It'll give you at least fifteen hours worth of pleasurable entertainment - which is our current play time (and counting) with the game - as you run and gun across futuristic battlefields in a variety of modes.
If what's on the disc feels a little light on content (which truthfully, it isn't), that's only because Titanfall enters a market whose top dogs have had years to build their presence, develop their offerings. For a newcomer to the genre, Titanfall's wares are substantial enough.
Something Old, Something New. Something Borrowed, Something Bloody Great
Respawn's debut builds on the same foundations as its online multiplayer peers, but strikes out in its own direction, incorporating unique ideas to develop its own vision. Not unexpectedly, given the staff's heritage as ex-Call of Duty developers, Titanfall offers fast-paced gameplay, XP drives that reward upgrades, and there's a wide spread of perks. All designed to keep you wired in, next achievement tantalisingly close to being unlocked.
But the core sell's different from Call of Duty, different from Battlefield. If any comparison can be made, Titanfall leans closer to COD's glorious competition. Bigger maps and the chaotic combat that comes in mixing on-foot soldiers and piloted attack craft means that while your lifespan is still measured in the seconds, they're healthy double-figures.
But Titanfall's still a different beast. Player Pilots are fast, agile - jetpacks offer double-jumps, and wall-running is standard. It's the first-person shooter with superheroes. You flow over, under and along environments. You're no more than a leap or wall scuttle away from battle. Calling in your personal Titan, a two storey-tall mecha with dash moves and heavy arsenal, layers a wholly different, Virtual-On style combat on top of the ongoing clashes between your walking tank's feet. The two types of play interweave and create something wholly new in the shooter space.
Layered on top of all that are progression systems to unlock upgrades and bragging rights. Levelling up earns you new weapons and loadouts. A separate Challenge system offers gameplay-specific objectives that need to be repeatedly completed over the course of multiple matches. Do so and you unlock weapon accessories as well as Burn Cards. Burn Cards are randomised perks that can be cashed in during matches and last until you're killed.
You'll also gradually unlock new customisable loadouts up to the tune of five for Pilots, five for Titans. A bizarre oversight: you can't rename your loadouts. Complete both sides of the campaign, and you unlock the two other Titan chassis options - fast but weak Stryker, lumbering but tank-like Ogre.
So let's talk about what you get for your Pilot's licence. Buy the disc, download the digital version, and you've access to a 6v6 multiplayer-only title that's set in the far-flung future and across multiple planets as two sides clash over fuel and ideologies. It's the classic Red Vs Blue multiplayer colouring mapped to the patriotic IMC and the hounded underdogs, the Militia.
Campaigning for better Objectives
Their personalities and goals matter more - but not much - in the story campaign. The eighteen match-long conflict is split in two; nine matches on nine maps, played from both perspectives.
It is somewhat of a misfire. Matches play out as they would on the other multiplayer modes, but with the addition of in-match pre-scripted sequences, such as a Titan landing on a dropship, a key commander taking to the frontline to deliver orders. There's also more comms chatter that's hard to hear amidst the gunfire, and event pop-ups that play out on the video feed at the top right of your screen as key characters converse or duke it out elsewhere on the map, which are easy to miss as you're busy avoiding being punched by a Titan.
The problem is you never feel directly involved with these events. Partly it's excused as your role as grunt in the wider conflict, but it'd have been much more rewarding if there'd been unique in-match objectives on top of the standard Attrition and Hardpoint Domination mode types. Or even the match's result having a bigger impact on the overall story.
As it is, a few line readings differ from the principal cast, and you may notice the odd background event - towers collapsing, wildlife invading an army base. The frantic nature of the gameplay means we'll be reading up on Wiki after the fact to learn exactly what happened while we were blasting our way across maps. As there's little more than an Achievement and the two other Titan chassises unlocked once the ending screen is reached, this side of the game will be gathering dust before too long.
Mapping the Frontier: Modes & Maps
Outside Campaign, there's the narrative-free multiplayer modes. Three modes - straight-forward kill ‘em all for points Attrition, hold three points Hardpoint Domination, and mech-focused Last Titan Standing - we've seen already in the beta. They're now joined by could-be-Attrition-by-another-name Pilot Hunter, where only player-controlled characters killed earn you score. Then there's the incredibly fun and lightning-fast Capture the Flag, which in the time sunk in so far has proved to be the most fun.
Aside from the similarity between Attrition and Pilot Hunter, every mode's got its own attraction. So much so we happily kept to the Variety Pack mode for most of our time with the game, though the mode randomising saw only a smattering of Last Titan Standing matches. This is definitely the black sheep of the collection; it more than any other requires teamwork to survive. And there's definite need to know the maps inside out.
While the campaign locks to nine maps, there's fifteen available in all. Most fall into one of the two design types found in the beta levels. Either grid-like city and townscapes akin to Angel City, or larger countryside environments like Fracture. From these first twenty hours, it's the sprawling maps thats prove the better of the offerings - more interesting visually and in layout.
You soon tier the maps - not all are created equal. A handful of the town levels homogenise all too easily, visual identifiers too similar, and designs too simplistic to stand out. Yet thankfully the rest of the fifteen stand out. All boast intricate corridors, hideouts, pathways that both burrow through the ground underneath and weave along the highest towers above. Most feel like two maps overlaid; wider roads and higher bridges for Titans to fight on and duck under, then buildings, warehouses and ship interiors for Pilots to shoot and kick each other in.
