Respawn Entertainment has been in the news for all the right reasons of late. From shadow dropping a AAA battle royale, saving EA’s hide with the Star Wars license to even winning an Academy Award, the studio can’t seem to do anything wrong. Some might say it was always going to be, given the talent behind company founders Vince Zampella and Jason West, but starting a new studio having left Call of Duty behind isn’t a guaranteed easy ride. Case in point, Titanfall.
Ah Titanfall. One of my favourite shooters of the past generation, a game so epic and original it really did shake the foundations of first-person shooters as we knew them. To see it back in the spotlight thanks to a host of new references and story beats in Apex Legends’ latest season brings a tear this writer’s eye, yet there’s still so many who have yet to experience the original exhilarating multiplayer or the compelling campaign of its sequel. With that in mind, let’s dive back into both titles in the franchise and maybe shed a little light on this sadly overshadowed IP.
Announced as an exclusive for Xbox One, the first Titanfall certainly had plenty of positive reviews, strong player numbers and decent sales results. First impressions were strong, a competitive multiplayer shooter that combined traditional Call of Duty style combat, unique wall-running mechanics and of course, giant weaponised mechs. All that wrapped in an intriguing narrative bow of the Titan Wars, two competing factions for resources across the vast region of known space known as the Frontier.
March 11, 2014
The trick to Titanfall was balance. In a standard game of Hardpoint Domination, two teams begin as their chosen Titan Pilots and fight for control using whatever weapons they begin with. Eliminating enemy pilots would help reduce the cooldown to drop your Titan onto the battlefield with a satisfying ‘standby for Titanfall’ voiceover. Time it right and you could change the course of the fight or provide important support for a retreat. Or, you know, just have fun blowing stuff up.
And fun it was. Witnessing a Titan drop onto the battlefield is one of the most exhilarating experiences of any game to date, the closest to witnessing an anime in real life. It kept me coming back repeatedly, crashing Titans on top of helpless Pilots and wall running around like a maniac with a tasty shotgun in hand. Luck willing, you could drop into a Titan more than once during a game, but every round always played out differently and there were always moments where the enemy team always got the upper hand leaving you with a lack of friendly Titans to play with.
Another unique element to Titanfall was the end of round evacuations. Be on the losing side once a score limit is reached and you have a chance to escape total elimination to a nearby dropship. It added another layer to each round, hunting down a fleeing pilot or evading capture to gain a little bonus XP for your trouble. The match didn’t just end to a score screen, making you feel more involved within the war around you.
Of the remaining game modes, Last Titan Standing was a personal favourite, not least of which because it allowed some extra time within the hulking machines from the get-go. The absolute chaos that ensued as multiple Titans faced off at the start of each round was glorious and unlike the usual capture or deathmatch mechanics, there was a greater chance for survival depending on your loadout or chosen Titan class.
Speaking of, Titans on offer for the first game in the series provided plenty of variety. From the cover star Atlas Titan that provided a good all-rounder of brute strength and decent speed, to the lightweight Stryder with vastly superior agility. Each one could be equipped with a variety of weapons and defensive capabilities, much like your chosen Pilot, and could be upgraded over time through several unlocks. Pilots also came equipped with anti-Titan weapons, giving those struggling on the ground another chance to fight back and even the playing field.
Its combat was second to none, its multiplayer fast and entertaining, but a lot of fans (myself included) were eager to discover more about the world around the experience of battle itself. One of the biggest complaints levelled at the original release was a lack of a true single player campaign, instead Titanfall shipped with a handful of the same maps from the multiplayer modes paired with AI enemies and a little extra voiceover work to fill in the narrative gaps. It didn’t take long to complete and left a lot to be desired compared to the rest of the package. Luckily, it wouldn’t take long for Respawn to fix its biggest flaw.
