Titanfall 2 – Final Review

Titanfall 2 is an interesting, ambitious game. The developers ceaselessly sought to push forward traditional shooter controls, giving the player great mobility and freedom of movement, and mostly succeed. Despite the relative complexity which might typically accompany such systems, here everything is very intuitive; wall running, double jumping, sliding – combining these abilities is seamless and exhilarating, taking the gameplay to new heights. There are spread all throughout the campaign certain scripted moments, where paths conveniently fall into place, excellent routes for wall running, and these cinematic sequences represent some of the game’s greatest moments. Sadly, as fun and organic as these movement systems seem, the aggressive playstyle they facilitate results far too often in rapid death. Dancing around the environment, engaging in constant, bold movement, leaping this way and that – it spells an early doom. Really, defensive play seems more logical and safer, despite the fact that it is objectively unexciting. Giving the player all of these abilities without truly capitalizing on them seems like this great misstep. The varied maps are designed to accommodate these systems, and yet, when the shooting starts, the game becomes of a more traditional sort, shooting enemies from a place of safety, taking bullets in turn, and then promptly retreating to cover to allow health regeneration. It is all frustratingly very slow, even as there is the constant prospect of speed. As it is, this mobility serves a more stylish purpose than a practical, tactical one; it is incorporated well and elegantly animated, and yet it is fiercely underutilized outside of exploration. Luckily, the gunplay itself is consistently satisfying. There is a large arsenal available to the player, nearly all of them traditional and relatively believable in design, though strongly accentuated by a certain futurism aesthetically. They are all detailed and well-modelled, this superb level of quality extending to all aspects of the game; the production values are exceedingly high.

Narratively, the game falters somewhat. It opens in a calm scenario, a tutorial of sorts, swiftly introducing the playable character – Rifleman Cooper. Here also, the gameplay mechanics are conveyed in an inviting, digestible manner, through a repeatable obstacle course. This map is very well-designed and enjoyable to play; it is a perfect way of grasping the controls and experimenting with the game’s large arsenal. Once training has commenced, there is an unexpected attack, Cooper dropping with other pilots into a hostile zone below. Lastimosa, Cooper’s guide and mentor, is summarily executed by a band of fierce mercenaries. Cooper is graciously spared, and immediately sets out on a scavenging mission, seeking out batteries to recharge his fallen friend’s titan, the lumbering BT. This done, he is happily welcomed into his titan’s chassis, the first step to becoming a true pilot. From here, the plot really meanders. The pair look for answers, occasionally running across some of the mentioned mercenaries, each one having its own unique, particularly powerful titan; they often serve as bosses in the game. It can be confusing at times, as there seems to be some preexisting lore, the rival factions supposedly having a storied history, reaching back for millennia. Sadly, I know nothing of this, so I rapidly became rather indifferent about the narrative. It was far from engaging. Either way, Cooper gathers intel, learning that the mercenaries have dark, sinister, damaging intentions – they seek to obtain a devastatingly massive weapon, intending to wipeout their rival’s home planet and all whom inhabit it.  

Obviously, this coalition of a mercenaries is a dangerous one. While Cooper and BT together possess considerable strength, their collective might is insufficient to destroy this coalition and return peace to the land. Cooper’s list of allies is a long one, and having a reserve of backup like this really adds a sense of scale to the conflict. Cooper is not alone, but is surrounded by many of a like mind, with nobleness of intention. Beyond Lastimosa, who believed in Cooper from the first, there is some hesitancy surrounding this ambitious, would-be pilot. There is tension here, then, Cooper initially dismissed as unworthy of the role of pilot, most strongly by a female leader in the faction. BT, though, with his endearing, charming voice-acting, rallies to his friend’s side. So enamored is he with his new master, he is unwilling to relinquish him – his boon companion. Indeed, even as the plot tends toward the forgettable, the most enjoyable narrative moments come from the interactions between both Cooper and BT. They have frequent dialogue with one another, the player usually given a pair of basic dialogue options to respond to BT. They grow visibly close, and their camaraderie is inspiring. Cooper’s voice acting is stellar, and he seems like this genuinely grounded person, partially cynical, though mostly affable. BT, though, has relative difficulty in expressing his emotion; he is a robotic A.I. of course, supposedly incapable of empathy, though as the plot progresses, BT ultimately shatters that assumption. As with Cooper, there is something immensely likable about BT; he is engaging and entertaining, and his fate at the conclusion struck the only resonant emotional chord within me; I kind of became attached to the character, this attachment extending to Cooper, too, whom we never see in third person – everything is shown through his eyes. It is immersive, then, with humor that is never overbearing, sparsely delivered and thus undeniably effective. In all other narrative aspects, though, the game is generic, bland, and, in the end, very forgettable. It ends on a strong note, but a powerful ending can’t rescue what is overall unfocused. What stands out – and what I will most strongly remember – is the moment-to-moment gameplay, and the wonderful, creative graphics.

