‘If only you could talk to these creatures’, proclaimed the now infamous Edge review of the original Doom in an endearing and enduring daydream. It’s a sentiment that’s been mocked ever since, but they may have had a point – and at the very least it’s something that’s crossed the minds of Respawn as its worked on Titanfall 2’s single-player. The original proved with some style that wall-running, double-jumping and relishing in automated headshots via a smart pistol can make for an awful lot of fun, but what if you could talk to the Titans?
“We knew we wanted to have that connection between the pilot and the titan,” says producer Drew McCoy, fresh from demoing an extended look at the game’s single-player campaign. “At first it wasn’t working that well. Then someone said ‘what if you could speak to the titan?’ My first reaction was woah, no! But… It actually helps tremendously.”
Titanfall 2’s single-player, from what we’re shown of an early level of its campaign as well as one pulled from its halfway point, is full of surprises. This is an expansive campaign, given over to lots of variety as it weaves smaller set-pieces with open-ended arena battles that can be approached in various ways, all held together by the exemplary move set of the original game as you wall run and knee slide while tearing through enemies. It’s a campaign with quieter moments too, as you take on environmental traversal puzzles using that same move-set, light-footing from one wall to another as if you’re playing a first-person Sands of Time.
The biggest surprise of them all, though, is how you’re able to converse with the Titan you’re partnered with, being given occasional dialogue choices as you build your relationship with your new mech friend. For a game that inherits the hard edges and military fetishes of its spiritual forebear Call of Duty – the series on which many of Respawn cut their teeth – there’s an surprisingly soft centre to be found here.
In Titanfall 2 you play as Jack Cooper, a militia rifleman on the frontier whose ambition is to pilot his own mech, a dream that’s entertained surreptitiously by your superior Captain Lastimosa as he trains you on the sly. Soon you’re whisked off to a distant research planet as part of Operation Broadsword and – without wanting to spoil any of the well-telegraphed plot beats – you’re granted your own Titan sooner than you might have anticipated, and thrust into an initially uneasy alliance as you explore your beautifully alien surroundings.
Titanfall 2’s single-player feels fully formed, especially considering it’s Respawn’s first offline campaign – but somewhat less of a surprise given the studio’s heritage with the campaigns of the first two Modern Warfares, and the fact single-player was originally part of the plan for the first Titanfall. It was not at all like the Titanfall that shipped or this, says McCoy of the original prototype. It was heavily focussed on stealthier gameplay. It had double-jump, wall-running and the smart pistol – that’s where the smart pistol came from, that single-player prototype – but it wasn’t super focussed.
Cooper might be the set of eyes you see this adventure through, but it’s the giant mech BT-7274 – or simply BT to his friends – who’s the real star of Titanfall 2. There was always something loveable about the first game’s Titans – the way they’d scoop you up in their oversized hands before playfully gobbling you up as they bundled you into the command chair – and that’s been emphasised in the animations and mannerisms of BT. There are gentle dashes of humour thrown in too, such as BT mechanically listing the ways you might die should he fail in his attempt to hurl you across a gaping chasm, or the blank face of another mech lighting up with a sad emoticon when you wrestle a weapon out of their hands.
There’s more to Titanfall 2’s campaign than the story of a boy and his robot, of course, and it looks to do a pretty decent job of folding in the fundamentals of the original in a campaign that’s at pains to provide variety. A run through a factory populated by mechs is broken up by wall-runs spent jumping in-between electrified surfaces, while floor-fans help give you a little extra height as you jump to an otherwise unattainable ledge. The combat, meanwhile, takes in the abilities of Titanfall’s pilot (and the Titan themselves – when playing as them it looks like it’s possible to switch between loadouts) to make for combat that carries a little Far Cry flavour to it.
One skirmish in a well-populated outpost, set under a glorious sci-fi skybox, showcases Titanfall 2’s combat loop, and the various ways it can be spun. In this instance, the outpost is scouted from afar before a stealth cloak is activated and things get a little louder, our pilot athletically stalking the small arena as a small platoon is taken down. It looks great – those knee-runs bring to mind the exceptional Vanquish, which can only be a good thing – and it’s defined by a winning sense of style that can, it’s suggested, be tailored to your own tastes. “You can play it stealthy, you can go balls out or you can play as a sniper,” says McCoy. “There are options for how you play it, it’s about how comfortable you are with the weapons and the movement. Combat-wise there’s a lot of freedom.”
Titanfall 2’s campaign promises to be substantial, too, and not just a bolted-on extra – and in simple terms of length it’s set to be the measure of its competition. “Everyone plays at a different pace, but it’s the longest single-player game I’ve ever worked on,” says McCoy, whose experience at Infinity Ward took on the first two Modern Warfare games. “Well, I know it is, 100 per cent. It lends itself to having a longer session – it’s not 10-15 minute set-piece level after set-piece level.”
Titanfall’s multiplayer is already a proven commodity, and first impressions suggest its single-player will be equally assured, a smart appropriation of all that was good about the original in a campaign that’s generous and varied. There’s one important question that remains, though. Given the emotional bond that exists between Cooper and BT in Titanfall 2’s campaign, surely it’s inevitable that some horrible fate awaits the lovable mech?
“Well,” says McCoy as a small grin breaks out on his face, “you’ll have to play and tell us what you think…”