The evolution of first-person shooters has come a long way in the last few decades, but some might say that in recent years the genre has grown stale with age and over-saturation. If anything, though, this perceived stagnation has spurred the game development community to find fresh ways to innovate.
Taking the now-popular "add more giant killer robots" approach appears an easy win, though Titanfall's blend of the familiar and the far out represents an intriguing shift in modern shooters that goes well beyond the fun of stomping pesky humans beneath your multi-ton steel boot.
Fresh perspective was one of the big excitements of early 3D shooters like Atari's Battlezone. Playing an arcade shooter in a first-person view was something wild and different at the time. Titanfall's metal behemoths offer a very similar thrill. Transitioning from running-and-gunning on foot as a normal pilot to hopping into the cockpit of a huge death machine that just fell from the sky has crazy weight to it. You're not just driving a vehicle here. You're strapping into this big doom-thing. It can mow down puny grunts, tear the limbs off of other Titans, and hammer away missile volleys into your opponents.
The raw power Titans bring to the battlefield comes with a trade-off in the form of crucial vulnerabilities, and it's these weaknesses that actually make them more interesting to pilot. While friends on foot can hop on your Titan's back for a ride, enemies can do the same while hacking it — like little Davids working to hamstring your Goliath. Do you hop out and deal with them or hope a comrade lends a hand before it's too late? Decisions are in plentiful supply.
Titan death is always a spectacular moment too. You can keep fighting into the bitter end, content to remain inside your fiery metal tomb in an attempt to take as many foes with you as you can. The other tactical option, ejecting, hurls you hundreds of feet above the battlefield, so you can watch the explosion below and plan your escape. All of this makes for a dynamic interplay between tactics and tension that injects some much-needed variety into the genre.
Big robots and the fresh perspective they bring to the picture are just a piece of Titanfall's game-changing puzzle. Momentum and scale play equally important roles in setting it apart from the pack too.
You'd think it's all about the Titans, but being on-foot is exciting in ways that it hasn't been before with other first-person shooters of late. With the ability to run along walls, hop between surfaces to build momentum as you go, use your jetpack to double jump, and zip down cables suspended between structures, makes for tremendous flexibility of movement. Battles play out across massive stages that are designed with vertical combat in mind, and it's rare that you run into moments where you can't get to where you want to go — even if that's the tippy top of a towering structure off in the distance.
Titanfall's unique elements set it apart from more traditional first-person shooters, yet the fast-paced combat it delivers remains smartly rooted within the scope of other popular genre offerings that came before it. It's the next step in an a never-ending evolution that will keep gamers on their toes, with trigger fingers poised and primed.
Nathan Meunier is a journalist and freelance writer who covers video games, technology, and geek culture. He's also the author of Up Up Down Down Left WRITE: The Freelance Guide to Video Game Journalism, which is out now on Kindle and in print.