It has been a long time since I have played a first-person shooter in single-player mode. The last playthrough was probably the original Half-Life as a Let’s Play on YouTube about three years ago (I expected it to be longer, though). Since then, it has mainly been 3rd person shooters or action adventures. The majority of 1st person shooting games I have played are the Borderlands franchise and Counter-Strike until version 1.6. There have been a couple of others, of course; big names like Half-Life 2, Doom, Unreal (Tournament), Serious Sam, and so on. But that was at a time I would now call my youth. I like the skill aspect of shooters, but other than that, I have not found many that got me interested in a way that made me want to continue to play them. I have barely played through any of the previous games (Half-Life 2 being the exception 😉). In the here and now, I am looking for a well-told story and character development. And by that, I mean the main character’s personality and the relations the character has with others, not a role-playing system.
I have heard many praises about the quality of Titanfall 2, despite it not being a huge hit. When I discovered this game for a whopping 2.99€ in the Xbox game store, I figured why not try it out. Since I usually try to write reviews for games I find noteworthy in a specific way, be it good or bad, there must be something about Titanfall 2 that made me mash some keys on my keyboard and publish it on the Internet. Is it a Witcher 3 or a Battlefield 4? Curious?
It Is a Shooter; It Is a Platformer
I have not done any research on the game beforehand. What I knew from its predecessor was something about Mech combat – giant robots piloted by people. I was pleasantly surprised that Titanfall goes beyond that. Mech combat plays a key role; all the boss fights are carried out in these so-called Titans. For most of the time, however, you are on foot, and not only that, traversal also contains a few platforming elements to spice things up. An obvious one is literally jumping from platform to platform, but you also get double-jump capabilities and wall running. Fortunately, that is all the developers integrated. Looking at games like Doom Eternal, where platforming in a shooter has been taken to the extreme, I am pleased about this decision. Respawn Entertainment, the company behind Titanfall 2, cleverly integrated this platforming aspect with a couple of other gameplay mechanics to create a few exciting environmental puzzles in some of the levels.
Much Variety, Few Boring
Unlike Open World games, where everything connects in a way so that you can travel from one mission’s location to the next one on foot, Titanfall has a very linear level design with a clear beginning and endpoint. You start in an area with a specific goal, and when you have achieved that, you move on to the next level. And by that, I mean the game shows a loading screen while it retrieves the following map and drops you at the starting point. A smoother transition would have been nice, but I do not mind. It is not an Open World game, which is a good thing because I was not looking for one.
When it comes to the design of the levels and missions, there is a tremendous variety. You might think that a shooter is dumb and always the same. Think twice when you plan to play Titanfall 2. There is a lot of shooting, mind you, but it is more than that. Remember the platforming aspect? One mission lets you navigate a level by using a time-travel device. This way, you can experience the scenery in two states – destroyed in your current time and while it was still okay in the past. That particular mission combines the time travel mechanic with platforming elements into a few environmental puzzles. Only if you combine all of it at the right moment can you traverse some of the sections. Although it can occasionally be frustrating to get the timing right, it is a pretty neat experience.
Let me emphasize that it is not just about shooting and platforming. There is the Titan as well. Sometimes an objective is more focused on your giant metal shooting rig, and sometimes it is a combination of riding the lightning Titan, being on foot, and running and jumping all over the place. Neither of these gameplay mechanics is ever overused, and that is what makes this game so enjoyable.
The levels themselves are colorful, dark, or inside a building, or outside in open terrain. It really never gets boring, neither visually nor how you play them. Even though the level design is very linear, it never feels like you are walking through a hose. There is a sense of scale in all the mission areas that makes them feel more open than they actually are. This is a good illusion and helps to make the game’s world seem extensive and cohesive. After all, you are visiting several locations on the same planet.
I have mentioned at the beginning that I like to see a character progression in a game. Titanfall delivers on that front as well. Your hero has a voice! Going further, you get to select between two options for how your character communicates on radio chat in live gameplay. It is not a role-playing type of experience, but it lets you immerse yourself more in the game and become the hero. The two choices are usually the snarky smartass and the more likable nice guy. Whatever you think is more appropriate given the situation, or whatever you think your hero should be like – you get to pick. I do not believe it has any impact throughout the game. It does, however, influence the immediate answer of whomever you are talking to over the radio at that moment. Most of the time that is your Titan. In cutscenes, you only get to watch, and that is fine by me.
