(Originally published on MyIGN on April 7th, 2014)
Despite going through 5 generations of combat training, each new generation a flawless recreation of the last, the Pilot found that he never got used to mid-combat titan ejecting. One moment you’re sat inside the hulking state-of-the-art chassis of a two-storey, 30 tonne walking tank, a few rapid keystrokes and a pull of a lever later and the next all you can see is wide open sky, the icy cold wind whipping against your visor and jumpsuit, the breath completely sucked out of your ragged lungs, which only seconds ago were full of the acrid fumes of internal cockpit fires and melting plastic, with nothing but your cloaking device, thruster pack and, hopefully, just hopefully, a great deal of luck that you’ll get back down on terra-firma alive and in one piece.
The ensuing fall itself was not so much of an issue, as the regulation Militia gravity-dampening boots would safely absorb the force of the impact, but rather the real danger came in the form of every enemy grunt, spectre and Titan on the field, which were undoubtedly calculating highly accurate lethal targeting vectors to shred the now exposed rapidly falling human in the sky before them into a cloud of fine red mist and a plummeting trail of several small lumps of scorched, bullet-riddled meat. Small arms fire from the IMC grunts and spectres started up as he fell into range, and the pilot could hear their R-101C and Hemlock BF-R rounds rattling through the air around him. The repeated crack of a Kraber-AP rifle, it’s high calibre rounds scything through the air, leaving an evanescent misty trail behind them gave away an enemy IMC sniper who was trying hard to snipe him on his descent, undoubtedly trying to get a flashy airborne headshot (which was quickly becoming apparent with each successive shot’s miss, quite clearly beyond his attacker’s skill) recorded onto his helmet’s capture equipment to impress his superior officers.
“Hmmn. Amateur” the Pilot sneered. A small flash of light in his periphery – ZAAAAP! A crackling white-hot bolt of lighting seared within a couple of inches of his torso, causing him to violently jerk about and cry out in an anguished combination of shock and pain. Although the shot was not a fatal direct hit – a ridiculously high voltage electricity projectile fired from a titan-mounted arc cannon no doubt – the intense heat and its proximity to his torso still managed to scorch the right side of his jumpsuit and helmet and causing his burnt skin underneath to instantly blister and weep. Too close, far too close his mind screamed at him, his body writhing and tumbling out of control through the air in pain and heat, sweat pouring down his face and mouth in salty streams, blood pumping loudly in his ears, whilst he blinked rapidly to see where to escape to before the titan could fire again.
Not now. He could deal with his injuries later, if he made it out alive – right now, such thoughts about his chances were only clouding his mind. He needed to focus. The Pilot quickly assessed the situation whilst plummeting toward to the buildings racing up to meet him. What he needed was an accessible rooftop or some nearby structure to get to, and fast – there. A cluster of small warehouses were coming up fast on his left – that would have to do. Pivoting in the direction of the buildings, the pilot simultaneously activated his cloak and fired the belt-mounted thruster pack slung loosely across his waist to set a trajectory for one of the skylights on the warehouse’s rooftop. WHOOSH! Another crackling jolt of lighting punched through the air, which would almost certainly have been the end of him had he not activated his thrusters mere seconds ago. Grimacing from the lightning bolt’s accompanying nauseating wave of burning heat, the Pilot curled his small frame into a loose ball shape, preparing to meet his reflection racing up to meet him in the clear window of the skylight below.
