Titanfall 2 Review
The original Titanfall wanted to change the way we thought about stories in games that most people play for the multiplayer. Its solution was to ignore the shooter campaign completely, and instead pepper world-building conversations between NPCs throughout that essential multiplayer suite. Coming from Respawn Entertainment — a coalition of folks formed from the ashes of Call of Duty 4 developer Infinity Ward's shake-up at Activision — that made a lot of sense.
It also didn't work especially well. Rather than try to refine it in Titanfall 2, Respawn has chucked the radio-play storytelling in favor of a traditional single-player campaign.
The campaign they've produced isn't just a damn sight more interesting than the me-too, grim, future dystopia from Titanfall. It's downright funny at times. The completely unmemorable clash between sci-fi factions over resources is here replaced with a G.I. versus Cobra tale, right down to a gallery of named bosses you'll need to beat, each entirely defined by their one unique ability in combat.
You've got the flying guy, the teleporting lady, a robot, and so on. Bringing these mercenaries together is a central bad guy who, in one audio log, literally says that human life has no value. Of course he's also got a super-weapon, and you need to break it.
'You" being Jack Cooper, the player's avatar, and his giant robot companion, BT. The Saturday morning storytelling doesn't stop with the villains. Cooper is as much of a non-character as his hyper-generic name implies. Instead it's his 10-ton talking mech who steals the show — with Coop existing mostly to serve up his sidekick's superior one-liners. Besides the goofy tone, this is where the game finds most of its humor, and charm— at least until the flashy, but relatively predictable final chapter.
Thankfully, the rest of the campaign is anything but predictable. Respawn still knows how to set up A.I. bowling pins for our capable duo to knock down, and the shooting that goes along with that is as tight as you'd expect from the developer's pedigree. Yet that's only about a half to two-thirds of the single-player portion. The rest is filled with first-person platforming.
Not the hazardous, joyless crate-hopping that usually entails in a shooter, but mach 1 wall-runs, and double-jumps custom tuned to each level's environment. Every stage of the game has at least one section where Cooper is separated from BT. Jack then has to navigate some unexpected obstacle unique to that area.
One early example is a prefabricated housing factory, in which our fleshier hero has to leap and clamber his way at speed across buildings on a massive, moving assembly line. It's great, and by no means my favorite environmental X-factor in Titanfall 2's campaign (I'll try not to spoil it, but things only get more intense from there).
These are the moments that will stick with me much longer than the fast-paced double kills, and nuclear self-detonations of the game's multiplayer. Which isn't to say the player-vs.-player portion of the game is bad— far from it. Respawn has put together a solid clutch of maps with space for both infantry parkour and lumbering Titan warfare. The campaign is just so good at giving Titanfall 2 a personality its predecessor lacked that the multiplayer feels dry by comparison.
Once you're in the multiplayer, you've got the basic suite that many of this game's developers helped standardize in Call of Duty 4. There's a level progression, which unlocks new weapons, accessories, and skills for both pilots and their mechs. When you hit the level max, you can "regenerate" (a.k.a. "prestige") to start the loop all over again.
The original Titanfall's biggest failing was that there wasn't enough to earn from that repetitive loop in the first place. Once you had the "good" assault rifle, and a red dot sight, you were pretty much set. Titanfall 2 has juiced those numbers a bit, but... honestly, it still feels thin.
Titanfall 2 has also mostly excised its MOBA-like A.I. enemies from multiplayer, which were put there to make less-360-no-scope-capable players (like myself) have an impact. They're still present in Attrition, which is otherwise your average team deathmatch, plus a new mode called Bounty Hunt, where crossing off these grunts and cashing in their bounties is the primary goal. Modes without A.I. — like Capture the Flag, and the Titan-free Pilot vs. Pilot — lack the distinctiveness of either Titanfall 2's campaign, or its predecessor's multiplayer.
It made Titanfall seem like it was punching above its weight. It was meant to be the next, big thing in multiplayer shooter structure, rather than a copy of Respawns own successful blueprint. The, uh, giant freaking robots do still help in that department. I personally enjoy holding down an objective in a titan more than I enjoy hosing down fellow foot-soldiers below.
Thankfully, Respawn still paces out Titans perfectly. In every mode that has them, I've gotten at least two titular "titanfalls" per match — which is still the sweet spot between being overpowered, and getting cheated out of your mech.
There are also a few, new Titan types to flip back and forth between. That's great. Sadly, you can't completely customize them with different weapons, accessories, and abilities the way you can with pilots. That's not so great.
Say you unlock the grenade-launching, missile-locking "Tone" model Titan, for instance. You can switch between the same four perks available to every class of robot — like extra antipersonnel measures, or a faster cooldown for your machine's super attack — but its grenade launcher, missile pod, and deployable shield all have to stay put. No mix and/or matching allowed.
If you told me there was a balance reason keeping truly customizable Titans out of Titanfall 2, I'd believe you. It's still a bummer, however, and further feeds my feeling that the multiplayer progression is still thin.
Between that, as well as the lack of story bits, and A.I. grunts filling the battlefield, I actually came away from Titanfall 2's single-player less impressed than by the first game's — or with "less of an impression," anyway. Yet I'm still happier with Titanfall 2 than the first game as a whole. The goofball single-player campaign is just that good.
It's also very short, however, and its absence is felt once it's over. The total effect is a sequel that feels more complete — better, even — than its more adventurous predecessor. Even though the "meat" of the game — the multiplayer that was once the entire experience — feels just a little less substantial.