There’s a moment, around a third of the way through Titanfall 2‘s bombastic, heroes-and-villains filled campaign, when you’re hit with the sudden realisation that you’re having fun. You’ve been having fun from the moment it started, some three hours ago, and believe us when we tell you you’ll be having fun right ’til the very end, some six hours in the future.
2014’s Titanfall – shipping without any meaningful campaign mode – had a huge influence on the First Person Shooter marketplace. It grabbed the boots-in-the-mud genre and gave it, if not wings, then a nifty jet pack and some freaking giant robots. Whilst the two heavyweights of the genre have taken opposing paths – Call of Duty trying to emulate the pace and fluidity of Titanfall and largely failing, and Battlefield eschewing technology and going back to the genre’s roots – the path seemed clear for Titanfall to prove it’s the wall running king of the genre.
It has. It is.
Titanfall 2 lands with a campaign that’s chock full of the bombastic grandeur that Infinity Ward delivered at the height of its powers – and then some. Throughout its nine or so hours – and we wholeheartedly recommend you tackle the campaign on Hard rather than Normal – it’s never less than great, and it is frequently brilliant. The very moment you buy into the idea that giant walking robots are a practical way to wage war, then you have bought into every aspect of the story Titanfall 2 weaves. Mr Generic Protagonist, Militia Pilot-wannabe Jack Cooper is given a little character through his heartfelt monologues between scenes, but so much more personality through you, the player, your controller and the perfect synchronicity you develop as you learn, with Jack, how to become a Pilot, the surgical tip of the sword on the battlefield.
On the ground, Jack moves a little more sluggishly than you remember Pilots moving in the first game, but that only seeks to emphasise his vulnerability when strategies and tactics are adopted that are the antithesis of the Pilot’s approach to warfare. Get Jack moving, leaping, wall running and double jumping and you will feel utterly unstoppable. Momentum is your friend, cover is for the weak, and why would you ever wait for an enemy to reveal themselves when you can go hunting in such spectacular, gymnastic style?
Many shooters have aimed for verticality, but so often that just means one set of soldiers having an altitude advantage over the other. In Titanfall 2, you have complete freedom, and while some sections require precise execution of a series of wall runs and leaps across a fixed path with little deviation, these are never a chore. In free for all combat, that freedom of movement is even more wonderful. Confronted with an arena-like setting, we’re pinned down by the crossfire from innumerable foes, each hiding behind solid cover. Wait… pinned down? Not us. Faced by the building blocks of so many shooters that came before – enemies well placed, in cover, and only a limited number of route ways through the deathly maze – Titanfall gives you an entirely different set of rules to play with, and it’s wonderful. On the harder and hardest difficulties in particular the game strikes a good balance between predator and prey, although normal difficulty is a bit of a breeze.
Control of Jack is utterly perfect – even more so if you’re using a controller with rear buttons or paddles (the Elite advantage is real, here). There’s no wooliness or fuzziness, it feels like there’s nothing between your thoughts and Jack’s movement. It’s pure joy. Climb aboard your Titan buddy, the Vanguard-class Atlas Titan, BT-7274, and the joy of fluidity is replaced with the joy of power – sheer, overwhelming power. Whether stalking your prey one-on-one in a tight, densely packed canyon level, or taking part in a huge multi-Titan assault, it’s hard not to whoop and holler when you’re at BT’s controls. New Titan loadouts are introduced regularly throughout the campaign, but you can switch seamlessly between all those already discovered at any time. It’s a neat touch that allows experimentation but still lets you fall back to your comfort zone when things get tricky.
The campaign finds inventive ways to separate you and BT (we think only once because he couldn’t fit through a door) and you’ll spend much of your time fighting your way back to be reunited with your metal pal. Remarkably, and as with every aspect of the campaign, none of this feels forced. Nothing feels like its been shoehorned in just to make a point. Even the growing bond between Pilot and Titan evolves naturally, whilst dialogue choices afford you the opportunity to imbue Jack with a little more humour if that’s your thing. There are genuinely touching moments throughout, whilst the array of villains you face – in the form of IMC’s mercenaries – are delightfully over the top, but never quite reaching pantomime levels. Add to this heady mix an array of weapons that feel powerful and punchy, and some decent voice acting, and we promise you that you’ll not have had this much fun in a shooter campaign in years.
What, though, of multiplayer – the mode Titanfall cut its teeth on two years ago? We’ll admit, the two technical tests (betas, if you will) left us with some questions. The limited modes on offer had us worried, for starters.
We needn’t have worried. It’s the same frenetic, fast paced, joyous environment. Titans feel more of a reward this time, but everyone will still get one – though those who are making more of a contribution will get theirs slightly more quickly. Customisability and unlockable Pilot abilities are the chief changes, affording you the opportunity to build the perfect pilot to match your preferred playing style. Opt for the grappling hook if you want to max out on movement – used properly it’s the key to speed and agility that surpasses anything in the first game. Used improperly, you can at least snag bad guys and reel them in for a kick in the face. If you’re a sneaky-sneakerson, sacrifice the grapple for the cloaking ability; loiter unseen to ambush your pretty, or cross open spaces at barely a trot and without a care in the world. Other abilities lend themselves to defending objectives (A-Wall shield) whilst returners include the Sonar-emitting throwing knife, or Stim-shots for an extra boost of speed.
Already – and unusually – everything feels balanced, with no single loadout ruling the roost. Each fundamentally changes the way you play and the way you approach each objective – playing to your ability’s strengths is key, though, if you want to stay alive. The same can be said when jumping into one of the expanded range of Titans. Titano-a-titano battles are now much more nuanced and strategic, and knowledge of each Titan’s strengths and weaknesses can be the key to victory. And when it comes to Titan vs Pilot interaction, a rodeoing Pilot will find these metal beasts harder to bring down singlehandedly, though removing an enemy Titan’s core and returning it to a friendly behemoth has turned more than one match on its head.
As with the campaign, the multiplayer is worth the price of admission on its own, even more so when you remember that there’s no season cost extras to factor in – all future DLC will be free, which avoids splitting the player base.
Together, the brilliant campaign and compelling multiplayer means that Titanfall 2 offers the complete package. Titanfall 2’s release window baffled some – sandwiched right between Battlefield 1 the week before, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare the week after. Battlefield 1 is a truly stunning game, and deserving of the nine out of ten we awarded it. Infinite Warfare is better than it has any right to be. But still, though, Titanfall 2 is our pick of the bunch, and must surely be a contender for game of the year.
Titanfall 2 is available from the Store, priced £54.99.
Guns. Jumping, Giant robots. The best shooter we've played in years.
Respawn’s ride to the triumph – and it is a triumph – of Titanfall 2 hasn’t been an easy one. From entitled fanboy gamers baulking at the franchise going multiplatform after 2014’s Xbox exclusive, to entitled fanboy gamers baulking at the developer tweeting a picture of the PS4 disc. We’ve got news for you, entitled fanboy gamers: buying, playing and enjoying a game – any game – doesn’t entitle you to anything. Not one damn thing, though your hysterical Twitter rants and incensed chats with Microsoft Support colleagues has been eye-wateringly funny to behold.
The joke’s on you. Titanfall 2 is one of the games of the year, and the best shooter we’ve played in years.