What becomes obvious during our time is that in some locations, the player number versus map size hasn't been scaled quite perfectly. Lagoon, for instance, is a small fishing village sitting in the shadow of a huge carrier ship that's parked in the nearby shallow waters. The ship becomes a boundary wall for the map, yet there's another third of the level hidden behind it that remains untouched during our time there; everyone sticks to the the bowl that's the sandy centre of the village itself.
It's a similar problem with Airbase, a night-time map set between a hive of warehouses, landing pads and towers, and Nexus, a dusty outpost that the time spent on was mostly running over rooftops trying to find an enemy to engage.
It's early days though; players may start to explore a little once they've sated some of their XP drive. There's little earned in being tourist just yet, but it is highly recommended. Even outside the fantastically-realised maps. Respawn can create evocative sci-fi worlds.
Building Better Worlds
Titans are big, but the development studio has gone bigger in it's world-building. Ornately-carved mountains sneer down at the brief spat on their ledges. City-sized battle cruisers clash in the skies above as fighter jets weave between the airborne colossi. Then there's the wildlife - we fight between house-sized skulls in Boneyard as winged flyers soar overhead, and mammoth Leviathans, four-legged walkers with legs like skyscrapers and whose backs touch clouds, amble past the maps' edges.
It must kill to know all this wonderful work is going to be ignored, missed. Who's got time to sightsee when a Titan's foot is about to stomp you, or you're 10 points down as a match reaches its end game? Respawn want to build on this universe in future, and already they've a rich foundation to build upon. As with the issues with the campaign story, they've just got to figure out how to involve this wider mythos more deeply with the actual combat, or draw people to look out beyond their next loadout and attack strategy. Currently it all sits on the periphery.
The sense of peripheral additions evades other parts of the game too. Boneyard's flyers are little more than background placeholder. You'll only spot the odd one carrying off a grunt in a pre-scripted event. You're left wishing they'd instead add an extra danger on the map.
Hacking enemy Spectres to fight for you might give you an extra gun on the field, but they're all too easily dispatched to make these tin soldiers become a contention point. Better are the heavy turrets, which when hacked train their aim on enemy Titans, but even these feel a sideline addition rather than an integral part of winning matches.
It all feels like window dressing, when it should feel integral, as it all positively promotes Titanfall on its differences with its peers. Yet outside wall-running and the Titans themselves, all these additional gameplay elements feel more suggestion than anything. Even the wall hang, which proves a great way to defend a flag or capture point or to stop mid-run, isn't mentioned in the tutorial, and you'll rarely find anyone using it. The Bumper Jumper controller layout switches jump from A to LB, letting you aim better while leaping and wall-running, yet it gets a mere nod in the controller menu rather than a push in the tutorial.
Perhaps all will grow in importance as the weeks and months go by, as match wins will hinge on the smaller strategies, and top tier players separate themselves from the rest of us. Maybe flyers will get Pilot-bloodlust in a future DLC drop. We fully expect Respawn have plenty of plans for Titanfall's inaugural year.
The Future, and the Now
As the player count magnifies into the millions, and the time played multiplies into the triple figures, there'll likely be a growing list of wish fulfilment, tweaks and changes that'll be requested or shouted across social media. You may even expect most to be answered or already planned, given the team's past pedigree and that every major multiplayer franchise now offers widespread changes with updates.
If you look at what Titanfall offers here and now, on disc or digital as threadbare, then you have to realise we've all become a little spoilt. Other franchises may have more weapons, perks, modes, even maps - but those franchises have been running for years now. This is just Respawn's first step, and it's an assured one given all the work they've clearly poured into making this unique experience.
You forget whatever marketing and money that's been poured into the team that this is one studio, making one game, and are trying to add something new to the genre. There's no sense here the team have held back; this is work made with their heart and soul. Have they cut stuff to make sure the game gets out? Likely. But I don't think it's wholly with the idea cobble together a Season Pass to fund their future work. More, they won't release it until it's good to go.
From the week's worth of beta playing and some fifteen hours (and counting) so far on the final code, the game plays great. On the Xbox One version on which we conducted this review, we noticed the odd screen tear. But that didn't detract from our enjoyment. All the talk of screen resolution ignores the important point: is this good to play?
A colleague remarked that between the private beta event and the public release, the review event and playing the final retail code, we'd be beginning our XP climb from scratch for the fourth time in a row. Neither of us saw that as a chore. That says a lot.
This is a very promising start. See you on the battlefield.
Post-Script: Talking Online
This review was mainly based on a two-day play session held in London where some forty-plus media played through the campaign and the various game modes. The sessions were run through the game's public servers. This was followed by additional time with retail code at home - which we're getting back to as soon as we file this piece.
Post-Script 2: Xbox 360 version
This review was based on the Xbox One version, though PC code was also on offer. However, the Xbox 360 version was not. Given that version is releasing later and there's been some column inches dedicated to discussing the port, we'll file a separate review when we get hands-on with that code. Expect a Gamereactor Live show dedicated to it in the near future.