This article contains spoilers for Titanfall 2.
When Titanfall 2 was announced to be having a single-player campaign with cool, industrial looking Mechs and swords, I was in. Respawn Entertainment's previous entry into the franchise was a refreshing take on the usual FPS genre. But without a proper campaign, the game's world never felt fully fleshed out. When I finally picked up Titanfall 2, I never expected it to surprise me in the way that it did. Respawn Entertainment's futuristic FPS subverts genre conventions, introduces new mechanics at a fast pace, and throws those ideas out for new ones even faster.
This all begins with you taking the role of a man with the most boring name in the known universe: Jack Cooper. The first story mission has you running through a simulation called "The Pilot's Gauntlet." Serving as both a tutorial and a speedrunning challenge, the gauntlet introduces players to Titanfall 2's dynamic traversal on foot. You don't simply sprint around rooms, you can wallrun, slide on your knees Vanquish-style and also do flying air dropkicks.
"The Pilot's Gauntlet" incentivizes learning how to play Titanfall 2 by putting your time onto a leaderboard. After that, the story kicks off in earnest. This repeatable challenge not only gets players accustomed to mechanics that they might not be familiar with, but also makes them understand the pace of the game. This incentivizes players to get better and learn how to play before sending you headfirst into the story in earnest.
We're introduced to the other half of Titanfall 2's campaign: the giant robot BT-7274. The proceeding hours in the campaign lull you in, breaking up on-foot action with platforming challenges and Titan battles. After a slow few hours of introducing you to its mechanics, Titanfall 2 starts to get interesting. We no longer see killboxes as often: areas with massive waves of enemies coming at you. From then onwards, the game starts to get incredibly creative.
Starting off with "Into the Abyss" we see the game come into its own. Set in a factory which pieces together modular houses from their component parts, the player is expected to jaunt and wallrun from the walls and floors that make up these mass-produced homes. Your footing is never completely sure and you're constantly bouncing off of platforms—it's the first real test of your platforming skill. The game then forces you to adapt by putting firefights straight into these segments,beautifully blending the challenge of platforming with the skill of having to take down enemies around you.
The sense of scale and momentum you get from traversing through the large warehouses in "Into the Abyss" is immense. Having to take daring jumps with your terrain shifting around you and having to adapt quickly is the crux of this approach to the level's design. This flourish of platforming brilliance is something that we seldom see in FPS games, and is a welcome change to the usual run and gun affairs. However, once we get past this level, we seldom see this style of design in the game again and instead. It gets thrown away in lieu for another new approach.
'Effect and Cause' is the highlight of Titanfall 2's campaign, with the game introducing yet another way to play, by letting you time-travel at the press of a button. You can check out Patrick Klepek's interview with Jake Keating, Titanfall 2's senior designer here. The game continues to offer new mechanical ideas with other setpieces, such as empowering the player with a Smart Pistol or bouncing (literally) between flying transport ships with an elite squad. These moments offer something new, empower you as a player, and continue to keep the game fresh and dynamic throughout.
The fast pace of the on-foot sections is broken up with slower, intense Titan-on-Titan action. It's easy to forget the Titan battles that are wedged in the campaign, but the necessary change of pace serve as bookends and boss-fights for each chapter. The slower pace creates a claustrophobic, intense atmosphere as you face off against bosses and waves of enemy Titans. Titanfall 2 continues to keep changing itself up by giving us new weapon loadouts often enough to keep the gameplay fresh and new each time you venture out to twist some steel.
Titanfall 2's campaign always finds new ways of reinventing itself with mechanics that are introduced, mastered and replaced straight after you've beaten that particular mission. These individual mechanics could populate an entire game. Effect and Cause's time-travel mechanic could have easily been expanded on and made into its own unique game. And yet the developers of Titanfall 2's campaign choose not to, and replace it with something new.
This style of design is echoed in one of platforming's most iconic heroes: Mario. Titanfall 2's mechanical design directly mirrors that of Super Mario 3D world in the best ways possible: What we see is an introduction with a new way to play built straight on top of pre-established mechanics. New layers of design are carefully layered over the familiar. The level design can change around a simple power up or ability, and the games both keep on reinventing themselves outside of the mechanics that we're introduced to in their early stages.
This oozes confidence. Respawn know that they've delivered an excellent campaign by giving us one that doesn't abide to the generic conventions of a normal FPS. Out are the multitude of scripted setpieces, and in are new, original ideas that keep the gameplay fresh by always changing the rules. This of course has evoked comparisons to other FPS games that have not abided by the strict rules that most modern blockbusters abide by like Half Life 2. Titanfall 2's campaign is an example of how creativity can still triumph in a AAA Space which looks more and more homogenized with each year.
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