Titanfall Beta: Xbox One hands-on first impressions

Callum Tennent
February 17, 2014

If you didn’t spend all of this weekend playing the freshly-released beta trial for Titanfall, then congratulations on your self-restraint/positive life choice decision making. The rest of us  though, were thoroughly engrossed. If you cannot afford to read any further than the end of this sentence (again, an excellent life choice) just know this: Titanfall is really, really fun.

If you’ve managed to hop onboard any of the thousands of cabooses comprising Titanfall’s colossal hype-train, you’ll be basically familiar with it: an online-multiplayer only, team-based first-person-shooter. The USP being that, in addition to the usual run ‘n’ gun we’ve seen done a thousand times over, there are big bastarding robots which you can climb into to obliterate your opponent.

Call of Duty: Mechs?

With that being the common synopsis thrown around, it’s been easy to criticise the game as a gimmicky Call of Duty/Battlefield play-alike, particularly when there’s been no way for the public to play the game up until this point. With the beta’s big release this weekend, hopefully those people have immediately realised just how wrong they are.

On a fundamental level, the game plays completely differently to either of those big two FPS franchises. Titanfall could survive as a game all on its own based solely on the strength of the gameplay whilst out of your Titan (the in-game name for aforementioned big bastarding robots).

When in control of your ‘pilot’ on-foot, it plays something like a cross between  Shadowrun (the 2007 Xbox and PC FPS) and a frantic, twitchy game of Unreal Tournament.

Pilot movement is utterly liberating – no longer do you feel like a hefty, lumbering grunt. You dash and scamper and leap through the game’s decaying urban landscapes with the fluidity of an experienced free runner. The ability to double jump, run along walls and clamber up ledges means that the battlefield becomes your playground. Know that an enemy is around the other side of a building to you? Just sprint up the side of it and jump off the roof to land behind him and take him out – there’s no fall damage, so you can hurl yourself off of precipices with impunity. It’s also remarkably intuitive, thanks to a sensible controller scheme and a thorough tutorial.

One area in which the Call of Duty influence shines through is in the gunplay. And that’s a very good thing. There’s that same punchy, satisfying feeling when you raise your sights and unload a full clip at an opponent. The reticule pops up, there’s an empowering lack of recoil, followed by that cathartic ‘thud’ noise as the damage marker flashes up around your enemy. Its very fast-paced and just arcadey enough to bring the futuristic, cybernetic setting to life.

The guns on offer range from standard fare, such as assault rifles (but, like, futuristic assault rifles,  you know? Yeah alright, it’s not that interesting) and shotguns, to more fantastical weapons such as the Smart Pistol. Already a personal favourite, the Smart Pistol locks on to multiple enemies within your immediate line of fire without you needing to aim down the sights. With one squeeze of the trigger you then fire off a silenced round for each enemy targeted, instantly eliminating them.

If that sounds imbalanced, fear not. Balance is the order of the day in Titanfall, perhaps unsurprisingly given that the game revolves around ordinary soldiers taking down enormous mechanical walkers. At no point do you feel like death was inevitable – there’s always a way to defeat your enemy. Similarly, rarely is a kill guaranteed; for example with the Smart Pistol you can’t just point and click for a guaranteed kill. You need a steady hand to maintain track of your target and quick reflexes to take the shot once locked on – no mean feat when your target is a militant cyborg parkour expert.

Man vs Machine

As surprisingly (and reassuringly) excellent as the on-foot gameplay is, its not why you’re playing Titanfall. And it’s probably not why you’re reading this feature either. The gameplay is all about Titans, and in Titan vs Titan and pilot vs Titan combat is where the game truly excels.

The game is geared towards you unlocking a Titan drop, and everyone is guaranteed to get at least one per game. At the start of a match a countdown to ‘Titanfall’ begins. Earning points through kills and assists takes seconds off of that timer – the better you play out of your Titan, the quicker you get one.

Taking on an opposing Titan whilst geared up in one of your own is an almost unique experience. It plays out like a loud, explosive fencing duel. Your Titan is surprisingly nimble – whilst it may not be able to jump, it does have the ability to dash. A button press allows you to use your Titan’s thrusters to quickly burst to one side, which proves hugely useful for dodging incoming attacks. This ability can only be used twice before it needs to be recharged though, so it requires some tactical discipline.

