It was big news when Jason West and Vince Zampella, two of the three co-founders of Infinity Ward, were dismissed by Activision back in 2010. After all, the pair was instrumental in creating the Call of Duty series, and genre-defining entries such as Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Following their departure, they co-founded the aptly named Respawn Entertainment, and with a few dozen of their former co-workers, began development on Titanfall. The multiplayer-focused first-person shooter was highly regarded when it released in early 2014, and remains one of the noteworthy Xbox-platform exclusives of the generation. It wasn’t until the follow-up that Respawn captured my attention: they included a single-player campaign.
Published by Electronic Arts, Titanfall 2 was released for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on October 28, 2016. As with its predecessor, the multiplayer component remained the primary draw, although personally, I was drawn to its brief, but action-packed single-player campaign. Assuming the role of Jack Cooper, a lowly soldier unsurprisingly thrust into the role of a hero, I ushered him through nigh-insurmountable odds to turn the tides of battle in favor of the Frontier Militia. This scrappy group fought to maintain their independence and protect the planets they called home, located in the far reaches of space. Their foe was the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation, a militaristic power that saw potential in these resource-rich planets.
Following a concise tutorial that acclimated me with the controls and setting, the Frontier Militia launched a surprise attack on an IMC-held planet. However, the only surprise was the IMC ambush that left their forces separated and diminished. In his dying act, Jack’s commander transferred control of BT-7274, his Titan. This was unprecedented considering Jack’s ranking within in the Militia, but his commander believed he had potential. While Jack Cooper may have been the protagonist of Titanfall 2, it was BT-7274, his sentient mecha partner who stole the show. BT had a Spock-like personality, what with his exacting knowledge and dry delivery. The rapport between the pair was frequently played for comedic effect and their relationship provided an emotional element to an otherwise vapid storyline.
Utilized by both sides, Titans were powerful assets that could turn the tide of battle. Understandably, a significant portion of the game had Cooper piloting BT; it wasn’t a drag, either. BT zipped around at an enjoyable clip: he wasn’t unbelievably agile or excruciatingly slow. And, if I decided I’d rather hoof it as an infantryman, I could exit BT and have him provide support as an AI-controlled partner in just about any situation. His ever-expanding arsenal of weapons conveyed just how powerful Titans were. Each loadout was equipped with a unique primary weapon, and a few supplemental weapons and abilities that would generally tear apart any opposition. The only exception was the Apex Predators, a mercenary unit hired by the IMC. Many stages were capped off with challenging Titan battles against these folks, who were some of the only other characters to receive any defining qualities.
The on-foot gameplay was akin to that of most first-person shooters nowadays: fast-paced and fine-tuned. Firefights were frequent, set in a variety of environments large and small, and required little in the way of strategy. The guns at Cooper’s disposal were all kinds of fun; they were outfitted with futuristic sights and powerful ammunition, but were otherwise grounded in reality. As a pilot, Cooper was equipped with a jetpack-like device that allowed him to run on walls and double-jump. In this way, the game played like an evolved version of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Wall-running was smartly implemented, leaving little opportunity for error on my part. This mobility was emphasized via numerous platforming obstacles in the campaign. They scaled in difficulty as I progressed the storyline and by the end, I was pulling off remarkable feats that left me with a big dumb grin on my face.
With a mix of traditional gunplay, mecha combat, and unique platforming, Titanfall 2’s campaign was an action-packed bar-setter for the genre. Heck, there were even some gimmicky sections that called to mind some of my favorite parts from Singularity. The storyline was a relatively cookie-cutter example of rebels vs. empire, although I felt it was enhanced by the game’s science-fiction setting. It was for sure enhanced by the kinship between Cooper and BT-7274. The buddy cop dynamic they exhibited brought emotional resonance to the narrative, and gave me a reason to better invest in the world and the Frontier Militia’s plight. It’s doubtful we’ll see a similar single-player campaign set in the Titanfall universe, considering this game’s disappointing sales and the rapid success of Apex Legends, Respawn’s battle royale follow-up. If that’s the case, they definitely ended with a showstopper.