Typically the sequel is bemoaned in the face of creating something brand new. We have a far more romantic notion of the creative process of building something from the ground up, and the possible challenges and rewards that can be achieved. But let’s be fair here, making a sequel isn’t easy either. Correctly identifying the things to grow and expand upon, and to develop something forward while also making it new again is incredibly difficulty for even the most established of franchises. To be completely fair, it’s never easy making something; it’s just with a sequel people might know the name of the thing you are working on.
Sometimes we get sequels like Mass Effect 2 which took the core of what Bioware was going for with the first game and reinvented it in incredible fashion. But then you can also get sequels like Titanfall 2, which just throws more of the same at you for the most part, and call it a day. But to be honest, I’m not being fair as well. Titanfall 2 does throw a lot more content at you, but at the same time does expand its borders a bit. There’s a campaign (new for the franchise) and a number of core changes to how the human-sized pilots and building-sized titan mechs engage each other. But after experimenting with both, I left Titanfall 2 not only feel underwhelmed, but also disappointed at how Respawn soured a good thing moving on from their strong entry debut.
Let’s start with the multiplayer, because that’s all the first Titanfall was back in 2014. It’s fairly familiar, with fairly familiar modes and fairly familiar goals. It's all very fun and fast, with great parkour abilities like running on walls and double jumping to bring it all together. Kill the most people and robots, capture the most flags and control points, level-up, equip new guns, and so on. But, well, more of it. Instead of one gun per weapon class, there are several now, and with this room Titanfall 2 can experiment a bit more so you get some cool weapons like a laser machinegun which can overheat, but for the most part it’s an armory you expect all video games to have. With the additional, and mostly enjoyable weapons it helps alleviate the boredom of the first game of using the same basic automatic assault rifle from level 1 to the cap.
But in other ways more isn’t always better. Respawn have gone and cut the customizable element of personalizing one of the three titan chassis, and instead they give you six different titans to pick. While it does give you a couple of perks for each to mess around with, I mean the customize options from the first game. Thought this means each titan is far more unique from the options you had in the previous game, but it does feel like something was lost in translation. If none of their weapons or abilities really stick with you holistically, which I found to be the case, you’re shit out of luck. I mean, it’s cool that I get to play a badass samurai mech who chops other robots up, but why do I have to get stuck with a borderline worthless dash ability and a short range shotgun? The more varied cast of titans are welcome, but I wish I could mix and match to get the best one for my playstyle.
On the note of titans, the core of what made the original Titanfall good was the push-and-pull nature of pilots versus titans. The odds were stacked up against you as the pilot, but if felt like you had plenty of options from sniping at long range with anti-titan weapons to hopping on top of them and unloading clips into their robot brains or whatever was a ton of fun and felt incredibly well-balanced. While on the other end if you managed your health and shielding as a titan, you could rip and tear into the enemies and feel anime as hell. But with a collection of changes on both sides of the conflict in Titanfall 2, their encounters against each other feel more limited and less interesting and epic.
Titans now lack shields and are far more disposable, making them feel more like a killstreak in a Call of Duty game than a Titanfall game. This is dangerous as the Titanfall franchise is already so closely mimicking Activision’s premiere shooter franchise, and now with Call of Duty going fully into space, it’s really hard tell the difference at a glance. Apart from the more sophisticated parkour elements that remain largely unchanged from the first game, Titanfall 2 introduces a largely unnecessary and confounding battery teamwork element.
This new system generally replaces the rodeo element of the first game, which allowed you as a soldier to hop on and blast a titan’s insides. All you do now really is steal a battery from a titan, which you can then take to one of your own friendly titans and rodeo them to install it, giving them a temporary shield. In a game that’s mostly a lonewolf shooter, this single element of teamwork is fundamentally misguided and lost on the average Titanfall 2 player. I’ve been playing this game for a while, and I’ve never once had anyone install a battery on my titan, or vice versa. If the standard shielding for titans and the cool riding on titans shooting their robot heart systems had to be sacrificed for this solitary element of teamplay, then it was absolutely not worth it and sums up my feelings on the multiplayer of Titanfall 2. Despite a cool thing here and there like the ability to throw a flaming shuriken or pilot a samurai robot, Titanfall 2 actually feels smaller and less interesting than the first game, despite there actually being more in it.