Equally fascinating is the ‘Vortex Shield’. This Titan ability allows you to catch projectiles mid-air (yes, like Neo in The Matrix, and it feels awesome) by pressing LB on your Xbox One controller. Hold it down to continue sucking up bullets, shells and missiles and the like, before releasing it to hurl them back at your enemy. Of course your opponent can do the same with your recently-returned projectiles, in what feels like the FPS-equivalent of a beat ’em up counter-reverse. The longer you spend inside a Titan, the more complex combat becomes.

As if it weren’t enough having to worry about going head-on with opposing Titans, you’ll feel awfully silly if you choose to ignore the pilots running around on the ground beneath you.

Pilots come in different classes, and each is equipped with a different anti-Titan weapon. The two available to you at the start of the beta are both variations on the bazooka: the Archer Heavy Rocket is single shot, requiring you to lock on to your Titan of choice first. The other is the Sidewinder, and its a lot more fun – imagine a rocket-launcher machine gun and you’re not far off. A couple of clips of that beast will have a Titan weak at the knees, in the worst possible way.

Pilot vs Titan combat is essentially everything surface-to-vehicle combat in Battlefield  isn’t. You’re so mobile that, should a Titan spot you, you can sprint away in to the nearest building, leap clean over a series of walls, drop into a subterranean bunker, or even switch on your cloaking and turn invisible before it can catch you (as opposed to lying prone, reloading your Rube Goldberg Machine of a bazooka, and waiting for a nearby tank to blow you sky high).

You can also perform a ‘rodeo attack’ as a pilot, by far the most hilarious way to take down a Titan. If you can leverage a height advantage over your robotic opponent you can hop on top of it, then proceeding to yank open a control panel and shoot it to pieces. Its an exhilarating feeling, one which best epitomises Titanfall’s  David vs Goliath vibe.

Level Up

Titanfall  wouldn’t be a modern FPS without the obligatory RPG-lite levelling system. Refreshingly, there are no COD-style killstreaks or perks to be unlocked, meaning that gameplay remains balanced between levels, and there’s no frustrating handicap forced upon new players as a result. Whilst XP is earned after every battle and you level up as a player, your unlocks feel a lot more organic and less forced. There’s not 100 different micro-SMGs to unlock, each with another 100 grips and barrels and sights. In the beta at least, it’s simple – you unlock an assault rifle, a sub-machine gun, a shotgun and a sniper rifle (and the Smart Pistol. God, that gun is fun). It all adds to create a much more ‘pure’ FPS experience, something that the competitive gaming scene will no doubt be happy with. It also means that within Titanfall  there’s something for everyone – it should please Black Ops  fans just as much as Counter-Strike  fans, and that can only be a good thing.

The closest Titanfall gets to a perk-style system  are ‘Burn Cards’, which play out like power-ups. You unlock them as you play, and they only last for one match at a time. They can offer anything from XP multipliers to an instant Titan drop, but their one-and-done nature ensures that no player is inherently more powerful than another.

Some may be weary of the RPG façade when it comes to FPS’, but many gamers find it hard to maintain interest in a shooter without a tangible sense of progress (hell, even Counter-Strike, the most stripped-back FPS experience of all, features a levelling system now). The reduced emphasis placed on it by developers Respawn  shows a faith in their game’s core experience and mechanics.

Are we not men?

There were also a few eyebrows raised when it was revealed that all modes would be capped at six vs six for pilots, with those 12 human players then supplemented with AI. This actually plays out far better than it sounds. For one, AI bots are smart – they hunt in packs, reacting and acting much like normal players would. Of course, they are much easier to kill than human opponents, but they’re far from cannon fodder.

What with the Titan-centric gameplay, this is really the only way Titanfall  could actually work – with six players on each side being guaranteed a Titan drop at least once per game, any more would make the game messy and imbalanced. Besides, XP awarded for kills is proportional – a Titan takedown nets you 200 XP, a pilot 100 XP, and ‘grunts’ (AI) a mere 25 XP. So don’t worry, cynical players can’t cheapen the game by running around and mopping up cheap grunt kills. See? Balance.

Unfortunately, beta applications for the game have now closed, but if you like the sound of what you’ve read you only have to wait until March 14th to get your hands on a retail copy, out on Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC. The beta release has been overwhelmingly popular, and Respawn will be hoping that player feedback is equally as positive. From a very early stage Microsoft have been hoping that Titanfall  will be the Halo  of the next generation for them. Will it prove to be the must-have system-seller they’ve been hoping for? Time will tell, but if beta impressions are anything to go buy, the future just got an awful lot more rosy for the guys from Albequerque.

About the Author

Callum Tennent

International playboy/tech journalist.

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