Titanfall

The Question: Is Titanfall Revolutionary?

Titanfall is long out and I’ve sat down with the game for six hours of play. For some reason, I think a lot of people haven’t quite heard about Titanfall. I almost ignored it myself. Now I’m glad I haven’t. The game consists of two sides, each with six pilots (players.) They fight it out over the map for various objects like any standard FPS. The catch is that a timer counts down for every player, and once it hits zero, the player can summon a Titan, a powerful but disposable mech, from the skies.

My only regret was not naming my Titan "Sloth" and my pilot "Chunk."

My only regret was not naming my Titan “Sloth” and my pilot “Chunk.”

Let’s start with the basics. If you have a PC with minimum specs, you really should upgrade or go for either of the XBox consoles. I have other games with identical minimal requirements and they look great, but I assure you that it’s not true of Titanfall.

When they say minimum, they mean it.

I have a Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT with 512 MB, and that has worked great for a lot of games for several years. With Titanfall, I can get it to run smoothly enough for game play, but the graphics look less than impressive during the shooting and downright horrid during many of the epilogue cut scenes.

We’re on the cusp of a new generation of games.This should be a surprise to no one.

But perhaps there’s something good about that. The 90s and the early years of 2000 were filled with questions about the importance of graphics to a game. Even today, all AAA titles require a warehouse full of artists to make it look great. Without oohing and awwing the visuals, I could only focus on the only thing that really matters. The game itself.

And it is damn good.

Many have made comparisons to other games. Mechwarrior, Call of Duty and Brink tend to be the biggest three I hear, combining elements of all three of these games into one.

From Brink, they took the parkour elements and perfected them. Respawn must have figured that getting this element right would satisfy the worries of fans who were burned by Brink. And it so drastically changes everything you think you know about FPS games. The most skilled players are constantly on the move. Dashing across walls, finding ways to play with your radar. Double jumping their way across rooftops and through buildings. Never before has looking up been so important. Each pilots gets three weapons, an ability and ordinance (explosive). The weapons include an anti-personnel weapon such as a rifle or shotgun, a sidearm (a pistol) and an anti-Titan weapon.

Then there are the mechs.

Rise of the Machines . . .

People make comparisons about the Titans to other fictional mechs. I’ve heard them compared to Landmates from the Appleseed series or good old Gundams. But in my opinion, the closest and most comparable examples have to be from Armored Troopers Votoms or Wanzers from Front Mission with just a dash of Zone of the Enders tossed in.

The Titans themselves are very dangerous, but far from unbeatable. Large, but not gigantic at about two stories tall. No built-in weapons but a hand held gun and an external mounted missile system. They’re fully capable of punching and smashing opponents, and sport up to three varieties of powerful shield systems. A Titan needs but walk over a player to step on them, killing the pilot instantly.

In Soviet Russia, Titan rides you! ... Not even joking.

“In Soviet Russia, Titan rides you!” … It’s only funny until they actually try.

But intriguingly, they’re disposable if they have to be. Sure, it’s not encouraged (or maybe it is, considering you earn a little experience for every Titan dropped… hm.) But it’s not like Zone of the Enders or Mechwarrior where losing your mech meant game over. Hell, Battletech (the name of the extended Mechwarrior universe) has a lore point called the dispossessed who are warriors who have lost their battlemech and are very unlikely to get a new one.

A Focus on What Matters . . .

One point I noticed got me thinking that Respawn is, first and foremost, a company of programmers over artists. Many shooting games have come to reward players with visual options like new outfits. Brink or Space Marine have done so. But as a result many of these games tended to only have male character models to the point of some controversy, and I suspect that having to make options for both men and women would be a large artistic undertaking.

But Titanfall doesn’t bother with it, instead giving you the option to choose between a male and female model for all classes and nothing more. Kudos to Respawn for letting the girls play. And I actually prefer it this way, as although some visual choice is a fine reward, I’d rather the focus and effort be on the game itself.

The jury is still out on the game's "doll collecting" feature aspect. This player, for one, doesn't look to happy about it.

The jury is still out on the game’s “doll collecting” feature. This player, for one, doesn’t look too happy about it.

