2014’s Titanfall turned out to be one of the most disappointing games in living memory – not through any fault of its own, but because it was literally half-baked. Developer Respawn Entertainment fell in with the faddy thinking of the time and sent it out into the world without a single-player campaign; a hard core of multiplayer enthusiasts played it for a while before getting bored with it. The situation was compounded by feverish anticipation due to the fact it was Respawn’s first game – the company was set up by two of the founders of Infinity Ward, the Call of Duty originator, who left after falling out with publisher Activision, and signed Respawn up to arch-rival Electronic Arts.
Happily, with Titanfall 2, Respawn has well and truly learned its lessons. As well as being available for the PlayStation 4 (the original was an Xbox One console-exclusive), it has a full single-player campaign. And contrary to expectations, that campaign turns out to be absolutely superb, albeit short (you could race through it in about six hours if you were feeling particularly impatient).
The single-player element of Titanfall 2 casts you as Jack Cooper, a lowly rifleman and aspiring Pilot fighting for the Militia against the oppressive IMC. A mission to a planet on which the IMC has a mysterious installation starts disastrously; Cooper and his commanding officer, Captain Lastimosa, are isolated from the rest of their squad, and a mortally wounded Lastimosa bonds his Titan, BT-7274, with Cooper before dying. So, as an acting Pilot, you must fulfil the squad’s mission against massive odds.
That rather convoluted setup translates into an absolutely superb single-player experience, which starts off by patiently teaching you the skills you need to prosper before mutating into something which is truly original and memorable. At first, you must embark on a couple of raids of IMC outposts in order to power up your newly acquired Titan – those forays, across vertiginous mountainsides, force you to get to grips with the huge double-jump and gravity-defying wall-running abilities possessed by Titanfall 2’s Pilots, along with high-tech toys which, for example, allow you to trigger a short-lived invisibility cloak.
Once you can jump into your Titan, it’s time to take the fight to the IMC. At that point, the campaign really gets into its stride, alternating between Titan-based and on-foot passages, which generates a great ebb and flow. You notice a number of impressive aspects from the outset. The level-design is fantastic – for example, you must negotiate a huge interior factory level which constantly reassembles itself, adding a Super Mario-like element of platforming to the combat. You develop a great bond with BT-7274, who is sentient: you have conversations with him, and the two of you can help each other out even when separated. The action is punctuated with some great boss-battles against new types of Titan (one of which flies), and there’s a superb set-piece in a ruined building, in which you must time-travel back to its pristine state (when it was populated by IMC, who you must dispatch) in order to progress. It’s a real surprise to find some really clever puzzles in the campaign.
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The original Titanfall’s multiplayer generated a pretty decent following, and while Titanfall 2 doesn’t mess too extravagantly with its blueprint, it does build considerably on the original’s strengths. There’s a new mode called Bounty Hunt which feels a bit contrived at first, but once you get to know it, it proves thoroughly addictive. It’s a variation on Attrition (which is also still in the game), Titanfall’s equivalent of Team Deathmatch, in which everyone starts on foot, but as matches progress, gain the ability to spawn Titans.
Bounty Hunt throws Titans designated as bounties into the mix; whoever takes them out wins the bounty. Then, at certain points in each round, banks open, in which you must deposit your accumulated bounty – every time you die, that bounty is halved, and when one team reaches a designated banked bounty amount, it wins the round. The bounties create frenetic battle-arenas, and Bounty Hunt is a great addition to Titanfall 2’s roster of multiplayer modes. However, all the other modes have been carried over from the first Titanfall – Hardpoint is back, and you can jump into Pilot-only or Titan-only matches), so you could argue that Titanfall 2 would have done with some extra new modes. Great new maps, and much-loved old ones which look better than ever, along with new Titan chassis and loadouts freshen things up somewhat, however.
In general, Titanfall 2’s multiplayer is great, as you would expect from a game which, in its first incarnation, was multiplayer-only. It’s more accessible than the likes of Call of Duty, in that you don’t have to master arcane practices and, particularly when everyone is piloting Titans, you don’t need the sort of fast-twitch skills only possessed by 14-year-olds who have nothing to do other than play videogames all day, every day. And this time around, the single-player campaign leaves you feeling that you know what is required of you when you jump into the multiplayer.
Overall, then, Titanfall 2 is a very fine game indeed, and one of the best first-person shooters you can buy. Which begs one question: why did it come out at this precise moment in time? With Battlefield 1 having just reached the shops, Electronic Arts is pretty much competing against itself in the battle for FPS supremacy, and the field will be further muddied when Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare goes on sale. Early indications suggest that, as a result, Titanfall 2 hasn’t sold as well as its innate quality suggests it should. These are great days for first-person shooter fans. But they are also confusing ones – if you have a limited budget, which should you buy? Alas, we can’t help you resolve that dilemma.