Why I won't be buying Titanfall
Or, why single player still matters.Published on: Thursday 20th March, 2014
Yet despite the hype, despite the push, and despite the marketing efforts, I won't be buying Titanfall. In fact, I have almost literally no interest in it whatsoever - and not just because it's another multiplayer oriented shooter. I loved the original Halo, and I've played my fair share of sci-fi games, but Titanfall turns me off in a way few other games have done before. Why?
Because there's no single player story mode.
I guess if you want to play online, that's fine. If all you do is boot up your Xbox every night and jump on with a load of buddies to be frustrated by some foul mouthed kids screaming at you down the headset, then Titanfall is all well and good. But I'm one of that rare breed of people who'd take a story and a well structured campaign over a multiplayer mode any of day of the week. I'm one of those people who'd prefer a single player, or co-op mode over a competitive online game where I spend all my time getting fragged by strangers who know all the tricks I don't, growing ever more frustrated in the process. And I'd hope I'm not one of a dying breed.
Of course, I have no idea how many people think in the same way I do. If you go by the coverage games receive online, you'd assume that I'm the only single player fan in the village, as next to no-one ever criticises the lack of single player in their reviews. Go ahead - head over to metacritic and take a look at a random selection of Titanfall reviews there. Count how many seriously criticise the lack of a single player mode in the text of the review. Count how many mark it down as a negative point in their summary. Last time I checked, I failed to find a single one. NowGamer even claimed it was a "sensible" decision to jettison the single player campaign in favour of the online only approach.
Yet for anyone who isn't the most hardcore of shooter fans, the lack of any offline mode is anything but "sensible". It's one of the worst decisions they could have made. To anyone beyond the ravenous shooter crowd, ditching the single player should set off the loudest of warning sirens, effectively hammering a board into their proverbial front garden saying "This game is not for you", because there are so many things that multiplayer modes - particularly those in shooters - get wrong. At a time where games are becoming more and more expensive, and it's becoming harder and harder for studios to make ends meet, the decision makes even less sense, because it's cutting a large chunk of people off. You'd think accessibility would be the single most important part of any game. Make it appeal to more people, and you'll sell it to more people. But Titanfall is a game that clearly couldn't care less about appealing to me - or anyone else who thinks similarly.
One of the main problems is that online is incredibly unbalanced, by virtue of its very nature. If you aren't there from day one, and you aren't playing it every single day, then kiss goodbye to actually surviving more than a few seconds, because if you fall behind, there's no clawing your way back. If you try and come in even a week after launch, you'll find yourself going up against the veterans, and you'll die, die and die some more, because they know the game so much better than you do. In most other games, if this happens, you can head off into the single player to get some experience - get used to the controls, learn each weapon's pros and cons - but in Titanfall? Nope. Even playing the tutorial requires an online connection - which is about as daft as Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare requiring an Xbox Live Gold account to play in split-screen. Offline.
Of course, most matchmaking systems can try to work around this, by pairing you up against players of a similar level - but it's a challenge that's almost impossible to do well. With any online game, you can only do the best with what you've got - and if that means adding someone who's played for 500 hours to a game with a bunch of noobs because it makes up the numbers, that's what the game will do. Never mind the fact that most online games - Titanfall included - stack the deck even further against the more casual players (read: the ones who don't play it every night) by rewarding the most experienced players with access to better weapons, better "load-outs", and perks, which improve your character in countless other ways. So not only will they know every level off by heart, not only will they know the best places to snipe you from, and not only will they have learnt all the tips and tricks, but the game will actually go out of its way to make the playing field as uneven as possible, by showering them with a range of perks you don't even have access to. All the better for killing you with. Sigh. While the "generation" system allows you to "rank up" to a higher level in exchange for ditching your unlocked skills and effectively starting from scratch, it still doesn't solve the problem of new players coming up against those who are much more experienced, and much better equipped.
And even while I might be able to weather the storm, and eventually pull myself up to the same sort of level as everyone else, I tend to play with a group of friends, of varying abilities, including some who are less than great at first person shooters generally. Initially, I thought this may not be a problem with Titanfall - after all, this is the "first true next-gen game", so surely I'd be able to play in split-screen, so I could take my other half online "under my wing". Nope.
So not only does this revolutionary, unanimously praised shooter have no offline campaign - it also has no way of letting you play together with someone in the same house. Despite running on what we're assured is a phenomenally powerful machine, despite the developers not having had to "waste time" on creating a single player mode, despite being a game that's all about the multiplayer, not a single thought has been given to adding a split-screen mode. And this makes literally no sense to me. After all, what's the point of shelling out £430 on a brand new machine if the games actually have less features than they did before? Halo has always had a split-screen mode, since day one. Even Halo 4 had a full split-screen campaign, and let you play online with a buddy in the same house. Yet Titanfall is a game that's been built as a showcase for the Xbox One, that should have left it free of the usual lack-of-split-screen excuse of "technological constraints" - but even with the infinite power of the cloud, we couldn't have a split-screen mode. Why?
And then there's the moral objection, too. Titanfall's own reliance on multiplayer puts it, and its buyers, in a bit of a quandary, because its very existence relies on having a large enough pool of players to keep it going. The less players there are, the crappier the experience will be for everybody - and, more worryingly, the quicker it'll be shut down. EA, the game's publisher, doesn't exactly have the world's best track record when it comes to online games. Shutting down servers for games on a regular basis - which cuts off their online aspects forever - several multiplayer heavy games have fallen by the wayside in recent years. So what'll happen when the axe falls on Titanfall? In three years time, everyone could be left with a game they'll never be able to go back to, because the servers have been switched off. Game over. It happened to us with Family Game Night, which we'd only recently bought to play along with a distant casual friend - but within a few months of our purchase, EA flipped the switch, and the online play was no more. No refunds, no explanations - just some guff about not enough people playing it, so screw you. And I'm not willing to let this happen again.
Yet the past few years have followed the dangerous path of making games ever more heavily reliant on these fleeting multiplayer modes that are here one day, and gone the next. Reviewers, ever inexplicably, have even gone so far as to criticise the crappy single player modes many shooters have come with, not because they need improving, but because they should be scrapped altogether so they can focus on the multiplayer mode. For years, every game that didn't have an online multiplayer mode was criticised for it - it became the de facto "negative point" in every review, and publishers, looking to games like Call of Duty saw that multiplayer modes could help keep their games "relevant", and started bolting them on to everything, no matter how redundant they were. We're looking at you, Damnation, Tomb Raider and Bioshock 2.
Yet seemingly, no-one's realised that there's a smaller market out there for these online shooters than you'd think. Time is precious, and Call of Duty, Battlefield, and now Titanfall will all share the same market. The more contenders step into the arena, the more time you're forced to spend on one game, staying on top, the fewer games you'll buy. The fewer games you buy, the harder it will be to keep the numbers up, the harder it'll be to have a decent new player experience, and the sooner the servers will be shut down, leaving the fans without access to the game they've paid for, through no fault of their own. I can't be the only one who goes back to old games on a fairly regular basis. But the way things are going, in a few years time, that simply won't be an option at all.
And that's a future I don't want to see happen. So with Titanfall, I'm making a stand. I won't buy a game that I don't have control over. I won't buy a game that can be switched off at a moment's notice, and become completely unplayable in the future.
Or, in a nutshell - no single player, no sale.