Speaking of Titan and given the name I selected for this segment, your hero and the Mech you are fighting alongside develop a bond that is likely going to affect you as a player. It might sound weird when I say "develop a bond with a Mech", but is it? How do you feel about all the Star Wars droids? Isn’t a huge part of Jedi Fallen Order based around Cal Kestis and his little droid buddy? In our current society and technological advancement, this is an odd concept, I agree. In contemporary media, be it movies or video games, robots are humanized to a degree where they possess some form of personality. The same is true with the Mech in Titanfall 2. You cannot compare it to something like C3P0, which would go too far. Its character is more akin to a Vulcan from Star Trek. It is a robot, but it thinks for itself, very logically, but over time shows some glimpses of human character traits it seems to pick up from its pilot, the hero you are playing. This is very cool. Because of this, the very last mission is so much more effective than it would have been if the Titan were a mere shell to ride around in and blow things up with.
I will not spoil it here because I do not think many people have enjoyed the game, unlike the more popular games like Gears or the Witcher series. I give this part a 👍.
Do you remember the Omaha Beach mission of the first Medal of Honor game? Titanfall 2 starts off similar to that. First, there is the intro video that depicts an assault on a military structure. It explains and shows the impressive skills of a "Pilot" – whatever a pilot pilots – and you immediately want to play one of those cool guys. Second, it throws you right into a full-on assault once you pass the tutorial mission that teaches you the controls. That is quite an exciting way to start a game.
I am not exactly sure why you are attacking a military base, but it is a Rebels versus Imperial Forces kind of scenario. Everything goes to 💩, of course, and that is where you become the hero. The way things work out in the first mission is a bit of a cliché, but hey, it is an entertaining game overall, so whatever.
Titanfall 2 tells its story through radio chatter and very cinematic cutscenes. Sometimes you get to experience it from a third-person perspective and sometimes through the eyes of your hero. If you are a bit quicker on the uptake than me, you will immediately pick up why I call it a cliché once the actual game starts. But that does not matter because the game is so much fun. All the different levels and missions offer so much to see and experience that you quickly forget where you come from and embrace your new role. The game looks great, it sounds incredible, and it also plays fantastic.
I have played it on the Xbox Series S, which ran locked at 60 fps on my TV. Watch this Digital Foundry video on several Xbox FPS Boost enhanced games that include Titanfall 2 for more details about the performance, especially the 120 fps mode I could not take advantage of. I recommend playing with a surround-sound capable audio setup instead of headphones. The ambient audio and sound effects feel so much more immersive when they can come from any direction.
The voice actors also play a crucial role in pulling you into the game world, and I can confidently say that Titanfall 2 does not disappoint. I can only speak for the English version because I always find the German interpretation lacking, and, therefore, I avoid it at all costs. It is something about how text is translated and spoken. Even if German voice actors have become a lot better, it still feels unnatural to me. Nobody would talk like that in real life. So, I am sorry for all Germans out there: I do not know if you should dare or not. Since you are reading an English review, though, I suspect you will be fine playing the English version 😉
If Star Wars had sentient Mechs, then Titanfall 2 could be a standalone story in that universe, very much like Rogue One. This "rebel vs. overwhelming military force" scenario has such a strong Star Wars vibe to it.
The developers have managed to create an experience where every mission feels different. Each level puts you in a very different environment with its own mission design, visual style, and playstyle. The game has a fantastic balance between being a shooter, feeling mighty strong in your Titan – although certainly not invincible – running at walls, and story-telling moments. With every mission you complete, you become more of a team with your Titan. This is the kind of character progression I appreciate in a game. Being a lonesome badass hero like the Doom Slayer has its place in a video game. It’s just not for me. I am more of a wimp, and I like some (virtual) human interaction.
On the Normal difficulty level, the game is fair and challenging at times. I suspect that PC players with keyboard and mouse might find it easy, although the aim-assist helped tremendously. Sometimes it is self-evident, like instant snap-on-target when you switch to aiming-mode. It also follows your target in some situations, but I have not figured out when that is and when it does not. At other times it is subtle, like moving your crosshair slightly in the right direction when you are just a bit off. Or at least that is what I tell myself because I doubt that I was that good 😉. Overall, being my first 1st person shooter with a gamepad ever, I had a lot of fun and never felt helpless. I do have a lot of 3rd person shooter experience, though. I have occasionally played the Gears and Division games on PC with a controller too.
Titanfall 2 is a relatively short game. I would guess it took me about eight to ten hours to get through the campaign. I do not mind a short game if it entertains well. It is much better than dragging on endlessly for the sake of playing time (aka loot grind). For the price I paid, I certainly have no reason or even permission to complain. I even discovered after the fact that Titanfall 2 is part of the Xbox Game Pass and EA Play deal 🤦♀. But you know what, I gladly paid for it. It is worth much more than 3€.
You should not take any shortcuts and throw yourself right into it to experience it yourself.