REVIEW – Titanfall (PC)

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DeveloperRespawn Entertainment (PC/Xbox One), Bluepoint Games (Xbox 360)
Engine: Source Engine
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox 360
Release Date: March 11 (PC/Xbox One), March 25 (Xbox 360)

Editor’s Note: This is the PC review of Titanfall. A separate Xbox One review is in the works and will be written by Joseph Bradford. We decided to review Titanfall on a per platform basis rather than in a single review because this will provide the most accurate experience per platform. This also allows to discuss the nuances of how Titanfall performs on each platform in much greater detail, providing for a more thorough read.

Titanfall is the brand new IP and debut game from Respawn Entertainment. This first person shooter was debuted to the world at E3 2013 during the Microsoft press conference. Featuring fast, fluid gameplay and a tight parkour system, Titanfall was hailed by many as Xbox One’s killer app. In the eyes of many, Titanfall was the reason you would go out and buy an Xbox One.

With many months of hype and marketing hyperbole strewn around the industry, Titanfall launched in North America on PC and Xbox One on March 11. Having played the beta on both systems, I’ve played Titanfall extensively for the past week on my PC. While I remain impressed, Titanfall doesn’t hit every nail on the proverbial head. How does the final game stack up?

The Look

One of the first things I noticed about Titanfall was just how awesome the audio really is. The 40mm Canon on my titan sounds like Thor smashing Mjolnir against some ungodly anvil, sending a thunderous metallic “clunk” across the map. Every headshot is accompanied by a classic Hollywood style distant silenced sniper “whizz”, providing for a truly awesome feeling every time you pull one off.

The titans’ footsteps sound like Earth-shattering cannon fire every time you hear one near you. Every bullet, every shell clinking on the ground, every titan, every footstep is real and brought to life by Titanfall’s impeccable audio design. Truly outstanding work. This game is best heard through a pair of high quality gaming headsets.

The same cannot be said of the visuals. I have (almost) impossibly high standards. I have my reasons, and my outlook on this matter is unwavering. I don’t believe in “letting games off the hook”, especially ones that were originally meant to be PC-only. When a developer says something like this, I sit up and listen all the more intently because to me, this means that even more care was given to the visuals…or at least they meant to.

And this is Titanfall’s greatest blunder and weakness.

Respawn effectively re-wrote Source engine to bring it up to DirectX 11 and 64-bit compatibility, and this is a good thing. In 2014, every single game should be coded to be DirectX11 and 64-bit compliant. There is simply no excuse for this. Period.

However, here is where they failed spectacularly.

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Don’t let this seemingly robust video options menu fool you. Yes, standard options like FOV slider, texture resolution, and antialiasing are present along with options for lighting, shadows, models, impact marks, and ragdolls. However, when you actually play Titanfall, that is, when you see the game in motion, you notice just how many features are missing simply to hit their precious and completely unnecessary 60 frames per second.

Remember, I am playing the PC version. So to sacrifice technical features to hit 60 fps only serves to artificially limit the technical and visual capabilities of the game. Why? PC hardware is scalable. Therefore, those with the hardware to run the game will easily hit 60 fps. Likewise, those folks with weaker PCs have a slew of graphics options to turn down should they desire a smooth 60 fps experience. This scalability in visuals vs performance is the strength of the PC platform that Respawn seemingly fails to recognize.

I am currently running the game on 16xQ CSAA with all other settings completely maxed out. On my current setup running a 780 ti Superclocked (which I have since overlocked), performance is absolutely solid at 60 fps. No frame drops. No stuttering. Even on my 660 ti which I ran for the beta, I experienced no hiccups. This just goes to show how much headroom is left for Respawn to take some serious advantage of the empirically superior platform.

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Hardware antialiasing is present, and for the most part does a good job of reducing jaggies. However, absolutely none of the alpha channel receives any antialiasing. This leads me to believe that Titanfall does not make use of deferred lighting. This is an absolute shame, as many top AAA titles (of which Titanfall most certainly is) make full use of deferred lighting. What a travesty.

Ambient occlusion is present, but even I barely notice it. It seems to only fade in and out depending on the player’s relative distance. This results in lighting that looks all too flat more often than not. I’ve noticed LOD pop in of minor objects such as lamps hanging above doors. Most players will not notice this, but for graphics junkies like me (let’s face it, if you’re playing on PC, you care about graphics), it’s quite jarring.

