This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Titanfall.
Regular viewers are probably now snipping the heads off their topiary in surprise. "Yahtzee reviewing a multiplayer-only game?!" they cluck like farmyard hens. "But he's as comfortable with multiplayer as he is with a toddler in a waiting room with a fascination for the crotches of strange men!" Well, this may surprise you, but I've been making more of an effort to do the multiplayer thing lately, partly for therapeutic reasons. Dark Souls helped. That game feels like it's trying to wean you onto social interaction. First you find someone's note advising you to "be wary of fatty", then you hire stalwart fellows to help you out with a boss fight, none of whom have headset mics so close to their mouths that you feel like their every utterance is trying to beat your ears to death with racial epithets. The turning point came when I was invaded, but the attacker bowed upon seeing me, a gesture of recognition to mark a duel between equals. "You know what," I thought, "Maybe I don't need to be so afraid of people all the time." So while he was bowing, I ran up and stuck my halberd up his arse. "Maybe it's people who need to be afraid of me!"
But yes, Titanfall. The other reason I consider it important to review is that it's a multiplayer-only game selling at full price. Which meant Titanfall had dropped a few rungs into my shit pit even before it made me reinstall fucking Origin. The same price could easily buy you a game with solid single- and multiplayer, but it is the nature of AAA gaming nowadays to see how far it can push its luck! It's got less gameplay but we're charging full price anyway, because it's got very pretty blinky lights, and if you're very, very polite and deferential, then maybe we will give you permission to buy the game with your slimy peasant money and be amused by all the blinky lights. And by the way, we've already decided on your behalf that this game is going to be a hit, so look forward to seeing it on the side of the bus you step in front of in the inevitable, desperate attempt to end your miserable life. Sometimes I think the ideal games industry for these people would be one without any players at all, where they can just shake a jar full of of coins in front of a row of applauding monkeys and then go home with all the bananas.
Case in point: Titanfall's plot, which doesn't seem to exist for the benefit of anyone playing it. There's an evil authority with evil South African accents, and the heroic resistance, although they could have been ice cream men, for all I know. And during the campaign missions, while everyone's deathmatching away, a handful of named characters enact an ongoing radio drama over the airwaves. But it's like the instructions of pool attendants trying to be heard over a party of schoolchildren, splashing about in an orgy of screaming and urine. The moment I try paying attention to it is the moment I get hit over the head by a ten-year-old with a polystyrene floater. While the voiceover in the briefing lobby droned on about all the cool story they'd written for the next mission, I conducted a brief experiment by asking in the text chat if anyone knew what the fuck the plot was about. Most people said "nope," some people said "WAR" and then started quoting Edwin Starr lyrics, and one rather odd bloke asked me if I was Jewish.
The players are to the story what head lice is to an unpopular classmate. It's this big thing we're all scurrying about on top of, but we don't have much grasp of the concept otherwise, except that it moves around a lot and sometimes gets the steel comb out. "Oh, just ignore the story, Yahtzee." Should I? 'Cause this game is already pretty malnourished for full price and now you're telling me to additionally hack off a limb or two! Although I'm sure even with context, it's still as generic as one of the Dulux Neutrals range. You're soldiers running around a bunch of ruined buildings. We'll call that Magnolia White. Oh, but there's giant robots as well. Blimey, that's gotta take us all the way up to Barrister White, or perhaps even Quarter Ecru!
What you have here is a sort of two-level first-person shooter: First running freely about on foot in a rather appealing bunny-hoppy-rocket-jumpy Quake III Arena shooter kind of way, then after you've been knocked about a bit, you scream that you're going to come back with your big brother and summon a giant robot, which takes the level back to the current standard of shooters where you stomp slowly around, occasionally ducking behind things. But weirdly, I was actually having fun with it! I especially enjoyed killing the giant robots while on foot by ducking into a building, running up onto the roof, and firing rockets at its dumb head while it was shooting up the lobby. It was like playing a mecha Tom & Jerry.
Matchmaking is a bit arsed-up, though. Maybe it's Australia's abusive relationship with the internet, and the game's just taking the first server that doesn't run like a fat kid lashed to a plow. But for my first game, I was playing against anything up to level 40, all with better weapons than me! Maybe this is an aspirational thing. "Hey, you know that guy who's currently standing on your face and mockingly rubbing his gun barrel between your butt cheeks? Maybe some day you'll be as good as him and can get petty revenge against newbies like what you currently are! Not against him though, he just unlocked the LMG. Jeez, catch the fuck up."
In fact, you have to play through the campaign for the one side before you can do the other, so you can know for a fact that at first the other team will always be more experienced players. Admittedly, "campaign" might be too grand a word for ten five-minute deathmatches, continuing as prepared regardless of which side wins each battle. It's more like an amusement park ride, specifically the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios. Christopher Lloyd tells you that only you can save the world, but then you just get tossed about for a while and then everything gets resolved regardless of who paid attention and who fell out and was crushed to death in the mechanism. The difference being that the Back to the Future ride didn't charge you $80 to get on!
I've got other quibbles; the interface is a bit wobbly. I don't see why it doesn't let us select a loadout while in the lobby, only once the game has started by calling up a menu over the intro sequence and further ignoring the story. Are you just embarrassed by it? But while everything around it sort of blurs together like the placeholder plot and generic visual design, I found fun in those five-minute clusterfucks. A sense of great freedom from the movement and a sense of great satisfaction from bringing down an enemy mech or squishing the pilot 'neath my steel tread. But there's just too little of it for the price and too little context to make it more than a few fun shooty moments that barely touch the sides of the vast over-used vagina it occupies. Why should I play the same missions over and over to incrementally improve my ability to play the same missions over and over? A jewel-encrusted plate cover is lifted to reveal a single cannoli in the middle of a massive white platter. A tasty cannoli, it's true, and there are plenty of seconds to be had, but do you really want to eat it when it's perfectly proportioned for shoving up EA's arse!
- Titan your grip: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
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