Playing Devil’s Advocate with Titanfall

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In less than one month, Titanfall will be released upon the world to near palpable levels of anticipation. For months, the gaming masses have eagerly followed Respawn Entertainment’s development of Titanfall, hanging on ever screenshot and rumor. As the March 11th release date slowly lurches ever-closer, video game fans the world over all seem to agree that Titanfall is one game that they want to play.

However, the hype and near-unbridled enthusiasm begs but one question – will Titanfall be all that? To see the video game world, not just developers and critics but also the general game buying consumers, rallied around one title with such fervor feels almost strange given the gaming general public’s traditionally taciturn on the majority of major studio releases.

Allow me, for one moment, to play the Devil’s advocate and discuss some of Titanfall’s more questionable features: ones that largely have flown under the radar; swept aside and understated by massive mechs and gritty gunplay. While Titanfall is undoubtedly one of this year’s biggest video game releases, it looks far from being one of this year’s most perfect video game releases.

By simply looking at Titanfall, it is easy to see why so many gamers are so passionate about the title. The first person shooter has been the go-to genre for multiplayer action for years and Titanfall’s focus on this front is abundantly clear. The fast paced combat and tight gunplay that Respawn Entertainment has so proudly put on display is enough to any FPS lover salivating at the mouth.

Titanfall, however, hopes (or, assumes) that all said salivating shooter fans, want to enjoy the game in a multiplayer setting. Respawn’s first misstep in terms of Titanfall is one that has many more singular-centric gamers scratching their head. By choosing to ignore a single-player campaign, Titanfall has essentially alienated a part of the FPS market.

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Sure, it is easy to write off the decision to skip a single-player campaign as a smart decision and argue that no one plays the story of these types of games, choosing to rush into online multiplayer matches instead. An assumption such as that, however, is simply incorrect. While many FPS fans will tell you that ‘no one plays these games for the story’, that sentiment is slightly skewed, perhaps even a little unfair. No one plays the campaign of many FPS games anymore because they all boil down to being markedly similar experiences. Shooting mechanics will always bear some similarity, sure, but the continued release of games in similar settings, and soldiers fighting similar wars against similar terrorists can leave players with a stale taste in their mouth that will make sure that they pass over the single player story.

Titanfall has the potential to truly break from this unfortunate mold, however, thanks to the game’s unique take on combat. With the titular Titans as a core gameplay mechanic and jet-pack wielding soldiers prevalent on the battlefield, Titanfall seems a prime candidate for a FPS to tell a story that feels familiar but does a whole lot of new things. Titanfall could have been the game that made people want to play through the campaign first once more.

Outside of the intrinsic value of storytelling, Titanfall’s choice to eschew a single-player experience hurts those who simply do not like to play online against others. While often it feels like the majority of the gaming population prefers online shooters, it is important to remember that the most vocal group isn’t always the most popular one. Of course, Titanfall seems to cater well towards the established shooter market for online, competitive play; but launching a brand new IP draws attention to a game from all corners of the industry, ensuring that those who normally stay away from FPS’ might find themselves suddenly interested in Titanfall. A lack of single-player campaign, however, alienates those who are not already within the in-group that Titanfall caters to, making it that much harder for the non-anointed to adopt the game.

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Similar to the argument of alienation by not including a single-player campaign, Titanfall continues to cut-off other gamers by not launching on the PlayStation 4. While the majority of this decision can be traced back to EA’s publishing deal with Microsoft, a game such as Titanfall that seems to already have such an overwhelming massive appeal to the gaming world can only be hurt by exclusivity clauses.

Sony’s PlayStation 4 has quickly established itself as a powerful and user-friendly machine, selling huge quantities in the first months since its release. By not being able to release Titanfall on all of the available platforms, Respawn Entertainment has unfortunately been forced to effectively cut out a significant portion of the consumers they could be able to reach. With the high cost the Xbox One and refusal by many to adopt PC gaming, assuming that PlayStation 4 owners will defect to a different system to play one title is simply out of the question.

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In terms of gameplay, Titanfall appears to be undeniably top notch. Respawn has clearly crafted a FPS that builds upon the conventions that work within the genre, while continuing to add new innovations. While much of Titanfall shows progression for the first-person shooter world, the decision to make Titanfall’s multiplayer matches cap at 6 VS 6 feels like a step in the wrong direction.

Part of the 6 VS 6 problem is that it feels underwhelming considering the scope of the project. From what has been seen of Titanfall so far, the levels are relatively big, especially when considering that the player’s jet-packs add a new level of height to combat. Having twelve players duke it out in a large stage might lend itself to players going a considerable stretch of time without interacting – or shooting – at other players.

Of course, Respawn Entertainment has made it clear that online matches will allow for additional, A.I. controlled combatants. Why though, would players prefer fighting against robots when they could be fragging other humans? The decision to include A.I. into an online-only experience feels strange, at the very least.

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Strange decisions such as the aforementioned 6 VS 6 situation, lead to one last point. Titanfall’s developer, Respawn Entertainment, has never released a game before. Yes, Respawn is an industry hodgepodge feature ex-Infinity Ward veterans, but pedigree be damned; Respawn Entertainment is still untested when it comes to putting out a finished product.

It is not uncommon – especially within the last few years – for consumers to be misled throughout a game’s development, only to finally get their hands on said game and find it anything but what they were anticipating. This is not to say that Titanfall is going to be released be far from what gamers were promised, Titanfall actually looks to be downright great, but a first-time developer working on a massive project is a fact that cannot be ignored.

Titanfall will be out soon, and while all signs point towards it being a truly great game, it is important to remember that few things are perfect. The points raised above are ones to take to heart. Titanfall has the video game world excited and eager – which is a great thing to see – but before getting swept up into the hype, it is imperative to look at the game from every angle.

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