Titanfall 2 feels inevitable in many ways. It is, after all, the sequel to one of the better games of 2014, and that only invites followers and imitators. But more importantly is its lineage, coming from the historically excised founders of Infinity Ward, the original developers to first fully nail the modern sensation of first-person shooters.
That grand culmination of testing the waters two years ago along with 13 years of firing digital bullets from mostly historical guns has resulted in a phenomenal game. There perhaps isn’t a better feeling shooter out there this year or in any recent year for that matter. It’s as refreshing to the genre as Super Meat Boy was for the 2D platformer, and that alone would make it worth playing.
It goes beyond that simple but revelatory improvement, though, to add an entirely unprecedented mode in a single-player campaign that is unexpectedly yet obviously good. The story follows (the hilariously straightedge named) Jack Cooper, a rifleman who, after being groomed to become a Pilot, finds himself in the possession of a Titan that goes by BT (full designation is BT-7274). The pair, stranded on a foreign planet, then begins to go about fighting their way back home.
Granted, the story itself is rather stale. It requires a surprising amount of knowledge about the world you could have only gotten from the first game, but even then, it mostly just goes through the motions. The conflict, the conspiracy, the rebellion, etc. It all only just congeals through to the end.
The way the narrative unfolds, however, is a real gem. The straight man/double act interactions between BT and Jack are pleasant enough (whipping between charming and trite), but they develop a sincere and tender relationship between the two, some of it could be attributed to the optional dialogue choices. It’s hard to describe how respect and warmth emanates from a giant mech to a human, but it works. It works to the point where the conclusion of the entire ordeal is both satisfying and rewarding.
Their adventures further themselves through some genuinely inventive missions across the campaign’s six-hour playtime. They’re not only structured in a way to give you both a clear and concise goal at any one time but also big enough to give you the impression of physical freedom. Levels always force upon you the idea of scale and both the inherent possibilities and limitations of it as you see your Pilot dwarfed by the Titan, but Titans clambering around tremendous architecture rather than through it.
Mission objectives and premises then build on that and explore every inch of what it can mean. The most impressive among a great deal of impressive concepts takes place in an exceptionally active factory, forcing you to constantly be on the move while giving you the opportunity to do so with ingenuity. And that’s just one of them. All these story missions introduce wholly new and fascinating mechanics each time, expand on them, and then wistfully throw them away in favor of deeper exploration.
And it all works precisely because the game is all about precision. While it certainly demands a decent amount from you, it’s more about what the game demands from itself. Even in the simple act of you pulling up your iron sights and landing a single shot onto an enemy, there’s an immense number of minute touches that elevate it from a firefight to a god damn joy. Each shot explodes in aural indications that feel as necessary as they are satisfying, your gun recoiling to hint at you its latent power.
This mentality spreads out into just general movement as well. The combination of jumping and then double jumping gives you simultaneously the maximal and minimal control over clear gaps, hurdling obstacles, and course-correcting midair to avoid an unsavory end. That combined with the amount of air control is just enough to get you out of trouble but more than enough to get you wherever you want to go.
Consider then that that is just where it starts. You also have wall running, knee slides, and a grappling hook that actually feels like a grappling hook. This is the only game that feels not only appropriate but deserving of you sailing through the air or sliding through the middle of a kill box and still accruing kills. And seriously, that grappling hook is a damn treat. It slings you along with a physical accuracy—drooping with increasingly tension and decreasingly slack—and wraps you into the action around the corner.
Even being in a Titan feels good, when it should (especially relatively) feel lumbering and oafish. But whipping around and slamming into other Titans or boosting through battlefields is just as rewarding as being a nimble little Pilot. There’s a power to a Titan’s momentum and bits of borderline controllable chaos, giving you an opening to recklessness in a game steeping in precision.
Smartly, all of the hands-on experience you get with both on-foot and in-mech modes transfers to the multiplayer. Some of it is because it’s all so dense, but it’s more in the sense that it takes a Battlefield 1 approach of injecting multiplayer aspects into the single-player, such as giving you the chance to try out every Titan loadout before figuring out what best suits you online. And as those special one-off moments of the campaign strike up, the improvisation parts of your brain light up once you start playing real people.
There are some standalone improvements as well. The increased visibility of differing loadout silhouettes (and Titan classes) is a welcome addition, as is the Network feature where you can automatically join up with like-minded players. The battery mechanic is also a nice way to spice up and invite time in and out of your Titan once it drops along with engendering more discrete moments of teamwork. This is especially true in the Last Titan Standing mode where everyone starts in a Titan and everyone fights until one team is spent.
That mode in particular is incredibly interesting because it’s such a slow a methodical rhythm compared to anything else online. You tend to walk hand-in-hand with your teammates more and coordinate attacks. And once Titans are removed from the field, Pilots become both deadly and bolstering, as if they take on the RPGish roles of rogue and cleric.
Attrition, however, is the only mode that feels fully worthwhile when it comes to the size of the maps. Without AI grunts running around, they tend to feel empty if you don’t happen to always be in the thick of the action. None of them ever feel boring, though, or undeserving of your time. Even the painfully branding-centric Coliseum mode is a good time, like a hyperactive rock-paper-scissors game.
It’s also worth mentioning that the game looks damn good with everything from the wide open vistas to the more tightly enclosed arenas treating your eyes to beauty and splendor. The main point, however, is that Titanfall 2 does what every shooter aims to do but so few every manage: it feels good. It handles like a dream and even gets around to making a moderately rote story impressively compelling. If you can, make sure you get your hands on this rodeo.
+ Moves like you’d want every FPS to move
+ Interactions between characters in the campaign are delightful and impactful
+ Story missions offer an incredible amount of variety
+ Single-player and multiplayer inform and educate one another
+ Multiplayer modes offer rewarding progression and specialty conceits
Final Score: 9 out of 10
Game Review: Titanfall 2
Release: October 28, 2016
Genre: First-person shooter
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Available Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Players: Single-player, multiplayer