Titanfall is the chance for a major game studio to unleash a grand parody of online shooters. It’s too brave for a studio to spoof their own business model though. Media history says so. It took Paramount to mock Universal’s classic horror in Young Frankenstein, and again, knocking down Uni’s disaster series Airport in Airplane!. MGM slung zingers toward Fox in Spaceballs. So instead of caricature, Titanfall exists seriously in its own pile of stupid, sort of winking at its disembodied camera, but staying straight on the farcical rebels/empire story.
At the center is a pilot/Titan bonding session, a sort of dopey spin on Terminator 2’s father syndrome, but with the action mannerisms of Michael Bay’s Transformers. Callsign Titan “BT” speaks in a bold baritone, almost indistinguishable from Optimus Prime. Lots of explosions ensue, but without character and without effective drama.
The lead pilot, plainly named Jack Cooper, speaks infrequently. The militia forces around him appear without context. They’re talking heads in a virtual headset, a cliche desperate for riffing. You listen to their commands because it means progress, not because their fictional urgency is enticing.
All that aside, Titanfall 2 gets it. All of the wall running theatrics of the first game merge into a pleasant, speedy campaign where the full thrust of the idea can breed interesting level designs. Pitiful as Titanfall’s lore is after two games, stages (on occasion) visualize story information. An implausible, mid-air trapeze act through a working factory shows how the antagonistic IMC makes planets artificial and staid. Ludicrous industrial scale enhances the IMC’s size and capability, infinitely more effective than the handful of corporate representatives propping up end level boss fights. It’s as if the design traps itself in retro gaming cliches. How wonderful this might be as parody.
The temptation to constantly sit Cooper inside BT is resisted (the preposterous sight of a small gun being swallowed by a bigger gun still not lost). Titanfall is better for it. That up-and-down flow, allowing Titanfall 2 to exist quietly once in a while, creates narrative spacing. This reserved lead-in allows an upscaled, four-tier finale to feel organically massive, if overlong. Multiplayer alone cannot do that; it’s always enormous in scope and slapping rewards onto the screen. Single player allows breathing room and as such, the world – even without a coherent narrative – can still build something of merit. Titanfall, if truly intended to be another tier of EA shooters, needed that desperately.
Partway through, Titanfall 2 introduces a time travel mechanism. Like everything else, it never makes much sense, but does stimulate interesting stage design. If this world does have time travel and universe bending, there’s a still chance to reset things and build a comedy from a videogame in love with the dumbest of AAA traditions. Titanfall 2 is where a personable, empathetic robot throws the hero from a moving spaceship to another moving spaceship. Then, a ninja robot slices through foot soldiers with a sword bigger than a house. All the while, a panicked rebellion leader screams passionately about the worth of sacrifice.
You’re dumb Titanfall, and it’s shame you don’t seem to know it.
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