Speaking of more, Titanfall 2 is the first in the franchise to have a dedicated single-player element. I do want to take a moment and address that the first Titanfall wasn't a lesser game because it didn’t have a campaign, there just wasn’t much to its multiplayer. But now we have one, the results are about what one could expect from an average Call of Duty campaign. Of course there’s more parkour and more robots to pilot, but that’s because it’s a Titanfall game and that’s baked into it, but in terms of length and depth it will be about what you expect. Lots of setpieces, a level or two with a gameplay quirk, a morally predictable story, all supported by a small cast of depth-less and easily accessible characters.
Titanfall 2 has you taking the role of Militia rifleman Jack Cooper of a collective of frontier colonies who are trying take control from the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) because the colonies are good and the corporation is evil. After the invasion of the planet Typhon fails spectacularly, Jack is field promoted to pilot and linked with Vanguard class titan BT-7274 which is the first class of Militia-built titans installed with sophisticated AI cores. Together, Jack and BT-7274 must learn to work together to survive this hostile planet and complete the mysterious mission of BT’s former pilot. It’s a generic war/sci-fi story which carves out absolutely no new ground for the genre. BT is predictably a humorless robot and Jack is a dull military/snarky man depending on which of the few dialogue options you choose which have absolutely no impact on anything with no attempt of establishing the illusion of choice at all.
Apart from the normal shooty-bang-bang levels in your mech and otherwise, there’s a couple really great looking visual moments which usually involve you platforming. Levels twist and turn and transform in neat ways that are novel, but are gimmicky like even the best Call of Duty setpiece moments and never last longer past a single level. While these few sequences are a fun break from the shooting norm, they are so random and disjointed from the universe and world of Titanfall, giving the game a reckless and borderline incoherent pacing, pulling me one way and then other so fiercely I felt like I had a bad case of video game whiplash while playing through the campaign. But despite an impressively boring story and random as hell pacing, Titanfall 2’s campaign is simple enjoyment and easy on the brain like most Call of Duty-esque shooter campaigns. It’s a nice bullet point on the box, but I don’t see why I would ever revisit it.
From a production point, Titanfall 2 is all over the place. The set piece moments of its campaign definitely look great, but the average bar of quality is pretty much set to average for most everything else. Other big budget games like Call of Duty and Halo always manage to make even the most mundane looking and playing levels look like a million bucks, and in this regard Titanfall 2 looks last-gen with regards to its pedestrian science fiction look and texture quality. This is escalated in its multiplayer, with after having playing its maps for many hours, I often have a hard time telling them apart from the color of the space grass or dirt you are murdering on. Hey, when a major aesthetic of your art style is pre-fabricated buildings, what do you really expected?
Despite feeling pretty down on just about every single change made in its multiplayer design and balance, I uninstalled Titanfall 2 from my Xbox One with the general emotion of indifference. The campaign definitely has its moments, but they are just that, single sequences that disappear at the end of it the level, coming and going borderline randomly. Not to mention that it’s incredibly short, with a weak production and story to back it all up, being somewhere between the campaigns of the unremarkable amusement of Call of Duty: Ghosts and ambitious yet critically flawed Black Ops 2 in terms of overall quality. I had a generally good time with the first Titanfall despite its simplicity, but a lot feels missing despite the larger scale and additional content in Titanfall 2. To the point even where I kinda miss the more straightforward and fun original game.
THREE OUT OF FIVE
(A balanced game that has a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, meaning that it alternates between being good and bad in mostly equal measure.)