Monday, November 21, 2016

Titanfall 2 Review!

                Every time a multiplayer FPS launches with a singleplayer campaign everyone makes such a big fuss about it like there isn’t the possibility that they will spend dozens if not hundreds of hours online. Titanfall’s sin was that it was so shallow in content that it couldn’t justify its AAA price and the community splitting DLCs didn’t help one bit killing the game before its turn. To make up for this haunting mistake that’s probably going to keep a lot of people away from Titanfall 2, Respawn Entertainment has slapped on the game a singleplayer campaign. And slapped would be the right term if this was one of those generic singleplayer campaigns that have plagued shooters for years, but to my surprise it is not.
                The story follows the generically named rifleman Jack Cooper, a volunteer in the Frontier Militia who’s day dreaming of becoming a pilot. He is taken under the protective wing of Captain Lastimosa, who trains him into the art of pilotship. When the Marauder Corps are sent on a mission on the planet Typhon, the space ship that was carrying the unit is met with heavy resistance by the IMC, crashing on the planet’s surface. The emergency evacuated soldiers are scattered around the crashing site fighting the overwhelming IMC troops and the hired mercenaries of the Apex Predators organization. Jack Cooper is injured in battle and saved by Captain Lastimosa, which together with his vanguard class titan, BT-7274, make their last stand. Jack Cooper awakes to be rescued by BT’s last efforts from some indigenous animals. As Cooper walks toward BT, the hatch opens revealing a near death Captain Lastimosa which gives BT the order to link with the rifleman. The two form a neurological and friendship bond on their mission to rendezvous with Major Anderson and assist him in stopping the IMC from activating a weapon of mass destruction.
Hello BT!

                I’m not a big fan of action oriented stories as they usually find cheap ways to give meaning to the storytelling, so naturally I was a skeptic about this game all the way to the play button. What I did find after playing a few missions is that Titanfall 2 goes that extra mile in narrative to give the players something to care about and transpose them into its universe. The relationship between BT-7274 and Jack Cooper is at the campaign’s core and its intensity is up to the players. It’s not only about how much you like or dislike the two characters, but how much you get involved into this growing bond between a man and a machine. The game provides the players with a feature that it was long coming into the action shooters of today, but nobody really bothered to implement it: optional dialogues. Don’t worry, it’s nothing like in RPGs and it won’t slow down the action, it’s just a feature design to better immerse you into the game. Cooper and BT talk a lot with one another and the players can expand on that by asking BT questions that usually trigger some hilarious replies as the titan lacks a sense of humor or a proper understanding of sarcasm.
                The story is using a lot of clichés, which I think many players were expecting from the singleplayer campaign of an FPS, but it makes up for them with two well written characters put into the center of attention. It might not be ideal, but it’s still the best I’ve seen since Wolfenstein: The New Order.
We are building a friendship!

                What made me appreciate Titanfall 2’s campaign even more was how unusual it is by today’s standards, standards that the people at Respawn Entertainment helped create. These people might have worked on Call of Duty, but they didn’t want to turn this campaign into just another Call of Duty. The usual scripted sequences that plague the singleplayer of action shooters are scarce here giving them more visual and emotional meaning. But what truly shines in Titanfall 2’s campaign is how well the gameplay and mission design are executed.
Preparing for war!

                Titanfall 2 initial moments of action create a feeling of corridor shooter, but getting past this point opens up massive levels of excellent design that take advantage of this game’s spectacular gameplay. Open space areas stand as arenas for big battles and each level has its own flanking roots and hidden pathways providing players with the needed options for tactical engagement. Players have to fight their way through enemies adapted from the multiplayer which do a fairly decent job on the highest difficulties despite not having the brightest AI. Grunts, stalkers, titans and even bosses with silly cut scene presentations stand in Jack’s and BT’s way to uphold their mission. But here comes the surprise, Titanfall 2 is not all about killing enemies. The level design will put the skills of a Frontier pilot to test. Sliding, wall jumping and walking will be useful at any step as often the landscape proves to be a quality platforming puzzle. The vertigo inducing navigation melts together with heavily non-scripted action sequences in the most natural way giving the singleplayer a fluidity that I thought these games can’t pull off anymore and that’s not even all of it.
She's just weird.
I hate heights!

                There are many features worth praising in this 5-7 hour long campaign, but as the years go by, players’ most fond memories about singleplayer shooters usually relate to the greatest missions. I forgotten most about Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, but I do remember the Saving Private Ryan inspired Omaha Beach landing mission. I haven’t forgotten Call of Duty 2’s Hill 400 mission and I still remember the chill inducing first mission of Half Life 2. But will I remember any missions from Titanfall 2 in 10 years or more from now? Yes and it will be more than one.
                The campaign is in a continuously changing with each new mission throwing a new gameplay mechanic while taking away the previous one. This way the players are always doing something new and exciting that doesn’t resemble at all what they did up to that point, constantly keeping the gameplay fresh.
                By now all those interested in this game might have heard about the time traveling mission called “Effects and Cause” which is a masterwork in tying gameplay mechanics with level design and story in such a unique way that stands as a reminder that games have no reason to repeat themselves. Then is “The Ark” which is probably the best chase mission I’ve ever played which had me jumping from ship to ship fighting side by side with Militia’s soldiers in a desperate attempt to stop a cargo from reaching its destination and ending up with a boss battle where BT’s protocol 3 is on the line.
A new standard for singleplayer missions.
Hell yeah!

