Titanfall Hands-On: Do Big Mechs and Jetpacks Make for Big Changes to the FPS Genre?

By Gerald Lynch on at

"Prepare for Titanfall"; three words that have excited me more than any other moment from a next-gen title so far. It's klaxon call to ready you for the imminent sky-dropped arrival of your insane mech in Xbox One and PC exclusive Titanfall. And the fact that those words are uttered a handful of times during each quick-fire round is reason enough to take heed of the hype surrounding the game.

An online-only multiplayer shooter, Titanfall's science-fiction setting allows it to make two potentially-game-changing additions to the standard shooter template. Firstly, each ground-based troop is equipped with a jetpack. Yep, jetpack. Making them incredibly agile, with it players can run along vertical walls, double jump and climb to high vantage points with ease.

That in itself isn't an all-new idea. Ambitious-yet-failed shooter Brink offered intricate movement options, for instance, while Mirror's Edge's whole concept relied on a well-executed free-running mechanic. What Titanfall nails though is fluidity of movement -- running around the dilapidated, war-torn landscapes of each battleground feels closer to an Assassin's Creed game than it does to a Call of Duty one, and the verticality of each level design encourages you to take full advantage of your increased mobility. For the first time in an age (and a welcome change for slow-fingered old me), your success is down to smart tactical positioning on a map equally as much as having a having a speedy trigger finger.

The second major addition, and the source of much of the excitement surrounding Titanfall, is the game's titular Titan mechs. These hulking mechanical beasts offer increased firepower and protection to the player's "pilot" avatar, and come with a host of special abilities. A dash-dodge move allows the lumbering robots to dodge incoming missile attacks, while a vortex shield lets the machine absorb a short burst of incoming fire before hurling it back at the aggressor. With Titans able to be controlled remotely, programmed to control guard points or tasked with following a pilot for on-foot cover, there's ample opportunity for expanded tactical play with decoys and choke points. There's even the option to turn a Titan into a nuclear booby-trap, exploding with enough ferocity to take out a nearby opponent should your mech itself be destroyed.

There's a level playing field when it comes to acquiring a Titan too, with a mere countdown needed to be endured (lasting a minute or so) before one dramatically hurtles down onto the battlefield from the sky above. Unlike Modern Warfare's killstreaks, which require at least a certain degree of skill to acquire, every player of Titanfall will be able to play with the game's best toys.

Sensibly, controlling a mech isn't a world away from controlling the tiny pilots, meaning jumping into a cockpit doesn't necessitate learning a whole new control scheme, and vitally keeping the action flowing. Developer Respawn's crowning achievement, from the beta at least, is the way both pilots and Titans feel balanced: pilots may be nimble, but Titans are damage sponges; a pilot facing a Titan head-on will be turned into mincemeat in seconds, but if hidden on a rooftop and armed with a rocket launcher a pilot too is capable of a David-over-Goliath style upset.

Visually however (on the Xbox One version I tested, at least), Titanfall has so far proved a little disappointing. Though its towering robots impress, its rubble-strewn battlegrounds feel a little hollow. They're simply shells, box-pilled free-running arenas offering few exciting attractions apart from inaccessible sci-fi skylines far away over the horizon. Running in 720p, it'd be difficult for the character models or weapon designs thus far revealed to make your jaw drop even if they were pushed out in 1080p.

So, is Titanfall the competitive shooter to finally revolutionise the genre and wrestle the crown from bone-headed Call of Duty titles? On the back of the beta, it's certainly possible, but that revolution may not be as profound as initially thought. The few hours worth of Titanfall I've experienced so far have been gripping, incredibly fast-paced and, most importantly, bloody good fun. But they've also felt surprisingly familiar -- the ebb and flow of a round matches the rhythms of Modern Warfare bouts for certain, and those who cut their teeth on the Call of Duty games through which developer Respawn previously made its name will certainly have an early advantage.

The Titanfall Beta has managed though to tick the boxes of the imaginary games I've conjured up in my head over the years, even if it is still reliant on old shooter tropes at its core. Whether or not it's an over-reliance, we'll have to wait until the game's full release to find out.

Titanfall is now in open beta on Xbox One, so give it a download to test it out ahead of its March 11th release. An open PC beta is set to go live shortly too.