Thanks to Respawn's ex-Infinity Ward contingent, Titanfall is fated to be compared endlessly with Call of Duty. In the quick snap-to-aim motion of its guns and its pacey room-to-room manfights those comparisons are entirely justified, but there's a variety in each noisy ten-second blast of combat that CoD can't hope to replicate. That's not because Titanfall has mechs. It's because it has jetpacks.
Functionally, it's a double jump. Tap the space bar in mid-air and you'll hop upwards. Hit an angled surface and you'll start wall-running automatically with your jetpack's help. Your trajectory trends gently downwards as you go, but you're gaining momentum. Your next jump will go much further than your first. Combine that jump with another hop and you can cross a street easily, or vault to another storey, or land on the back of a friendly mech to hitch a ride.
The skewed streets of the level I played at Gamescom were built around this hop-wallrun-leap combo. Worn neon storefront signs are invitations to higher ground. A billboard in the middle of a street is a stepping stone between high points. Titanfall combines the quick gratification of CoD's opportunistic killing with effortless traversal, and moves between gears at dizzying speed. Here's two seconds of scrappy indoor combat, here's a second taking potshots at an enemy in the street, here's three second fleeing from the mech that just spotted you, here's five seconds peppering the offending Titan from a rooftop as you wait for your own robot to land from orbit, here's twenty seconds of being a monstrously powerful robot.
The mechs are fun, primarily as a change of pace. I would have happily spent the entire time in infantry scraps around my team's big stomping robot feet, but twice necessity forced me to call in a Titan (I say forced, if there's a button there that calls in a battle-mecha from orbit, it's hard not to use it). Three loadouts were available, including an assault type with a huge machine-gun and a magnetic palm that could slow down incoming projectiles and throw them back at the target. Mechs are relatively slow-moving, but can dart short distances in bursts to shake enemy fire.
The Titan readiness bars seem to fill up for both teams at similar points. Twice I saw a conventional infantry stand-off escalate in seconds. One person calls in a mech, an enemy panics and calls in their mech. The first guy's outnumbered so his friend calls in a mech. Suddenly the streets are full of mechs and everyone who doesn't have one has fled as fast as their little jetpacks can carry them.
I had to bail out of one such fight, in a two vs. two bot battle that quickly went bad. My machine's viewscreens contorted as damage spiked until a message flashed up. "Press E to eject!" (Titanfall was running on PC, with the option to use an Xbox 360 pad if we wanted - ha!) I mashed the key and was flung some twenty feet into the air. I angled my descent to try and land on the enemy mech, hoping to take it out with my bare hands. I just missed, landing in front of its walking feet. I was instantly squashed to death. A hero's death.
If you hadn't gathered, Titanfall is a very exciting videogame, though my playthrough wasn't without issues. Titanfall padded my eight vs. eight encounter with NPC warriors. You get a bit of XP for killing them, but it was difficult to tell who was human, which is important for XP reasons, but also because humans pose a much greater threat. The epilogue section that kicks in when the battle is won gives both sides an opportunity to earn some last-minute XP. The latest trailer shows it from the losers' perspective as they dash to an extraction point. We trounced the enemy team, and I found myself plodding around confused, blasting NPC enemies to death in droves with my mech's machine gun.
On the plus side, Titanfall doesn't force you to listen to its story interludes. I was hurtling up walls before genero-general man had finished explaining what was going on. Ah, what a good feeling that was. I'm off to have another go.
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