To be fair, Titanfall was a general success, selling over 10 million copies across both Xbox and Windows PC, so it didn’t come as too much of a surprise when EA greenlit Titanfall 2. Here, Respawn had a chance to both expand the world within the Frontier with a completely original campaign mode, but also increase the reach of the brand to PlayStation owners. That didn’t exactly pan out as planned (more on that in a moment), but when Titanfall 2 did eventually release in late 2016 all eyes were on the vastly superior single player mode.
Where as Titanfall focused on setting up the conflict between the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation and the Frontier Militia, the sequel focused in on a specific part of the fight with an unknown Militia rifleman in Jack Cooper (voiced by Matthew Mercer of Critical Role fame). Cooper is tasked with taking up his Captain and mentor’s mission when an attack on an IMC-held planet goes wrong.
It’s the bond with the Vanguard Titan BT-7274, more lovingly called BT, that forms the emotional backbone of the story. The two form an unlikely partnership as you play both Pilot and Titan through-out several large, linear levels to thwart the IMC’s plans, and the growing level of trust between the two across each mission plus BT’s humorous quips that help to evolve the franchise from ‘just another shooter’ into something far greater. If you don’t feel something for BT by the end of the story, you’re colder than an IMC trooper.
And then there’s “Effect and Cause”. Considered by many to be Titanfall 2’s best mission, your task is simple enough: track down a deadly weapon the IMC are hoping to use to turn the war in their favour. Unlike the rather simple ‘shoot the enemy, wall-run, fight with a mech’ mechanics up to this point in the story, “Effect and Cause” introduces a time-travel anomaly that has you jumping between an abandoned military base and its bustling, enemy filled past iteration.
Over the course of the level, you jump back and forth through time in order to both skip past malfunctioning robots and the overgrown wildlife in the present, then avoid enemy fire and security gates in the past, both within an instant of pressing the required button to hop between time periods. It’s so easy to exclaim how engaging, well thought out and fun “Effect and Cause” is, but ultimately the best way to experience it is to play it yourself.
Titanfall 2 did everything Respawn promised but didn’t quite deliver on the first time around, greatly expanding the lore that fans craved and doubling down on the best parts of the multiplayer experience. Sadly, those good intentions were dwarfed by poor sales numbers, its first week results but a quarter of the original Titanfall in comparison. Maybe it was bad luck, but it certainly did not help that Titanfall 2’s October 2016 release was sandwiched between both Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, two of the biggest releases that year that hit store shelves just days apart from each other.
Those stumbling blocks, and EA’s eventual purchase of Respawn in 2018, left a third game in the series hanging in the balance. Apex Legends, the free-to-play battle royale spun off from the Titanfall universe but lacking in the Titan battles and wall-running mechanics of the previous games, released out of the blue a year later and many considered it a chance for the series to breath anew. But in answering the breakout success of Epic Games’ Fortnite juggernaut, surpassing 25 million players by the end of its first week, it soon became clear that Apex Legends wasn’t going to be the return to Titanfall that fans hoped it would be. Apex had usurped its inspiration, and the Titans of old were left behind.
That’s not to say we may never see a true Titanfall sequel in the future but, given the now 100 million strong player-base of Apex, it’s getting increasingly harder to see Titanfall 3 ever truly coming to fruition. Thankfully, the legacy does somewhat live on, with Apex Season 9 introducing Valkyrie and kickstarting a whole new round of interest in the existing world of Titans and Pilots in the process. But a sequel still feels like a pipe dream, and that’s a damn shame.
The fact that Titanfall continues to get talked about years later, jumping back into the forefront of the gaming community thanks to a re-release on Steam and a recent FPS boost mode on Xbox Series X, just goes to show how well respected and revered the series still is. Despite all the corporate hubbub and the misfortunate results of the sequel, Titanfall remains a gem amongst the crowded FPS world, and there’s no better time than now to jump back into a Titan and experience the fall onto the battlefield for yourself.
Titanfall is a series of video games that mainly feature first-person shooter games. The series was created by Respawn Entertainment and debuted as an Xbox exclusive; it has expanded to other consoles and platforms