A recent interview at IGN confirmed that it will be a long, long time before we ever see any new mech designs. Personally, I don’t care. And that’s far from a bad thing. The three Titans we got are very balanced. I never feel like there’s any model I cannot beat, whether suited up or on foot. Adding more models would be either a slight reshuffling of speed and durability, or adding a new feature or ability that risks destroying core game-play. That latter point is something they’ll likely have to do one day, probably in the sequel. For the time being, three is enough.

Psychology has to be the game’s best hallmark. Most of the time, game developers focus on creating a satisfying experience through the single player game, providing that play variety that keeps it from getting boring. Multiplayer games always run that risk of being tedious. But Respawn has made a breakthrough in cracking the play-variety code for multiplayer. What begins as man vs man becomes machine vs machine, and even man vs machine. When the mouse can beat the cat, things get interesting…

The Verdict . . .

I think all this brings us to our final question. Is Titanfall revolutionary? Sort of. In a sense, there’s absolutely nothing about Titanfall that hasn’t been done before. The parkour, the objectives, the story driven multiplayer elements, the mechs. Even the whole rodeoing, or jumping on and riding mechs, occurred in MechAssault 2 almost eight years ago.

Titanfall is a success not because it does anything new or innovative (it doesn’t), but simply takes a huge helping of elements from other games, blends them together and delivers them in a polished and balanced product. We’ve seen parkour and deep maps and mechs before, and on paper the combination sounds both awesome and a technical disaster.

But against the odds, it works wonderfully. Titanfall itself is not a revolution. It’s the murmuring discontent with the authorities, the resulting product of true gamers fatigued with the industry standard. People will play it and enjoy it, and they will compare it with games to come and know that there is something better out there. Titanfall is like the philosopher whose writing foretells a new way of thinking, who makes people less satisfied with the way things are and want more.

No, Titanfall is not a revolution… but it’s sure as hell going to start one.

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Why I Heart Isaac Clarke

Look at em! Ahhh, this guy's a coconut...

Sleep much?

This post containers spoilers.

The thing that makes Isaac Clarke so great is how flamin’ ordinary he really is.

You see, a lot of heroes tend to be these one-of-a-kind characters with skills and abilities above and beyond those around them. A lot of video games are made on the premise of being someone or some group’s last hope for no other reason than being unique during a time of great need.

For example, the Master Chief from Halo was the last Spartan. Captain Titus of Space Marine had some strange resistance to the power’s of the warp which helped him, on top of being one of the rarest soldiers the Imperium has to offer. In Skyrim, your character is dragon-born. In the Castlevania series, the Belmont clan has a long standing tradition of opposing vampires while Alucard is Dracula’s only son. And many main characters from the Final Fantasy series, such as Cloud Strife, Zidane Tribal and Terra Branford, all are incredibly unique and rare for a variety of reasons.

They can do it because no one else can.

But in Dead Space, there’s nothing super unusual about Isaac Clarke. Oh sure, he suffers from dementia from exposure to the marker (which is more a curse than blessing), but he’s not the only one and probably won’t be the last either. He stands up to the Necromorphs, but he’s not alone there. Nor is he the only one who can destroy the marker, as I’m sure both the Unitologists and EarthGov can. Only they choose not too.

Nope. Isaac Clarke’s quest is a bloody one of self-discovery and healing, but its overall effect on the world around him is fairly minimal, despite how huge it must have seemed at the moment of completion to the player. The player only explores the world around the eyes of Isaac in the main Dead Space series. We only ever see this world of political intrigue and struggle through the eyes of Isaac, whose condition made him highly useful, but not irreplaceable.

Indeed, Isaac is caught up in that long going struggle between church and state. Much like the Dark Ages of Europe where the popes and kings sometimes allied and sometimes struggled against one another. Neither side is particularly interested in Isaac’s welfare. Today, whether the conflict of church and state continues is a matter of personal opinion. But just about everyone knows what it’s like to be sandwiched between two power hungry giants in some shape or form, be them political, economic, religious or otherwise.

Also, Isaac is a nerd.

