Titanfall 2 is an unusual thing in video games. It has happened on a few occasions in the past, but it’s not often that a single player campaign is added to a purely multiplayer game. It almost feels like Respawn Entertainment have kicked into reverse gear in deciding to do so, but at the same time, they now know what Titanfall is, and they know that it needs a little more loving care and attention than just adding a straightforward 6 hour long action romp.
Of course, there’s going to be more than enough action and blockbusting set pieces to go around, as a Militia raid on what was meant to just be a lightly defended IMC research facility goes a little bit wrong. You play as Rifleman Jack Cooper who, as the original plan goes out the window, finds himself thrust into a partnership and lifelong bond with BT-7274, the Titan of Jack’s former mentor, Captain Lastimosa.
That relationship is what Respawn want to be the real heart and soul of the game, as you battle against the odds and behind enemy lines to complete the mission – a Titan’s three protocols are to link to a pilot, follow through with the mission and protect the pilot’s life, in that order, cleverly twisting Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics on their head.
There’s plenty of back and forth dialogue between the two, as BT acts as a source of advice in any given situation and offers up some of the exposition to keep the story moving forward. There’s points where you can choose a dialogue option as well, but what I found most appealing was the surprising amount of fun and humour that came through, as the script plays off BT’s cold and calculating nature, and inability to understand that what it’s saying could sometimes do with a little sugar coating. Admittedly, it was a little on the nose at one or two points – does BT really need to tell you not to wall run into the power strips that crackle with electricity? Probably not.
In light of the game’s early trailers and the three protocols the Titan follows, it’s easy to jokingly assume that either BT or Jack is going to die at the end. Up until that point, you’ll have to be a bit more wary and cautious of BT’s health during battle, because he’s not a largely disposable vehicle, as the Titans in multiplayer are. A new mechanic introduced on both sides of the game sees you able to hunt for batteries out on the battlefield, which you can slot into the top of the Titan to top up their shields and prevent them from blowing up.
That’s bound to be a pretty big ask at times, especially when coming up against other Titans. Even the new Sentinel robots can take a bit of a beating, but when two other Titans drop into the area, followed by a boss fight against an enemy character doing one hell of an Arnie impression, it’s going to be pretty useful for you to switch BT’s loadout on the fly in order to counter the threat.
One of the key things that made the original so special when it released was the sheer mobility and fluidity of moving around the world as a Pilot. With a double jump jet pack, the ability to wall run and chain moves together, its multiplayer map design often let you rush from one side of the map to the other without setting foot on the floor. There was a sense of freedom to all of this, and as Titanfall 2 tries to take on a single player campaign, it’s quite clear throughout the demonstration that Respawn are trying to keep this feeling.
It’s most noticeable for me in the few instances of combat plucked from different points in the game. They’re not returning to the kind of corridor shooter mentality that some of the Respawn team were experts at when working on Call of Duty and other shooter franchises, but giving you more of a sandbox to play in. Whether you’re on the offensive or the defensive, you can pick your moment, break line of sight to get the drop on isolated enemies, and gradually wear the enemy down as you use your superior mobility and abilities like active camouflage to get the better of them.
It’s certainly no bad thing in my mind to draw parallels to the likes of Uncharted 4 or Tomb Raider, where you have width and different options available to you as you fight. In fact, when considering the other while this is clearly a first person shooter, it wouldn’t feel out of place in the action adventure genre, and I say that because of how integral the traversal looks to be outside of combat, as well. Just as in those games, simply getting through the world and making use of the inherent joy of the game’s double jumping and wall running will make up a fairly sizeable portion of the game.
As the demo skipped through a few hours of the game, Cooper also came into possession of an “arc tool”, which is essentially an energy gun that can be used to trigger switches and machinery remotely. It opens up whole new possibilities for traversal puzzles, such as using a huge fan to reach a higher point, and can even come into play as the freeform battles escalate and start to feature more advanced Sentinel robot units, letting you open or close paths and toy with the AI further.
All of this, Respawn explained, has come from an extensive prototyping period in which the team split up to create new “action blocks” each week that focussed purely on gameplay ideas. You can see them dotted throughout the game, from the dialogue options when talking to BT about the arc tool and the Titan batteries. They can be subtle little ideas, but they’re there to wrap up those three pillars of Pilot combat, Titan combat and Pilot mobility in various interesting ways.
There’s really no point in denying that Titanfall 2 is facing a pretty tricky launch window, sandwiched between the latest iterations of two, well, titans of the first person genre. It looks like it’s up to the task though, and I’m feeling pretty optimistic that Titanfall 2 can bring something worthwhile and a little bit different when it releases at the end of October.
This preview comes from a press trip to Respawn Entertainment in California last week, with travel and accommodation provided by EA.