E3 2013: Titanfall Preview

June 20, 2013

After the fallout between Activision and the original Infinity Ward Call of Duty developers, the exiting studio heads and staff founded Respawn Entertainment. With the assistance of an exclusive Electronic Arts publishing deal, Respawn has been tinkering away for a few years on their debut game, Titanfall. Making its first proper unveiling at E3, the new property was one of the hottest games among press and attendees at the event.

Respawn wanted to create a first-person shooter that felt familiar, yet offered something new. The developers decided on Titanfall, a game with a premise that is simple, yet cunningly effective – pilots and mechs battle for domination in a multiplayer-only arena.

The line to view Titanfall was possibly the longest I saw, and just to demonstrate how popular the title was, I waited patiently next to Assassin’s Creed alumni Patrice Desilets to see the game in action. Our hands-off behind closed door session was absolutely packed, with standing room only. We were treated to a live demonstration of the latest build of Titanfall, with a number of Respawn personal controlling the in-game players. The mode on show in our particular demonstration was a variation of hardpoint. Other modes included in the final product will be revealed in the future.

Again picking up on one of the popular threads at E3 2013, Respawn hope to blur the lines between single and multiplayer in creating a purely online arena that delivers on the cinematic ‘moments’ usually reserved for solo campaigns. Respawn General Manager Vince Zampella explains that hours of development time can go into creating a single-player campaign that players might finish in the blink of an eye or never even touch, and that shooter fans can log countless hours online. Hence, he believes it makes sense to cater towards multilayer, which still alluding to the ‘wow’ moments of story-based adventures.

Titanfall will release only on Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC. Zampella explains that as a smaller start-up studio, it makes sense to focus their efforts to create a better product for one system, as opposed to a mediocre multiplatform title. He also points to the power of the Microsoft’s Xbox ‘cloud’ as an ideal tool that can help power Titanfall‘s intense online batttlefields and create a far smoother experience. Respawn also explain that they did not want to spend years in research and development, so they opted for the existing Source engine, while still retooling it with their modifications. The result is fluid and detailed visuals that adequacy cater for the fast style of Titanfall‘s gameplay, yet still living up to the expectations of a next-generation project.

Nevertheless, the game’s number one priority, as trumpeted by Respawn, is gameplay. The developer’s faced the challenge of balancing big towering mechs versus the miniscule human pilots. The developers wanted entertaining gameplay that did not particularly favour or allow either mech’s or infantry to dominate. Hence, in the battle of big against small, Titanfall‘s heavily armed and armoured mechs are always vulnerable to the nimble and speedy – yet comparatively weak – human pilots. Further, players should not forget that pilots can always be kept occupied fighting against the enemy infantry, and Titans pitted against Titan can frequently produce thrilling and tense engagements. Titanfall‘s gameplay can be described as replicating the fast and intense style of Call of Duty, while injecting the tactical depth the comes with Battlefield‘s style of vehicular combat.

Titans from a natural extension of the pilot, like today’s prototype exoskeletons. Gameplay and movement in mechs is said to be robust and feel natural, yet still slightly cumbersome to account for the greater size and weight of the Titan. Titans carry machine guns, rocket launchers, and can even form a gravity field that traps enemy projectiles that can be thrown back at foes. If your mech gets close enough to an enemy Titan, players can grab and throw the pilot out of the cockpit.

Pilots are agile and fast, knifing from point to point and with the assistance of jet packs, allowing them to run diagonally along walls and jump to higher areas. Human infantry come equipped with a rapid-firing machine gun for chewing through human enemies, and an equally rapid-firing rocket launcher that can make short work of Titans. Pilots can land on top of Titans and shoot the ‘brain’ circuitry of the machine, causing significant damage.

Pilots can wait for a countdown timer and call in their own Titan airdrop, or simply jump into a mech already standing on the battlefield. Pilots can dismount at whim, or even eject themselves when the Titan’s health meter becomes low. Pilots can be vulnerable in this moment however, as opposing forces can always pick you off before you land.

Respawn say that pilots perform better in enclosed areas of maps, whereas mechs will have the upper hand in the open. Maps have been designed with balance in mind. With heavy firepower and the ability to squash humans like flies, Titans might have the upper hand outside, but multiple tunnels and indoor environments allow pilots to flank quickly and rain destruction with portable rocket launchers.

While Titanfall is predominately focused on multiplayer, Respawn have alluded to the inclusion of some practice modes. Fighting against AI is in fact an integral part of the game, as with the power of the cloud, the game can spawn near-humanlike programmed bots to fill non-player slots, creating a more populated and believable battlefield.

At the end of our demonstration, a countdown timer started, with the commander calling for all forces to begin extraction. The final few seconds saw the player defending the landing zone before boarding an escape transport and netting some bonus completion points in the process.

The debut title from Respawn Entertainment is certainly shaping us as one of the strongest new franchises for the next generation of consoles. With a talented studio creating a product that delivers on innovation, gameplay balance and visual fidelity, shooter fans should be itching to get their trigger fingers on Titanfall.