Even without super powers or unusually beneficial aspects, gruff soldiers are a common enough hero type. The Master Chief, Marcus Fenix of Gears of War, Commander Shepard of Mass Effect. All these games make the player feel remarkably qualified to save the world.

Not so with Isaac, who carries on a growing tradition similar to Gordon Freeman of Half Life. He’s not a soldier, he’s bloody tech support. He’s the guy you call when your hard drive crashed or you need permission to install the latest version of an application, or when your engine is on the fritz. His weapons? Mostly modified mining tools. His mission? Fix the damn engine before we get charred falling into the atmosphere.

And like many nerds, Isaac Clarke doesn’t seem to have much luck with the love life either. I just don’t see a happy ending for him. Like, ever. The first game was a sick joke on the man, when he find sout that his girlfriend, who he thought was alive and helping him, was actually dead. And the second game, he wrestles with dementia as the memory of long dead Nicole tries to kill him. Oh and the new girl? Poor gal loses her eye babysitting a guy for Isaac. What a lousy first date.

So yeah. It’s a shame that Dead Space 3 maybe the last we see of Isaac Clarke. It’s generally acceptable that we have to move on from characters after a while, after their story is told and the challenge has been overcome. But I’ll bet that the archetype of Clarke will endure. It’ll be thought on, reinvented and introduced in future games, books and movies.

I’m sure Dead Space 3 will do fine for itself. It’ll be a good game that is remembered, but not the break out smash hit that the series never was. At least for now. Sometimes, today’s moderate successes are tomorrow’s greatest hits.

Dead Space News

Blast off into spaaaaaaace! ... oh wait, that's a bad thing.

Blast off into spaaaaaaace! Wait, this is the opposite of what I wanted...

So Kotaku reports that EA is not only working on Dead Space 3, but also spinning off the main series with a first person shooter, adventure and… flight game. Furthermore, Dead Space 3 maybe the last game to star everyone’s favorite systems engineer, Isaac Clarke.

Huh. To be honest, I’ve got mixed feelings about these developments.

In one sense, I get it. EA wants to really develop a rich, interesting and original universe of its own that no one else has. And they’ve been doing that already, not only with Dead Space and its sequel, but the various spin off titles, comics, animated films and novels. Clarke, though a deeply interesting character I’ve come to admire, isn’t necessarily central to EA’s success.

I really do agree with Kotaku’s statement that these genre changes really risks moving a game great series away from its roots. First person shooter? Not much of a stretch given how great Doom 3 was in combining horror with fighting. Adventure game? Yeah, I guess it can work if they do it right, maybe.

Flight game? What?

The only way I can see this game working is if we move away from the horror aspect, as in the necromorphs, and focus on the rising conflict between the Church of Unitology, EarthGov, and any other factions we’ve yet to see. In other words, it would be a politically influenced game rather than survival horror.

Yeah, that worked well for Pitch Black‘s sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick. Oh, wait…

I’m also sad to hear how this maybe the last we see of Isaac Clarke. Whether he’s going to die or simply fade into the canonical background, I don’t know. It’s a real shame that modern gaming heroes can’t have the same timeless, lasting appeal of cute, round heroes like Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario or Link.

Nope, instead we’re getting used to bidding adieu to these characters after their trilogies and main arc series are complete. The Master Chief of Halo, Kratos of Gods of War, and Solid Snake of the Metal Gear Solid series. They come into our gaming lives with their dramatic and intense tales, leave their mark and then fade away into gaming history.

Gone but never forgotten. Not a hero, but a legend.

But there’s something about Isaac Clarke that is… I don’t know. Beyond mysterious. It’s tricky because he spent the very first game as a silent protagonist. So I wonder if maybe he has more story then what can be told in only a trilogy.

But I digress. In truth, Kotaku is only reporting on rumors and hearsay. Time will tell if we see Isaac Clarke after Dead Space 3, just as it will tell if EA’s bid to develop a fully detailed, expansive universe will pay off.

I am quite skeptical that they can do this. But then again, it is said that the Mobile Suit Gundam and Star Trek franchises were nearly canceled early in their beginnings.

And look what became of them.