The game can be quite arresting. Many of the environments are outside in the open, though others occur in internal areas; dark and atmospheric, with cinematic lighting and creative, futuristic flourishes, they can be a wonder to behold. From a gameplay perspective, too, they are remarkable, oftentimes sprawling in terms of design, with great verticality and amble opportunities for cover. Impressively, then, the game can evoke feelings of largeness and claustrophobia – even within one map. Graphically, though, the game excels most strongly when exploring the external environments. The starting zone of the game proper, for instance, is a sunny area, with waterfalls and streams, populated by strange, exotic, lizard-like creatures, both fearsome and intimidating. It is interesting to consider something so hostile and horrifying could exist in a place so tranquil and idyllic. The draw distance is impossibly long, and the skyboxes are majestic, planets and moons easily visible above. Creatively, then, it is wonderful, though technically it is also impressive. Despite these wonderful, diverse vistas, bustling with enemies and action, the framerate holds steady throughout; it is very well optimized. Also, no level outstays its welcome, greatly helping the sense of pacing throughout the game. One level ends, a cutscene or two plays out, then the player is promptly dropped into some new environment, totally distinct from the last. The game, then, moves at a brisk, refreshing speed.

Interacting in these worlds is also compelling. There is the mentioned graceful movement, though this is accompanied by the engaging, impactful gunplay; they are two foundational pillars of the title. Guns sound punchy and booming, and are satisfying to shoot, many possessing notable recoil and kick. The game’s great diversity extends even to the armory. Shotguns are present, though they are expectantly weak at range. There are light-machine-guns, pistols, rifles – everything expected in a traditional shooter is expectantly included, though the gunplay here shines brightly, in a singular manner. There are a pair of sniper rifles which I relied on heavily once I ran across them whilst exploring the levels. Satisfying, brutally effective, and flexible, in some ways they carried me through the more challenging encounters dispersed throughout the game’s narrative. Playing on the hard difficulty, I died a fair few times, but the death was largely on the part of my own personal failings, rather than some cheapness on the part of the enemy. Indeed, the game is very fair. Enemies do not have ridiculously high health bars, dropping after just a few bullets, headshots often resulting in instant death, especially if one of the destructive sniper rifles is involved. Experimentation is also encouraged. While I did use the sniper rifle quite often, I did not scorn other weapons, which contributes to lasting freshness. Some are undeniably weaker than others, being very situational, but the gunplay just feels right. My only real complaint here is the two-weapon limit. I’m sure this was a deliberate decision, included for balancing purposes, but I can’t help but bemoan this restricting decision. Either way, the guns all stand out, even grenades having a special, determined purpose. Once they are readied, their trajectory is displayed, furthering the intuitive; they are very useful and damaging, and can make a difference in the fight. The cloaking feature is also particularly useful, permitting brief security and consequently permitting safe flanking. There is a fair difficulty curve, and after a handful of deaths early on, I soon determined by limits, and determined never to overstep them.

