Gaming: Titanfall Alpha Impressions

If my mind could crap its pants, it would have. Titanfall is insurmountably badass.

I adore my PS4. I couldn't possibly be marginally happier with my decision to purchase the PS4 first this generation. I've put more hours of playtime into that console in two months than I did in all of 2013 on the previous generation's consoles combined. Clearly, I have a problem, number one, but, two: I love the PS4. Nothing will change that, but...

Titanfall is still insurmountably badass.

Let's get this out of the way. The game is ugly in its current state. The very first thing that clicked into my brain was, "Did someone's baby just projectile vomit saltine crackers and mud onto my TV?" In its current state, Titanfall is pretty damn ugly. In fact, to this day it is without question the worst looking next-gen title I've played. Contrary to the predictability of comments I will surely receive, this is not hyperbole.

Rayme Vinson at Respawn explicitly tweeted that the game is running at 25% of its texture resolution. It runs as smooth as White Castle through your colon at a hot and slithery 60 frames per second, but also looks just as appetizing. The moment I was waving my gun around, the excellent frame rate was stunningly apparent, and once I wall-jumped into an intersection jammed with punch swapping robots and overzealous soldiers, realized the absolute necessity of it. This game is organized chaos at its very finest.

However, Titanfall is a perfect example of a game in desperate need of not limiting itself to 720p. Now, wipe the foam off your mouths for a moment. Playing on a 50" 1080p TV with a mere 900,000 pixels of detail (720p) stretched to fill out 2 million (1080p) causes actual gameplay interference, especially for a game like Titanfall. For example, I'm trying to aim at a dude through a window with a giant computer module behind his head. The distance compounded by the low resolution and hectic gameplay causes my target to mesh into the noise of the background in a pixel shimmery mess of polygons.  This was an acceptable nuisance 5 years ago when this was the best we had for gaming. This should not be a thing anymore on $500 hardware. I beg you, Respawn, at least get to 900p and I'll get busy not getting shot in the face mysteriously from distant clusters of garbage you call a tree model.

I'll be awaiting the kneejerk hate mail.

Of course, I had certain expectations based on hype further triangulated by my harsh skepticism as a diehard PS4 supporter. I didn't do well the first few rounds. I loathe games like this­ where you're essentially just shooting dudes until the round is over. That's all Titanfall really is--the alpha, anyway. Regardless of my innate repulsion of simple deathmatch or domination style games, after a few rounds I found myself not only getting pretty damn good at it, but I was loving it. Needing it. Desiring it. Caressing the thought of it. Fascinating about it over a pee break when I had to give up the controller to my friend.

I can't spoil it just yet, so, I'm gonna break this down from the ground up...

Wall running and platforming is both intuitive and simply executed. It's freeing. There is a learning curve, mind you--there is a learning curve for the entirety of the game--but once you have it, you'll find yourself performing intricate vertical escalations and escapes you didn't even consciously put effort into.

And now, I will attempt to do justice to just how mindblowingly perfect the gameplay is balanced.

Every gun, every move, every perspective whether you're in a Titan or on foot, sniping from a distant roof, or cloak-killing an enemy, there wasn't a single gameplay element that felt tacked on or half-baked. There wasn't a playing style I felt I couldn't fully embrace if that's how I wanted to play. When I picked up the controller, I circled the outskirts of the maps trying to get the best perspective on my targets, slowly working my way inside in a spiral pattern. Then, when I saw an opportunity, I'd zero in from above, Predator style, and mow down a few unsuspecting ground runners, throw on a cloak and drop to the dust to clean up with some instant melee kills while each death of my fallen prey awarded shaved time before my Titanfall.

It took several rounds before it occurred to me that I wasn't picking up items or needing to run to an ammo crate or search for health... because there aren't any of these things. The balance of the game renders these menial tasks completely unnecessary, further highlighting just how focused Respawn is on delivering the least diluted, on-point gameplay possible.

Now, this is just on foot. I was already a kid at Disneyland in wide-eyed wonder with cotton candy stuck to his face... then I got in a f--king robot.

As a typical dude against dude shooter, Titanfall is already several steps ahead of Call of Duty or any other mainstream shooter, but then they have the wherewithal to give you a mech? How about the ability to punch fleeing soldiers into literal explosions of blood dust? Or tearing a pilot from the embrace of his own Titan and chucking him against a wall? Because you can do both of these things and so much more.

The Titans control impeccably. Dashing, firing, and punching are precise and carry appropriate weight that makes you truly feel like a hulking machine of death. Unlocking the advanced radar ability provided me with the God-like sensation of hunting down my prey and choosing exactly where I would lay my destruction and upon whom. Scouring my course for an enemy Titan lent me plenty of soldiers to explode via punches and missiles before my next robot boxing match.

