A funny thing happened to me last year. After a lifelong habit of moving from game to game as soon as I felt I’d sucked the essential nutrients from them… I started finishing games. It helped that it was the year I got a PS4 and that, despite being awful in almost every other conceivable way, 2016 produced a bumper crop of great video games.
So I thought I’d write about some of them. Not great sweeping reviews, but just little nuggets of writing that might clue you into whether they’re worth trying, or cause you to disagree violently if you’ve already played them yourself. Starting with…
Having never played its 2014 predecessor, the game that Titanfall 2 feels like a sequel to, as far as I’m concerned, is Halo. The game borrows a lot of incidental details from that series – the two-weapon system, the subtitles it throws up on screen to mark each new part of a level, the recharging energy-shield health system, the design of its lush alien locations and planet-destroying superweapons, that blue-green colour scheme…
Most of all, though, it’s just in the way Titanfall 2 is constructed: big spectacle-laden setpieces connected by tiny five-minute sandboxes. Like the very best of Halo, the singleplayer campaign is full of these discrete situations that let the player choose how to approach them.
Do you want to clamber to the top of this enemy base and shower them with lead and plasma from above? Or turn on your cloak, and lodge yourself right in the middle of a pack of baddies, unleashing hell from an automatic shotgun just as you sputter back onto the visible spectrum? Or go full Matrix and spray the bastards with machine-gun fire as you parkour effortlessly between walls and over their heads, never slowing down enough for anyone to get a bead on you?
Carving the game up this way gives players a great chance to play with all the toys – and Titanfall 2 is absolutely packed with them. The weird weapons, the ability to keep shooting as you slide on your knees, and… oh, have I not even mentioned the Titans yet?
Your agile Pilot character is accompanied throughout the campaign by BT-7274, an artificially intelligent robot/mecha-suit combo known as a ‘Titan’. When you’re on foot, BT provides supporting fire (plus some great Threepio-esque chatter, which endeared him to me pretty much immediately). Climb inside BT’s chassis, though, and you’re put in full control of his joyously OP arsenal.
The genius of Titanfall 2, though, is that having a dirty great robot pal isn’t your superpower. Every other bugger you encounter has one of those.
No, your superpower, the thing that marks you apart from the computer-controlled baddies, that makes you capable of demolishing an entire battalion of them, is flexibility.
BT is different from the Titans your enemies and allies call their own in that he can switch between loadouts. He can transform from sword-wielding teleporter to jetpack-jumping sniper to fire-spewing bastard. You’ll face off against all of these archetypes across the course of the campaign, but only BT gets to try all of them. You can jump from loadout mid-fight, with no more than a second’s delay, the same way your pilot can pick up a new weapon.
Speaking of: one of my favourite things about Titanfall is how, whenever you switch between weapons, the game drops a short description – ‘automatic shotgun’, ‘long-range assault rifle’ – straight onto the HUD. It allows you to can get murdering without too much trial and error, and constantly encourages you to try something new.
Hit a wall of seemingly unbeatable enemies? Just try something else. Grab a sniper rifle this time, and wall-run up to that isolated nest. Or what about that SMG? Ooh, and you’ve barely touched those fancy grenades that mess with the gravity…
Given that Titanfall 2‘s focus is nominally on multiplayer – its predecessor actually had no singleplayer component – this is a great way of giving you basic training before you ship out to the theatre of online war.
But, most importantly, it’s just great campaign design. It makes for an interesting contrast to the Half-Life 2 school of shooterism, which slowly grows your arsenal, giving you time to learn and – frankly – get bored of each weapon in turn. In Titanfall, the majority of the weapons are there from the start, positively screaming from their spot on the levels’ plentiful gun racks to give them a try. To be flexible.