                By the end of the campaign Titanfall 2 really wanted to drain a tear out of me, but I stood firmly strong and this doesn’t say that I’m easy to impress, but rather that the ending is an emotional roller coaster that might actually get you. The campaign was a spectacular ride and while it isn’t without flaws it has picked the bar from the ground and together with DOOM (each in its own way) has raised it up higher than anywhere it has been in the last few years.

                When it was announced that Titanfall 2 will get a campaign it didn’t make much of a difference for me. Now that I’ve played the campaign I can honestly say that I’m glad the game got one, but my interest has always been the multiplayer.
                Titanfall’s multiplayer ace in the sleeve was a revolutionary gameplay that had everyone buying tickets for the hype train but leaving it after visiting just a few stations. The gameplay might have been solid, but the content was so shallow that it couldn’t keep players enticed for long. It didn’t help that Respawn made everything in their power to split the small community even further with a Season Pass. Titanfall 2 is here to make up for those mistakes (or at least it looks like that) and right off the bat the main issue of Titanfall has been addressed in the sequel.
                The gamers of today have been spoiled with a lavish amount of weapons and customizations options and Titanfall 2 joins the trend. There is a wider variety of weapons of each type unlocked through a progression system that isn’t too annoying or imbalanced. The starting weapons are the usual jack of all trades so nobody is underpowered while the rest are a little more specialized and require a particular play style and skills to be effective with them. Each weapon has an identical set of performance upgrades with rare deviations and a huge amount of unlockable skins.
                Titanfall 2 has a ton of gameplay unrelated unlockables and while I do welcome this step forward in providing more customization options, it feels like Respawn has put an accent on quantity rather than quality in this matter.
It's clear that the both of us aim in the wrong direction.
Colorful diversity

                As with weapons, the titans have been revamped in the sequel. Instead of customizable titan classes now there are six titans split into three categories with each titan having a personalized loadout and a set of unique abilities, but sharing most of the customization options. Players have mixed feelings about this change, but I’m on board with it because it makes titans recognizable in battle allowing you to change tactics accordingly. It should also make titans easier to balance, not that they are balanced right now. Tone and Legion reign over the battlefield, while the light titans sometimes can’t even leave the fall position in one piece. One of the reasons for this is that titans are a lot squishier due to one of the many questionable changes done by Respawn. The regenerating shields have been removed and with them much of the titans’ tactical value and power. Titans used to open the gameplay to a wide variety of tactical maneuvers that gave an almost excessive depth to such a fast paced shooter. But these once resilient war machines that possessed the combat capabilities to change the course of battle now can die almost as fast as the pilots. A call for a titanfall is viable only as a group move and having a lonely titan on the battlefield is like painting a big target mark on your back. I’m enjoying the combo abilities and the powerful salvo core that the new titan’s models have in store, but I do miss the old ones beefiness.
The Battlefield 1 bonus didn't come with a matching weapon...
Salvo core online!

                Titanfall’s gameplay had all the right elements following the trend of fast paced shooters but adding unique parkour mechanics and mixing everything in a sci-fi setting with giant mechs replacing the nonsensical streaks. It was a frenetic action experience that had you jumping from one wall to another and shooting enemies mid air while landing between enemy titans using an ability to escape victorious. As expected, the sequel builds on this gameplay making a few modifications for better or for worse. The shooting retains the same level of skill requiring the fast reactions of a trigger happy player but with an induced hecticness caused by new toys like weapons and pilot’s abilities. The movement has been streamlined with the introduction of a sliding action which has changed the previous game’s bunnyhop with a much easier to control slidehop. The burn cards and the annoying Smart Pistol have been integrated into boosts which are a cooldown based mechanic that’s less entertaining but much more consistent and balanced.
A useless boost...

                Sadly, Titanfall 2 didn’t manage to build on its predecessor’s foundation without damaging it in the process. It all starts with the reduction of pilot’s life which implicitly lowers the time to kill leading to deaths where there is no time to react. Piling on this problem is the unreliable netcode that might kill you behind a cover even if you did manage to escape. There is also a noticeable lowering of the skill cap done through a few changes that remove most of the resource management by making primary weapons ammunition infinite and adding a cooldown to grenades. But what bothers me the most is the wacky aiming while wall running which takes away the benefits of this great gameplay mechanic.
                It’s fairly obvious from the changes done to the pilot’s and titan’s gameplay that this game is bleeding tactical value everywhere favoring the streamlined action that we all know so well…

