TL; DR(eview) - A somewhat straightforward/forgettable “boy and his robot” story is elevated with great combat and unique elements that are well-integrated into each level’s big sequences or set pieces.
When the first Titanfall came out, I was one of the many people who looked at it and immediately said “well I’m not a multiplayer guy so there’s nothing there for me.” Now that’s admittedly very different than saying “if it had a single-player campaign, I would have picked it up.” I probably would not have. For one thing, I did not yet have an Xbox One. I wasn’t planning on getting that until Sunset Overdrive came out later in 2014. In March 2014, I was getting the Platinum Trophies in South Park: The Stick of Truth and inFamous: Second Son, with some dabbling in the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix on PlayStation 3. Not exactly into shooters at the time.
But when Respawn announced that the sequel would indeed include a single-player campaign, I wanted to reward that commitment to the players that made the request. Without a doubt, if Titanfall 2 had followed its predecessor and remained multiplayer-only, I wouldn’t be writing about it. But I’m really glad I am.
Titanfall 2’s campaign puts you in the boots of Rifleman Jack Cooper, a generic militia-man, with aspirations of becoming a Pilot with his own Titan mech. Luckily for you/Jack, an early battle takes your mentor out of commission and he transfers his mech BT-7274 to you. From there, you and BT are on a mission to rendevous with another unit and eventually take the fight to the enemy forces. The specifics of the story are actually incredibly forgettable, but like the best popcorn movie blockbusters, it’s filled with really enjoyable set pieces and sequences that help elevate the game campaign above and beyond a standard military shooter.
***Minor sequence and story spoilers ahead.***
Each level in the game feels really well-designed with three notable standouts. The first of which has you traversing through a plant manufacturing pre-fabricated housing units of sorts. Jumping around, wall-running, and fighting your way through this factory and seeing the structures built up piece by piece as you progress is fun enough in and of itself. But the standout is when you have to platform your way up a vertical wall of the structures into a sort of combat test arena that is completely comprised of them. It’s a great sequence of gameplay with a self-contained beginning (moving through the factory and seeing the structures built), middle (climbing up the completed structures), and end (the climactic battle itself).
Following that, you run through a Research and Development facility that has apparently non-chalantly cracked time travel. Initially introduced through a couple of “time bubbles” where you randomly travel from the current run-down state of the facility to some unknown time in the past when it was still in it’s hey day, eventually you receive a device that let’s you control jumping between time periods at will. This allowed for some great puzzle-platforming as you might have to avoid a set of automated turrets in the past by wall-running over a bit of floor that’s on fire in the present until you reach a certain point where you can warp back to the past and take out the turrets from behind. Being able to strategically time-travel and flank your enemies in one time period or another was also thoroughly enjoyable.
A final highlight worth mentioning had you running all around a construction site of sorts. Taking full advantage of the wall-running mechanic, the frenetic action hopping from wall to wall and taking out enemies felt incredibly satisfying. And while first-person platforming can very easily become a nightmarish hellscape of misjudging jumps onto narrow platforms, Titanfall 2 rarely if ever fell into that trap for me.
As for the story itself: as I said, it’s mostly forgettable. There’s a fun enough back and forth between Jack and BT that is built up over the game and their relationship actually feels somewhat earned. Jack and BT save each other on multiple occasions throughout the campaign so the the player actually gets a sense of a deepening bond between the two, something that other games might just take for granted. And that’s actually how I view this story: as Jack’s journey from run-of-the-mill Rifleman to a bonafide Pilot worthy of running around destroying people in his own Titan.
On the other hand, I’ve heard people argue that the bosses feel like a wasted opportunity. That criticism doesn’t fall on deaf ears for me, but I simply don’t think it was the focus. In fact, as sacrilegious as this might be, I would like this game’s boss structure to something like Super Mario World (while I’ve also heard others make a similar parallel to Mega Man). The bosses are classic one-and-one level bosses. They bug you, like the Koopalings or Robot Masters, but once you defeat them, they’re gone. The big difference being that it would seem EA and Respawn likely already have Titanfall 3 in their sights as one of the enemies taunting you throughout lives to fight another day. In other words, Bowser’s not just in another castle, he’s in the next game.
I’ve already touched on some of my favorite gameplay mechanics with the time-hopping and, surprisingly, wall-running. In a game, where you can hop into a giant robot mech and shoot missiles at your enemies of slash at other robots with huge robot swords, I was perhaps most surprised by how good being a Pilot outside the Titan feels. The speed and agility as a Pilot left me feeling more like a bad-ass ninja than an elite military soldier. Much like Doom earlier in the year, the combat feels frantic without necessarily being overwhelming.
The Titan combat is fun too, but typically involves being bombarded by more enemies to compensate for the extra power in your arsenal. Multiple Titan loadouts are available to be picked up throughout the game and once a loadout is added to your repertoire, it’s a pretty simple button-press to switch among your options. Each loadout encourages and supports different playstyles with some focusing on tank-like close quarters combat, others taking a more ranged approach, and some emphasizing verticality and the notion of attacking from above. Defeating enemies will build up BT’s core power which, once fully charged, allows you to unleash a powerful ultimate attack based on your given Titan. And the core charge is not locked to the loadout so if I powered up the core with say, a Brute, I could switch to a Northstar Titan and unleashed its Flight Core, raining missiles down on my enemies from above. Effectively, the speed of the Pilot is traded in for the power and versatility of the Titan, making for a surprising good balance between the two modes.
Despite the 2 in its name, the inclusion of a single-player campaign where the original lacked it leaves this Titanfall feeling like the start of a franchise, rather than the continuation of one. Having not played the original, nor having spent much time in this one’s multiplayer, I can’t comment as to how the two compare on that front. But the single-player campaign here seems to be setting up a larger universe to explore in future games. And while the stories told may not reach the highest levels of the medium, the way Respawn incorporated their mechanical ideas into the level design leaves me excited for the continued possibilities of the franchise.