In recent years, first-person shooters have become tentpoles in defining console gaming progress. The Halo series, paired with Xbox Live, had set the benchmark for online gaming on consoles. Meanwhile, each new iteration of Call of Duty–and its accompanying blockbuster haul, continue to set record-breaking numbers.
But too much time in the spotlight has stagnated the genre, the annual Call of Duty’s and Battlefield’s rely on large, existing install bases to populate their sprawling multiplayer modes. The results are polished controls and intricate mechanics paired with conservative gunplay and unimaginative narratives.
2016 saw a shakeup in the vulnerable first-person arena. Alongside marquees like Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare–which saw more fanfare for its Modern Warfare bundle than for the game itself, and Battlefield 1, there were newcomers, like fan-favorite Overwatch, and rebirths–in the case of Doom. Occupying a space somewhere in the middle, not quite as bold as Overwatch, but more adventurous than the established franchises, is Titanfall 2.
Created by Respawn Entertainment, a team comprised of ex-Infinity Ward folks, traces of Call of Duty–especially with the mechanics–are visible throughout Titanfall 2. The result is fast-paced, precise, twitch action. This pairs well with the game’s many powers, in both single-player and multiplayer. Wall-running and jetpacks work to enhance the kinetic energy of the firefight, adding a level of vertical perspective to existing gunplay strategies. As for the actual guns, most are standard fare, light on the hands and intuitive to use.
However, the star of the show are still the titans. These mechanical giants offer the same joyous destruction that comes with vehicle classes, but with an added sense of mobility that’s appropriate for the game. Their appearances in multiplayer often help recenter the action, creating a team atmosphere that’s not as prominent otherwise.
An array of multiplayer modes and a complex upgrade system guarantee plenty of incentives for the committed, yet the game still lacks a certain something. It has all the parts for a competent, even fantastic shooter, but between the guns, the powers, and the titans, Titanfall 2 doesn’t seem to have room to create an interesting, or engaging world. This was a criticism that was also levied on the original Titanfall, which lacked a single-player component and struggled to develop a fanbase.
Respawn makes an admirable effort to remedy this with a short, bombastic campaign that’s bursting with energy and ambition, but also bogged down by a weak narrative and inconsistent pacing. Generic hero Jack Cooper and Titan BT team up to take down an evil militia–there’s not much else to the plot. It rides the B-action flick vibe a little too hard, positioning Cooper and BT as buddy cops, but it’s mostly harmless. A more glaring issue seems to be the way in which the game plays with its innovations. Titanfall 2 is admirable for throwing neat tools into Cooper’s arsenal that changes certain levels to resemble something out of Portal or a puzzle game, but they feel isolated from the gunplay and Titan battles that precede and follow those particular levels.
As with the multiplayer, the gunplay is still fun–few things match getting off a few headshots while wall-running. But the game is mired by a sense of clinicalness, where its precision and arcade-ness are mistakenly equivocated with entertainment and charm. The game is so busy showing off how its single player twists make it unique, so determined to flex the capacity of its titans, and so enamored with its campy campaign, that it accidentally exposes its own shortcomings. Titanfall 2 is undoubtably a very competent shooter, but as its closest competitor, COD, traverses into space, and its publisher-mate shooter–Battlefield, aims for a more ambitious campaign, Titanfall 2 can only prove that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Even if it’s a damn good apple.