Sometimes, developers really take feedback on board. While the original Titanfall turned a few heads, mostly thanks to it being a shooter that lets you pilot giant mechs, it never quite reached the potential the developers were hoping for. If you ask us, that was for two reasons. First, while the game did see a PC release, on console it was originally an Xbox One exclusive, launching in the early days of the machine, back when no-one was buying it because the focus was TV, TV, TV rather than games. But for us, the biggest thing that let Titanfall down was the fact it was only half a game. Launching as a stand-alone multiplayer mode - yet charging full whack - many were left somewhat less than enamoured with the lack of a decent story mode to sink their teeth into, as we explained at the time.
Luckily, though, for the game's sequel, the developers have taken fan feedback on board, adding a proper, substantial story mode on top of its already accomplished multiplayer offering, to make a much more rounded package - and a game that's a world away from the original.
Titanfall 2 is a first person shooter set in a sci-fi style universe, where a war has been taking place between two bitter factions - the militia (who are the good guys - yay!) and the IMC (who are the bad guys - boo!) While the game does feature a fancy intro cutscene, it doesn't really do the best job of setting up the story, or the universe the game takes place in, instead leaving you feeling a little bit lost. Admittedly, this did set a few alarm bells ringing at the time - after all, having skipped the story mode last time, it seemed entirely possible that the team at Respawn had simply tacked on a story mode to tick an extra box. Luckily, things quickly get a lot better.
You take on the role of Jack Cooper, a young chap who - like most young men - dreams of one day being able to strap himself into a giant mech, and rain down death and destruction on all around him. In the world of Titanfall, it turns out this is less of a wild dream, and more a legitimate career path that people can follow - and so Jack signs up for the militia in the hope of training to become a "pilot" - a special kind of soldier, who get to drive the giant mechs known as Titans. And he's soon flung into a trial by fire.
After a quick tutorial, you're brought back to reality with a bang, as an emergency alarm rings out throughout the ship, signalling that the IMC have begun an assault on a militia held planet - and it's up to you to save the day. Dragged out of training when you're only half way through, you're in no way ready to find yourself in the middle of a firefight - yet before too long, you'll be piloting your very own Titan like a pro.
Titanfall 2 is much more than a standard shooter though, and has some incredibly varied gameplay. Depending on whether you're setting out on foot, or piloting one of the Titan mechs, it can sometimes feel like you're playing two totally different games. On foot, your speed is your strong point, as you can scramble to reach ledges, double jump across huge distances, and wall-run, parkour style, as the game becomes mostly about exploration. When you're in a Titan, however, things become much slower paced, and much more destructive - although you'll still need to be strategic about how you proceed, especially when you come up against enemy Titans...
While most shooters funnel you from one room to another, clearing out baddies as you go, the levels in Titanfall 2 are one heck of a lot more open. From huge, expansive caverns to gigantic, twisting factories, this is anything but a corridor shooter - and at times, it actually feels a bit more like a platform adventure, as the game forces you to try and figure out where you're going, and how you get there by yourself.
Titanfall 2 makes a habit of never really giving you proper directions, and instead simply leaves you to explore your surroundings freely, looking for anything that might be a clue as to where you need to go next. What makes Titanfall even more surprising is that often, what you need to do is something that you'd get in trouble for doing on other games.
If you're in a factory, and you come to the edge of a walkway, with nothing but a vast void beneath you, it's not necessarily a sign you've gone the wrong way - instead, the game might actually be looking for you to jump down onto a giant pipe, and follow it round a corner. A dead end may only look like a dead end until you look up, down, or even back the way you came - sometimes, a hatch that looks out of reach is only out of reach until you've figured out how you need to approach it.
As mentioned above, when on foot, your speed is your strength, and game takes advantage by forcing you to make use of your free running skills. All you need to do is jump at a wall while running, and you'll set off on a wall run - if there's another wall nearby, you can keep leaping between the two to get yourself from A to B. With a tendency to provide you with some awkwardly placed beams, or bits of machinery jutting out over a bottomless pit of doom, you'll often have to make the most of your agility to leap from convenient poke-y out wall to handy platform. At times, it can really mess with your mind, as in any other shooter, you'd find yourself crashing into an invisible wall if you tried to go off the beaten path - yet that's exactly what Titanfall makes you do.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Titanfall game without the Titans, and these, too, are a breath of fresh air. Slow, hulking, and incredibly heavily armed, the gameplay in Titans becomes much more destructive, and much more strategic, as you smash everything around you with your immense firepower - and engage in a battle of the ridiculously oversized weaponry with other Titans.
When in your Titan, you'll be all but indestructible to enemies on the ground - small arm fire simply bounces off you, while your weapons are gigantic enough that a single shot is all it takes to explode even the toughest of troops. The only thing that really poses a substantial threat are the enemy Titans - and you'll find yourself duelling with plenty as you make your way through the game.
Luckily, you've got a variety of weapons at your disposal, and can switch between Titan loadouts at any time by pressing right on the d-pad. Most loadouts have some sort of projectile weapon as the main armament, although not all - one has a sword it can dash at you with. The secondary weapons are much more inventive, though, and provide a great way to mix things up in combat - the very first loadout you get has a secondary weapon that lets you deploy a giant shield, catching any bullets, rockets, or other projectiles that came your way, before letting you fire them back at your enemies.
As Titans are slow and hulking, you'll need to know your weapons, and how to make the best use of them - deploying shields when necessary, looking for gaps in your opponent's strategy, and saving your largest weapons until you know they're going to hit. You'll need to think about where you stand, too - as you're in a giant mech, it's all too easy to leave yourself exposed. Finding something solid to hide behind will let the building take most of the damage, while you use your higher up weapons to target your foe.
However, while there's a lot of cool stuff in Titanfall, there is one big problem - the whole game, from top to bottom, often feels very generic sci-fi, with nothing to speak of that makes it stand out. While the free running makes the gameplay unique, and the mech combat is good enough that it makes us realise how much we miss the old Mechwarrior games - and what we'd give to get another one - it's the universe, and the world of Titanfall that lets it down.
Unlike Halo, which set a new standard for catchy tunes in shooters, the music here mostly just blends into the background, the characters are generic and forgettable (bar their accents - it's not too often you get to hear South African make its way into a game). The story, too, never really gets going, yet alone gives you a reason to keep playing. And while there are a few moments where you'll stop to admire the view, much of Titanfall's world still comes under the heading of "generic military sci-fi", with too much in the way of boring grey structures, and only a few moments that feel genuinely creative. It's even more frustrating, as there are the odd moments of genuinely original, spectacular scenery, buildings and design - but they're few and far between. In a way, free running aside, the on foot sections end up feeling/looking a little bit too much like Killzone, or the PS3's much lambasted Haze - and if you've played either of those, you'll know that's not a good thing.
Still, what it may lack in story and art style, Titanfall 2 makes up in gameplay, mixing two very different styles together to great effect. The first person platforming sections are as inventive as they are enjoyable, and provide a total change of pace from any other first person shooter, while the Titan sections deliver all the strategic firepower you'd expect. Quite why the first game skimped on the story section is anyone's guess, as the team at Respawn have shown that the gameplay can make for an original, enjoyable mode that stands up against the best the industry has to offer - even if it isn't quite as immersive as its main Christmas competitor, Battlefield 1.
Still, as fun as the free running sections are, we'd still kill for a Titanfall game based entirely around mech combat. It's been too long since the last Mechwarrior game, and Titanfall 2 proves the basic gameplay still works. Hope you're listening, EA.