Crashing through the glass skylight, a cacophony of shimmering crystalline light exploding around him, he gracefully landed on the soles of his feet like a strange mechanical feline, maintaining his momentum whilst tucking into a forward roll, one hand reaching behind his back and drawing his carbine, scanning the room down the sights for movement. Nothing. Shards of glass tinkled to the floor from the shattered window above like fresh drops of dew, peppering his back and head, but the Pilot tensely held his stance, solid and unmoving like an old weathered and worn statue from eons past. Paused, waiting for the faintest movement, the smallest sound, the ever so slight visual distortion in the air that marked an approaching cloaked enemy pilot. Nothing. Exhaling a deep breath, the Pilot allowed a brief moment to pause and consider the next move. His head was pounding; his ribcage felt bruised and battered from the ejection, possibly a fracture or a broken rib and he could taste the cold coppery taste of blood in his mouth. The Titan’s outside this structure were obviously the main attraction on the battlefield for enemy infantry right now. He should be safe for the time being. He staggered over to a stack of ammunition crates stacked in the corner of the warehouse, slumping down heavily against them, relishing taking the strain out his aching legs and back. The faint tang of his burned flesh stung his nostrils as he removed his helmet, spat out a mouthful of dark crimson and wiped away the sweat from his forehead. The others. He needed to contact his fellow pilots. Pulling himself up with a grunt of pain to a sitting position, the pilot hailed his team’s comm. frequency on his suit’s inbuilt codec. “Pilots, report in, status update”. He received no answer except a ghostly distorted crackle. An enemy arc grenade’s EMP must have fried it earlier in the battle – he was on his own for now.
He already knew that the battle was lost. The Militia were getting destroyed out there. Thinking back to only a few hours ago when he jumped out of his unit’s goblin dropship onto the field of battle with 5 fellow pilots, the goal was simple. His team was to infiltrate the IMC base and locate and hack into 3 orbital sentry turrets in order to allow the Militia carriers to sweep in and siphon much needed fuel and supplies from the base. They had been told to expect a heavy presence of grunts and spectres, which were plentiful and swarming the battlefield like an angry uprooted colony of termites, rising up to smother the attacking Militia with their sheer numbers. His team was also expecting a heavy titan presence. Normally, the Militia’s titans could comfortably go toe-to-toe with the IMC’s any day of the week. After all, the Militia’s titans were of course IMC titans before they were stolen and given a gung-ho, kick ass olive-green and orange paint job. But the IMC had access to the latest up to date mods and equipment from Hammond Robotics, such as slaved warheads and dedicated 12 missile target-painting salvos, which more often than not gave their pilots a slight advantage over the Militia’s. The Militia had to make do with whatever modifications they could salvage from fallen IMC titans, or steal blueprints, mods and entire shipments of titans from IMC factory ships – but such operations nearly always resulted in heavy troop casualties and the loss of a great number of their ships – both of which were in short supply.
The battle had started to go awry when the IMC titans managed to project a massive co-ordinated particle wall – a shimmering blue-green distortion field which would absorb any projectiles fired at it, but allow those standing behind it to fire through at their targets with relative safety – between themselves and two of the turret hard points, effectively allowing them to shell the advancing Militia titans with impunity. The Militia had yet to perfect the reverse engineering of this technology, so without a viable defence, the only choice was to continue to advance into the thundering storm of shells, bullets, energy bolts and missiles. By the time the particle wall had dissolved, the Militia’s titans had taken such a severe beating that it didn’t take long for the IMC to mop up those left standing. The pilot’s own titan, an ogre class he affectionately nicknamed ‘Betty’ was one of the last to fall, fending off 2 nimble enemy stryders using a combination of electric smoke to scramble their targeting systems, a few well placed 40mm cannon shots and Betty’s brute strength to rip their shattered limbs from their fragile chassis and bludgeon their cockpits (and the doomed enemy pilots within) in as a final coup de grâce. With the two stryders down, the pilot intended to retreat and get to cover, before an enemy atlas model with an arc canon and a souped up damage core – the same one which nearly flambéed him mid-air only moments ago – arrived to put an end to Betty and her winning streak.
Perhaps if he’d opted for the standard issue vortex shield, then Betty’s last titan joust may have gone differently. But he favoured an anti-pilot build, complete with electric smoke canisters installed into the rear access panels that surrounded the titan’s brain core. Besides, it was too late to worry about that now. He had to hope that the militia had managed to get what they needed fuel and supply wise from the base. A sharp crackle of static from his codec interrupted his thoughts.
