When Respawn Entertainment started work on the single-player story campaign for Titanfall 2, the developer tasked its designers with creating a series of what it called "action blocks." These hundreds of gameplay prototypes explored, bit by bit, how players would move through the alien world of Titanfall 2 as a Pilot, a 30-foot Titan and the combination of the two.
In developing those action blocks, Respawn hoped to translate the multiplayer-focused action of the original Titanfall to a full-sized single-player campaign.
Earlier this month, we spent nearly two hours with Titanfall 2's single-player campaign and got to play with the near-final result. And it appears that Respawn's grand experiment paid off: Titanfall 2, at least in the three sections I played, feels like a varied, thrilling mix of shooting, platforming and Titan-on-Titan boss battles ... with a few too-good-to-spoil surprises along the way.
Sitting down with Titanfall 2 game director Steve Fukuda, I got a chance to play the game's opening level. It's set shortly after protagonist Jack Cooper, a grunt-level rifleman in the Frontier Militia, crash-lands on the alien planet Typhon. Here, players are introduced to Cooper's partner for the single-player campaign, the Vanguard-class Titan known as BT-7274. The game's opening chapter gradually doles out abilities to field-promoted Pilot Cooper, letting players learn the basics of wall-running, double-jumping and cloaking — the tools Cooper uses over the course of the level to infiltrate an enemy IMC stronghold and recover fresh batteries for his Titan.
Titanfall 2's opening level feels huge; there's a generous mix of platforming across huge caverns, running along walls and stealthily — until I was inevitably spotted — assaulting small clusters of enemy troops and drones. Respawn is kind to new players in Titanfall 2's opening. If you have difficulty making a particular jump, you can "download" a ghost-like hologram that will show you the right way to leap across a gap.
The opening level also introduces the player to Typhon's numerous threats. Not only are enemy soldiers, mechs and Titans out to get you, the hostile indigenous wildlife of the alien planet is also a serious threat. (Until you, you know, manage to power up BT and unleash hellfire on those poor lizard-like beasts.)
The next level we played gave us control of BT and showed off his Mega Man-like special ability: Throughout the game, BT can acquire loadout blueprints from Titanfall 2's six other Titan classes, synthesizing their weapons and special abilities. Players can switch between any available Titan ability on-the-fly, and we learned pretty quickly that you have to use the right tool for the right job.
Control of BT was short-lived, however, as Cooper, in the hopes of finding a shortcut, was forcibly separated from his Titan. Foolishly switching on some construction equipment, Cooper watched as BT is snatched by a machine and dragged away into a gigantic manufacturing facility. It's here, in an area called Boomtown, where Respawn's "action blocks" creative exercise is most apparent.
On the hunt for BT, players are forced to make their way through a massive level with moving geometry. Platforms — which you eventually learn are pieces of a pre-fabricated houses — glide through the air, rotating and flipping as they're pieced together with other platforms. Titanfall 2's platforming shines brightest here in Boomtown, as players must contend with floors that turn into walls, jumping from platform to platform (while also shooting dozens of enemy grunts, Stalkers and walking mechanized explosives called Ticks) across bottomless pits. I was reminded of the wild, fantastical platforming of Valve's Portal 2 when I was able to catch my breath as I sprinted through Boomtown, chaining together jumps, wall runs and kills.
This section, which culminates in a tense boss battle with a trash-talking enemy Titan and its Pilot named Ash, was the highlight of my time with Titanfall 2. If the rest of the game has moments that match the rollercoaster-like thrills of Boomtown, campaign players are in for a treat.
The third section of the game we played was all about Titan-on-Titan violence. A half-dozen Titans, one piloted by Cooper, stormed an enemy base, pushing through layers of fortified walls. It's a loud, chaotic battle, with waves of enemy Titans dropping in as reinforcements. Playing the game on normal, the battle was easy enough, but replaying it on a harder difficulty made the Titan-versus-Titan battles much more thrilling. Developers often claim that one notch above normal difficulty is the way their games "are meant to be played," and the intensity of Titanfall 2's Titan battles may be one of the better arguments for bumping up the challenge.
Based on what we've seen and played of Titanfall 2 — Respawn walked us through some of the game's other action blocks in an earlier look at the game and showed us something else we're barred from talking about — the game's single-player campaign is starting to look more like it could be its biggest draw. Since it will (hopefully) help players learn how to play the six Titan classes available in multiplayer, the campaign feels even more like it's a must-play.
Titanfall 2 is coming to PlayStation 4, Windows PC via Origin and Xbox One Oct. 28. To get a taste of what Respawn's going for, with the single-player side of the game, check out the cinematic trailer above.