There is absolutely no object tessellation to speak of, resulting in objects looking wholly flat. While textures set to the “Insane” setting look admittedly magnificent, they don’t do enough to create a truly three-dimensional look on any surface.

As a result, this damning lack of expected features results in a game that looks wholly console-like. Accusations will be slung my way for “being a PC elitist”, and I’m honestly fine with that. If expecting certain standard technical features from a 2014 PC game, and expecting that game to look significantly superior on much more powerful hardware is elitist, so be it.

Score: 0/3
Titanfall is a visual disappointment. The stupendous audio design fails to make up for the sheer lack of PC care and expectations for a 2014 AAA title hyped beyond recognition. With other AAA titles like The Division showcasing the incredible Snowdrop and even indie titles like Kingdom Come: Deliverance touting CryEngine, Titanfall is an absolute failure.

The Feel

It is here where Titanfall claws back from its visual travesty. Simply put, the gameplay in Titanfall is just excellent. And I expect that most players – myself an exception – will only care about the gameplay rather than the lackluster graphics. Titanfall’s gameplay does not disappoint.

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Currently, there are five game modes: Attrition, Hardpoint, Last Titan Standing, Capture The Flag, and Pilot Hunter. I’ve managed to play all five and came away impressed…mostly. I’ve spent the majority of my time in Attrition and have loved every second of it. Attrition is effectively team deathmatch, seeing two teams of six pilots (plus AI) do battle to reach 250 Attrition points.

What’s to stop people from simply praying on the AI? The AI are worth fewer Attrition points than pilots, about four grunts equate to a single pilot in terms of points. Every kill takes time away from your titan countdown, though as expected, killing pilots has a greater affect on the countdown than killing grunts. This is generally the same case across the other game modes as well.

The weakest game mode for me is Pilot Hunter. Only kills against pilots count toward your team’s score. In theory, this sounds good for players who don’t necessarily like the fact that AI are in the game. However, in practice, it falls apart. All too often, you’ll find players simply camping in certain points just gain the drop on unsuspecting their human opponent. This completely reduces the game to Call of Duty tactics, something this game strives so hard to differentiate from.

Players in Pilot Hunter completely ignore the incredible verticality and parkour system that Titanfall thrives on. It’s a great example of how simple human versus human combat distillation can strip the game of its core competencies resulting in an all too familiar and frustrating Call of Duty derivative.

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Hardpoint and Last Titan Standing make their return from the beta in good form. The objective minded Hardpoint is awesome and provides for some truly stressful tension as the match is in a constant state of tug of war. In one match, my team rallied and won the match in the last seconds by a single point. It was exhilarating.

Last Titan Standing requires constant communication and some serious strategizing. Indeed, the very first decision you make at the start of the match can spell victory or defeat for your team: do you go left or right? Last Titan Standing is best played with a friend as this makes communication easier and provides for a much more intense match.

Capture The Flag is wonderfully implemented here. Unlike most CTF modes from other games, the player who has the flag in possession is not hindered in any way. He can still jump, parkour, and fire any gun just as he normally would. This preserves the fluid movement of Titanfall while expertly crafting situations of high tension as players fight to capture and return flags.

Likewise, you can capture the flag and hop into your titan should you so choose. However, you cannot deliver the flag while in your titan. You must hop out as the capture points are in smaller confined places. This makes sense and is a good design choice.

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Every time I call for titanfall is a truly epic moment. Seeing my titan literally fall from the sky and break the sound barrier just before landing never gets tiresome. I can watch it all day long and still feel special. Respawn did an incredible job making me feel truly badass. I feel powerful whenever I call my titan.

More importantly, I never feel that when I’m in my titan, I was playing as the titan. Instead, my titan feels like a natural extension of myself. This is key as it maintains that consistency of immersion that you are the pilot. You feel that you are in control at any given moment in time, and that is something Respawn must be commended on.

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The balance between pilots and titans is something that holds up incredibly well. As a pilot, your movement is the key to your survival. You can parkour almost anywhere and on almost any surface. This makes rodeoing titans a fun challenge. However, as a titan, your brute force is key to your survival, along with your upgrades (more on this below). One titan can easily take out one or two pilots. But a group of pilots working together can easily down a titan.

