Respawn Entertainment's debut title won more than 60 awards when it was unveiled at E3 this year, and now that I've played it for the first time, I can see why. Titanfall remixes the familiar first-person shooter with elements from other game genres and, thanks to some meticulously balanced gameplay, delivers a cohesive and refreshingly original experience.
There are two main protagonist classes in the game: the agile and quick Pilots, equipped with Jump Jets to facilitate wall running and double jumps, and the titular Titans, which are slow and graceless, but pack devastating firepower. Those are then further differentiated on the basis of user loadout, with three sub-classes of Pilot and Titan diversifying your options. Switching between your Pilot and a Titan is a matter of calling in an airdrop of the massive mech and then leaping into it — the transition is beautifully smooth and keeps you entirely absorbed in the action.
The Titans are slow and graceless, but devastatingly powerfulEA's Gamescom booth allows players a chance to try the Attrition multiplayer mode, where a group of hostage rescuers squares off against a squad of uncooperative kidnappers. I took part as one of the base defenders, though frankly the action is so frenetic as to make it almost irrelevant which side you're on — the point is to kill the enemy and Titanfall offers a supremely satisfying variety of ways to do so. The Tactical Pilot gets a Smart Pistol that can shoot around corners, one of the Titan types has a Vortex Shield that can absorb bullets and then spit them back out, and there are of course a set of heavy anti-Titan weapons to balance the fight.
The beauty of Titanfall's gameplay is in just how well all this variety comes together. Spotting an enemy Titan feels suitably terrifying, but height obstacles keep them away from the covered-up areas of the map and out in the open. A pair of Titans can thus dominate the center of battle, but there's plenty of room for quick-witted Pilots to outmaneuver and take them down. Wall running, in particular, hasn't felt this good since I first experienced it in the Prince of Persia series. The only evidence of this being pre-alpha software is in the AI enemies, whose reactions appear slow and dimwitted.
I played Titanfall with both a keyboard and mouse combo and an Xbox controller. The old school PC controls still feel like the most natural way to direct a first-person game, though Xbox gamers won't lose too much in the transition to a gamepad. The keys are mapped intelligently and you adapt to either control scheme pretty quickly.
Titanfall will launch on PC, Xbox 360, and the Xbox One in 2014.