It was Sarah, the chief Militia communications officer. Mission control must have seen the latest casualty reports and battle projections by now, and would be dispatching the small but hardy evacuation dropships to rescue any soldiers lucky enough to still be breathing. He needed to be there when they arrived. Getting unsteadily to his feet, he clicked his helmet back into place, checked the clip in his carbine, double-checked it just to be sure, and then, after a moment’s pause, the pilot raced towards the warehouse’s door.
Checking the coast was clear, the pilot activated his cloak once again and proceeded to lithely sprint down the alleyway between the warehouse and the next building. His burnt and fraying jumpsuit’s earlier brush with lightning meant that the light refracting technology of his cloaking device would probably be struggling to effectively conceal him for the normal duration, but it would have to do. The GPU readout marker in his helmet’s HUD marked the dropship’s estimated arrival location and ETA, and were both slowly counting down. 200m. 210m. 200m. 190m and dropping, and roughly 20 seconds away. The alleyway opened out into a small loading bay, which was filled with a group of spectres searching for stragglers. He needed to get to higher ground. Launching himself into the air, the pilot gracefully dug his toes into the wall, feeling the boots assimilate and grip to the rough concrete and bricks. Scaling the wall, the pilot ping-ponged back and forth between the narrow buildings, and eventually hoisted himself to a rooftop. There. The Goblin was just touching down a few buildings away. He could see other pilots were scrambling aboard and proceeding to lay down covering fire for their comrades. 10 seconds. With a final burst of energy, the pilot ducked and ran in a low crouch, leapt to the next building. 5 seconds. Another leap, and he was almost there, launching himself over the chasm between the final two buildings. 2 seconds. Firing his thrusters, the pilot boosted upwards to the open hatch in the dropship, a fellow pilot with arms outstretched ready to drag him into the hold, when…Crack!
You were killed by XxxXSnip3z4Ev4rY0l0XxxX.
Oh for fu…oh? (Notices the reader looking bored, yet still waiting patiently for the main point of the article, and puts down Xbox One controller) Ah, hello there! Sorry, I didn’t see you come in! Let’s begin shall we? (TB321 gestures for reader to take a seat before composing himself).
Unsurprisingly, EA and Respawn have announced that the initial workings on a sequel to the massively popular Xbox and PC juggernaut Titanfall are starting to get underway. So, from the powerful and influential position of my sofa, here are some cool ideas that I think would personally be great implementations to get into Titanfall 2. Listen up Respawn, I’m only going to say this once, okay? Good. Ahem (clears throat before continuing).
1. The campaign multiplayer should have various outcomes and routes
Although the campaign doesn’t really have any major impact on the gameplay other than what the current match’s objective is (either attrition or hardpoint domination), it can feel a bit demoralising to have an established linear path laid out in front of you regardless of your team’s performance. This is a shame, as the inclusion of bots (which is a thorny issue for some) gives the game a really good sense of atmosphere and world-building. If you start a campaign playthrough from the beginning as the IMC, and win every match that comes up in the sequence, your faction still comes off as the worst of the two – the militia still steal your fuel, destroy your super-carrier, and your main battlefield commander still defects even if the IMC team absolutely dominate every single match. Once you’ve got your achievements for playing the requisite number of campaign matches, and winning every match as both factions, there is little to come back for in terms of replay ability here (unless more story is included in the upcoming dlc packs).
A campaign system similar to Star Fox 64 would potentially allow for some interesting campaign experiences that would be refreshing to replay multiple times as either side. Every campaign would start with an opening level which is identical each time – much like the opening round of hardpoint domination on Fracture in Titanfall, where both IMC and Militia sides are on a similar level footing in terms of narrative progression. From there, the next level would be one of a set of binary branching paths depending on which side wins – an IMC victory on the first map would take the campaign to a match on one of the nodes on one of the branching paths, and a Militia victory would take the campaign to a completely different map and different node. This could also impact on the gameplay in relevant ways. If the IMC team win the first match, then they could start the next map in the sequence with a much greater number of CPU controlled Titans at the start, giving them a slight numbers advantage. This would also make sense narratively as was well of course, as the Militia, having suffered a defeat in the previous match, would presumably have slightly depleted numbers of titans and troops. If your team wins a number of consecutive landslide victories in a row, you could maybe claim a total ‘checkmate’ style victory several matches earlier than a specific scheduled end point, but this highlights the very problem with this idea.