This is where I encountered Titanfall's most tantalizing battle of wits. The Titans available to you in the alpha build come equipped with Super Magnet Fists, which is not the actual name, but should be. Collecting projectile fire from anything, human or death machine, in a cloud of potentially absolutely horrible embarrassment for your enemy is far more rewarding than I anticipated. Seeing it in E3 videos just doesn't at all do justice to how incredibly satisfying it is to instantly kill another Titan with a death cloud of his own shells that was once meant to end you.

You'll dodge and dance with your enemy. You'll try to fake and lead. Throughout this tactical robot boogie, you'll be carefully choosing only the right moments to mail out a rain of missiles or artillery fire, hoping your enemy isn't preparing to collect everything you so carefully timed right and throw it all back in your face. You'll get heated. You'll get carried away by the intensity until you've both succumbed to the black hole of the skirmish and find yourselves at each other's throats. Then you start cramming your fists into your opponent's chest until one of you is forced to eject--and that's you this time.

You fire out of the skull of your mechanical beast and little does your enemy know you've armed your Titan with a nuclear bomb that detonates in case of unfortunate circumstance just like this. He might have leveled your Titan, but you planted a bomb directly in his stupidly victorious face and you get to enjoy the view as you skydive back onto his corpse.

This is just scratching the surface. The rounds I played were littered with remarkable kills or awesome subtle events and touches that when stacked equal a nearly dizzying level of awesomeness. I saw a NPC dragging a downed soldier and exclaimed aloud to my friend, "What is he doing? Can you do that?" Once and only once, I managed to jump onto a Titan, tear open its brain and point blank ruin another player's day. In training, I locked onto three entirely separate targets and eliminated them all in one shot, although I befriended a future Uzi in the actual game and never got a chance to try this. I kicked guys in the stomach until they died. I cloaked and stalked a player for a full minute before rotating his neck 180 degrees. The list goes on and on and on.

And the sound design... oh, dear, me. Every little audio detail cuts through, swells, and cancels in all the right ways. Each noise and bang of the battle is like a symphony of explosive notes. It's more than just cinematic. It serves as tactical information for you to parse and decide where you need to be and where you shouldn't be. Even the epic music peaks only when it should. Not enough care goes into sound design these days. Respawn knows this. Respawn does it right. Oh, so right.

At the end of every battle, a victor is declared, but not before the defeated must escape on a dropship drawing every player into a frenetic pinpoint of chaos focused on one small fraction of the map. The winners seek hungrily to ruin the losers' last chance of sweetness while the defeated desperately attempt to inch their score just a little bit higher.

So, how about that measly 6 vs. 6 with NPCs? You can all shut up about it now. You'll be having far too much fun to care. Let me put it this way, the NPCs are a godsend for games like this. Titanfall addresses damn near every flaw that's plaguing modern day shooters. The inclusion of the A.I. players kills two birds. The pacing of mainstream shooters is horrendous and has been for years. If you don't spawn in the middle of an unfair situation, you spawn with some breathing room. But that breathing room can often mean a very long, eventless trek until a random nothing shoots you dead in a split second, only to start you back over again, learning nothing.

In Titanfall, there was always something to do. See some NPCs? Practice your aim while you run along a wall and jump onto a balcony, murdering a dude or two, or three, reinvigorating your sense of badassery as you make your way to your final target, while also increasing your score and overall skill. It's brilliant!

When you finally confront another player, no matter if he's in a Titan and you're on foot or you both are duking it out in the flesh, chances are, it can turn into a lengthy tactical exchange of smart decisions and split-second wrong ones. One life can last you minutes if you're competent. You won't have to camp to accomplish this either. Explore, take risks, jump on a Titan, whatever. The game doesn't punish your curiosity with atrociously low health bars leading to redundant anticlimactic skirmishes that bog down your growth as a player.

As far as raw gameplay goes, Titanfall is doing everything right. I do have some fears, however, for its longevity. Hopefully, Respawn has one epic Titanfall-specific game type that you just can't get anywhere else that throws another wrench in the gears of contemporary shooters. Deathmatch and domination are cool, but we've seen this before. I fear it could become stale. What else can Respawn give us that isn't just plain killing stuff until the round is over? True, you unlock more weapons and skills as you level up, but what else can they do besides new guns and abilities that will imbue us with a pride in our loadouts and Titans? I want to customize the look and feel of my Titan so that I become known to my enemies. I want to be feared for more than just the name above my head. I want my enemies to see my Titan in the distance and think, damn, that's the guy who's stomping the crap out of us.

Regrettably, I can't share every possible awesome detail with you, but I'll end with this: there is no other game out there right now that has given me a similar buzz of exhilaration. When hiding out in a busted old snack shop, heart racing, waiting for the next enemy to come sprinting through the door. I creep toward the street, but instead of an enemy pilot, a giant Titan is sent careening down the street, feet gashing dusty wounds into the road as it regains momentum and returns a punch into the second Titan that sent him there in the first place.

Your eyes will light up. Your mouth will go dry.

And this is just the alpha.

- preview by J.G. Barnes