The third pillar is the titan gameplay. Initially, I found these instances boring and lackluster; it was simply not enjoyable to command BT, though I suppose I partially attribute this to my great love for the graceful infantry gameplay. As things progressed, though, my enjoyment exploded. I kind of fell into a rhythm, learning when to shoot, when to dodge, when to push and when to take cover. There is a strong tactical component here. While some of the lesser enemies and grunts are easily dispatched, opposing titans pose a far greater challenge, many ceaselessly peppering Cooper and BT with gunfire, until one party is utterly destroyed. Sometimes, three or four opposing titans are thrown at the player together, presenting an even greater challenge, fostering an air of lasting tension. Triumphing in these engagements is very satisfying; along with the basic tactics, there are other things to consider, like when to rush for a restorative health pickup, deciding on the spot whether the movement is worth the risk. Most critical to these titan battles and tactics is the choice of loadout, or “chassis.” Initially, only one type of titan model is accessible. Armed with a machine gun and rocket launcher with a lock-on feature, it is serviceable if unimaginative, and could probably serve as primary model for the entirety of the campaign. But that would be boring, and the game fortunately throws diversity into the mix. Other options quickly emerge, providing continued excitement and encouraging the cerebral, each chassis having its own unique strengths and weaknesses. One chassis, for instance, has a shotgun as its primary weapon, wielding on its off-hand a large katana. This sword, when it is activated, can inflict massive damage, though full effectiveness is only achieved at close range. Similarly, the mentioned shotgun is also most powerful in a pointblank engagement. Others stand out, like one with a gun which excels at longer range, with a jump feature, and the ability to briefly hover in the air, expending countless rockets on the hapless foe below. Another employs lasers, another still shooting a trio of rockets. This flexibility is commendable, though it is sadly destroyed in a few scenarios, primarily in the boss battles against rival titans piloted by members of the coalition. Typically very difficult to defeat, these engagements mark perhaps the only frustrating moments in the entire game, as all of these excellent freedoms become almost irrelevant; certain chassis types are wildly ineffective in these combats, so they are very restrictive. As these mercenaries represent the greatest antagonists, dispatching them seems like one grand, necessary step toward completion of the ultimate objective – saving the world, while triumphing over them is especially rewarding, given the challenge involved.  

Despite the game’s relatively short length, there is present a sense of epicness. With the allure of the space opera, Cooper, BT, and the others of his faction perform unbelievable feats, powered by their jump kits, maneuvering deftly, employing futuristic navigational technologies to leap around the universe in a similarly swift fashion. The scope is large, with an implied pressing urgency, though narratively nothing striking or original rises to the surface. In this regard, despite its overwhelming ambition, the game feels rather formulaic. True, BT is a likable giant, initially a means to an end who quickly becomes so much more than that. But he and Cooper’s earnest relationship cannot save a narrative misstep. Not a misstep: more of a lazier attempt. Despite it all, though, even if the narrative isn’t compelling the moment-to-moment gameplay excels. The locomotion is richly satisfying, even if it, too, doesn’t totally capitalize on its manifold potentials. The game feels great to play, handling like one of the best shooters I have come across. Despite its mostly generic nature, though, the concept of Titans is totally unique, helping to distinguish the game from its many competitors. With a constant barrage of new, unique environments, and temporary powers like the capability to manipulate time, the game never becomes stale; intensity is maintained, though the occasional heartfelt, grounded moment arises, most frequently within the exchanges of BT and Cooper. The entire narrative, epic as it might be, can be easily compressed and compartmentalized, stowed away only to be forgotten, or remembered only in pieces. But I will always remember the more emergent moments in the game – flanking a shielded enemy, dashing behind him and attacking his vulnerable, exposed back. I will also remember the great graphical luster and attention to detail present in the game, like getting the drop on an AA gunner, shooting him with a barrage of gunfire, only to see him believably slump back in his seat. Small details like that really stand out, and show the developers’ great love and passion, a love I have similarly developed in my six or so hours with the title. There is no resonate, narrative heft here. But does every game need that weight? I don’t think so. The guns, the wall-running, the mech gameplay, all of these things come together to prove that, yes, a game does not need some stirring, troubling or engaging narrative. With the inclusion of endearing, sympathetic BT, they don’t totally scorn the heartfelt. But the focus is absolutely clear – the gameplay is prioritized above all things. Titanfall 2 shines on that front.

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