If each match’s outcome determines the state of play of the next, then it could lead to some punishing and not fun to play experiences – not what you want in an entirely online multiplayer game. An ideal multiplayer mode in a game like Titanfall wants to be balanced or it starts to feel unfair. The three titan models work brilliantly as distinctive vehicles of destruction as they are all delicately balanced with respect to each other in a pseudo rock-paper-scissors sort of way, and each have class-specific advantages and disadvantages in combat. The controversial smart pistol is similarly a cleverly balanced inclusion in the game, allowing beginners and those new to FPS a quick, intuitive and easy to pick up way of earning CPU kills for their team. To stop it feeling like an overpowered aimbot however, it takes approximately 3 seconds of uninterrupted aiming on a human player to score an instant kill, which means that it keeps the weapon from feeling too powerful, and encourages the player to graduate to using the other pilot weapons. So if arriving at the final level of a rolling progressive star fox-like campaign like the one outlined above means that one team is basically all but guaranteed to lose as the other team has significantly more game-changing resources, it would just feel really unplayable and broken. A secondary potential problem which could stem from such a campaign mode would be how to maintain and track the progression throughout the story with a regularly rotating set of players. What if the winning team quits, people rage-quit at the start or lots of people drop out from the losing team after a particularly punishing defeat? Would the campaign continue to carry on, or would a reset back to the lobby to wait for more people to join be needed if lots of participants drop out. It could feel very disjointed and muddled if you joined halfway through. Or, conversely, the alternative to this could be…
2. Have a stand-alone single player campaign
To completely contradict everything I just said in the last section, I actually think that the old school triple-A model of military twitch shooters having a separate single player, single-playthrough disposable campaign in addition to multiplayer modes would have actually worked out quite well for this game. Yeah yeah, the usual sci-fi tropes and action game/film clichés we all know and love are all present and accounted for; small rag-tag bunch of rebels up against the mighty power of the megacorporation and it’s vast army (check); grizzled and world-weary heroes called back to the action for one last job, needlessly sacrificing themselves for maximum cheesy dramatic impact (cough cough, MacAllan cough, cough) et cetera, but I think the unique moment to moment gameplay that makes Titanfall so unique would make a single player campaign feel fresh, even if the regular story beats are still pretty stale. Imagine launching in a titan onto an enemy battleship in low orbit, shooting your way through it’s defences before wrenching off an access panel and dismounting to get inside it on foot to deliver a bomb or hack some vital intel while your titan has to stand guard and defend your escape route. Or what about a level where you temporarily have no titan support, and you have to use a combination of stealth and guerrilla tactics to take down other pilots and their titans? I know boss battles get a lot of stick these days as an antiquated relic left over from the arcade era, but I personally like a well written boss fight, so the thought of taking on a massive new mega-titan as a final boss would also definitely appeal – but again, it would all have to be staged well or risk falling into standard well-trodden territory.
3. Let the Kinect supplement the titan controls
This seems like an absolute no-brainer to me. The main distinguishing feature between the Xbox One and the PS4 is the Kinect 2.0. Before the recent price cuts and Titanfall console bundle options were announced, the £100 difference between the two consoles was a significant deal breaker over here in the UK as to which one you were going to purchase, and the reason behind that price difference was the inclusion of the Kinect with the Xbox One.
As a result, Xbox One developers have the Kinect available to use in games as a viable control mechanism to be used alongside regular controller input. With regard to Titanfall 2, Kinect implementation would mean some potentially interesting ways of further immersing oneself in the game, particularly when clambering aboard your titan. Imagine simply lifting your left hand up with your palm out to activate the vortex shield, and then pushing it toward the screen to return the bullets and shrapnel back to the sender. You shell an enemy titan with your 40mm cannon, blasting away it’s health before rushing in, and reaching out with your fist to the screen to get your titan to wrench your enemy from their shattered and burning wreck for a grisly melee execution.
