The Closest Thing To Gundam.
Reviewed on Xbox One
Circa March 2000. Nearly two decades ago.
After airing five years prior in Japan, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing premiered on Cartoon Network’s after-hours programming segment, Toonami. I was seven years old.
The anime, an adaptation of the manga of the same name, illustrated humans piloting ginormous mechs known as “Gundams” in an effort to eradicate the oppressive United Earth Sphere Alliance force. It had space combat and drama and mechs with energy saber swords fighting other mechs with large cannons and explosions. As a prepubescent child ogling the screen as these talented (and talentless) pilots skillfully (and unskillfully) battled in space, I was starstruck: I wanna pilot a Gundam.
Since this time, a handful of Gundam games have released across the various console generations ranging from the arcade days all the way to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. While there are few games on the PS4 and PS Vita, they are, unfortunately, regulated to the Japanese market; if you want them, you’ll have to import them from either Play-Asia or YesAsia. And because I don’t have a PS3 or Xbox 360 anymore, I can’t experience the exhilaration of piloting an enormous robot. (Sad face.)
Enter newly-formed studio, Respawn Entertainment, with their 2014 Xbox One exclusive, Titanfall. Headed by former Infinity Ward CEO, Vince Zampella, Respawn set out to create a first-person shooter that would shake up the two genre giants, Call of Duty and Battlefield. Although flawed in a plethora of ways—lack of multiplayer modes, paper-thin campaign, no sense of ownership/samey customization, etc.—the overall concept was executed excellently. And with Titanfall 2, the developer’s don’t-fix-what-ain’t-broke approach proves that an excellent concept needs only to be refined. Adding a dedicated campaign mode, titan classes, more customization options, and a better sense of ownership, Titanfall 2 feels like the game Respawn wanted to originally develop.
The Single Player
You are Jack Cooper, a lowly ranked recruit who has joined the Frontier Militia forces, a military group dedicated to fending off the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) invasion. After training with Tai Lastimosa, a captain in the Frontier Militia and pilot of BT-7274, within a virtual reality pod, the militia is bombarded by the IMC. Even though you aren’t prepared, you take arms and head out to the battlefield, looking to defend the base and help out the militia in any way you can. A series of battles occur and before long, you find yourself staring at a dying Lastimosa, his last words make you the pilot of BT-7274. As Lastimosa coughs his last breath, sympathy for the death of the character is lacking: He dies 10 or so minutes after the game starts, and there isn’t enough time to establish an intimate connection between him and Cooper. The game hints at Cooper working extensively with Lastimosa, but it’s merely exposition, nothing more. From here, you are tasked with “[upholding] the mission”: preventing the IMC from taking over.
The addition of a fully fleshed-out campaign is excellent, but the way the campaign plays out is excruciatingly predictable. The campaign begins with a training mission where you learn the ropes of Titanfall 2. However, if you’ve already played Titanfall, then there’s no real need to go through the tutorial: gameplay has been largely unchanged. Unfortunately, the tutorial is unskippable, so approximately five minutes of time is wasted playing something you may already be familiar with. Not egregious, but a time-waster nonetheless.
Albeit predictable, the campaign is thoroughly enjoyable. The banter between BT and Cooper is hilarious; since BT is an AI, he doesn’t understand English lingo, idiosyncracies, and idioms, leaving him making statements like “I’m not actually shooting at you” when Cooper asks BT if he misses him. While nothing special, this interaction seems to emulate what our possible interaction with sentient technology would be. (“Siri, do you miss me?” “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t answer that.”) There are dialogue choices, but they are superfluous: They don’t change the game flow in any way; they simply add information to the situation at hand—should you choose the right dialogue option.
In the campaign, BT can collect various titan loadouts and swap them on the fly with the click of a button, allowing for a strategic approach to each titan encounter. Don’t like Tone? Swap to Scorch. Don’t like Scorch? Swap to Legion. Don’t like Legion? Swap to Ronin. And because each titan is an individual class with their own weapons, abilities, health, and cores, swapping between the eight loadouts presents an understanding of the different titans that transfers to the game’s multiplayer. Unfortunately, not every loadout is useful: Once you secure Legion, with his Gatling gun, toward the latter third of the game, you’ll most likely never switch to the other classes.
