Standby For Titanfall Beta Impressions
It’s tempting to label Titanfall as “that Call of Duty clone”. I will fully admit that, at least on the surface, they both share similarities. Both are fast paced, first person shooters. Both provide fluid 60 fps gameplay (if you’re on PC). Both reward you with upgrades. However, to me, this is where the similarities end and Titanfall really comes into its own.
Right off the bat, let me give you some context. First, I do think the game was overhyped, in that the mainstream outlets spent a great deal of time and effort keeping Titanfall at the forefront of discussion. However, they did more harm than good. They made a mistake. They discussed Titanfall as a “true next gen experience” and a “genre defining” game. This only mislead the average gamer who, let’s be honest, will believe whatever IGN, Kotaku, Major Nelson and others say. And why wouldn’t they? Those individuals saw the game and spent time with it. Clearly, they must know what they’re talking about, right? Next gen? Right?
The truth is, Titanfall is not a “true next gen experience”. It’s not a “genre defining game”. And I’m glad that I recognized this hyperbole for what it was – pure marketing. I believe this only helped me when it came time for me to hop into beta.
I’ve always perceived Titanfall as a fast, fun shooter grounded in fluid mobility. Because I kept my expectations tempered, I never expected a “next gen”, “genre defining” experience because quite frankly, I don’t think either new console has an experience you can’t get on the PC. Don’t think for one second that 6v6 and adding mechs to a shooter make it “next gen”. It doesn’t. The unfortunate reality is that the mainstream outlets have layered too much gloss on this game that one must peel back the marketing to recognize Titanfall for what it really is – a really fun, fast paced shooter that pivots just enough to differentiate itself from Battlefield and crucially, Call of Duty.
The 6v6 Elephant
In my hours and hours of play, I’ve never once felt like 6v6 was inherently restricting in any way. There is so much action already that I’ve never once felt the game was lacking quality or fun simply because there were fewer humans. I don’t believe for a second that this 6v6 decision was a result of laziness or any other restrictions. Something like this is tested over and over and over again. I have no doubt that Vince et al know what they are doing. They would not have settled on 6v6 if they did not have a good reason behind that decision.
I also found that 6 players plus their 6 titans leads to a completely new dynamic in the match. With twelve players and twelve titans, you effectively have overlapping meta-battles: pilot vs pilot, titan vs titan, pilot vs titan, and titan vs pilots (yes, there’s a difference). This creates a wonderful game of tug-hide-of-war-seek. Titans can create choke points while pilots weave in and out of buildings, constantly gaining new vantage points, which in turn forces the titans to change their strategy. It’s brilliant.
Finally, 6v6 is just one more reason why this game is different from traditional shooters. Titanfall is doing something different by combining humans and AI on the battlefield. And to be brutally frank, if you want more players in the match, play other shooters.
It’s NOT Call of Duty
Because you aren’t in this endless cycle of spawn/die/spawn/die like Call of Duty, you live longer and accomplish a lot more per life. This makes you feel useful and encourages you to be bold and try different tactics. It doesn’t punish you for not being 12 years old with hours and hours to master the game, and this is a great thing.
Fluid movement allows you to explore the map to gain a truly three dimensional understanding of the field. This opens up huge opportunities as well as giving you the perception that the maps are larger than they are. You’re simply not confined to corridors like in Call of Duty.
Titans are just damn cool. They’re not overpowered, but aren’t so weak that they feel like a ploy. They’re not just larger versions of pilots. They have a very different purpose and use case – and you must recognize that difference, else you will fail to take full advantage of them. One of my favorite strategies takes place while playing Hardpoint. I would call for titanfall, and then command my titan to stand guard at a hardpoint. This allowed me to go and capture the other hardpoints. This type of flexibility is truly empowering, and is only achievable once you can divorce the titans from the pilots and use each to its strength.
Everyone gets a titan, which is a good thing. Once again, this differentiates itself from traditional shooters. Rather than relegating titans to a killstreak that only the good players can get, anyone get one. This is a good thing because it makes you feel useful. You don’t feel frustrated or discouraged just because you’re “not good enough” to get a titan. When was the last time you earned a nuclear strike in Call of Duty? Yeah, and how many times did you feel frustrated because you couldn’t get one?
