Published Mar 11, 2014There has perhaps never been a more apropos name for a company than Respawn Entertainment. Yes, it's a hat-tip to the most emblematic gameplay feature of the multiplayer shooter genre that is Respawn's raison d'etre. But it's also meta-commentary on the abrupt firing of co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella in 2010 from their previous studio Infinity Ward by parent company Activision after having revolutionized the FPS shooter with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and its even more popular sequel.
The pair soon launched Respawn, bringing along many of their former Infinity Ward colleagues, and set to work sparking on another revolutionary shooter even as their old Call of Duty series continued to rack up rising sales and diminishing review scores with evolutionary iterations.
The game they respawned with is Titanfall, which wowed critics at E3 last spring, winning 60 awards and riding those waves of hype and anticipation to store shelves as the first "real" next-gen FPS and a much-needed console-seller for the still Halo-less Xbox One.
But while Titanfall has undoubtedly ramped up sales of Microsoft's new console, those Xbox One buyers were probably just sitting tight waiting for Titanfall to finally come out, as both appeal to the same hardcore gamer. A real console-seller, like Halo, breaches the mainstream, and as cool as Titanfall is — and as many copies as it is selling — it is still somewhat niche.
That is in large part by design. Unlike their previous Call of Duty games, there's no single-player campaign here that would justify a purchase by those uninterested in multiplayer gaming. (I've previously written about the pointlessness of most multiplayer add-ons to predominantly single-player games, so there's no reason to pine for a half-hearted single-player campaign here.)
Still, I kinda do. The narrative world-building that single-player modes provide is missed, despite attempts to make up for it with a multiplayer campaign mode that attempts to set up the scenario through pre-loadout mission briefings before the six-on-six carnage begins. The basics are that the resource-extracting Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation is battling the rag-tag colonist Militia — think Firefly's Alliance vs. Browncoats — on a war-torn planet where both sides have access to Macross-like mechs called Titans, which, yep, fall from the sky at earned moments to turn the tide of battles.
(Much of the fighting is between the parkour-trained pilots, who can run on walls and climb the various sky-high structures scattered about the maps, a rarity in the generally ground-based shooter genre. After a certain amount of achievements drop a Titan, the pilot gets to put on a massive robot suit of armor, though they can also be used as limited AI bodyguards if put on patrol duty.)
The meat of the game is in "classic," which features the usual multiplayer modes like Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. There are a few other game-specific ones, like Last Titan Standing, which has all 12 players begin in a Titan suit, but the basic scenarios are familiar from every other multi-FPS, and it's the improvisation of real players, the addition of a vertical axis to gameplay strategy and the expertly designed maps that add the element of surprise.
For multiplayer fans, of which there are legion, that is more than enough, as Respawn really does change that game. In fact, it even makes it fun for non-FPS fans, as the tough Titan suits add considerably more longevity than newbies normally get in the usual headshot-heavy deathmatches. Meanwhile, the parkour mobility allows for strategic sneaking, and the post-match race to evacuate even offers the losing team the chance for a final morale boost if they make it to the drop ship.
For those who bought into Modern Warfare because of the melodramatic storylines and baroque action set-pieces of the single-player campaigns, it feels like a lost opportunity for Titanfall to be a giant in both fields. (Respawn/EA)