Titanfall 2 Review (Xbox One)
When Titanfall arrived on the Xbox One two and a half years ago, it showed Respawn Entertainment had more than a few interesting ideas on how to expand the horizons of the first-person shooter. Being so singularly focused on multiplayer only however limited the scope of what Respawn's efforts. With Titanfall 2, the developer has built on that multiplayer foundation, and listened to players who yearned to explore more of this world on their own. Titanfall 2 has the original's good foundation, but the inclusion of a story mode not only gives players a deeper glimpse into this fantastic sci-fi universe, it also showcases Respawn's knack for level design.
Titanfall 2's story is ridiculous, but it's absurd in absolutely all the right ways. The narrative puts you in the shoes of Jack Cooper, a rifleman in the Frontier militia. He's working on getting his pilot's license to run a Titan, but first he'll have to survive an engagement with the evil Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC). They're taking over the outer rim of planets or something. It's not really clear why the two factions are warring, but anyone that's ever seen Star Wars or literally any other movie ever, knows that the scrappy rebels are usually the good guys and the big, corporate fascists are usually the bad guys.
Even if the why isn't all that clear to start with, when the IMC kills Jack's mentor at the start of the game, you've got all the motivation you'll need. You'll also get a highly advanced Titan named BT-7274, which was formerly your mentor's, but his dying act is putting the massive war machine under your control. It's all very archetypal, and the progression through the rest of the story tends to follow your standard "hero's journey." Except of course when Respawn amps things up to 11, taking Titanfall 2's story to new heights by simply going all out at every possible moment.
Most war stories in games drop you into the thick of things immediately for the sake of gameplay. While Titanfall 2 does indeed throw you to the wolves, it doesn't just set you down and point you in a direction, with your gun and your Titan clearing a path of destruction along the way. It mixes things up for you in clever, and frankly, ambitious ways that most games shy away from. You want a time travel puzzle level? Okay, have one. You where you can't touch the ground because it's covered in deadly gas? Sure, that's there too. How about a level designed around a factory that is a literal level builder for combat simulations? They've got one, and it's just about the best stage in the whole game. Respawn isn't just following conventions, it's looking at them in ways we haven't seen before. More importantly, it's looking at ways to make somewhat linear shooters have some fun surprises beyond scripted sequences.
Having all the excellent parkour maneuvering return is also a big boon. Where some shooters have adopted a bit of Titanfall's agility, no game does high-speed, acrobatic FPS combat quite like Respawn. We all got an idea of what to expect from the first Titanfall's multiplayer maps, but those were still very single-minded efforts. They had verticality and some nice open spaces for Titans to fight, but they didn't push the movement mechanics to the limits. The single-player campaign shows just how fantastically smooth and quick the action can be when it has room to breathe. These levels are designed to show off just how different Titanfall is from its contemporaries, and they also show how strong Respawn's level-design is too. Obviously they know the limits of what can be done, but it's refreshing to get to experience peak Titanfall the way the developers had intended.
The only disappointing areas of the campaign are the boss fights. These sequences pit you against a mercenary Titan pilot in a specific loadout, but the Titans themselves aren't very different from the other non-merc Titans you fight in the story. Sure they have fancy paint schemes and the pilots get a bit of screen time, but they're all to brief and only offer a slight modicum of challenge above and beyond the rest of the missions. Respawn was clearly inspired by Metal Gear Solid's quirky antagonists, but these villains seem a bit more one-note and don't quite carry the same gravitas. Still, the efforts to make Titanfall 2 more than its predecessor are appreciated, and giving any characterization at all to the characters, armies and worlds of this franchise brings it a lot further along than the original.
The driving force for Titanfall 2 is still Respawn's multiplayer however, and it's just as satisfying as it was the first time we prepared for Titanfall. The maps are all well-made, and provide some great diversity. There are a number of close-encounter areas for pilots to throw down, but the wide spaces left for Titans still present a lot of verticality and sightlines for those who prefer to stay nimble. Most of the core tenets you'll have learned in the single-player --- or that you remember from the first game --- still apply, but no matter what map you're on, the most important thing is to keep moving. While the story has you constantly moving as it pertains to the pace of the action, you can fall back into learned habits in multiplayer.
Titanfall multiplayer rewards movement and using things like wall-running and the other pilot-centric abilities over standing around and sniping or camping. It's easy to slip into these strategies because so many other games promote a more sedentary shooter style, but Titanfall's focus on getting you on the move is part of what makes it such a refreshing experience. Yeah, the Titans help --- and there are plenty of them --- but so few games actively promote the kind of "take action" attitude Respawn does. Besides, it's just more fun to be running and gunning when there's so much to run on, across or over.
Now, about those Titans; they're great. Rather than the limited classes you had available in the first game, there are now six distinct models available (provided you're leveled up enough), each offering something different from a strategic standpoint. Most are still based on being heavy damage-dealers, and those will feel familiar to anyone that played even just a few matches of the original game. Though all the actual Titan models are new, it's the new powersets that really set them apart from their predecessors.
There was nothing particularly wrong or bad about the Ogre, Atlas or Stryder, but they all had some fairly basic military loadouts. Titanfall 2's Titans bring a number of impressive new armaments like cores, which offer massive offensive attacks when you've earned them. Think of these like class abilities that you can summon based on how you're performing. Nothing gets the party started --- or finished --- quite like a blast from a salvo core, which unleashes dozens of rockets wherever you aim. Perhaps you like a more understated, contemplative attack like the sword core, which gives the Ronin Titan's sword a hefty boost with every swing. It's all up to you, and while you'll see your fair share of starter Titans throughout your adventures, it's the later Titans you can unlock that stomp the yard the best.
Oddly enough, though multiplayer is the real sustenance of Titanfall 2, it doesn't provide quite the same sense of awe and wonder as the single-player. Respawn just knows how to craft that compelling a campaign. Multiplayer is still strong though, and brings such a different vibe than most other competitors that even without being as vibrant as the solo mode, it's still a strong contender for sucking all the time out of your weekends. Even if you're lone wolfing it out there, modes like Bounty and Amped Hardpoint still offer you ways to contribute without needing a full squad of friends along for the adventure. But seriously, party up; it's the best way to play, and teamwork is crucial for other modes that don't have such leniency for rogue Pilots.
Titanfall 2 is one of the most joyful gaming experiences of the year. There are lots of games with heart and excitement, but Titanfall 2 manages to combine almost everything that was a strength for the first entry and build on it with loads more personality. That's largely due to the inclusion of a single-player campaign this time around, which complements the multiplayer portion quite perfectly. Sure it doesn't make a lick of damn sense, but you'll be having so much fun, you won't even notice.
This review is based on a digital copy of Titanfall 2 provided by the publisher for Xbox One.