Titanfall is a hyper-kinetic shooter, a game that feels like it was designed to challenge gamers who naturally have the dexterity and mental acuity to exceed in the modern shooter.
That doesn't mean the game is reserved for hardcore shooter fans, just that its fluid play layers on another skillset for those players to master.
In the game, due out next year on Windows PC, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, players take on the role of Titan pilots, soldiers equipped with gravity-defying jetpacks that allow them to wall-run, double jump and hop between walls. The more wall-running a player does, the faster they move and, ultimately, the harder they are to shoot.
The ability to get to essentially any surface in a map completely changes the dynamics of play. For one, you have to look up, a lot. Players run along rooftops, clamber up towers, even perch atop the game's namesake Titans. Standing still behind cover, a major components of most shooters, is nearly useless. The speed and agility of your opponents makes standing your ground a dangerous choice.
While playing through rounds of the game earlier this week, I managed to clear out a hallway of players standing in perfect cover sniping at other players on the ground. I took them down by running along a wall, jumping across to the building from which they were shooting and then hopping through a window near them. After taking them down with shotgun blasts, I hopped back out the window.
There were plenty of those moments in the matches I played.
Titanfall producer Drew McCoy said the developers find that it takes players about 45 minutes to become accustomed to the unique movements of Titanfall. That doesn't mean it takes them that long to learn how to wall-run and double jump; it takes nearly an hour to change the way you view a map.
With the jetpack, the maze of corridors formed by packed city buildings becomes a way to get to or away from a target, rather than potential cover.
And of course, let's not forget about the building-sized Titans.
Before our multiplayer match started, players got to choose between one of three types of pilots and one of three types of Titans.
When the game starts, a timer kicks off showing how much time you have to wait until your Titan is ready for a drop. Getting kills reduces that time.
Once a Titan is ready, a player just stands where they want to call in the mech and presses a button. A few seconds later the Titan drops, protected by a forcefield of sorts. The shield stays up for about 30 seconds, protecting both the unmanned Titan and the pilot climbing into it.
Once aboard the Titan, something amazing happens: Gameplay shifts and Titanfall starts to feel much more like a traditional shooter, albeit one that features massive mechs and players running around like capuchin monkeys on Red Bull.
In a Titan, a player is much more protected from the fire of pilots, though a persistent pilot can take down a mech. While movement isn't slow — it feels like you're essentially playing Call of Duty or Battlefield — it is slow relative to those double-jumping, wall-running pilots. The Titans also can't crouch or jump. Beyond walking, the only sort of movement they can do is a short dash in any direction.
So when you drop into a Titan, you essentially drop into a more familiar form of shooter, once that relies on cover and the tactics of patience.
Both piloting a Titan and being an on-the-ground pilot have their own draws. Personally, I enjoyed the wall-running much more than I did controlling a Titan. Perhaps that was because taking on the mantle of the Titan brings with it a level of attention and fire that requires skill and patience to survive.
You can eject from a Titan if you pay attention to your damage and the audible warning system, or you can go down with your Titan. Either way, once your Titan is downed the countdown restarts to let you know how long it will be before you can call in a replacement.
Another neat addition to the multiplayer match is the game's epilogue, a wrap-up that has the defeated pilots running for a dropship while the victors chase them and try to gun them all down.
This post-game bit of play doesn't affect the ultimate winner of the match, but it can reward a heap of credits to players who either escape or prevent an escape.
It also notches up the already intense action to a fever pitch. In our last match I managed to make it to the dropship and spent a few seconds watching my teammates getting cut down as they made that final run. The last survivor made it to the roof and was about to hop in when he suddenly disappeared in a puff of red mist.
I mentioned the surprise moment to McCoy later, and he said that the epilogue often turns into a bloodbath.
He also pointed out that the pilots' free-running is something a lot of people still haven't mastered. It's a type of movement that brings with it an incredible amount of nuance. For instance, he said, in theory a player can literally run from one side of a map to the other without ever touching the ground.
The movement also has some neat little surprises built into it. One I didn't know about when I played, allows a player to draw their knife while running along a wall and stick it into the building. Once stuck, a player can dangle there, using it as a firing perch to take out enemies.
"There's a lot of things people still haven't discovered," McCoy said.
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