Monday, April 14, 2014

Titanfall - or "How I learned to stop worrying and love the Big Stompy Robots"

Big Stompy Robots are definitely up there in the top half of my Super Special Top 100 List of Ace Things – If memory serves, they replaced “Medium to large sized Dinosaurs” back in the late eighties. So, I was quite excited about the early announcements of the videogame Titanfall – being, at its heart, a game about Big Stompy Robots. The screenshots looked brilliant and some of the game-play footage from e3 looked like it'd be something quite special.

An exclusive excerpt from my Super Special Top 100 List of Ace Things.  Spoiler Alert: Number 12 is Thousand Island Dressing.

In Titanfall you play a Pilot working for either the IMC (The Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation) or the Militia. I’d have stuck a respective “boo” or “hooray” against those names but the plot is pretty vague about which lot are the bad guys and which lot are the good guys – there’s no clear cut Empire Versus Rebellion here, unless I missed something.

And let me tell you, it’s easy to miss something. The plot reveals itself during the game itself in the form of little snippets of dialogue or little picture-in-picture clips of something imprecise happening somewhere even more indefinite that may or may not be very important™. During the game. While your attention really is dedicated to trying to shoot stuff, or – more precisely in my case - while you’re being shot.

It’s difficult to pay attention to the nuances of the script when you’re being torn into fragments of bloody meat by an assault rifle.

"Dear Diary. Making some lovely friends.  One Titan seems insistent on giving me a really big hug" *head pops*
And it’s the subject of being shot that nearly put me off buying Titanfall. It’s multiplayer only which – according to your perspective – is either
  • A bold and brave new radical approach to game releases.
  • A lazy developer excuse not to write some decent AI routines and not have to bother sticking a single player campaign in.
..but my big drawback of multiplayer games?

I suck at multiplayer shooters. Honestly, I’m fucking rubbish.

It doesn’t help that Titanfall has possibly the worst matchmaking I've seen outside of the Television show “Take me out”. Apparently paying little heed to your skill level or how long you've been playing the game in whatever hopefully inadequate algorithm its using, it’ll happily stick you inside a mission against six guys who've lapped the game eight times over and know every inch of the map off by heart. Every new mission is a blind leap into the unknown where – if you’re lucky – a reasonable player might have a fighting chance.

Unfortunately, I am a far from reasonable player.

"Dear Diary. Just taken control of my very own Titan! I'll stand a much better chance on the battlefield n-" *BOOM*
I am to First Person Shooters what my cat Aslan is to testicular ownership. I’d like to blame my old man reactions (only any good for quickly shaking walking sticks at children) but truth is – outside of a fortunate couple of months in Goldeneye or Halo – I'm utterly bobbins.

I'm that player on the leader-board who’s never quite at the bottom but is often only spared that ignominy and humiliation because the player at the bottom is a household pet who’d logged onto Xbox live by accident or it's somebody who either died in real life as the match started or whose internet connection dropped off 8 seconds into play. I'm like an eager terrier (or again, my cat Aslan when he was a kitten whenever he saw the dustmen drive past in their van) in that I'm happily smiling running alongside my companions and going through the motions but I haven’t really got a clue what i going on.

Your pilot character is a spritely little chap in a 6 versus 6 match on a battlefield also populated by less agile and able grunts and Spectres (variants of Johnny 5 with an auto-rifle, essentially). You can zip around the map at a phenomenal rate of knots, jet-packing about and wall-running like those bonkers French parkour chaps you see throwing themselves off motorway flyovers whilst wearing tiny backpacks.

The Titans of the title are huge robots being built in orbit - heavily armoured humanoid tanks with thick hulls and devastating weaponry. Every kill you make takes seconds off the default construction time (from a default two minutes) until eventually you can call your Titan down from orbit, clamber into its cockpit and raise merry hell for as long as your armour holds out. Eject to safety upon your Titans destruction, and repeat until fade.

The end game comes when - in standard death-match or "attrition" -  one team hits a certain number of points and wins. The losers have to made a desperate mad dash to an evacuation point to escape safely, whilst the winners try to pick them off before they do so - or if they're lucky pump enough missiles into the escape vehicle so it explodes before they can get away.

It looks and sounds awesome, the maps are varied and large (with a lot of height, that makes a change for multiplayer games). You're never that far away from a frenzied gun battle, and it's balanced that you even stand a reasonable chance against a Titan if you're lucky and you're not me. And even when you're doing badly, it's damn good fun.

Honestly, I'm so bad at it it's not even funny any more. But I still keep playing and slowly grinding up through the levels - I laughably say "level up" but you can take that in much the same way as a drip of water will eventually soften rock if you leave it alone for several million years.

I can even cite a recent example - yesterday I was on what I laughably call "a winning streak" - as in I'd managed to survive more than 60 seconds without dying and I'd luckily killed an opponent by calling a Titan in which had landed on his head.  I ran into a room to find an opponent facing away from me in the window happily sniping my colleagues.

I had all the time in the world. I could simply have wandered in a straight line until I was behind him and a single simple melee attack would have broken his neck and killed him instantly. "But that'd be too easy", thought the tactical part of my brain, "What I should really do here is miss him at point blank range - several times, mind - until the very noise of me firing at him annoys him so much he'll turn around and pop a pistol shot between my eyes just to put me out of both of our respective miseries."

So if you ever play Titanfall, you may well see me. Maybe Folds5 will come blundering through a room towards your soldier and spend several seconds spraying SMG bullets into every single thing between the ceiling and floor that isn't you. Possibly you’ll wonder what that member of the opposition is playing at as he spins in circles angrily punching the empty air two metres to your right. Perhaps you’ll catch a last glimpse of me in another room as I throw that Arc-grenade that bounces off the door-frame and lands back at my feet.

But then one day you'll stand in one place for too long - more than likely caused by you dropping your joy-pad - and you'll give me the precious long seconds I need to perform my kill.  Or you'll be exactly in the wrong spot at the wrong time as I reverse in my Titan to avoid a missile and I accidentally tread on you. Or you'll run into the room just as I'm about to commit suicide with a poorly thrown grenade. Or the nuclear explosion that my Titan makes when it explodes takes you out because you're standing too close.

And then, my friends, revenge will be sweet. And only slightly dampened when you make me pay for it by blasting me to scarlet paste.

Regular readers of the blog will have noted that it's been an age since I posted anything, for which I can only apologise. I've been trying to finish my novel - last act now, so hoping to have it finished in a couple of weeks - so normal service should resume ASAP.

1 comment:

  1. It's true though, 'Your Mother Wouldn't Like It" was some of the finest television programming, EVER.


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