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And for a game that’s been accurately described as Call of Duty meets giant robots – with all testosterone-laced bro-sweat that pairing implies – Titanfall 2 puts the bond between man and machine at the forefront. Yeah, you’ll still be cutting a bloody swath through dozens of enemy soldiers, but you’ll be doing it with your loyal mech pal at your side, or enveloping your body like a gun-wielding cocoon. It’s one of the most weirdly heartwarming video game team-ups since Ratchet met Clank.
Developed by many of the original Call of Duty creators who split off to form Respawn Entertainment, the original Titanfall was released in 2014 as an Xbox and PC exclusive, and it earned a lot of early critical praise. But it didn’t have the staying power of its duty-calling, field-battling brethren, and it slid off the radar in a matter of weeks, becoming the domain of a small but hardcore group of fans.
Titanfall 2 aims to correct the first game’s two biggest shortcomings – exclusivity has been tossed in favour of releasing the game simultaneously for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PCs, and the game has been given a proper story-driven, single-player campaign, something annoyingly absent in the first Titanfall.
In Titanfall 2’s story mode we take on the role of Jack Cooper, a lowly rifleman in the star-spanning armed forces known as the Frontier Militia. Very soon, though, Cooper finds himself forced to team up with a Titan called BT-7274 – a six-metre tall, heavily armed robot that can be piloted by a human or fight on its own – and must do a whole lot of on-the-job learning.
I can’t emphasize this enough: Titanfall 2’s story mode is really, genuinely good. The interactions between Cooper and his hyper-literal Titan (who bears a passing – and probably deliberate – vocal resemblance to Optimus Prime) are frequently funny, the stop-the-superweapon story is straightforward but full of lots of interesting action twists and novel gameplay elements, and the level design is varied and fantastic.
Thanks to Titanfall’s emphasis on parkour-like acrobatics, many levels have platform-style challenges gently meshed in between chunky and satisfying firefights, and the balance between battling on foot as Cooper and controlling BT-7274 and his wild array of weaponry is perfect. Whether you’re in a running gun battle through gargantuan factory churning out pre-fabricated houses, shifting back and forth through time to explore a sprawling science facility or fighting enemy Titans on top of a giant, low-flying aircraft, it feels fresher than any Call of Duty campaign has in years.
Titanfall 2’s online multiplayer modes – the bread and butter of the first game – have been thoroughly tweaked, and online play feels even more fluid and dynamic. But while the story-driven campaign game introduces players to the fundamentals of combat as both
Pilot and Titan, the online modes aren’t entirely noob-friendly. A lot of experience and experimentation is needed to get a feel for the various weapon loadouts, abilities and even the game types themselves.
Yet I can’t help but think that Titanfall 2’s biggest enemy will be the timing of its release. It’s come out on the heels of fellow EA Games blockbuster Battlefield 1 – which has proved a huge critical and commercial success – and just ahead of rival Activision’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, the unstoppable juggernaut of this genre. While Titanfall 2 does lots that these games don’t, it’s easy to see how it might end up getting overlooked, something its anemic early sales figures seem to bear out.
But Titanfall 2 rises to the challenge of building something worthwhile on its predecessor’s foundation, and it’s fresh, fun and full of surprises. Happy endings aren’t always common in boy-and-his-’bot stories, but here’s hoping these mechanical marvels will stick around for a good, long time.