Titanfall is as good as you’d hoped, combining single-player narrative and polish with MP design
It’s been years since Jason West and Vince Zampella left Infinity Ward in dramatic fashion to found Respawn Entertainment, and we finally get to see what the team has been working on at this year’s E3. I was able to sit down for a lengthy demo of Titanfall being played, and then discuss what I had seen.
I didn’t expect to fall in love quite this quickly, but here we are.
The speed of combat
Titanfall is a multiplayer title that is trying to bring in the story arcs and non-player characters from big-budget, single-player action games and weave them into competitive play. It’s an ambitious idea, but in the mission being shown you get briefed on what’s going on before you exit your drop ship and fly into battle. Hero characters bark orders from their Titans, the game’s giant, fast-moving mechs, and you feel like you’re in the middle of a war with context and purpose.
It’s also fast. Both the Titans and the soldiers move quickly, and even on foot you can double-jump using your jet pack and quickly get to the roofs of buildings, or you can ride on a friendly mech, or run along a wall for a few steps before blasting to the other side of the room.
Movement, and using the environment well, seems to be a large part of the game, as I saw soldiers and Titans fight at a pace that’s much faster than most competitive first-person shooters.
“It is definitely fast,” community manager Abbie Heppe told me. This speed informed the design of the Titans, and the mechs operate like powered armor, keeping you alive for extended periods of time. “Even though I think fast can be intimidating to people, one of the ideas for the Titans is that you have a sort of second skin. So instead of getting in and dying rapidly, which can happen sometimes, you get a sort of a second chance to live. You can eject out of your Titan and continue to fight. You can kind of get a second life.”
The Titans don’t just blow up when they take too much damage, you have to safely eject and be blasting into the sky before falling back into combat.
The animations you see while entering your Titan change depending on how you approach them, and they can even scoop you up and place you into themselves. The Titans have their own limited AI, and you can leave the safety of the pilot’s cockpit and have them patrol the area on their own, or follow you into battle while providing cover fire.
“Our animators had a lot of fun with it,” Heppe said when I notice how much care has been placed on how the characters move and fight. It’s not overdone, I never got a sense of animations getting in the way of a responsive game, but players seem to be much more free than you’re used to in first-person shooters. If you can see something, odds are you can get there with a few quick jumps.
“It’s been weird when I play this a lot, and I got back to other games and I think I want to jump up there and do all the things, you get really used to that freedom of moment,” Heppe said.
The game is also, when seen in person, beautiful. The action runs at a locked 60 frames per second, which I was told was a high priority for the team. The animations in the characters and Titans are all beautiful, as are the models themselves. It looks like a next generation game, and I’m told that the build I’m seeing is being played on PCs running the Xbox One spec. The official site has download links for these videos in 1080p, and it's worth seeing what the game looks like in high definition at 60 frames per second. The YouTube embeds don't do it justice.
The game has a story, and you go through that story by playing against others, and the numbers that flash on the screen when the players kill others or take objectives clearly show that there is a leveling system at play, but do I need to be online? Can players hone their skills against bots, without the need of two full teams of human players?
“It’s possible, but we’re not talking about that yet,” Heppe said. “But that is a possibility, yes.”
When the level was over, the game told the players that they had a short amount of time to get to the evac site, and that caused a mad rush of players to zoom to the pickup location, fighting each other along the way. I was told the levels would begin with some kind of quick briefing and insertion, and then you would have to escape. The game goes out of its way to make you feel like you’re actually fighting a war, instead of the more sterile, closed off and artificial feeling of most online games.
The game is coming to the Xbox One and the PC, and damned if it doesn’t look amazing, with action to match the visuals. Heppe was obviously excited about the game, and pointed out interesting bits about the level design, what happens during their own daily play-testing, or the verticality of the game’s combat. I had to ask: How did it feel to finally be able to talk about the game, and to discuss it with other people.
Her face broke into a wide grin. “It’s freaking awesome!” she said.
“We’ve been working on this for so long, and we’ve been so secretive, that to put it out in the wild and see what people actually think about it, people have said such nice things, it’s been exciting for everyone,” she continued. “We were terrified, because it’s different, but it’s something we love to play. We just want to make games we want to play. Yesterday was pretty emotional for all of us.”