When I finished Titanfall 2's campaign, my body felt numb. I left my apartment, walked to the street corner and bummed a cigarette. I needed to calm myself. I’d just been through an astounding experience.
The original Titanfall was a game of overly high ambition. Fluid player movement led to frantic and gorgeous ground battles before giving way to massive fights between giant robots. Yet, this idea was half formed. A multiplayer only experience, it began to fracture as ill thought DLC and general mismanagement lead to a partitioned community that could not sustain itself. Titanfall 2 delivers on previous ambitions and smashes forward to offer something remarkable. You might have come here for the multiplayer but the true standout is the single player campaign.
The campaign begins humbly and hits standard science fiction tropes. A ragtag band of rebels called the Frontier Militia are fighting back against the cruel Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation. You take the role of the Jack Cooper, the man with the most generic name in the galaxy. When his mentor dies in battle Cooper is given control of his Titan, a large and powerful mech named BT-7274. Together, Cooper and BT struggle to survive behind enemy lines.
At first, the campaign feels generic and unremarkable. It has a distinctive “Call of Duty with Robots!” vibe but eventually builds to an experience of magnificent scale and surprising emotion. Titanfall 2's campaign surpasses the likes of Advanced Warfare or Doom by allowing players to genuinely express themselves through raucous play.
To achieve this, Titanfall 2 draws from many influences. It has the superb set piece design of Half Life, the blinding speed of Vanquish, the wild acrobatics of Bulletstorm, and the rugged brutality of Binary Domain. It coalesces into something beautiful. Here’s how a typical encounter in Titanfall 2 might go:
Rush down the enemy. Slide and shoot your first mark. Spin to the next and light him on fire with an incendiary throwing star. Throw a bone-crunching haymaker at another enemy. End the fight with a combo execution.
The controls are highly responsive, and the animations are breathtaking. A vast arsenal of weapons ensures each encounter is varied. The combat on foot is great, and the Titan vs Titan action has a similar ferocity. Missile salvos bombard terrain, massive swords slice through steel behemoths, and chest lasers melt through fields of lesser mechs.
Titanfall 2 also includes some of the most intelligent level design offered in recent years. A large trek through a factory has entire structures rotate and rebuild themselves around you. A sequence with temporal fluxes blasts you between two versions of the same level. A wild aerial battle demands horrifying leaps of faith.
Occasionally, Titanfall 2 gets too smart and complicated with these designs. More than a few times, I traveled long distances only to find that I’d looped around to where I started. In other instances, the game failed to communicate distances and pathways. I fell into plenty of pits because the game sometimes does a piss poor job conveying what is navigable and what is not. You can occasionally refer to holograms that show you suggested pathways but the action still ends up stymied from time to time.
The broad strokes of the story are also nothing to get too excited about. The enemies feel nebulous, and the cadre of mercenaries who offer boss fights were largely forgettable. The ones I remember are noteworthy insofar as their fights were needlessly frustrating. Allied characters are equally bland.
The glue that holds the story together is the relationship between your character, Cooper, and your independently intelligent mech suit, BT. Through interactive prompts, you, as Cooper, have conversations with BT. The dialog is a real treat. BT’s literal mindset pairs well with Cooper’s swaggering bravado. They make a great duo. This is reflected in the gameplay as well.
Switching between ground combat and fighting in your Titan is as easy as the push of a button. In more intense fights, you will rush across catwalks and dispose of ground troops before seamlessly leaping into BT’s cockpit to blast dangerous robots and incoming Titans. You rely on BT, and BT relies on you. As the stakes get higher, this bond becomes stronger.
The stakes get pretty damn high. What starts as a simple survival mission escalates into all out war. I often felt struck with complete awe as I played. For a game about shooting stuff, the raw ambition and scale elicits a lot of emotion.
The campaign is short. It lasts about five hours. To buffer this and offer replayability, the game has plenty of hidden items to encourage exploring levels to their fullest. They are unnecessary. The campaign is so tightly composed that many players will return to it multiple times over because it is just that fucking good.
Multiplayer is far less controlled and suffers for it. The team deathmatch variant Attrition lead to spectacular battles but a host of other modes are perfunctory or confusing. Capture the Flag puts excessive stress on pilot acrobatics, discouraging large scale Titan battles by resetting everyone’s slow filling Titan gauge during intermission. Bounty Hunt is a convoluted mode that feels at odds with the core mechanics, asking players to leave the battle to deposit funds into designated receptacles in between all the fighting. Modes like these fail to understand that Titanfall 2’s multiplayer works best when forces clash in explosive Titan focused engagements with pilots at the periphery.
Progression is swift but somewhat arcane. You have a player level, a Titan level, and levels for your weapons. It’s a lot of information to track and the game does a poor job communicating what it all means. This would be fine if there was more customization but the game’s priorities are in the wrong places. You can unlock plenty of guns for when you are outside of your Titan but customizations for your mech largely consist of dozens of paint options and decals. You don’t get to build custom weapon load outs to personalize your play style in your Titan. You have to settle for prefab Titan variants.
In spite of these missteps, the multiplayer takes the dynamism established by the single player and add a liberal amount of chaos. You’ll swing across a building, shoot someone along the way, land on an enemy, and drop a grenade into mech. These moments are sensational and emblematic of Titanfall 2’s unique strengths.
Sticking to more traditional gameplay modes creates an incredibly approachable and engaging experience. The pace is even faster in multiplayer. Maps will fill with grunts and smaller mechs. Titans exchange fire as pilots grapple and wall run, duking it out on the edge of the battle. There’s always something happening, a new Titan to slay, or a daring trickshot to pull off. As these moments build upon each other, Titanfall 2’s multiplayer turns into a ballistic ballet full of explosions, executions, and excitement.
Titanfall 2 is one of the year’s best games and a remarkably wonderful surprise. The campaign is revelatory. It is impeccably designed. The multiplayer might not reach the same heights but it still manages to offer a highly charged experience.
Bold enthusiasm for a game often summons skeptic or contrarians. Pay them no heed. Titanfall 2 is impressive. Its influence will ripple through video games in the same way that titles like Half Life or Halo managed in their time. Beautiful and bold, Titanfall 2 is the pinnacle of first person shooters.