However, as any Xbox One owner will tell you, when the Kinect works, it’s great. You get an epic kill, you quickly squeal out “Xbox, record that”, and lo and behold, your moment of glory is recorded for all to see, and be passed down from generation to generation though the ages in the years and centuries to come – interestingly, my Xbox seems to think I’m saying “Xbox go back” instead of “record that”, perhaps due to my dulcet northern vowels. Hmm. Anyway, like I said, when it works, all is well…but…that’s usually not often, at least in my experience. Despite all the marketing for the device showcasing it’s ability to track your limbs, individual digits, facial expressions, and even heart rate, all in various light levels (which make no mistake, is highly impressive and commendable) – it can still fuck up quite pathetically at times. One particular bugbear I’ve personally run into time and time again is that when I’m sat on the couch with my legs up, it can’t even distinguish between my fucking hands and my feet! My hands and feet! I mean, yeah okay, I have 4 fingers and a thumb on each hand, and 5 toes on each foot. My hands are each attached to separate long fleshly appendages, commonly known as ‘arms’, and my feet are attached to long fleshy appendages commonly known as ‘legs’. I can see the similarities here Kinect, I really can. But I’ll be watching an episode of Twin Peaks (huge David Lynch fan) on LoveFilm, when if I accidentally move my legs and feet, the Kinect thinks that they are my hands, suddenly now attached to my legs it would seem, are frantically waving at the screen to pause playback or skip ahead (the recent system updates have now solved this problem for me somewhat, so I’ll respectfully stop grumbling…for now). I believe Halo: Anniversary for the 360 allowed for some voice commands to be utilised in combat alongside the standard controller functions for those who had the old 360 Kinect, although these appear to be rather arbitrary and non-immersive, such as yelling “THROW GRENADE!” (not something you would imagine the stoic Master Chief to yell Leeroy-Jenkins style as he leaps into battle). If Kinect is ever going to be a tangible positive addition to gameplay, it’s going to need to be done well and have it perform consistently, not when it chooses to work! I’ll be keeping a close eye on Kinect Sports: The Rivals to see how it holds up. That game absolutely has to perform well with the Kinect, otherwise it’s not looking good for our favourite black rectangular 2001 HAL-like beady eye perched above our televisions.
However, as Titanfall 2 will no longer be just Xbox and PC exclusive, this may not be a worthwhile endeavour for Respawn to pursue. Unless they can implement similar functionality and in-game use with the PS4 camera, Kinect supplemented controls may be just relegated to the Xbox One and PC versions (now with the newly announced Kinect sensor for PC), or most-likely, not at all.
4. Smartglass integration – maps and titan building minigame (This is scraping the barrel here, I know!)
Ever wonder what happens whilst waiting for your shiny new titan to drop? Well, now you can find out when you use a second screen device whilst you’re playing! Seriously though, this could be quite a nice feature for any non-gamer to get involved with your gaming sessions if they so wish (or just yourself, if you’re feeling in a particularly ambidextrous, multitasking mood). A mini game where you have to select the correct parts and weapon systems for the desired titan from a construction line and then weld them onto the main body chassis, using your finger to trace the lines on the screen as a rudimentary blowtorch could work quite nicely, with a slight time construction bonus for the main player (nothing too advantageous, just say 10-15 seconds shaved off your next build time). When not titan building, the smartglass experience could mark out where enemy CPU characters are being dropped on the map – again, nothing too advantageous, marking exactly where each unit is would be unfair, but just showing where each drop pod initially lands could lend a helping hand to a struggling player looking to quickly reap a few quick AI kills to turn their fortunes around. Certain burn-cards could work well on smart glass apps too – for example, the burn card which gives you full unfettered access to the map, displaying locations of all player and CPU characters, would be much more useful to be fully displayed on a second screen, rather than just the cramped mini-map view which appears in a corner on the main screen.
What do you think would be good features for Respawn Entertainment to put into the Titanfall sequel? Let me know in the comments and I promise not to plagiarise them and claim them as original ideas of my own…promise 🙂 Absolutely no intellectual theft at all, don’t you worry about that, no sir-ee! 🙂