I was waiting for one of the levels to load, but I’d chalk that up to overloaded wi-fi rather than a technical fault in the game itself.
The pre-match loading screen will remind many players of Call of Duty, offering a chance to customize your class kits, Titan loadouts, equip single-use items called Burn Cards that offer in-game bonuses like increased running speed, and peruse a variety of statistics, challenges, and more. For the beta, we were able to choose from three core classes – Rifleman, the standard assault class; Assassin, a smart pistol-wielding stealth class; and CQB, a shotgun-wielding class for in-your-face gameplay. Likewise, there were three Titans from which to choose, Assault, Tank, and Artillery, which were equipped with increasingly heavy duty armaments, rocket salvos, and a Vortex Shield which allows players to catch projectiles in mid-air and fling them back at opponents.
Gameplay-wise, it is a frenzied mixture of Battlefield-style class-based running and gunning, Hawken-esque mech warfare, and Tribes-ian high-flying parkour. Our first game mode, Attrition, was your standard team deathmatch-type gameplay. The mission was simple: kill everything in sight. Easy enough, right? When we first spawned, my team and I did what came naturally to us, stayed on the ground and fanned out, looking for fresh meat. Squadrons of weaker AI soldiers, Grunts and commando-like Spectres, fought alongside us, giving the sense that we were two massive armies about to head to war.
I’m a naturally jumpy player — I love nothing more than pulling some John McClane-style moves while jumping off a building or through a plate glass window – and the game definitely rewards that style of gameplay. The level design is compact without feeling claustrophobic, but offers a level of verticality that separates it from competitors like Call of Duty, adding a new dimension to the battlefield for you to worry about. You don’t just need to worry about what lurks around the next corner; you need to worry about the X, Y, and Z axis. Death can come from every angle, and that sense of terror is exhilarating.
Initially, I was a bit concerned when Respawn announced that the multiplayer has been capped at 6 vs. 6. Having been wiling away countless hours in sprawling 64-player Battlefield 4 matches at home, I wondered if I’d find myself missing the extra players. Thankfully, it never crossed my mind. I was too busy leaping from wall to wall, then using my momentum to loose a hail of bullets at an unsuspecting opponent while leaping towards an enemy Titan wreaking havoc on my teammates. The freedom of movement afforded by the game is unparalleled, and allows you to pull off some of the most spectacular moves you can imagine.
Of course, all of this pales in comparison to when you call down your very first Titan from the sky. As soon as you enter the game, a timer begins counting down until your Titan is ready for deployment. Once the timer reaches zero, you’re a go for Titanfall. Simply press a button, choose a landing location, and look to the sky as your giant menacing mech lands with a thunderous impact. A small, impermeable force field surrounds it, offering you a chance to get into your Titan without getting immediately spawnkilled or blown to smithereens, a feature for which many fans, myself included, are grateful.
The Titans are large, lumbering mechanical death machines, but they pack a major punch. Few things are as satisfying as punching an enemy foot soldier into a fine red mist or ripping an enemy pilot from their critically damaged Titan, yet your massive size means there’s a massive target on your back as well. Enemy Titans will inevitably team up to take you down and you have to be wary for enterprising ground forces who leap onto your back, and shoot bullets into your engine hatch in a maneuver aptly called “rodeoing”. Take too much damage and you have the option to eject, sending you flying high into the air. If an enemy is rodeoing you at the same time, they’ll come along for the ride and you can have a mid-air firefight. Oh and fun fact: you can crush an enemy Titan by calling yours down on top of it, which is a decidedly badass way to say, “How do you like them apples?”
If you could care less about infantry combat, then Last Titan Standing is the mode for you. Much like classic Counter-Strike, you only have one life per round. You and your teammates are restricted to your Titans and you must navigate the narrow city streets, dodging, evading, and taking potshots at one another lest you find yourself critically damaged and about to explode. It’s rollicking fun, especially when you get into a massive firefight between multiple Titans all unleashing rocket salvos and reflecting barrages of bullets at one another with well-timed Vortex Shield blasts. Still, for my money, the game is at its best when you can blend the fast-paced, frantic infantry gameplay with the thunderous fun of piloting Titans.
Last, but certainly not least is Hardpoint, the name Respawn has given to its Domination mode. As with Attrition, you’re still trying to kill everything in sight, except you have the added objective of taking and holding three different points on the map. The longer you hold them, the more points you accrue, and so on and so forth until one team emerges victorious. Rather than simply ending when the winning team racks up enough points, the game enters a Mass Effect-style countdown where players on the losing team have to make their way to a landing zone to board a dropship and escape. Enemy players can rack up points killing fleeing opponents and can even blow the dropship to smithereens if they’re quick enough on the draw, a supremely satisfying way to cap off your victory.
What separates Titanfall from its competition isn’t its blend of vehicular and infantry combat; it’s the sense of freedom and seamlessness of experience it offers. Whether you want to leap from wall to wall and take potshots at enemy forces or call down your Titan and unleash mighty payloads of high-grade rockets on unsuspecting foes, the game has something for you. Respawn has designed a fast-paced, fluid, and, most importantly, supremely fun experience, that doesn’t get even after spending three-plus hours playing the same two maps over and over again. If I can figure out how to edit down the footage I captured, I’ll have that for you later today. Otherwise, I’ll try to stream some of the beta footage later this weekend on the Nerdist News Twitch channel. In the meantime, take a look at some more sweet screenshots of the in-game action and the Titans themselves: