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Lost Masters is a series of articles that endeavours to take a fresh look at brilliant games that flew under the radar at the time of their release. This month Gaming Editor Andrew Carroll looks at Titanfall 2.
Giant robots and interstellar wars should be a winning combination. They should allow for great games with rich stories that dive deep into complex themes of politics, nationhood, technology and identity. But games have mostly ignored the rich vein that the mecha genre provides in favour of a more simplified approach to sci-fi shooters. Which is why a relatively small, short and very much ignored game like Titanfall 2 stands head and shoulders above most other shooters.
The first Titanfall was a multiplayer-only game released in 2014. There was barely a story and no plot to drive it but there was the bones of one and the game had its fans. EA unbelievably green lit a sequel. Titanfall 2 came out in 2016 and blew critics, as well as the few gamers that played it, away. But it was released alongside Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare so it under-performed and has only recently gotten a second wind thanks to its battle royale spin-off Apex Legends.
Titanfall 2 is set on a stormy planet called Typhon. The player character, Jack Cooper, is a lowly Rifleman with the rebellious Militia. He has aspirations of becoming a Pilot of a Titan and, when his mentor is killed, Cooper must take the fight to the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) to prevent them using a super-weapon to finish off the beleaguered Militia. Aiding him in this fight is his newly acquired Titan BT-7274, BT to his friends.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare came out around the same time as Titanfall 2. The two games, on a surface level at least, are quite similar. They are on a par with each other graphically and they both revolve around interstellar conflict. The difference is in Infinite Warfare you play as the capitalist superpower trying to put down the supposedly fascist rebels. In Titanfall 2 the roles are reversed though the Militia aren’t fascists led by an immersion breaking Kit Harrington. Although the wall-running, jet-assisted jumping and other sci-fi trappings are shared by both games Titanfall 2 had one thing Infinite Warfare never did: Big. Fucking. Robots.
The eponymous Titans are huge, bipedal machines. They are avatars of man’s greatest cruelties and symbolic of our hope for salvation. They wield massive swords, catch bullets in magnetic fields and crush foot soldiers beneath them like ants. They might be killing machines but they are not without personality. At least BT isn’t. BT talks admirably about a weapon near the beginning of the game. Cooper says he sounds like he’s in love. BT confirms that he is “50% in love.” It’s exchanges like these alongside the dialogue options given to Cooper that give the game its buddy cop feel.
Other characters appear rarely as either allies in battle or as exposition delivery machines. The only consistent characters besides Cooper, BT and Militia Commander Sarah Briggs are the Apex Predators. They function as bosses essentially but thanks to the early retrieval of a Predator’s radio Cooper can listen in on their comms.
There’s drug addict Kane. Sadistic cyborg Ash. Stoic German Richter. The agile, airborne Viper. Second-in-command Slone. Leading them is the workmanlike Kuben Blisk. They’re mostly thinly drawn sketches but it was never the characters that gave Titanfall 2 it’s personality.
Titanfall 2 has some of the best level design I’ve ever seen in a modern shooter. It’s opening levels are mostly tropical gauntlets designed around having you master both Cooper and BT. Later levels are where Titanfall 2 comes into its own. A journey through an automated production facility has Cooper hopping from prefabricated houses to fighting off robots in a mock-up town. It makes CoD’s famous Nuketown look like child’s play. Titanfall 2’s crowning moment in the single player campaign is when Cooper and BT find Major Anderson.
For the first half of the game the mission is to rendezvous with Major Anderson deep in enemy territory. When Cooper finds Anderson the Major’s body is stuck in the ceiling. A malfunctioning time warp gadget put him there. Retrieving it Cooper must make his way through both the destroyed facility in the present and the functioning one in the past. It takes everything Titanfall 2 does well – shooting and platforming – and doubles down on it with a time travel twist. Other levels have you racing along the sides of low orbit star ships and raiding an enemy base alongside an army of Titans.
As good as the single player campaign is it was never going to be the thing that kept players coming back to Titanfall 2. So Respawn Entertainment brought back the loved, if slim, multiplayer from the first game only this time it was juiced up with Call of Duty level customisation, more Titans and bigger maps. The typical Titanfall 2 game takes about 15 minutes. Everyone starts off as a pilot before the Titans start dropping from the sky. Playing Titanfall 2’s more popular modes like Attrition and Bounty are pure dopamine rushes.
Both of the above modes introduce bots into the mix. As the AI controlled enemies and allies shoot anything that moves the pilots hunt each other down before initiating heavy metal grudge matches once Titanfall is available. Much like the Battlefield games Titanfall 2 comes the closest to how its trailers represented it. Anyone that’s good at Call of Duty can be good at Titanfall. The point-and-shoot formula is successful for a reason after all. Titanfall 2 requires that extra bit of tactical know-how and hand-eye coordination. It takes some getting used to but within a few games you’ll be zipping over moving Titans or throwing steel-shod punches in a twenty-five foot mech with the best of them.
Titanfall 2 is about as close to a perfect FPS as you can get, doubly impressive considering the game will be three this year. It’s one of those rare moments where a battle royale is in the headlines for something good they did. So thanks Apex Legends. You’re pretty good but you’re not Big Fucking Robot good.