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.

Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)

I don’t read much manga. Too much of it goes on about childish things and cutesiness that I don’t have the patience for. So when I find a series that I like, much less catch up on in a single day, it must be a damn good one.

Shingeki no Kyojin

Shingeki no Kyojin

Shingeki no Kyojin, better known as Attack on Titan, is an up and coming manga to watch out for. The series is relatively new. There are only 37 chapters out at the moment (each chapter being the length of one regular comic book). The first volume has been released to the U.S., but fan-lations are available for the recently released volumes Japan-side.

SnK is set in a world where, a century ago, mankind was almost wiped out by giants who eat us. No one knows or understands why, especially since it seems that the Titans draw no nourishment from it. But by building a city encased in a massive wall, our race is protected until the appearance of the “Colossus”, a one-of-a-kind Titan who is 60 meters tall. After kicking down the gate, the Titans enter and take the outermost layer of the city, while two more walls keep the Titans out.

Eren Jaeger and his adopted sister Mikasa are survivors of the attack, who enlist in the military. When the Colossus appears again five years later, Eren is thrust in battle and soon discovers his ability to transform into a Titan himself. However his gift destroys the trust his allies have in him.

Worse yet, they soon discover that their are others who can shift into Titans; suggesting that the Colossus maybe one of these shapeshifters…

Shingeki no Kyojin is dark. It’s bloody. It’s deep. It’s rewarding. And it’s awesome.

Series creator Hajime Isayama does a great job of taking all those tiring anime/manga clichés and somehow crushing them against his forehead like a beer can. Eren is young, but he hates being just a kid in a cruel world. Nor does he cry or whine or go “poor me” like some other protagonists who tire me out. Not when good old revenge motivates him. Puberty has seemingly been skipped. A lot of the doubt that comes from the protagonists tends to be understandable feelings of, “I don’t wanna get eaten.”

Seeing a real life act of vore would probably damage me psychologically as well. Well, more than I already am.

Likewise, Eren is more a component of an ensemble cast of fleshed out characters. While his power is incredible, it has plenty of limits. He’s lost fights in the series, only to get saved by his allies and friends. This isn’t the tiring “get beat up waiting for Goku” teamwork, it’s legitimate “work together” teamwork. I don’t think there’s any guarantee that Eren will survive to the end of the series.

The best thing that Isayama has done thus far is concoct the perfect pace for character development, world building, discovery and intrigue. The world is young, but there’s a lot of depth. There are details about the Titans which are explored and explained, yet there are many questions left. Fights lead to discovery, and victory is rewarding to the reader as they unravel another clue in the mystery. But there are also distant goals to keep us going, such as the unachieved research material in the home of Eren’s father.

Most awesome of all is the fact that SnK is so young that no one can spoil it for you. It’s so fresh and new that no one knows enough to blow the plot. But fear not! Isayama has admitted in interviews that he’s thought hard about the what happens next. So you (probably) won’t have to fear crazy-weird plot alterations just to keep the series fresh.