Last Friday, EA launched to some tumult a closed beta programme for its hotly-anticipated shooty-smashy mech-suit shooter Titanfall. But clearly that wasn’t a big enough party for them, so the beta has now gone public to all Xbox One owners and all PC players who registered, turning a quiet, invite-only get-together into a raging kegger that’s spilling out onto the street. The neighbours have issued noise complaints; police are on their way; quick, hide the heat-seeking pistols.
This isn’t a complete product. The code isn't final, only a few gametypes and maps are available - to the player, it's functionally a demo - and the servers aren’t completely reliable at this stage. Indeed, the primary purpose of this beta is to stress-test EA's servers in advance of the game's March 11 launch. So I won't go into too much depth yet, but my first impression is that Respawn Entertainment have created an exceptionally well-balanced multiplayer shooter that can be both twitchy and tactical simultaneously.
I’m not generally a fan of online shooters, but I admire the focus Respawn have put into Titanfall’s multiplayer. The hours that could have gone into a possibly lacklustre solo campaign have instead gone into packing Titanfall full of memorable emergent multiplayer gameplay and even innovation. Playing as a pilot (shootin' on the ground) or a Titan (shootin' in a mech) each brings its own pleasures, whether nimble verticality and speed or stompy destruction and robo-punching. Much thought has been put into inspired and unexpected balancing mechanics, like how ejecting from your doomed Titan lends you a brief vantage point from which to plan your escape (or revenge). On several occasions I've laughed out loud at the audacity of the gameplay - its freeflow nature means that sometimes it takes a moment to process just how rad that manoeuvre you just pulled off was.
Most hearteningly, despite coming from former developers of Call of Duty, the poster child for stale, empty multiplayer gaming, this game bears the unmistakeable piney scent of freshness. Titanfall takes frenetic shooting, Mirror’s Edge-style movement, hulking mech combat and intricate level design, and somehow rolls these familiar mechanics into a package that feels new. If the final product follows the smart trajectory this brief taste indicates it will, this game is going to be an enormous hit.
One thing I was surprised and somewhat chuffed to learn is that Titanfall runs on Valve’s venerable Source engine, making it one of the few big titles (and this is a huge title) other than Valve’s own games to use it. I have a weird affection for the Source engine. It’s like an old pair of jeans: they might not be the newest or most stylish clothing you’ve got, but they’re damned comfortable, you’ve had some great times in them, and worn right, can even look kinda sexy.
The Titanfall beta will run until at least February 19th - a day later than originally announced, as Respawn’s Vince Zampella says, “to make up for the down time” experienced at its launch. This is a canny marketing move, as everyone (myself included) is singing the game's praises, and if you open up the Origin in-game web browser while playing, it takes you straight to the full game's purchase page. Functionally a demo indeed.
At any rate, if you’re playing on PC and you see someone wallrunning like an idiot calling himself “entomocephalous”, that’s me. Let’s be friends! We can take long walks and smash giant robots together, together.