Titanfall review: drop zone

From finishing off a rival Titan by ripping out its pilot, to detonating a Titan to destroy a squad of enemy soldiers, Titanfall is filled with numerous moments of sheer fun. Whether you're jumping on a Titan's back and shooting away at its battery like a mosquito sucking blood, or ripping the arms off a rival unit and beating it to death with them, there are so many OMG moments that, even after several hours of play, there's still little surprises to discover.

The focus on fun is evident in every aspect of Titanfall's design. Even basic traversal is engaging, with double-jumps and wall-runs allowing players to easily reach higher ground. Whereas infantry are agile, the titular Titans tower above other players, and it's easy to feel like a lumbering threat whenever jumping into the cockpit. Respawn has done a remarkable job conveying scale, but piloting is still accessible to anyone that's familiar with the core first-person controls. Their abilities are seemingly over-powered, with devastating firepower and a shield that can deflect enemy projectiles. However, there are numerous other abilities that make sure that neither soldiers nor Titans ever get too much of an upper hand.

Titanfall takes place in the distant future, where the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) and a rival militia are battling for control of the land. War has gone beyond simple ground combat; giant roving mechs called Titans are called in to turn the tides.

There isn't much of a story here, but it provides enough context for the killing. By incorporating elements of a traditional shooter campaign, developer Respawn Entertainment has created a more immersive experience with multiplayer, augmenting Call of Duty-style twitch gameplay with added weight. Individual matches feel like small narrative experiences: there's a clear beginning, middle, and end, as infantry battles evolve with the introduction of Titans, and the endgame introduces new objectives for both the winning and losing side.

Progression is also enhanced by Titanfall's minor narrative. In lieu of a traditional campaign, players learn more of the game's systems by leveling up. There's a staggering amount of unlockables, and the gating does a good job at slowly introducing new mechanics. For example, custom classes only unlock after level 5, while Burn Cards are introduced even later on. Like other top-tier multiplayer games, rookies are quickly rewarded and empowered, while veterans continue to discover new tactical options.

The 15 maps available at launch are sized just about perfectly, giving players ample room to run around and do some damage. While it may lack the scale of Battlefield 4's immense maps, the more intimate environment--and the inclusion of AI-powered NPCs--ensure you're not out of the action long. That's a good thing.

Titanfall also has several modes where you can jump into combat right away. Attrition is a deathmatch-style mode, giving teams numerous ways of turning the tide of battle. By running around in a Titan for a couple of minutes or laying waste to a group of AI minions with a few well-timed shotgun blasts, the ability to score points from a variety of activities regularly makes for engaging battles.

Other modes include the Last Titan Standing, where all players duke it out in Titans; Hardpoint, where players control specific objectives on a map; Capture the Flag, self-explanatory; Pilot Hunter, where players hunt down the main soldiers on an enemy team; and Variety Pack, which puts everything in a blender and mixes it together. No matter which mode you choose, you'll find plenty of action to go around--although Attrition is the most popular mode right now.

After playing through 40-plus matches over ten hours of play, I'm still digging to see what I can unlock as well as what I can do. And while there has been some concern about how smoothly the servers run, the problems since launch have been minimal, with the occasional "retrying connection" error. But even with the usual launch jitters, Respawn has reinvigorated the multiplayer experience by incorporating campaign elements, and focusing on fun. While the long-term enjoyment of competitive play will be tested over the coming months, Titanfall establishes a solid base--one that should be rewarding for those who invest in the game for a prolonged period of time. This is no "flash in the pan," and we're eager for more. [9]

This review is based on downloadable Xbox One code provided by the publisher. Titanfall is available now on Xbox One and PC for $59.99, and will release on Xbox 360 on March 25th. The game is rated M.