Have You Seen Titanfall?

It had to be one of the most overheard questions during PAX Prime 2013. Whether it was on the show floor or on Twitter and Facebook, seemingly everyone wanted to know if their friends had experienced the highly-anticipated first-person shooter from Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts.

Did it merit its record-breaking six Game Critics awards at E3? Did it deserve the “Best Next Generation Console Game” award at gamescom, or the glowing praise from the industry’s most prominent critics, including IGN, Destructoid, the Verge, the Penny Arcade Report and many more?

After playing it at PAX Prime (and then getting back in line to play it four more times) it’s easy to understand what the excitement is about. It’s unique, blisteringly fast, exhilarating, intense and, most importantly, a whole lot of fun.

It’s a new generation first-person shooter, only made possible by the power of the Xbox Live Cloud, for a new generation of fan itching to embrace the future of gaming, and it’s coming only to Xbox and PC.

Read on to find out more about “Titanfall,” and be sure to check out a special PAX Prime podcast interview with Xbox’s Major Nelson and Respawn Entertainment’s Abbie Heppe.

Titans Among Men

Matches in “Titanfall” revolve around teams of elite soldiers (Pilots) and massive bi-pedal robots (Titans). There are multiple Pilot characters and Titans to choose from, and loadouts can be customized to fit your preferred play style.

Pilots are fast and agile, thanks to jump jet technology that allows you to gracefully run up walls and leap across buildings without breaking your stride. While Pilots have weapons, including varying flavors of rocket launchers to damage Titans, speed and mobility are their greatest assets. Creative players who have memorized map layouts will be able to swiftly bounce from one obscure ambush spot to the next, or make quick getaways from unfavorable exchanges. Pilots are extremely squishy, though. All it takes is a few bullets to put one down, but it’s hard to kill what you can’t catch.

Titans play differently than Pilots. They come strapped with enough firepower and armor to dish out and sustain significant amounts of damage, making them a force to be reckoned with in the right hands.  However, Titans are huge targets. A booster pack offers bursts of mobility to escape sticky situations, but it’s easy to become overwhelmed once you attract enemy gunfire from every direction.

Titans and Pilots complement each other well. Titans can one-shot or trample Pilots who are caught in the open, but a Pilot can use their agility to avoid gunfire and even leap onto Titans to cripple them single-handedly. When they coordinate, though, that’s when things get interesting. Titans can provide cover and heavy artillery, but Pilots will need to protect their mechanical brethren and ensure nearby ambush spots are cleared of enemies. Like any good multiplayer-based shooter, teamwork is paramount to success.

Fluid, Frenetic, Fun

You never stop moving in “Titanfall.” If you’re not leapfrogging rooftops across the map, pausing only to shotgun an enemy in the chest or snap a few necks, you’re jumping off buildings and smoothly sliding into the cockpit of a recently deployed Titan. One second you’ll be shooting it out with a squad of infantry and the next you’ll round a corner right as a Titan explodes in your face, spraying the screen with flames and shrapnel.  

Cinematic set-piece moments like these are everywhere and the transition between one pulse-pounding combat encounter and the next is seamless. You’re constantly engaged and always completely immersed in the action.

The Angel City map we played on was a prime playground for both Pilots and Titans. The plethora of building interiors and vertical structures opened up numerous pathways for Pilots to rapidly launch attacks or flee from enemies, and the combination of narrow streets and open fields made each firefight in a Titan unpredictable.   

In addition, the integration of large groups of AI-controlled infantry accentuated the scale and dynamism of battles. AI opponents don’t pose the same threat as enemy players do, though they’re still dangerous in large groups, but fighting them is still very gratifying and sustains “Titanfall’s” breakneck momentum.

“Titanfall” is all about having fun, no matter how much experience you have with first-person shooters. The action moves quickly and there are always loads of enemies to shoot at, so gamers of all skill levels will still be able to rack up kills and support the team. Piloting a Titan is available to everyone as well – simply call a Titan in when the game prompts you to and unleash havoc.

“We want everyone to have fun playing ‘Titanfall,” said Abbie Heppe, Community Manager at Respawn Entertainment. “Whether you’re this super skilled shooter expert or just casual gamer, we want there to be something for everyone.”

Striking this balance is no easy task, emphasized Heppe, and the team is working hard to ensure that “Titanfall” is accessible while providing a level of depth that will have players coming back for months and months.

Oh! The Stories You’ll Hear

“Titanfall” may be a multiplayer-only experience, but moments of storytelling were cleverly integrated throughout the match of Attrition mode we played. Spawn as the Frontier Militia and you’ll be introduced to a brief scripted segment that shows your squad liberating a prisoner. The next round you might play as the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation and deploy from the air to stop the Militia.

As the battle intensifies, you’ll receive periodic updates about how your mission is evolving based on your team’s performance. For example, in Attrition mode, if you’re defeated as the Militia, the matches’ “Epilogue” will trigger. You’ll hear over the radio that your squad barely managed to rescue the prisoner and that a drop ship will arrive to evacuate your team. From there, it becomes a frantic race to the extraction point while the enemy team hunts you down for bonus experience points and bragging rights.

The fictional wrapper draws you deeper into multiplayer matches; giving you a sense of purpose and making your investment feel all the more significant.

“Multiplayer is part of our DNA,” explained Heppe. “It became a challenge to see how we could integrate all these cool gameplay elements and make a campaign experience out of it. It was a gradual evolution, but it made sense. In addition to great multiplayer designers, we also have these amazing single player developers as well, so it really fit the skill set of the studio.”

The best stories, however, will likely come from the players. Everyone I spoke to about their time with “Titanfall” had one. Several gushed about the first time they ejected from a doomed Titan, only to land on an enemy Titan and return the favor. Another was running for their drop ship and watched their teammate be disintegrated by a Titan. One of the coolest anecdotes involved a clutch shot that brought down a badly damaged drop ship seconds before it escaped, killing all the enemy survivors onboard.

With just a handful of maps and modes revealed so far, Respawn Entertainment has only begun to unveil where “Titanfall” will take gamers. One thing is for certain, though. As “Titanfall’s” narrative expands and becomes more elaborate, so will players’ war stories from the online battlefield.

Stand By for Titanfall

Coming out of E3, gamescom and PAX Prime, the team at Respawn Entertainment is excited and encouraged by the positive reception that “Titanfall” has received from fans and critics alike.

“It’s always really scary to put your baby out in the wild, but it’s been really exciting for us,” said Heppe. “Seeing the reaction has been so overwhelming and so awesome.”

“Titanfall” doesn’t launch until 2014, but Heppe said that fan feedback is giving the team the push they need as they get closer and closer to the finish line.

“Creating things that people enjoy and have fun with is the reason we go to work and make games,” said Heppe. “We still have more work to do, but it’s been so reassuring knowing that people like the game.”

People indeed like the game, judging from the massive line of PAX attendees that snaked around the Xbox booth. The wait from the end of the queue, I was told, was at least three hours long, but fans were not deterred. They had heard the buzz, read the previews and felt the hype – now they want to see “Titanfall.”