It is through this balance that you get a slew of meta battles –  pilots vs titans, pilots vs pilots, titans vs titans, titans vs pilots – each as exciting and tactile as the last. It truly is remarkable fun, one that keeps evolving over time as you gain mastery and confidence with the intuitive systems at hand.

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Burn cards are new to Titanfall. You gain various burn cards by completing challenges. As you level and progress through the game, you can unlock a total of three burn card slots to allocate the cards. In effect, burn cards are single use perks. They are applied only to the life when you activate them. If you activate a burn card for an enhanced nuclear ejection on your titan, for example, but die without calling your titan, that burn card is used up. Gone.

I love this. Burn cards require some forethought before activation, requiring you to think about what you plan on doing in that life. There are many challenges waiting to be completed in Titanfall, so the sheer variety of burn cards available is awesome.

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However, there are some features that are lacking in TItanfall. For one, there is no capability to create private matches. This is something that shooters since Halo 2 have offered and is something fairly straightforward. For a multiplayer-only, always-online game like Titanfall to not feature private matches is a head-scratching disappointment.

I am also disappointed to see that only five game modes are available at launch. Again, Titanfall is a multiplayer-only title. It is not unrealistic for one to expect a plethora of game variants, especially given the unique dynamics this game presents. There are so many opportunities here to create game modes truly unique to Titanfall to take advantage of the parkour and pilot vs titan gameplay.

The exclusion of additional modes truly feels like a wasted opportunity. One can hope future updates will expand on these game modes – and do so for free. It would be a shame and pity to pay for additional game modes that should have been available at launch in the first place, especially for a multiplayer-only title.

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The customization in Titanfall is there and competent enough to kit out your pilot and titan. However, again, it feels like a starting point rather than a fully realized customization system. For example, you can select your weapon, tactical ability, ordnance and kits for both your pilot and titan, but you can’t rename the custom class you just created. Instead, you are stuck with Custom Class 1 for eternity.

I can’t customize the aesthetic look of my pilots and titans neither. Again, I could choose the paint job on my Spartan in Halo 2…ten years ago. Why not let me feel truly unique and stand out from the crowd by allowing me to paint my titan? Having the ability to change your look in detail is something should be present in Titanfall. Instead, the inability to customize my aethetic look along with the inability to rename my custom class creates a cognitive dissonance between myself and my pilots and titans. They don’t truly feel “mine”.

Score: 3/3
Even though I have complaints, they genuinely pale in comparison to the gameplay experience when taken as a whole. The more “casual” gameplay on offer here is the strength of Titanfall, not its weakness.

The Design

I play Titanfall with my Xbox 360 controller on my PC. I can honestly say that this is the first shooter I’ve played on a PC where I don’t feel at a disadvantage simply because I’m playing with a gamepad. I feel so incredibly accurate and fluid when playing with my gamepad. No accuracy is lost, no quarter given. Respawn have achieved something truly remarkable in bringing excellent gamepad support to Titanfall. Bravo.

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Likewise, the menus are very easy to navigate and quite intuitive. This can be largely attributed to their simplistic design. In short, it is incredibly easy to jump into and out of games and lobbies.

The HUD can look crowded at first glance, but once you begin playing, you barely notice it. It persists as you play, but you never feel that it’s taking up precious screen real-estate. This is a good thing. As a player, I don’t want to compete with complex menus and UI just to play the game.

Score: 3/3
Simple and intuitive menus allow for quick navigation throughout the game. The gamepad feels amazing to play with and feels like a natural extension of myself, allowing deft control and accuracy. Simply flawless.

The Verdict

Titanfall is exhilarating. It’s not the “next generation of multiplayer” it’s been hyped up to be. It’s not a “genre-defining” game. Titanfall feels familiar yet fresh. It manages to expertly combine proven elements of past shooters with new ideas and systems to create an experience that does just enough to differentiate itself from the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield.

It’s an amazing package that really needs to be taken as a whole. The utterly disappointing visuals aside, the remaining experience is one of fluidity, speed, tension, and most importantly, fun. I can’t recommend the PC version enough. Go buy it and standby for Titanfall.

The Look: 0
The Feel: 3
The Design: 3
Recommendation: 1
Overall: 7/10

http://youtu.be/oWp1_Y-Y2vY

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