The original Titanfall was a great concept in search of a game. It was a shooter with all the chaos and polish of a modern military FPS, but unshackled from any semblance of reality given the presence of giant mech-style Titans. The game should have been a slam dunk, but its forward-thinking gameplay was stuck servicing the same boring multiplayer modes one can find in dozens of other shooters. Worst of all, this was all it had to offer.
Titanfall 2’s multiplayer doesn’t reinvent the wheel either. There are a few small sigs of innovation, like a “Happy Hour” where XP gains are increased, and Bounty Hunt mode, which allows players to earn cash for killing A.I. enemies and other players to kill each other and steal the cash for themselves. For the most part, though, Titanfall 2’s multiplayer still comes down to the same old song and dance as you run around sparse, industrial wastelands shooting up mechs. The modes included are serviceable but uninspiring, two words that under no circumstances should be applied to Titanfall 2’s shockingly brilliant single-player campaign.
The original Titanfall did have a running story of sorts, about a homesteader militia at war with an invading military force on the frontier of space, the IMC, looking to mine their resources, and it was so perfunctory as to be virtually nonexistent. The conflict from the first game continues in its sequel, but this time laser-focused on one Titan pilot-in-training named Cooper. After his commanding officer is killed during a special assignment on an IMC-controlled planet, Cooper is transferred control of a Titan, BT-7274, and ordered to finish the mission by any and all means.
On paper, the mission itself is predictable (a planet-destroying superweapon has been developed and must be destroyed), but the path getting there is anything but. Much of the single-player experience is held aloft by the relationship between Cooper and BT-7274. The two must bond in order to be effective in combat, and they share a constant dialogue throughout every peril. Cooper’s side of the conversation is selectable during gameplay, and while the choices of dialogue are binary, it’s still utilized extremely well, creating a surprisingly genuine friendship between the two over the course of the campaign that makes even the game’s rare sloggish moments breeze by.
That would mean little if the gameplay wasn’t as strong as it is, and divorced from the need to make flat maps for a dozen players to stomp around on, Titanfall 2’s single-player levels are delirious in their verticality and spectacle. Sections where Cooper must exit BT-7274 to run, jump, slide, and stealth his way to his next goal are heart-pounding affairs that have more in common with Mirror’s Edge or Super Mario Galaxy than, say, a Call of Duty title. The game almost feels like it’s making a point to shove players away from the cover-based gameplay of most modern shooters, forcing us to get moving around the battlefield, even if it’s just to run to the exit. No longer just a way to stylishly kill time until a Titan drops in, the on-foot parkour-infused combat comes into its own here as its own super-slick thing, with each stage offering something new that players haven’t seen before, with one particular stage’s killer app managing to outdo Portal in the ingenuity department.
Once Cooper’s back inside BT-7274, things slow down, but the original roster of three mech variants has been expanded to a far more diverse and dangerous roster of nine, including a mech that fires grenades and napalm at enemies, one that deals in Iron Man-style lasers, and probably the most fun of the newbies, a mech that carries a mega-sized shotgun with a samurai sword. A rogue’s gallery of mercenaries has also been sent by the IMC to take out BT-7274 and Cooper, and far from the overblown melodrama of the first game’s paltry narrative, the new villains, who effectively act as the game’s bosses, are smirking, scenery-chewing caricatures, from their wild-haired, Mad Max-inspired Australian leader, to a blatant Arnold Schwarzenegger rip-off, complete with his own riff on “Get to the choppa!” These bosses actually demonstrate the mech variants before Cooper is able to find and equip them, which actually makes for a game that never stops teaching you, and does it in a way that doesn’t trip up the game’s momentum.
Granted, it’s all training for the multiplayer, and much of what’s fun and unique about the single-player campaign falls to the wayside once you go online, in favor of the twitch reflexes that make Call of Duty’s multiplayer inaccessible to anyone who isn’t practicing 12 hours a day. The single-player experience is short, maybe about five hours, and yet it’s there where players can mess around with physics, stomp on hordes of angry ground soldiers, get launched like the world’s most dangerous fastball into enemy territory, use parkour across a massive obstacle course while it’s still being built. There’s a few games that compete with Titanfall 2 as a vehicle for multiplayer chaos, but there’s nothing out there like its single-player campaign.