A 20-foot- tall enemy Titan is lumbering around the corner. You hit your jetpack and wall-run up onto the nearby rooftop. The pilot inside hasn’t seen you. Jumping onto the behemoth’s back, you pop off the plate concealing its mechanical brain and proceed to empty your machine gun clip into its electronic innards.
The pilot inside takes notice, disembarking from the hulk to shoot you off before his Titan enters a fatal, doomed state. As the Titan takes a knee to let the pilot out, you hit your jetpack again, returning to the safety of the roof where you lob a grenade at the now vulnerable soldier. He fires off a few rounds right before your grenade detonates, turning him into red mist. The damaged Titan enters AI mode and brings his giant machine gun to bear on your position.
This encounter encapsulates the frenetic action of “Titanfall,” the recently released multiplayer-only, Microsoft-exclusive shooter from Respawn Entertainment. Infantry, or “pilots,” don jetpacks and battle real and virtual soldiers amid futuristic industrial and residential environments. Players start off on foot with a timer counting down to their ability to summon their Titan, a giant anthropomorphic tank armed with missiles and guns, from a large carrier orbiting the battlefield. The levels are also populated with numerous AI-controlled infantry milling about, and every time you neutralize one of them, an enemy pilot or their Titan, the time you must wait to summon your own robot companion diminishes. It’s a system that provides players with an exciting and tangible incentive to score kills, and imbues every match with a palpable sense of anticipation.
The amazing thing about “Titanfall” is that fights are incredibly well-balanced regardless of whether or not you are in a Titan at the time. Titans can absorb and deal major damage but have limited mobility, whereas pilots are elusive yet fragile. Pilots aren’t pushovers when fighting Titans, though; each of them carries heavy ordinance designed for taking them down, though it requires numerous hits and careful navigation to do so. You can also ‘rodeo’ Titans, allowing you to ride on their backs while shooting the vulnerable point behind their heads, but in rock-paper-scissors fashion, Titans can be outfitted with the means to electrocute any such wannabe cowboys with countermeasures.
The game has standard modes like Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Territories, as well as two unique to “Titanfall”: Last Titan Standing and Pilot Hunter, where the focus is on killing Titans or pilots, respectively. Finally, there is an online-only Story mode which is unfortunately a failed experiment in injecting single-player plot points into a hectic online shooter. I’ve had trips to the DMV with more emotional resonance. “Titanfall” also stumbles slightly in terms of its network reliability. On a handful of occasions my match froze and even crashed a time or two, marring the otherwise delightful experience.
And it is so very delightful. Tight controls, a wide variety of customization options and weapons, and finely tuned asymmetric gameplay all add up to the most innovative multiplayer shooter experience since “Left 4 Dead.”