The Titanfall beta begins like any other first person shooter. You choose from an intentionally limited set of load-outs, for both your Titan and Pilot. You rush into the battlefield securing hard points or battling foes. You can cloak, you can wall run and you even have weapons which automatically lock on to enemies. Titans – huge hulking mechs with significantly more powerful weaponry and ordinance – can be called into the war zone and piloted for combating the enemy.
It’s at this point you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. You’ll think that Titanfall isn’t your typical FPS, sure, but that Respawn Entertainment’s first major title may have been slightly over-hyped.
Then something magical happens: You lose. A lot.
You level up and unlock new weapons and upgrades. You still lose. You unlock the ability to customize your own load-outs, choosing from different Tactical Abilities and passive skills. You continue to lose, even though it doesn’t feel like a frustrating loss. Each subsequent defeat spurs you on to find out what’s missing. Do you need better weapons? Do you need those subtle still insanely vital Burn Cards? Do you just need to be faster and stronger than your enemies? Maybe play with higher ranked players that have unlocked more?
And therein lays the ultimate appeal of the game, buried deep below the deceptively simple beta. Experience, speed, power, knowledge of the map, use of Titans, weapon unlocks, Burn Cards, attachments, Tactical Abilities, ordinance and much, much more will help you win. But it’s ultimately up to whether you can be smarter than your enemies and use all of the above to their full potential.
The Titanfall beta only features two maps – Angel City and Fracture – with three primary modes. Attrition is your straightforward death-match wherein you must find and eliminate Titans and Pilots alike for points. The team to reach the point limit wins. Hardpoint Domination is a capture the points-style mode where you must discover and capture various command nodes for your team. The longer the hard points remain under your control, the higher the score accumulation and the closer you get to victory. Last Titan Standing is a knock-down, drag-out style fight between Titans with no respawns. It’ll put a test to your skills as both a Pilot and a Titan.
But for the all the apparent simplicities that make up Titanfall and make it easy to enroll in, there are multiple weaves of complexity. One of your Tactical Abilities allows you to cloak and avoid detection by Titans. It doesn’t work so well on infantry or other Pilots, so you’ll need to kill fast or risk being annihilated. The twist? Cloaking masks your presence on the radar. It allows for a few sneaky seconds of assault on a hard point wherein you get the drop on an enemy. This realization also makes you consider how to lock down an area. Pilots can literally enter from anywhere – the windows, holes in the ceiling or through the front door – and you’ll never know until it’s too late.
You can equip a variety of weapons, including Assault Rifles, Shotguns, Sniper Rifles, SMGs and Pistols. Unlike most games, Titanfall doesn’t make worry about your ammunition (unless you need to reload in the middle of a fire fight). Each weapon has its own set of components that can be unlocked, which is achieved by completing Challenges. Fancy an increased magazine? Hunt down some Spectres, which constitute some of the AI troops on the map. Levelling up grants you unlocks as well, but it’s as much about rewarding you for whatever you do as it is about challenging you to earn your upgrades.
While you’ll eventually happen upon your losing streak, there’s something else that becomes immediately apparent in Titanfall: its chaotic atmosphere. Battles between Titans break out in a heart-beat, and you’ll quickly be caught between heavy shells and guided missiles, scrambling for cover and exploring off-beaten paths. Some Titans have the ability to go nuclear and damage a wide area around them. This has the added ability of killing off pilots who tried to rodeo Titans into submission. You can also activate Electric Smoke to kill said pilots if you want to keep your Titan in the exchange.
Some of the more common issues with Titanfall have been its low player count and sub-par bot intelligence. Depending on how you approach both problems, you’ll either come to love the experience – which is very likely – or find it a glaring problem. Bots are more than just cannon fodder for less experienced players. They’re one of the few stepping stones towards upgrading your equipment. Craftier players can use bots as a diversion in order to ambush the opposition while they’re busy reloading.
While the maps are large enough, there’s never a feeling that any single objective is too far away. With parkour, jet-packing, double jumping and wall running, it’s easy to quickly make your way across the world. These abilities also have bearing on your combat skills. Only those who navigate the environment with these skills will have a leg up over their opponents, especially when it comes to circumventing brutal melee attacks. If you want to be really picky, the large map size will only become obvious when you’re being killed repeatedly and are forced to travel back to your last planned objective. To the credit of the developer, the respawn system has been balanced enough to make this an occasional issue.
Burn Cards are literally the wild cards within Titanfall. You can shave off valuable seconds till your next Titanfall, equip amplified versions of your weapons, earn more experience from killing Pilots and Titans, utilize unavailable weapons, etc. You’ll still need the requisite skills and know-how to fully take advantage of them. Prosthetic legs may make you faster but they won’t be of much use when a Titan is bombarding you with rockets and 40 mm shells.
It’s rare to find a multiplayer game like Titanfall that is relatively error-free in its beta stage. Despite server issues that appeared – and took almost two days to be fully resolved – there are no visible bugs in the game at all. No glitches, no collision detection issues, no awful animations, nothing. A bug did arise on the second day, with players unable to find servers to play on, but being this close to perfect is nearly unheard of in the beta stage. The visuals are incredible, providing the perfect blend of particle effects, high resolution textures and field of view without being too overtly distracting for the task at hand.
Titanfall feels like an extremely streamlined, yet still visually rich experience. You’ll overhear conversations from other Grunts about their friends being felled or wanting to become Pilots someday. The voice acting is solid throughout and the characters come across as likeable enough to not immediately cause you to smash your screen when you hear them repeat the same line again. Sound has other applications, including Grunts informing you when a Pilot is nearby and cloaked or when enemy units are closing in on your position.
Can it possibly get better? As clichéd as it sounds, it can. Titanfall has low bandwidth requirements overall and offers a very strong ping rate regardless of whether you’re located. Having played the game on a 3G cellular connection with a 140-200ms ping on most matches, I discovered roughly 70 to 80 MB consumed per hour. Source Engine allows the game to scale to almost any configuration, so if you’re stuck with an AMD A8 CPU and mobile Radeon graphics on your laptop, you’ll still have a blast.
Titanfall may be one of the most sublimely brilliant multiplayer experience ever created, even in its beta stage. It offers a lot, even when your options feel extremely limited while starting out, and invites you to further open and explore the possibilities. Those used to running amok on a Battlefield or heeding the Call of Duty might need to learn a few new tricks while casual FPS fans will just need to buckle in for the long haul when it comes to racking up victories.
But rare is the game that rewards you for playing, even if it’s too fail, as Titanfall does while simultaneously balancing potentially game-breaking mechs with nimble yet vulnerable soldiers. Whether you want to consume an entire weekend or just sneak in a few quick matches in between, Titanfall is worth every heart-pounding second. Stay tuned for our full review of the game wh as we explore just how well the gameplay holds up over a sustained faux campaign and wide-spread commercial usage.