“Two outta three ain't bad” best describes Titanfall's debut map pack, Expedition. Set after the campaign's battle of Demeter, it sees the Milita scurrying off to frontier worlds with the IMC in hot pursuit.
War Games is the trio's best, taking place inside the virtual training simulator that kickstarts the campaign. It's almost meta map-making, fusing together existing architecture from levels like Angel City and linking them up in a sleek, Tron-like framework. Whereas other maps shoot for the illusion of reality, scrabbling to shoehorn in some contextual reason why a building planner would insist on so many curved walls, War Games
a videogame level.
Shimmering blue and orange holographic partitions raised ten feet of the ground don't make a lick of geographic sense, but they let skillful pilots perform long parkouring runs on their perfectly pitched lengths and bends. The fast flow of the level is such that War Games plays almost like a race track. Indeed, its glossy flat roads even loop into a circuit.
It's a different level entirely when you're in a Titan. For starters there's a deep red pit in the middle that can catch unwitting players off guard. At one point when I was being chased it was leveraged as a deadly cul-de-sac by my pursuers, forcing me to choose between a long fall or death by firing squad (I took the plunge to die with honour). The lack of either tall buildings or sharp elevation changes favour Titans, who can skate around without fear of rooftop ambush, but that's not to say there's an abundance of open space. Pilots under fire can duck into narrow alleyways and hide in buildings.
By taking place inside a simulator, War Games is a true one-off, managing to deviate from existing maps while slotting effortlessly into Titanfall fiction. Fresh pre-game inserts show your pilot popping down the lid of his pod and booting up the game as soldiers around him do likewise, and to hammer home the whole 'game within a game' thing, enemies disintegrate into fizzes of neon blue pixels.
Next is Swampland, a jungle biome given a distinct Avatar vibe by crumbling alien ruins, infringing human construction, and the dragon-like creatures swooping high above them. Stretching from caverns to canopy, Swampland towers over the other two vertically, with players able to dig combat knives into tree trunks and silently survey the battlefield below like Predator.
I found the Active Radar Pulse particularly useful in picking out pilots through the thick green undergrowth, especially when they break off from packs of roaming Minions and Spectres and start double jumping. Choosing a sniper rifle or bolting on an ACOG scope is recommended, unless you stick to the tighter alien ruins and sleek metal industrial complex. Stepping into the open here is unwise unless you're in a Titan. Towards the interior, awkwardly placed rocky outcrops limit movement, so it's advisable to head for the level's exterior where waterlogged open spaces let robots rumble.
Runoff is the smallest, weakest, ugliest map of the three, and one of the least creative maps in all of Titanfall, spread around a drainage ditch flanked by dull, rusted facilities and a mess of metallic tubing. Fall in this ditch as a Titan and it's impossible to escape unless you arduously make you way to either end. Its size makes it more suited to Last Titan Standing than Attrition, all games I played descending into the open-plan lower level where Titan-on-Titan circle-strafing is the name of the game.
The upper levels are made for pilots, where billboards and sky bridges connect three main buildings. These were clearly built to house Hardpoint Domination (crouching under the stairs while the timer counted down was a particularly useful trick). But plenty of maps in Titanfall provide Runoff's function already, and compared to both War Games and Swampland, it feels too familiar.
The classic optimism test about the glass being either half full or half empty might be easy to answer when that glass is a map pack and two out of the three maps are good (the metaphorical glass in that case would be two thirds full, duh), but not when you're paying $10/£8 for the privilege of drinking it. Add to that the complete lack of story content, or even a cursory nod towards the events of the campaign, and you have an over-expensive pick n' mechs.