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.

MechWarrior Resurgence

Sometimes, a game series or universe just tries and tries and fails. Maybe it just fell into the hands of the wrong developers. Maybe there’s franchise fatigue. Who knows. But that’s what happened to the MechWarrior series years back. And we stopped getting new games for it.

But now there’s not just one, but two MechWarrior games on the horizon. MechWarrior Online and MechWarrior Tactics. Both these games will be free to play, the first being a combat simulator and the second being a tactical strategy game. After years of pretending to be apathetic, I can’t help but be excited again.

MechWarrior is the video game extension of the BattleTech universe, a gaming universe I was involved with before the Black Library made me their unholy convert. Unlike Warhammer 40k, BattleTech is 100% sci-fi. Political intrigue, space travel and lots and lots of micro-wars.

The story goes that mankind achieved some unified government called the Star League, that pushed for an age of peace. When Stefan Amaris befriended and betrayed the heir to the Star League throne, he set a chain of events that shattered the league into five warring houses, collectively called the Inner Sphere. The five great houses made use of BattleMechs, large, often-bipedal battle tanks, to wage the majority of their wars.

Meanwhile the Star League army disappeared into the periphery, the area of unknown and barely explored space surrounding the Inner Sphere. They would return later as the Clans and try to violently reform the Star League. This event has yet to occur in MechWarrior Online. Given that the Clans are superior warriors by their genetic breeding, training, significantly better technology and are honor bound to use as few resources as possible to wage war, it’s going to be a point of contention between players who want to be Clanners.

The are two reasons I fell out of the BattleTech fandom. First was that the politics started to get convoluted. The universe cannot really “stand still” like Warhammer 40k can. Change drives it. The second was that I had an argument with BattleTech author Blaine Lee Pardoe and was left sour by the incident. What can I say? I was a teenager.

Still, I’ve gotten over it. And MechWarrior Online returns the fighting to my favorite era: When it was just the Inner Sphere smashing itself during the Succession Wars. Although players will be invited to join one of the five major houses, they can also do their own thing and work as mercenaries. Scuttlebutt says that they can even form their own mercenary corporations.

The old BattleMech designs have been dusted off, detailed and streamlined. Instead of looking like boxy robot toys, they look more like genuine robots now, but they maintain their signature traits. The Atlas still sports a skull shaped head. The Jenner kinda looks like the U.S.S. Enterprise on two legs. You don’t need to even know what the original Hunchback looked like to fear that giant, over the shoulder cannon.

Although streamlined and detailed, the new designs keep the feel of the old ones intact.

Although streamlined and detailed, the new designs keep the feel of the old ones intact.

What originally made the MechWarrior games so great? A few things.

First, they were often objective based. Destroying your enemies is nice, but you often had more victory-oriented things to do. Defend this, scout that, support this, escort that and assassinate this guy. Some crazy missions focused on escaping a dangerous situation, like when that too-good-to-be-true 6 million credit contract is actually a set-up that almost gets you killed. Combine this with a variety of terrain from jungles to deserts, beneath the ocean to cities to space itself, and you have all kinds of crazy surprises waiting to be thrown at you.

The different missions helped balance out the available Mechs too. Light Mechs, 20 to 35 tons, usually don’t stand much of a chance against 100 ton Assault Mechs. But when your mission was to scout an area or escape a situation, sometimes that speed lets you pull off  objectives you couldn’t otherwise do.

Second was the game’s customizability and rewards system. You didn’t have to stick with just a Mech’s default configuration, you could customize it if there was something you didn’t like. The mercenary games from several years back took this further, offering all kinds of black market operations and trade systems that let you swap out parts and mechs. The best thing of all was the salvage system. Destroy an enemy mech and you often got first dibs on surviving parts. And if you took out just the cockpit, you could sometimes salvage the entire machine!

This system sometimes came with some intriguing downsides, which added to the uniqueness of the challenge. In MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, destroyed parts could only be replaced if you brought replacements, or returned to the mercenary planet (not always an option). If your mech was destroyed but you ejected, you can keep going if you have a replacement mech or can afford the cheapest machine. Otherwise, game over.

This means that during multi-mission campaigns, your victories could be quite Pyrrhic. You had to manage your company finances as well as win your battles. I loved that.

After MechWarrior 3, there was a loss in quality in the coming games. Some innovative attempts revived my interest, such as MechCommander. But after college I walked away from the MechWarrior culture.

That was seven years ago. And hell, their new games are free to play. I think it’s time to see if this reboot will sink or swim.

There are still things I don’t know. Is the music on par with MechWarrior 2? Will there be contracts, looting and finance management components like Mercenaries? Since I can build my own mercenary company, will the social elements be inviting? That’s an aspect that has never existed before in the MechWarrior games. Will I need to take care of my pilots?

Guess we’ll find out before the year’s up.