A diary of sorts, wherein I moonlight as a games writer. Under haphazard construction.
Falling in and out of Titans
April 12, 2014Posted by on
“Is it really a COD killer?”, he asked me, sounding almost fearful for the future of his favourite series.
“Well, I hope so!”, I replied, not quite realising the depth of my transgression.
COD isn’t for me, and I totally get that. So many words have been written about the obnoxious, adolescent malaise that has set in to the series since the subtitled sequels inexplicably started getting their own series numbers, that I don’t really feel the need to add to them further. When challenged with “What’s wrong with COD?” the answer should be “You tell me.”, by this point. Either they’ll think there is something, and they’ll probably be able to find it themselves, or they won’t, and you can just chalk that up to taste. If you religiously read Chris Ryan novels, went to see White House down, Zero Dark Thirty and Lone Survivor in 2013 and generally have a hardon for the military, then go, have a blast. There is nothing wrong with COD. Those games are for you. They are as finely crafted and precisely balanced as your favourite dubstep track. With the exception of the odd round of Counter-Strike every now and then, I, however, will be happy if I never have to pick up another virtual M4 or AK in my life. All the flag-waving and bro-gamer culture (sponsored by Mountain Dew) aside, even in more mature games like ARMA, Far Cry and STALKER the modern military tropes just feel played out to me, in much the same way that World War II shooters did in the mid 00’s. Far Cry 3 was enjoyable on the borderline, perhaps, thanks to the quality and diversity of absolutely everything else the game had to offer, but my historic preference for the likes of Unreal Tournament, Team Fortress 2, Tribes, Serious Sam, Borderlands, E.Y.E, Hawken, Planetside, Bulletstorm and so on, has now become overwhelming to the point of excluding almost anything else.
Titanfall feels like the final nail in the modern generation of “realistic” shooters’ coffins for me, proving that the sweet spot between the hardcore armywanks of COD, Battlefield and ARMA (in reverse order from most-army to most-wank), and the more stylised antics of Team Fortress and Borderlands, not only exists, but is a fantastic place to be. The campaign flirts with the lame, ham-acted camo-fetishism of COD, but in such a sci-fi way that it is almost entirely ignoreable. This applies to just about everything else too. You get the short, sharp, combat encounters that make modern military games so addictive and compelling, but they’re freed from the politics and the culture that is passed down the COD line by the change in pace and setting. The weapon lineup might be the most boringly generic ever to exist in a modern FPS, but the fact that you will deploy them whilst riding atop friendly walking tanks, or from rooftops you have dashed, jetted and wall-jumped up to, or whilst in the midst of constant, breathlessly dynamic movement, makes them feel focused and precise rather than limited or unambitious. The guns aren’t meant to be remarkable, here. Not like they are in Loadout or in TF2. They are the familiar foundations upon which the more interesting things are built. It makes it so easy to fall into. They may be unremarkable, but a whole generation used to twitching just a few degrees up or down to snap off headshits will have to learn how to use them in the extreme Z axis to lead targets way below them as they fly over their heads.
I hope this and Bungee’s upcoming Destiny are an indication of the way things are going. Taking the underlying core systems of tired series like COD and Halo, honed razor sharp through over half a decade of iteration, and then applying them to new settings with new ideas. I just hope they don’t fall for the same traps. Titanfall definitely shows the same fallibilities. Although Capture the Flag is continuing to prove exciting, after only a couple of weeks since launch, the straight deathmatch-oriented gametypes already feel like they’re wearing thin for me. Lots of people blamed this on the numbers of maps, but I’m not entirely sure whether this is the problem. If there were twice as many of the same style of tight, intense 10-minute arenas, wouldn’t you still start getting tired of them in just the same way? Tired of tight, intense 10-minute arenas?
Battlefield’s appeal for me, compared to the likes of COD at least, was that within the sprawling 64-player maps there were usually at least two or three areas which could almost have stood alone in smaller-scale games. Fighting not only in and around them, but outwards from them, and through the space between them, as the wider flow of the battle swirled you around, was what kept me playing more than anything else. Some nights you wouldn’t need to got near the construction yard, other nights you would do almost nothing else. Planetside 2 is absolutely wonderful for this very same reason.
Whilst all Titanfall’s maps are very finely crafted and distinct, the experience of playing on them feels much the same to me. CTF offers the most variety, with its mix of open Titan-fests and more enclosed pilot-focused environments (which I suppose is why I’ve gravitated naturally towards it more) but this is where we’re gonna fall out, and why DLC’s gonna have to offer more than simply more maps to keep me interested. The freedom of movement’s always going to be a delight, much as Mirror’s Edge’s or Tribes’ is, and were map tools released you could guarantee that there’d be a whole genre akin to the jump challenges and races of TF2, which removed combat entirely in place of testing players’ mastery of movement and flow. But the rest? Even if the world is further fleshed out, some diversity is introduced to the guns and the maps do explore more extreme locations (like the absolutely wonderful Boneyard, set in a giant monster graveyard with swooping pteradon-like things), I fear there won’t be enough done to shake up the core. It’s awesome that they’ve announced how any new gametypes will be free, but if they’re just variations of running around an arena then they won’t do it for me. Not when I’ve been so spoiled by the deep differences between TF2’s control points, attack and defend, king of the hill, payload and Mann vs Machine. I’d love to see something like Payload, or UT’s Assault introduced. Something with a drastically different shape to the maps. I might even be willing to pay for that.
For now, though, I’m just gonna keep playing it as it is. Maybe only for an hour a day (which still translates to half a dozen games or so) but long enough to get the rush without becoming desensitised. In Variety Pack mode, for sure, where I might not see my favourite maps or game modes shuffled in every night, leaving me something to come back for next time. These are the glory days after all, and I don’t want to rush through them too quickly. Before it gets stale, and falls into the rut of its predecessors, and I lose interest in the current generation of competitive multiplayer manshooting all over again. On that note, my favourite piece of criticism regarding Titanfall was Alec of RPS’ “The Way Back: Why Titanfall’s Got Me Multiplayin’ Again”.
The title’s as good an introduction as it needs, really, so if you’ve not already, you should go read that next.