Titanfall Preview

I want to be inside you.

Despite debuting at E3 2013 earlier this year, Titanfall has remained largely hands-off until Gamescom and now, of course, PAX Prime 2013, but why? E3 judges were able to play the game weeks before the Los Angeles based Electronic Entertainment Expo and as such the title swept up countless rewards. Needless to say, it's been a feather in the hat of Electronic Arts and Microsoft, who've established an exclusivity deal wherein Titanfall will only release for Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC next year. Still, there's been a thorn in my side since the game's been revealed. Why should we care about yet another first-person shooter from the mind of Jason West and the lead developers who haven't published a product since 2009's Modern Warfare 2?

I tend not to get excited about any game before putting my hands all over the controller and twiddling the right buttons, so PAX Prime's press hour provided the perfect opportunity to cut a few lines and go hands-on with Titanfall's blend of single and multiplayer gameplay. The death match mode organizers set up for us in the booth didn't just pit two teams of 8 against each other on foot and in mech, it also provided a few story cues and plenty of computer-controlled fodder to hinge Titanfall on its one key component: speed.

Regular walking speed in Titanfall feels like somewhere tweaked above a walk but still well short of a sprint in contemporary first-person shooters, like Call of Duty. You can jump and double-jump in mid-air, but more importantly you'll be able to scale the walls with a wall run that hurtles the player forward and up the level geometry to rooftops and more. Respawn also wastes no time in giving players something to shoot at, with that computer controlled fodder flooding the battlefield relatively closer to your spawn point than the human-controlled enemy team. When the two sides come together you'll quickly find two fronts become the focus of combat.

The first is on the ground, where building interiors give you a chance to flank, melee, and generally perforate other enemy soldiers on foot. Just outside, warring factions will clash in titans, the mech suits that give players increased firepower, reach, but not an impenetrable wall of armor they can soak up damage with. Even in a titan, you'll want to use a jump-boost to zip around two-story-high cover, you'll want to leap forward to close the gap and melee an infantrymen, and you'll want to keep from charging blindly into battle.

Even if one foot soldier focuses fire on a titan from a hidden vantage point, your mech can quickly come crumbling down around you. It's a testament to Respawn's ability to balance two very different ability sets, especially when you consider that you not only choose your on-foot load out, but your titan load out as well. A mini gun wielding titan might do more damage to infantry, but they'll come up short against another titan. A rocket-launcher toting titan might bring other mechs to their knees (and those unfriendly pilots to the sky with a quick eject), but you'll have to reload frequently and hang back enough to duck behind cover while you do.

I checked the score board briefly after a death about halfway through the match. By then, I had called in one titan, built up my meter for a second titan to half capacity, and slaughtered dozens of enemy AI combatants. I'm not terrible at first-person shooters by any stretch, but I had confused a few victims as enemy players and not AI, a distinction that should be made a lot clearer before launch.

At this point, I made an aggressive play to finish building the meter that would let me call in another titan unit. I used sequential wall runs and in-air jumps to climb from ground level to the roof of a three-story building in the middle of the map. From my vantage point, I reigned death down on enemy titans in the form of magnetic grenades. With the mechs cleared, I called in my second titan and took to the cockpit. You can let your titan stand guard near an objective, or order it to follow you around and play out My Giant in-game, but I liked using it to crush puny enemy soldiers instead.

With a heavy rocket launch equipped, I sent squads of enemy AI flying, until I closed in on a few human-controlled opponents. Seeking out other players was a little difficult (again, I like the idea of flooding the battlefield with fodder, but I'd like to see clearly when my intended victim is a human), but punching them to death with my titan's massive fist was far too satisfying. The titan's lunge worked almost too well in closing gaps between my predatory metal suit and the prey that littered the map, but seeing them explode into chunks with the force of my punch left me cackling with evil glee.

Titanfall certainly does have the spark to be an amazing, thriving first-person shooter experience and it could certainly shake up the current landscape of heavily populated multiplayer games on Xbox Live, but I still can't say for sure. Being so fast, it could certainly end up feeling sloppy for anyone not already accustomed to FPS standards. Being so fast, it could further the discriminate gap between FPS skill haves and have-nots. Being so fast, it could be the most exhilarating and free-form multiplayer shooter you've ever played. Who knows? Titanfall is most likely headed to another E3, so what are we supposed to do? Kiss this game's ass two years in a row?