You can also tweak your experience with 'burn cards', disposable unlocks that allow you to access certain bonuses for one life only. They scale in power with rarity - the most basic allow you temporary access to weapons you haven't unlocked yet, and the most advanced grant you instant titans, reveal all enemies on your minimap, or grant you a permanent cloak when you stop shooting. Burn cards could have been a hook for some truly awful monetisation, but thankfully that's not the case. They are dished out with such frequency that after a few hours of play I never entered a match with anything less than a full set.
There are 14 maps. The majority offer a mixture of open and urban environments - the former being the preserve of titans, the latter offering cover to on-foot pilots. One map, set in a prison, links open courtyards with sweeping internal roadways at multiple levels of elevation, giving titans rare access to the game's vertical dimension. Another, a smuggling outpost, mixes complicated nests of buildings with a wide-open bay area where titans can spar with each other in the shallow water.
Almost all of the maps succeed at feeling like real places. Interiors are littered with detritus - bookshelves, upended tables, pots and pans, scattered papers - that make them look as if they have been abandoned in a hurry. Each map has a distinct palette, and there's a level of design skill evident in their buildings and backdrops that creates a feeling of occupying a piece of well-constructed, if familiar, sci-fi concept art.
Texture quality and character detail both fall below modern standards when viewed up close, but they are compensated by unfaltering 60 frames per second at 1080p and phenomenal animation. Titanfall looks much better in motion than it does in screenshots, and again this is down to the small details. Titans in particular are more expressive and human than the mechs you might be used to. They brace against damage, lean into sprints, and dismember each other in a variety of colourful ways. Even an action as simple as reloading a chaingun is rendered with care and attention to detail.
The vast majority of your time with the game is spent in traditional multiplayer, which is divided into five modes. Minions, hackable turrets and titans are common to all five, but one of them - Last Titan Standing - is remarkable for working more like World of Tanks than regular Titanfall. Each player spawns inside their custom mech, and whichever team is able to destroy all of the enemy's titans is the winner. This turns Titanfall into a class-based vehicle game of sorts, where interactions between titan abilities become more important than they are in other modes.
Those others include Attrition, where kills against minions, titans and players are added up into an overall score for each team, and Hardpoint Domination, where teams fight over capture point scattered over the map. Capture The Flag is included without many changes to the formula, but feels considerably revitalised by Titanfall's new ideas. The weak link in the set is Pilot Hunter, a team deathmatch mode where only kills against players count towards each team's score. It's fine on paper, but in practice it's the only mode where you're really conscious of the fact that there are only six players on the enemy team. Whenever I found myself unsure about what to do, I was playing Pilot Hunter.
Then there's the campaign. It is, functionally, a narrative strung out across nine multiplayer missions that alternate between Hardpoint Domination and Attrition mode. Beyond narrative context provided by introductory intro and outro sequences, these missions play much like any other match.
This is not a substitute for a singleplayer campaign, but it is a novel alternative. The scale of some of these introductory sequences is impressive - one team might land in dropships while other receives a briefing underground, or warp in from a space battle in orbit, or crashland and have to storm into the map proper via its external defences. The game gets its Call of Duty-style scripted sequences, but crams them into an economical slice of time before the match proper. This is a smart refocusing of the genre onto its key strengths. That said, there are players who will miss having something to play while they're offline, and who will be frustrated by the way Titanfall casts you as an anonymous soldier in a story that is played out in voiceover by characters you're never personally involved with. It's also a shame that the campaign doesn't branch in any meaningful way based on who wins or loses.
If Titanfall had been released 15 years ago, I suspect we'd be talking about it today in the same hushed tones reserved for Tribes 2 or Team Fortress 2. This game is every bit good enough, moment-to-moment, to be a part of that legacy. Its weaknesses are not a product of its design, but its structure: where the former is characterised by admirable restraint, the latter is held back by lamentable restrictions.
The notion of the shooter as an MMOish 'service' manifests in ugly ways. There's no LAN or offline support of any kind. You can form a party with your friends and queue for games, but you can't create your own private lobbies or dedicated servers. You can't even queue to play a specific map on a specific gamemode - you can choose to play Capture The Flag, for example, but you've got no say on where you end up doing it.
It is also extremely expensive for a modern PC game - £45/$60, plus a forthcoming £20/$25 season pass if you wish to keep up with the latest maps - and it struggles to make a claim for its long-term viability. There's no support for clans or the professional scene. There are no community features at all, really, and their absence holds the game back from attracting the hobbyist shooter crowd - the people who could ensure that the game stays lively after the buzz of launch fades. If DLC map packs divide the player base as badly as they did with Battlefield 3, I'm not sure that Titanfall will be quite the same game in six months.
This is a shame, because the things you do in Titanfall are likely to be some of the most exciting things you do in any game this year. It is clearly the work of sharp, analytical designers, and it deserves to penetrate the thick layer of cynicism that traditionally surrounds big budget shooters. I wish that this same intelligence and restraint were evident in the business culture that surrounds it.
If you choose to invest in Titanfall, make it your mission to track down the stories that emerge when all of its systems come together and sing. They are why this genre became so popular in the first place, and Titanfall is a fine way to rediscover that attraction. Just endeavour to get your money's worth while the honeymoon lasts.