Titanfall 2 does introduce platforming elements that are par for the course in terms of platforming design, and though Respawn does nothing innovative or aberrant with their platforming, the implementation allows for the free running to truly open up, which feels smoother than before. Wall running into a dash-slide into another wall run into a grappling hook builds this intoxicating momentum; it’s damn fun zipping around the game’s world. Boss encounters are exciting, but, while enemy AI does wisen up and attempt tactics, they are so incompetent that simply spamming Scorch’s abilities easily defeats them. This goes for grunts and the world’s wildlife as well. The mix between titan and pilot play, however, is electrifying: Battling enemy titans in BT, jumping out to take out a few grunts while BT wards off other titans, then getting back into the cockpit of BT is a thrill reminiscent of Gundam—and it never gets old.
As the five or six-hour campaign wraps up, you can’t help but wonder: why wasn’t this included in the original game? Why did Respawn omit a campaign, a chance to flesh out the intriguing world they’ve so delicately created, back in 2014? Though Titanfall 2‘s campaign will not make up for the omission of Titanfall‘s campaign, it certainly does a great job at presenting a fascinating story with both tension and funny one-liners. With excellent voice acting, incredible set pieces, and magnificent gameplay design in both the level structure and controls, Titanfall 2‘s campaign is a surprise hit, beautifully introducing players to the dreary world Respawn crafted.
Titanfall 2‘s multiplayer remains largely unchanged, but don’t fix what ain’t broken. While that mantra may be true with this sequel, Respawn has incorporated a few changes that alter the game flow. For starters, gone are the days of single titan customization—now, there are classes. Reminiscent of class-centric shooters like Destiny, Battlefield, and the newly redesigned Call of Duty, Titanfall 2 presents you with six classes: Ion, Legion, Northstar, Ronin, Scorch, and Tone. Each class has their own weapons, abilities, health, and cores, making the titan encounters a little easier to predict and plan out; it’s much more about countering this time around. Ronin, a titan who likes it up-close-and-personal with his sword and wide-spread shotgun, is easily countered by Northstar, a titan with a chargeable railgun/sniper rifle and a hover ability. This change sounds limiting, but it’s executed in such a way that makes the titan feel more like your titan. (I personally use Ronin.)
To go along with the titan classes, there are pilot classes as well. The seven classes have differing special abilities, some more useful than others. For example, while compelling at first, the grappling ability gets lost once other abilities—like the phase shift and cloak—become available. These changes to a more class-based style of play make clashes both frustrating and rewarding: frustrating because the same two or three titans are found on the battlefield; rewarding because defeating the same two or three titans is invigorating.
Regrettably, while it seems there is a greater emphasis on customization, actual weapon variety is sorely deficient. Even though there are more pilot weapons in Titanfall 2 than there were in Titanfal—compare Titanfall 2‘s 27 pilot weapons to Titanfall‘s 13 pilot weapons—titan weapons have been severely reduced. This is understandable, as they are class specific now, but the lack of changeable titan primary weapons seems baffling.
Maps are designed well, with enough room for both pilots and titans to roam around freely. Sadly, not all maps are created equal: Some maps don’t have enough space for multiple titans to battle, while other maps don’t have enough wall space for pilots to free run. This contradictory design leaves you unsure whether you should play as a pilot or titan, and what class of pilot of titan you should choose.
Titanfall‘s most popular mode, Attrition, makes a return and, evidently, is the most popular and most played mode in Titanfall 2. Bounty Hunt—a mode where players are tasked with killing marked objectives to score points by banking them—and Free For All are welcomed additions, and Capture the Flag and Last Titan Standing are familiar choices, but no mode is played as frequently as Attrition is, meaning queue times for the other modes are painfully long. It’s not impossible to find a game in the other modes, it’s just less likely. This is unfortunate, as some of the other modes are quite fun and add variety to the monotony of Team Death Match.
Titanfall 2‘s multiplayer seems to be a copy of its predecessor’s. And although it’s not necessarily a bad thing, a few new, meaningful changes would go a long way in distinguishing the sequel from the original. Even still, multiplayer is a blast to play, and the controls here are much smoother and tighter and more responsive than they were in Titanfall, which interesting considering how good the controls felt there.
What Respawn have done here is damn near the definition of a sequel: take the elements that worked in the original, refine them, add a couple of new additions, and call it a day. Both pilot and titan movement has been tightened to make actions feel snappier and more responsive, which helps you feel like a badass as you jump, wall run and zip around the battlefield looking for the next pilot or grunt. Map designs are much larger and more open, allowing for a better cadence in the progression of battle, even if they aren’t always conducive to either pilot or titan. The campaign, albeit predictable, is an exhilarating romp with exceptional voice acting, bombastic set pieces a la Call of Duty (not that over-the-top), and awesome boss battles. And though Titanfall 2 appears to be a duplicate with minor changes, it’s a duplicate that is more refined and well-executed.