As yesterday's Evolve preview proves, a twist on familiar multiplayer gameplay is a welcome one. And Titanfall, the 6 vs 6 multiplayer-only title from the ex-Infinity Ward staff of Respawn Entertainment, builds plenty of new features on top of the normal team-based competitive shooter space in the hope to making it distinctive in an ever-crowded market.
We got a two-hour hands-on with what'll form the Beta which is releasing in the very near future on Xbox One and PC. That took in a two-part tutorial, and a rotation of the modes on offer in it. Even with this small slice, there's a lot to take in.
Relearning the FPS
With two teams of six players mixing in with larger groups of NPC soldiers, using wall-runs and the huge mobile suit Titans to survive a far-flung future battlefield, there's a lot of new gameplay features to absorb. Nicely, a duo of tutorials - one for pilots, the other for Titans - make snappy work of what you need to know.
They also deftly immerse you in the world of Titanfall. Your concern with the Militia Vs IMC conflict may only stretch to whether you're in the blue or red team, but you can't help but admire the tutorial tech.
Both tutorials linger in ultra-clean, VR-style environments while cracking through weapons, movement and HUD elements. Importantly they emphasise just how mobile, enjoyable, the on-foot pilots are through chained wall-runs, smart pistol lock-on takedowns, stealth kills. Everything's fast, snappy. A microcosm of the battlefields themselves.
The Titans are somewhat different. There's a sense of occasion the first time you leap into one, and 120 minutes later that thrill was yet to dissipate.
They're slow, lumbering machines, but the developers have managed to translate the sense of weight, presence, through the altered HUD and audio. Each Titan has a double-dash available with a short recharge, that becomes crucial when dodging behind buildings or pulling back from danger.
The symbiosis between pilot and Titan will tickle any mech fan. You learn quickly how you can command your Titan when outside it to follow you or guard the immediate area. Working in tangent with your metal colossus, using teamwork to take out an enemy mech, keeping a location held or just using it as building-sized bait as you attack from a different direction.
With the tutorial finished, the training pod you've been strapped into pops open just as your room's shutters open, giving you an unrestricted view of the rest of your armada, and the planet you're all about to land on. A radio transmission buzzes in your ear to suit up and get ready to fight. You mightn't care about who's clashing with who, or over what, but Respawn's at least adding the window dressing of a story campaign over the multiplayer action, and for us, it works.
In the multiplayer hands-on, we try out two maps across three modes. Both levels - the boxed blocks of Angel City, the rabbit warren of tunnels and town ruins of Fracture - are compact maps yet offer distinct strategies to survival. Angel's all long streets and multi-levelled buildings that are perfect for chained wall runs as well as double-jumps to pop through first floor windows and across roof tops. Fracture's open grounds requires the use of the Cloak ability to survive a charge across and into the safety of ruins.
The modes, Attrition (first team to 250 points) and Hardpoint (a three point capture the flag) both have an epilogue endgame in which the losing side need to escape to an awaiting dropship to pull them out. The final mode, Last Titan Standing, begins with all players piloting mechs; first team to loose their foursome loses.
To begin there's two classes selectable for pilots and Titans. A third, as well as a trio of customisable pilot loadouts, unlock once you've ranked up enough. New weapons, Challenges (completion of which unlock accessories, perks) and Burn Cards - collectable, one-off in-match add-ons - rapidly unfold as your rank nears the double figures. As with the matches themselves, it's a rapid-fire cascade of new things to absorb, but it keeps you hooked.
Outside Last Titan Standing, mechs only become available a few minutes into matches, with a continual countdown to their availability being radioed into your ear. Their arrival starts altering the match flow, but crucially they don't become the focal point of it; they just add another dynamic, another set of tactics.
Titans also have different loadouts; rapid fire chainguns, slow but damaging cannons or rockets for primary weapons. They've customisable Abilities, such as the bullet-catching Vortex Shield which can toss explosives back at your attacker, and Kits, such as an Auto-Eject when your Titan's taken too much damage and is about to blow. You can eject anytime though, and remote control your Titan, setting it to guard an area or follow you.
There are options in taking mechs down. All have a rechargable overshield - if you stay out of battle - and an energy bar. Knock that down, either with a pilot-equipped anti-Titan weapon, Titan attacks (long range or melee) or jumping aboard one, taking out their innards with close-range gunfire, and they'll be seconds from exploding. On-board pilots can eject with a rapid punching of X, which'll shoot ‘em skyward and give them a second to plan a landing point and follow up strategy. However, if an enemy Titan melee attacks you just before you emergency eject, they'll tear you out and toss your body across the map.
What we play is fast, intense. There's a pacing here that's not dissimilar to Call of Duty. But, or at least in these early hours as everyone gets to grips with the game's mechanics, battlefield dominance isn't so clear cut.
The introduction of NPCs gives the sense of a larger-scale conflict, and the additions (cheers of support your side when you lumber by in a Titan, attackers with low-level smarts to keep you on your toes) make them a worthwhile inclusion. You soon spot the different icons between them and 'real' players on the field.
While Angel City was built for wall-running, with its angled billboards and tight streets, we found it a rarely-used skill during our matches. Perhaps because we weren't one hundred percent comfortable with the technique and how to easily cancel it (we had a few occasions when we worked our way up to building rooftops because we'd started one run and couldn't stop).
The double-jumps and ledge hand grabs did come into their own when we had customised a sniper's perks to include longer leaps and faster running speed. Our approach to the map and its gameplay altered considerably, giving us hope that the newer weapons and additional abilities will reshape our play styles the more we unlock.
There's little touches that we loved. Jumping aboard an ally Titan, hanging on and providing extra cover support. Crushing enemies with a well-timed (in truth, lucky) Titan drop. Plunging off a cliff-ledge in a Titan, and ejecting in time to rocket back onto the map. The stealth takedowns being so brutal, yet swift. The pilot and Titan classes feeling so familiar, yet different from their MP peers.
Visually there was little to complain about; sadly one of the cooler aspects of the maps are too easily missed. Because rarely do you look up - if you did, you'd see spaceships soar in the skies overhead. The maps are dense, compact, but there's a clear sense they're part of a much bigger world beyond the level borders.
There's a lot to take in, but our two hours and change with the Beta left us hungry for more. Even though it's only a few weeks to go until launch. That March 14th release date already seems unfairly far away.
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