Video Games Review: Titanfall 2 (PS4, 2016)

I really loved Titanfall when it released back in 2014. It had so many great ideas and such a fun multiplayer component that I was truly saddened to see the player base erode as quickly as it did. It seems developer Respawn were paying attention because they’ve worked hard to address many of the original game’s issues with Titanfall 2 and it shows.

 

The most obvious addition to this new installment is the brand new campaign mode. The original game was entirely multiplayer focused with a story that kind of played out quietly in the background whether you gave a shit or not.

The campaign puts the Titanfall lore, such as it is, front and centre. You play as Jack Cooper (Matthew Mercer, Critical Role, Overwatch, Attack on Titan), an ordinary foot soldier who finds himself thrust behind the controls of a Titan combat robot named BT-7274 (Glenn Steinbaum) as they murder their way through the entire IMC rebel force, who are busily killing their way across the galaxy themselves.

The campaign itself isn’t super heavy on story, featuring only the barest of excuses to push you on into the next set-piece level. It did surprise in me in two specific areas: 1) how well-drawn Cooper’s relationship to BT is and 2) how much this campaign wears its love of other shooters on its sleeve.

Cooper and BT’s relationship is memorable right from the jump. Their dialogue is loose and familiar and while they take a second to warm up to each other, by midway through the game they’re both cracking jokes and interacting as friends.

As for my earlier point about drawing inspiration, the homages felt like they were everywhere I looked — and I mean beyond the obvious comparisons to Call of Duty. The early part of the game takes place in a heavily forested area, forcibly reminding me of the starting area of Halo 3. There’s even pilot helmets hidden around the levels waiting to be collected like skulls! Later, Cooper must leave BT behind briefly to creatively traverse an automated factory that creates synthetic rooms built for combat training. The whole time he’s in there, he is being taunted by a disembodied female voice. Where have we seen that before? Where this would feel derivative in many other games, here it worked for me because Respawn litters these moments with neat ideas of its own. One level sees you leaping back and forth through time and using each leap as a means of repositioning yourself and surprising enemies on either side. Super novel, great fun and effortlessly communicates the action movie sensibility the campaign is going for.

The sections that require piloting BT are suitably meaty and make great use of his size and power. Respawn have got a real handle on creating levels that take scale into account. They work well whether you’re using BT or on foot as Cooper, and that’s apparent in the campaign too. BT can also change up his weapon loadout at any time to suit the situation which is a nice touch, though I found that once I landed on a particular loadout I liked, I rarely moved away from it.

Cooper is equally fun to play for a variety of different reasons. While his shooting is fast and precise, its his movement that really sets him apart. Cooper is fast. Regardless of the surface he’s on — floor, wall, even in the air — Cooper can book it and he handles with surprising grace and precision, even on the ungainly control sticks of the DualShock controller. If you’ve prefer to slow down rather than John Woo-ing your way through every room, you can also make yourself invisible for a brief spell letting you stealth up and knock people around.

The biggest problem I had with Titanfall 2‘s campaign was that I felt superpowered all of the time and rarely challenged, even on harder difficulties. The only times I would die and respawn were when I’d misjudge a jump or wallrunning section, never because I was bested in combat. Periodically the game will throw bosses at you in Titans of their own and they’ll have these incredibly boisterous, WWE-esque entrance cinematics, full of threats and Inception bwaaas, only for them to be crushed embarrassingly under my boot-heel in record time. It’s also a campaign that’s over and done with quite quickly.

All told, I was able to speed through the campaign in around six hours and to be honest, that felt okay to me. Once upon a time I’d have been quite cranky about that but I’m 32-years-old, I’ve got a life to life, I can’t sink 100 hours into video games anymore. 6 hours keeps the campaign breezy and well-paced.

On the multiplayer side, things are better than ever. Titanfall 2’s multiplayer feels like Respawn have realised the vision they were tilting at in the original. You can choose from six different Titans that will grant different off-hand abilities and combat styles.

You’ll be spending a lot more time on the ground as a pilot though, and Respawn have worked hard to accommodate for a greater range of playstyles this time out. Each match earns you credits which can then be spent on new weapons and gear, which in turn allows you to better refine your Pilot to your precise playstyle over time. It’s nice design and a system with more on its mind than the now-typical XP rank ups of Call of Duty (though that system is also present).

Regeneration is another new mechanic that allows players to reset their Pilot, Titan or weapon when they hit max rank. Doing so will set you back to square one unlock-wise but it will also net you cool new skins and cosmetics. Just a little something to keep you going once you hit that max rank.

The whole of multiplayer has been built around Titanfall 2‘s greater sense of mobility. Charging into the fray with your Titan before disembarking and sprinting down a hallway, leaping from a second story window and wallrunning across to another building, dropping from a high balcony to the ground below and sliding underneath a low piece of geometry is as fluid as its possible to be.

The game modes on offer keep the roboparty rolling and there are so many of them. There really isn’t a disappointing one in the bunch, they’re all super creative and super fun to jump into. Amped Hardpoint and Bounty Hunt quickly became favourites, and they’re certainly the modes the game wants most people playing. Bounty Hunt nets you money for every kill, the team with the most cash at the end wins. Amped Hardpoint is the same point-capture game you remember from the first game but taking Amped hardpoints lands you double the points.

The thing that I want to stress about the game as a whole is that if Titanfall wasn’t your thing in 2014, there will be nothing about this new game that will change your mind. It takes the concepts of the original and refines them to a reflective sheen. This is exactly the sort of sequel Titanfall needed — smart design choices, well-thought-out iterations of older material and an engaging, fun multiplayer compenent to boot. I love Titanfall 2 and it is my fond hope that it sticks around longer than its predecessor.

Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Smart refinements over previous game; Great multiplayer; BT and Cooper are chill bros
Lowlights: Short campaign; Easy campaign;
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: EA
Release date: Out now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC