Titanfall Beta Impressions: Pilots and Rockets and Mechs, Oh My

titanfall-bannerOne of the most hotly anticipated games of 2014 just wrapped up its beta testing period. For the majority of interested gamers, this was their first chance to play the heavily hyped and critically acclaimed Titanfall.

I somehow managed to get into the beta despite the fact that I rather detest multiplayer in first-person shooters. Granted, that’s mostly a function of my being terrible at FPSs. Single-player campaigns, like BioShock, I’m fine. Throw me into something like Planetside 2 and I’ll be into a sub-0.1 K/D ratio. Could Titanfall convert me from FPS neophyte to another shooter junkie? No but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t still fun.

For those who haven’t kept up, here’s a brief synopsis. Titanfall is a game that eschews the traditional single-player campaign for all online multiplayer content with a story somehow woven into the multiplayer matches.You play as a human pilot who can call down and pilot giant mechs called Titans. The general idea seems to be to shoot, blow up and otherwise kill the opposing team.

titanfall-beta-screenshot-01The demo only featured one Titan class, the Atlas, but there are two more already announced for the full release. The Atlas Titan is customizable. In addition to three preset loadouts of weapons, active defense abilities and passive abilities, you can customize three loadouts for your Titan.

Similarly, your human character, referred to as a pilot, comes with three standard loadouts but you have three customizable loadout slots when you feel like tinkering. Just like the Titan, you can pick your primary and secondary weapons, an explosive ordinance, an active ability (that tends to benefit you both offensively and defensively) and passive abilities.

While the Titan loadouts were someone limited in the beta to whether you hit your opposition with rockets or but machine guns, there was a whole variety of approaches to your play as a pilot.  You can do the whole Rambo thing with an assault rifle backed with a passive ability for quicker health regeneration. You can use a cloaking ability and a sniper rifle to live out your futuristic assassin fantasies that Assassin’s Creed will never do. Or you could say “I can’t aim” and use the auto-targeting smart pistol. It’s a really lazy and OP weapon and I hate it and those who use it.

Apart from being able to double-jump with your pilot, I didn’t see a whole lot different in playing with the Titan and the Pilot. The Pilot moves faster and parkours but the only real difference in playstyles comes from the fact that Titans have more hit points and more powerful weapons. I suppose that makes Titanfall feel to me more like an FPS with mechs rather than a mech game.

titanfall-beta-screenshot-02-attritionThe Titanfall beta had three game modes available for you to try out. There are two more on the way according to that leak we posted yesterday. Each of the game modes is six-on-six but because each player comes with four AI-controlled support characters, the battle field seems much livelier since there are 30 per side. Granted, the AI character seem to do nothing other than distract you from shooting pilots and serve as cannon fodder since they don’t seem to actually kill anyone but it’s nice to have a sense of life in the game.

Titanfall encourages you to try the Attrition game mode first. In it, you accumulate points for killing AI minions and human pilots and Titans. The kills are worth more points as you go along in that last sentence. The team who scores the most points wins unless a team reaches the maximum points threshold before time expires. That always happens, by the way. I never bothered to look at the timer because the victory condition was always met before the time limit was up.

If you’re not a fan of FPSs or are just not good at them, this will be your least favourite game mode. I detested playing Attrition for all but the one time that I had a good match. If you’re bad at FPSs, you’re just cannon fodder. Everyone goes off to do their own thing and, inevitably, you get killed. If you were watching AJSADelrith’s stream on Saturday, you would have seen him kill me three or four times in less than five minutes. That’s what you’re in for. I love Twitch but it’s still embarrassing to be killed live in front of tens of viewers.

Anyway, enough complaining about the fact that Origin has built-in Twitch streaming so you can see me get shot. Back from the alpha is Hardpoint Domination. There are three hardpoints on the map and you stand next to them to capture them. Holding hardpoints earns points for your team. Most points or first to the points threshold wins.

titanfall-beta-screenshot-03-hardpoint-dominationUnlike Attrition, Hardpoint Domination seems to encourage more of a team dynamic to gameplay. You’ll usually find someone running with you to capture a hardpoint. Also, seldom does anyone play defense as that often requires you to get out of your Titan to get to a hardpoint. If you’re not good at shooting but can run around a lot, you can get somewhere with Hardpoint Domination.

