Of Titans and Men: Hands-on with Titanfall

From the moment it was announced at E3 in 2013, every Xbox fan has been dying to know more about “Titanfall”. Given the team’s impressive multiplayer development pedigree, we all knew that the first game from Respawn Entertainment was going to be something special. Every bit of news, every Titan reveal, and every announcement was met with excitement and more questions. Finally, some of those questions are going to be answered with the upcoming launch of the closed beta. We had the chance to spend some time playing the game at Respawn’s office a few weeks ago and we’re more excited than ever for the release of “Titanfall” on March 11.

Our time with “Titanfall” began on the map Angel City, into which we were dropped from a troop transport with a group of fellow Pilots. Playing the Attrition mode, our goal was the complete and utter annihilation of the other team using a combination of coordinated teamwork, combat savvy, and general coolness under fire. At least, that was the plan until the bullets started flying and all hell broke loose.

Angel City is an urban map filled with narrow streets and low buildings featuring lots of close quarters, so it was clear that most of the pilot-on-pilot combat would be happening indoors. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the sound of gunfire echoed off of interior walls and down hallways. Then the battle took to the rooftops, as players escaped the confines of the killing floors in favor of more open areas. After a few minutes of battling as Pilots, the first few Titans were called in by players that had earned them. Those of us who didn’t have our Titans yet leapt from one rooftop to the next to give ourselves a better chance of surviving.

One of the most striking features of “Titanfall” is the way that players can traverse the terrain while controlling Pilots. Much has been made of the wall-running and parkour-like abilities that the Pilots possess, but playing as one for even a few minutes really hammers those abilities home. Once you’ve got a good idea of what you can do, you’ll soon find yourself stringing together wall-runs, jetpack-enhanced double jumps, full-speed hurdles, and context-sensitive climbing to make your way across a map much more quickly than if you were just on foot. As mentioned above, it definitely pays to stay off the ground and out of open areas, so sticking to rooftops and running along walls is more of an essential tactic than it is a fun gameplay diversion. 

Of course, there are bound to be times when you can’t avoid conflict, so it’s a good thing that there are a number of familiar (yet unique) weapons from which to choose. In the beta, players will have access to the Smart Pistol, which allows you to lock on to enemies from afar before firing tracking bullets at them, a Carbine that’s akin to an assault rifle, a nasty little submachine gun that’s perfect for shredding enemy Pilots, and the Longbow Sniper rifle. Finally, there’s the EVA-8 Shotgun that, when paired with the Cloak tactical ability, makes the player feel like an unstoppable killing machine in close quarter situations. All of the weapons feel like they’ve got some real heft and provide just the type of visceral feedback that shooter fans expect from top-tier offerings.  

While the pilot-versus-pilot combat was a ton of fun, nothing could compare to calling down a Titan for the first time, climbing inside (or, rather, being lifted inside), and strapping in for some heavy metal mayhem. Simply put, the Titans are awesome, even for those players that typically don’t care for giant metal men. Everything from the smooth, quick movements of the Titans in battle to the lovingly detailed reload animations makes this feel like a completely unique experience compared to other games. In many games, controlling a Titan might feel like driving a vehicle, but that’s not the case here. In “Titanfall,” the Titans truly feel like an extension of the player.  

As the Attrition match wore on, it quickly became clear that we were on the losing side. However, once the tally finally ticked down and our team was told that it lost, we were given a reprieve: Make it to the dropship to make it out alive. While the majority of the match featured tactically careful combat, everything went out the window once the order was given to escape to the dropship (or, in the case of the other team, to prevent that from happening). Suddenly, there was a mad dash to get out alive, even if that meant risking life and limb to scurry past the massive Titans patrolling the streets. This last frantic sequence provided ample opportunities to hoot, holler, and laugh, as we cursed our enemies for (rightly) camping the pickup spot and begged the AI-controlled dropship pilot to come back after we missed the pick up by mere seconds.

With that match behind us, it was time to check out the after action report, which broke down our showing and let us know how many experience points we had gained toward the next level. The most intriguing part of the post-match report was learning how many of the game’s many challenges we’d successfully completed. There are far too many to list here, but rest assured that seemingly everything you do in the game will be tracked so that you can eventually be rewarded. This is one feature that the completionists out there will surely love, as we noticed a few challenges that absolutely cried out for the “OK, just one more match.” treatment.    

After selecting and customizing a new Pilot, we hopped right back into the action on a map called Fracture. As we were playing the Hardpoint game type, our objective was to capture and hold a number of points on the map for as long as possible. Naturally, this was easier said than done, especially once enemy Titans started raining down from above. There’s a lot of open ground to cover in Since the capture zones were primarily indoors and inaccessible by Titan, this gave us a good chance to see what happens when a Pilot gives up control to the AI. Titans can be set to either accompany the player (world’s best bodyguard!) or protect a spot, and the results can be devastating to enemies. Battling a Titan one-on-one is tough, dealing with a Titan and a good player is downright brutal.      

In our final match, we had a chance to check out the previously unseen Last Titan Standing mode. While the other game modes required the Pilots to earn a Titan, Last Titan Standing finds you beginning battle strapped into one. Not having to deal with pesky Pilots jumping on your Titan’s back or potshots from anti-Titan rockets allows you to focus solely on the Titan-clad enemies battling you. It’s a fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled rush that really allows you to experiment with and fine tune your go-to Titan tactics. Whether you prefer the bullet-collecting (and then firing) Vortex Shield or would rather stick and move by dropping a smoke bomb like an escape artist, there are a wide variety of tactical options at your disposal.

“Titanfall” is nearly here and we can’t wait to play more and share more with you. Be sure to check back often between now and the game’s launch on March 11 for more previews, features, and videos on the year’s hottest Xbox One game.