Titanfall 2 goes for feel above all else, and it feels fantastic.
Published 26 October 2016 By Jeff
Titanfall 2 lets you play as a human-sized robot, which can call down giant, AI-powered robotic mech suits, which you can then get into and pilot. The little robot climbs into the bigger robot, and then you boost around and blow up your enemies... some of whom are also robots. Your loadout options include ninja stars that catch on fire when they hit, burning pilots to death and blinding the giant titan suits, should your aim be true. It features a limited-use colosseum mode that looks like the developers just wanted to include a one-on-one Rocket Arena-like option. Titanfall 2 might not fix every issue you had with the previous game (and depending on your tastes, it might introduce one or two new ones), but it's a bigger, bolder game that takes a few chances and comes out better and more distinctive for it. On top of all that, it simply feels great.
Let's talk about that feel a bit more, because it's a big part of what separates Titanfall 2 from other games of its ilk. I'm talking about the sort of feel that makes every weapon in the game fun to handle. The aiming is really sharp (with a handful of analog stick options that can help you dial it in the way you like it). There's a satisfying, crunchy little noise that plays every time you hit your target. It provides a rewarding bit of feedback when you land shots. Those gunshots, even though you're dealing with futuristic weaponry, are still recognizable as the sound of damage being induced. The short burst of a shotgun blast thwips more than it booms, but the weapons still sound effective, rather than weak or quiet.
That all lines up with the game's movement. Double jumping gives you just the right amount of air control to let you correct your mistakes mid-flight, but without making the jumps overly floaty or sluggish. Wallruns, knee slides, and jumping out of a slide are all things that make you move more quickly than your typical run speed, which might make you harder to hit, sure, but it also makes the act of traversal an active component of the game, rather than something you do to get back to the action. New abilities, like a grappling hook, and old ones like a speed boosting stim, give further depth to your movement. Chaining those wallruns together and finding quicker ways to get from one end of a multiplayer map to the other almost becomes a little game unto itself, but once you spend enough time with those abilities, parts of it start to become second nature. It feels... great.
It's also different than the previous game in some meaningful ways. In multiplayer, titans no longer drop with a shield, so any damage they take goes directly to the hull. Now there's a large mechanic around securing batteries by either finding them on the map or stealing them by jumping onto an enemy titan. Delivering a battery to a friendly titan charges up its shield, helping it live longer. It creates opportunities for teamwork that especially shine in the Last Titan Standing mode, where keeping those big suits alive is, obviously, the key to victory. These changes make titans less resilient if you're a careless player, but you can get a lot out of one titan if you're playing carefully and feeding it batteries whenever appropriate. There are also more titans in the game to choose from, giving you access to different weapon loadouts and bonus core abilities that are usually quite devastating.
The on-foot loadouts for pilots are nicely expanded, too, with a bevy of guns that potentially fit different playstyles, but considering the map size (relatively large, though not "Battlefield large"), it's hard to find a great reason to use weapons built for shorter ranges, like SMGs and shotguns. When I'm firing on a guy that's running across a rooftop halfway across the map. I need something that's going to not have a ton of recoil so I can be relatively accurate without having to actually get tight enough to be a good sniper. So assault rifles and a smattering of LMGs seem to win the day here, as far as I'm concerned. They seem to offer the most versatility, covering short and medium range quite well. Beyond that, you'll unlock more things for the guns and titans you use as you use them more frequently and effectively, from improved reload times to camo patterns.
There's a good variety to the included modes in Titanfall 2, even though the co-op-focused Frontier Defense mode or some other, similar cooperative experience didn't make the transition over from the previous game. It's got a smattering of objective-based modes and a handful that simply focus on being good at shooting down enemies. The catch is that most of these modes don't have any AI combatants in them. That might seem like a weird thing to miss, but having some fodder in the maps gives you something to do as you're running back to the conflict after a respawn. Considering the maps are large enough to contain a full set of on-foot pilots and titans at the same time, sometimes you find yourself running a little longer than you'd like just to see another player. So that lack of AI--the game's Attrition mode still has them in place--ends up making those maps occasionally feel empty and a bit lifeless.
There are a lot of other smart little things in Titanfall 2's multiplayer, from in-game "networks" that let you easily group up with other like-minded players to factions that change your match announcer to credits that let you permanently unlock items that stay open even after you hit the max level and "regenerate" back to level 1. But overall, the key thing, again, is that it really feels great. Even running back to the action after respawning can be fun, if you're adept at all your movement options. It's fun to play... except for Capture the Flag, but I guess I haven't liked CTF in any game since Quake II, so maybe that's no surprise.
The campaign, while relatively slight by comparison, is surprisingly engaging and helpful. It changes things up from level to level, working in the satisfying wall runs and platforming where appropriate to create sections that play more like little jumping challenges than your standard first-person shooter maps. The story is simple and, overall, parts of the game are a little disjointed, but it manages to pull together some decent characters, good voiceover performances, and fun little boss fights that actually help you get more comfortable with piloting a titan. The campaign also goes places, packing in some moments that manage to seem ridiculous as a part of this larger story while also feeling really great from a gameplay perspective. When the game does finally drop you into a large scenario full of titans on both sides of the conflict, it takes on the vibe of a pretty good action movie. It does a good job of making you seem smart when you're finding collectibles and tough when you're crushing your opposition. It's not super long, but it also doesn't dwell on any one type of gameplay for too long, either. It strikes a better balance than you might expect from a first-person shooter campaign, even if it sometimes comes across more like a bunch of disparate parts that were strung together with a story about a man and his giant robot suit hung around the edges.
Ultimately, different people want different things out of their console-style competitive shooters these days, and the market has split between this type of faster shooter and the larger scale and more deliberate style of a Battlefield game. If you're forever on the Battlefield side of things, this type of high-speed action might not be up your alley at all. For my part, Titanfall 2 improves greatly upon the first game and stands up there alongside some of my favorite games in the Call of Duty franchise.
Editor's note: Portions of this game were first played at an off-site event put on by the game's publisher and then replayed on the same damn TV and internet connection I use to review everything else.