Last Titan Standing is the final game mode and this could use some work. The LTS games I’ve played is usually both teams moving out in groups, two or three to a group and taking pot shots at each other from cover. It’s fun to all run around in Titans but there seems to be little strategy to it. Once the different Titan classes are introduced and there are more styles of play at your disposal with the different attributes of different Titans, this might open up. Currently, it’s nothing particularly special apart from playing around in Titans which is alright, I suppose.

There was also a training mode that came with the beta to get you up to speed on the game. It’s nice to have for the parkour / free-running elements to the game. The parkour is well implemented and easy to do though I didn’t see anyone doing that apart from going into a window. I didn’t see much wallrunning or jumping onto other Titans. It’s a nice feature in theory. In practice… Well, I’ll tell you how it works if I see it in practice.

Since I’m not familiar with FPSs, I don’t know if Titanfall’s progression system is bog standard or unique. In the beta, new weapons and such unlocked as you gained levels. You didn’t earn points to buy weapons or upgrades. Nothing appeared to be unlocked randomly. It all seemed to be based on your level.

However, given that this is an EA game, I’d be shocked if microtransactions aren’t in the game. Somehow, someway, there has to be a way to wedge in microtransactions. DLC map packs and game modes are standard for Battlefield so I expect money to be parted with that way. I just don’t trust EA to not find a way to implement microtransactions.

titanfall-beta-screenshot-04Lastly, let’s talk about graphics. The game is built on a heavily modified version of the Source Engine. That’s the same engine that Valve has been using since Half-Life 2 so it’s been around for a while. You’re not going to confuse the visuals for something from Frostbite 3 but you also don’t have to worry about needing a $1,000+ gaming PC to meet minimum specs. In fact, my desktop didn’t break a sweat running this at 60 FPS on high quality at 1080. Almost every other game at the mid to high graphics settings makes me regret not looking into liquid cooling because it sounds like I’ve got a hair dryer for a PC. Titanfall runs smoothly, beautifully and quietly.

Now, it is only a beta so it’s not perfect but there were some issues. For example, Friday was basically a write-off because the servers were down for most of the day. Reports indicate that Microsoft runs the servers for Titanfall rather than EA so that’s probably a good sign considering EA’s recent history with SimCity and Battlefield 4.

It does worry me that a closed beta can overload servers when Respawn/EA/Microsoft should have known how many people were in the beta and would be logging in. Server load is likely to be higher on launch day so they better be ready for the demand. This is a multiplayer-only game so it needs to be online and connected to servers to actually work. Considering how hyped this game is, a catastrophic server failure at launch would be devastating for EA and Respawn.

Apart from that, I didn’t see too many issues. Lag wasn’t a factor at all. When calls come in over the radio, it tends to mute all other sounds which makes it hard to know when you’re being shot at and lead to a few deaths. The game does tend to throw a lot of information at you about points you’ve scored but it doesn’t really mean anything. I also find the critical information (everything but the scoring like ammo and ability recharge time) to be well out of your normal vision on the HUD. I’d quite like Respawn to look into alternative HUD layouts because I couldn’t keep track of anything important.


titanfall-beta-screenshot-05I don’t have nearly enough experience with first-person shooters to tell you if this is a revolutionary step forward for the genre. It’s a very smooth running game and, as I mentioned, running on the underpinnings of the Source engine would almost certainly ensure that most computers can run this without much strain. I think that’s critical to the Titanfall experience.

I think your enjoyment of Titanfall will come down to whether you like first-person shooters or not. If you’re an FPS guy/girl, you’ll probably love this game. If you hate online multiplayer or are terrible at FPSs, there’s nothing here that will change your mind.

The Titanfall beta was played on Windows PC. The beta was also available on Xbox One. The final release will be available on Windows PC, Xbox One and Xbox 360. As this was a beta, it is not necessarily representative of the final product. Your impressions of the game may differ based on platform played on, PC specs and whether you’re just as bad at first-person shooters as I am.

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About Steve Murray

Steve is the founder and editor of The Lowdown Blog and et geekera. On The Lowdown Blog, he often writes about motorsports, hockey, politics and pop culture. Over on et geekera, Steve writes about geek interests and lifestyle. Steve is on Twitter at @TheSteveMurray.

Posted on February 20, 2014, in Game Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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