When the first Titanfall game was released in 2011, it was a glorious testament to developer Respawn’s pedigree. The brainchild of former Infinity Ward devs (they created the massively popular Call of Duty series) following their much-ballyhooed falling out with publisher Activision, Respawn managed to not only keep the first-person shooting mechanics for which much of the genre is known tight, they opened the door to endlessly satisfying and fluid movement options; verticality, player strategy, flanking options etc. were an intuitive extension of the player’s mind and split-second choices, and elements like double-jumping and wall-running worked perfectly. An additional layer in the form of bipedal mechs known as titans made for harrowing multiplayer carnage that played out with a pitch-perfect blend of fun and challenge, and Respawn’s commitment to clever checks and balances (so to speak) has kept the gameplay fresh to this day. Sure, there were minimal complaints such as a limited arsenal and a lack of campaign component, but these were easily forgiven thanks to additions such as DLC maps, a skill ranking system and the ability to regenerate your character (known as pilots) and show off your chops for bragging rights.
With Titanfall 2, Respawn aims to up the ante in virtually every arena and, despite a handful of hiccups, they’ve mostly succeeded. Players become Jack Cooper, a young rifleman for a group of rag-tag rebels from the frontier of the galaxy who are locked in an endless battle with the fascistic government known as the IMC. Everyone on both sides wants to be a pilot, the most effective soldiers on the battlefield who are linked to the aforementioned titans. Cooper’s mentor is killed during a mission gone awry, but this means he’s made a provisional pilot and given a custom titan all his own—if only he could survive the IMC and get off this damn planet.
Campaign-wise, Titanfall 2 plays out in a satisfying loop of mech/on-foot combat. This represents one of the higher points of the game as Respawn has taken great care to build a rapport between pilot and titan. Yours is named BT, and its advanced AI not only looks out for you, it sometimes cracks jokes. As Cooper, you slowly build a bond with BT, which sounds odd, but after a mere hour or so of blasting fools, you’ll find you actually miss your robot buddy when you’re separated. Respawn absolutely nails the pacing without ever making you feel over or underpowered. BT cracks wise, and it’s awesome, and damn he looks cool while he’s doing it.
The campaign is short and sweet, perhaps a problem for some who prefer a more in-depth experience, but ultimately perfect for the architecture of the game. We’re given more guns and even some nifty grenade variants, such as the thermite-infused fire star that damages enemies over time or the singularity-causing gravity star that yanks any nearby enemies into its miniature gravity well. The pilots’ movement options, however, make up a solid chunk of the fun to be had in the series, and varying pieces of tech—such as a wrist-mounted time machine (!)—bring strategy and variety to each level.
Respawn has also upped the variety with their massive mechs. As far as the single-player experience goes, you’ll be tethered to BT (which is totally fine and actually full of sincerely funny jokes), but multiplayer matches open up a slew of new options. The first time around we had access to three basic variants: the small-yet-quick Stryder, the all-purpose Atlas and the tank-like Ogre. Each could equip any of the weapons or abilities, and were largely not so different from one another. Titanfall 2, however, boasts six titans, each with its own loadouts and “personality.” It boils down to player style—do you want to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, or do you want to lumber in and crush your enemies? Some titans move fast and chip away at your enemies in small yet effective fashion, while others dole out massive damage while being cumbersome. The important part is to experiment until you find what works for you.
Modes like Hardpoint and Attrition return for Titanfall 2, but there are new layers to experience. Hardpoint, for example, is now “amped,” a new challenge that allows players to capture a point twice over to make it harder for enemies to claim the spot and also means more points (which means leveling up faster which means more guns and tech). The go-to mode for this outing does seem to be Bounty Hunt, though, a system that operates like a hybrid between team deathmatch and Gears of War’s Horde mode. Waves of NPCs take the field while two teams try to rack up the most kills. This unlocks money that players can deposit into a shared bank between rounds, the team that hits the cap or has the most cash at the end of the round wins. It’s a bit of a longer process, but the series’ use of AI combatants in multiplayer modes has always been an excellent way of assuring the max amount of chaos—and it’s fun as hell.
Though Respawn has seen fit
to fix a few things that absolutely weren’t broken such as the omission of
tide-changing burn cards from the first game—small ability boosts that were fun
to collect and utilize—basically everything has been fleshed out. Obviously the
inclusion of a story-based campaign is the most noteworthy change, but even the
beta from some weeks back didn’t do the final product justice. Hands down, Titanfall 2 boasts the most fluid,
intuitive and enjoyable mechanics in a shooter to date (that’s a big deal), and
the fun new toys you’ll earn along the way coupled with an effectively brisk and
fun campaign make for exactly what good sequels need. In a world of annualized franchises that seemingly ignore fans' frustrations and rarely take risks, Titanfall 2 brings us exactly what we want, some things we didn't we did and then some. Take note, other games—like Call of Duty—you’ve got your work cut
out for you this season.