                The supporting pillars for Titanfall’s gameplay were the maps and the previous game had a masterful level design. I remember fondly my time spent on Angel City, Outpost 207, Smuggler’s Cove and even Overlook. The maps were big enough areas with buildings cramped tight allowing pilots to jump from one side to another while titans roamed the streets. They had an almost perfect design and the sequel has dropped the ball on this one.
                The maps come in all sizes and while there are some good ones, most of them lack the quintessential elements that drive the gameplay. The intricate layout is mostly gone, so are the zip-lines, slowing the game’s speed and facilitating camping. Most of the maps look like generic battlefields that we find in any shooter. Luckily, Angel City makes a return in December as part of a free content update, which will be the case with all content updates for Titanfall 2 (Respawn has learned a valuable lesson in 2014). And to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t mind any of the older maps to be introduced in the future because it seems that the architects behind Titanfall’s map design are no longer working on this project.
How am I supposed to wall jump here?!

                Last on the list are the game modes which are thirteen in number, weirdly split in two pages, dooming few of them from the get-go (somebody has skipped on UI design 101). As expect, Attrition and a modified version of Hardpoint are leading in the playerbase, while modes like Capture the Flag and Free for All are already dead because they don’t receive the attention as the game modes on the first page. The new popular addition, Bounty Hunt, is a mode that feels like it was misplaced in the wrong game as it doesn’t do a good job at making players use any of the core gameplay mechanics forcing them into camping instead.
Don't judge me! I just want to try it out!

                I’m not going to lie, while I do enjoy the multiplayer a lot, I find some of the design choices going way past the weird marker. Respawn has managed to piss off the hardcore fans of the game in what I think it was a feeble attempt to draw more players into the game. Developers went on changing things that didn’t need changing and ignored the community’s complaints during the tech test run on consoles a few months before release. Some of the problems will probably be addressed, but realistically speaking, most of them will stick until the end.
                Don’t get me wrong though. The multiplayer is good and even with all its problems still stands out in the crowd. But one has to wonder how things would have been if all the right choices were made…

                Running on a modified Source Engine, Titanfall 2 has managed to pull off some above the average graphics which in combination with the outstanding artistic direction we already know add up to some pretty looking visuals. But there is only so much the Source Engine can do and Respawn might have drained every bit of visual power left in it and that shows in a good and a bad way.
A corridor forest
                Titanfall 2 is a visual improvement over the previous game, the overall texture work has been drastically improved, the lighting is a bit more immersive, the shadows are clearer and the models are sharp on details. But past this we have a game that can’t compete with his one week older half brother, Battlefield 1. There is so much more room for visual improvement from a technical standpoint that it gets me mad at EA’s policy of allowing only in-house studios to use the Frosbite Engine. Even so, there are very few things that bother me in Titanfall 2’s visuals, starting with the excessive film grain of a 50s pellicle and continuing with the explosion and cloaking effects which don’t take advantage of basic pixel shader features. Weirdly enough, Titanfall 2 doesn’t always run as smoothly as it should, for the most part the game stays strong at 60fps, but there have been quite a few moments of severe frames dropping in the singleplayer which really annoyed me as they usually came at the worst possible time.
                Depending on how much you value graphics as a PC gamer, you may or may not enjoy Titanfall 2’s visuals. The game looks good, not 2016 good, but the graphics are artistic and clean enough for an immersive singleplayer experience while creating the perfect landscape for the multiplayer.
If it wasn't for those damned dogs, I could stop for a swim here.

                The sound in this game doesn’t try to impress, but rather to stick with the standards of an AAA game. Being music or voice acting the sound does its job and nothing more than that which feels a bit underwhelming. But when it comes to sound effects I’m pleased with what’s on the table. Knowing where the enemies come from and even recognizing their loadout by the gun shots is something that some shooters of late have been missing. It’s also an improvement in audio design over the previous game with multiple layers of sound effects that differentiate yet come together into the chaos of the battlefield.
                The music is not the work of art you expect from composers like Hans Zimmer or Michael McCann and the sound design is not the vibrating madness that accompanies the Frostbite Engine games, but it’s good nonetheless.

Don't believe what you see!
Stand by for titanfall!

                Titanfall 2 is a game I bought to fill the void of a fast paced multiplayer shooter in my playlist, but I ended up loving it for its singleplayer campaign more than anything else. The multiplayer is still good, but not the improvement I was expecting, yet I did sink a generous number of hours into it and I’m continuing to do so while dealing with the thorn in my heart when I see the dropping in playerbase daily.
                It’s saddening to see that the game received little love from its publisher with a weak marketing campaign and being thrown in the ring between two established giants in a battle that even a great game could easily lose. Heavy discounts are already in place and content updates are on the way, but justice will never be done to this game…

+ Impressive singleplayer campaign
+ BT-7274
+ Artistic direction
+ Audio design, voice acting and music
+ The multiplayer has a wider variety of titans, weapons and abilities
+ A ton of visual customizations
+ All the content updates will be free

- Extremely strange in the core gameplay
- Map design is inferior to the previous game
- The netcode isn’t always reliable
- The weapon’s customizations lack uniqueness
- Dropping playerbase
- No ranked system


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