Titanfall hands-on: sharp, satisfying man vs. mech combat

Tom Senior at

The mechs in the demo came with several loadout choices. I favoured the mid-range assault mech. He’s got a giant machinegun on his right arm, and can throw out a magnetised claw to catch and throw back incoming projectiles. Other variants feature anti-mech cannons and a longer range rifle for mech pilots who prefer to stand at the back of a fight – which isn’t a bad idea. Titans are huge, stompy, and can rip the pilot out of an enemy mech’s chest in close combat, but they’re surprisingly fragile too. Every infantry class has an anti-Titan weapon they can use to pepper bots from rooftops. A lone human can land on your bot’s neck and start firing into your vital circuitry, and one Titan is often met immediately by another from the enemy team. A skirmish in the street can quickly turn into a multi-bot face-off that sucks in all players in the vicinity.

I was impressed by Titanfall’s capacity for sudden escalation of violence, and by the ease with which it carries action from speedy room clearance to heavy-duty rocketry. The emphasis on mobility and massive guns harks back to the spirit of Quake and Unreal Tournament, yet it felt a little constrained by the grounded, nearfuture setting and a desire to be taken seriously. Titanfall brackets its speedy skirmishes with story sequences that NPCs act out in the game world. My team’s battle, for instance, opened with a speech from a general in a Titan telling us about an enemy pilot who needed capturing. It felt oddly like I’d wandered into a living museum, and one of the employees had started roleplaying a grizzled veteran mech-pilot to add a bit of colour to the exhibit.

Titanfall’s storytelling did make the end of the battle interesting. When a match ends, a short epilogue starts, giving both teams a chance to grab some last-minute kills. Our defeated opponents had to flee to an escape-dropship while we hunted them down, hopping between buildings, dashing over rooftops and hitching rides on friendly mechs along the way. It felt great, but I wasn’t sure precisely why it was happening, and the fact that the battles are packed full of NPCs on both sides to add spectacle only added to the confusion. Titanfall looks like it’ll be fantastic for a quick, disorganised ruckus, but I’m still wondering if there’s any tactical meat behind all that mechanical carnage.