Loss Isn’t Crushed
The one thing I really don’t like about all modern shooters is that if you lose, you’re grossly punished. That is, there is no hope for redemption. Once you’ve lost, you’ve lost. It’s all terribly finite. In Titanfall, however, the conclusion of the match brings with it an Epilogue. The losing team must rally to an evacuation point and wait until their dropship arrives. Once it arrives, you must board and pray to The Seven that your dropship jumps in time. Of course, the victors of the match try to chase down the losers and prevent them and their ship from escaping. Out of the three game variants in the beta, Attrition and Hardpoint featured such an Epilogue.
The point I wish to make is this. Even if you lose in Titanfall, you still have something to look forward to. That Epilogue give you that one last chance to earn some extra experience points to be used for upgrades and loadouts. You still feel like you’ve accomplished something even if you lost the match. I sincerely commend Respawn for the inclusion of the Epilogue. I found that it gave my participation in the match a certain meaning, and I felt that the game genuinely valued my contribution to my team. Because of that, you are constantly earning rewards in this game, furthering your advancement. In this sense, the carrot is always out there.
The PC Edge
I had the opportunity to play the beta on the PC as well as on Xbox One. Both versions look largely similar, but if you look closely, you’ll notice crucial differences. Both contain LOD pop-in causing distraction to your immersion. I’m also really surprised that no tessellation is used to add detail into the terrain or smooth out curved objects like railings, for example.
There is no real use of shaders. I noticed some baked shadows maps, but the game is largely flat in this sense. There is some ambient occlusion, but it fades in as you approach. This creates the perception that the game overall contains really flat lighting with no real bounces to speak of, something Naughty Dog utilizes to great effect in The Last of Us on ancient hardware.
Microsoft patched the Xbox One upscaler between my two Xbox sessions. The really harsh edge-enhancement of the previous upscaler is now gone. The image no longer contains those horrible upscaler artifacts, nor does it look overexposed. I noticed this while playing on Tuesday night with Bradford. The resolution is confirmed to get a bump up, but even at 900p, it’s just not enough.
I played with a controller on both platforms. The Xbox One controller feels really inaccurate, something that Respawn is addressing for launch. The Xbox One version has horrendous screen tearing. It looks like Respawn is implementing adaptive vsync, but why they aren’t using double/triple buffering is beyond me. It’s really jarring. Framerate on my PC stayed pretty much consistent at 60 fps, but the Xbox One dips to 45 too often. I’ve noticed these dips when the action is particularly intense, causing stress on the engine.
All in all, I genuinely don’t understand how a relatively lightweight engine like Source is taxing the Xbox One so much. The Xbox One beta can’t maintain a steady framerate, contains screen tearing, and inefficient antialiasing. Of course, this is beta and improvements will be made for the final game. But if the Xbox can’t handle the beta which barely contains any added features, I fear for what will happen at launch when the resolution is upped to 900p, causing further strain on the machine.
On the other hand, my PC handled the game perfectly, with 4xMSAA (plenty of options here), full 1080p, perfect vsync, and FOV slider, all while maintaining that “precious” 60 fps. Still, I sincerely hope more features are added like the aforementioned object tessellation as well as improved shaders and more pronounced ambient occlusion. It would be a pity if the final PC version is only a slight improvement over the Xbox One version, especially since as the beta stands right now, my PC runs it pretty much flawlessly without breaking a sweat. Respawn would do well to push the more powerful platform and take advantage of all that extra power.
Standby For Titanfall
I absolutely loved my experience in the beta, specifically on the PC. I never expected Titanfall to be “next gen”. I never expected it to “redefine the genre”. Honestly, I think such expectations are overblown and unrealistic. Titanfall is neither of those things. What Vince and his team at Respawn have created is a shooter that tweaks the formula just enough to provide a familiar yet fresh experience. Check out my livestream below, and I’ll see you in game.