Titanfall pits man against machine, Kiefer Sutherland Snakes into Metal Gear Solid V
A call to arms
Game Theory Long have I wondered why franchises such as Battlefield and Call of Duty bother to include a single player entrée aside the multiplayer main course.
The solo campaign might provide action set pieces to demo at E3 and subsequently showcase on adverts, but if it was missing would anyone really care?
EA has decided to test the hypothesis by offering Titanfall without any real single player quotient to speak of. A ten minute tutorial is just about the only offline action you'll get, and then it's off to the front lines to pit man versus machine.
Full metal jacket
That's not quite the whole story. Even though Titanfall is a completely online game, it's not without a campaign mode. It has two, actually. First you'll fight for the rebellious Militia, before swapping sides to play as the Empire-esque IMC.
These story-led missions, telling the tale of an uprising on a distant human colony won't be winning any prizes for originality. But they do provide a small insight into how multiplayer FPS campaigns might engross us in the future. For now though, Titanfall's attempt falls short of greatness for numerous reasons.
For instance, rather than movie-based intros to missions, we get a static screen with a voiceover. And, instead of dynamic chapters, that change depending on success and failure, we get a rigid progression that barely registers success or failure. An opportunity gone-begging, if ever there was one.
That awkward left-handed handshake
All’s not lost though, for what Titanfall does give us – even if some might say controversially – is a feeling of epic battles. Each scenario might be limited to just 12 human players, but you'll also be accompanied by bots – not too unlike the droid army of Star Wars – while you're blasting away.
Though essentially cannon fodder, they do create a sense of squad-based combat. And I also enjoyed their continuous entry into the battle via drop-pods, so creating the feeling that there really is a huge flotilla of ships above raining down reinforcements.
The very same bots are also crucial to Titanfall's titular killing machines; for by downing enough bots and human pilots, you'll speed up the time to which you can call in your very own titan. Titans aren't game-changing, in that they bring anything particularly new to the FPS formula, but they are another ingredient to an already rich recipe.
Much like your pilot, you can customise them as you see fit, assuming you've unlocked extras by levelling-up. Then it's a case of shooting, dashing and stomping about the battlefield in a glorious, missile-dodging dance. At least, that is, until you sustain so much damage that it's time to hit the eject button.
Yet it's on foot where you'll spend the majority of your time, with warfare amongst pilots being smaller scale and more tactical. That pilots can parkour across walls and up-and-over obstacles has been hyped almost as much as the titans themselves. Sure, it takes a while to marry acrobatics with accuracy, however, the potential for balletic kills is only a moment of inspiration (or luck) away.
Of course, any online shooter is only as good as its gameplay modes and Titanfall's are on the safe side of predictable. There's a variation on Capture-and-Hold, a straight laced take on Capture-the-Flag and the obligatory deathmatch option. "Last Titan Standing" does exactly what you'd expect, while "Attrition" mode sets both teams a points total to meet. Something very similar to Battlefield 4's Conquest mode in practice.
In the firing line
I think it's a fair assessment to say that Titanfall offers thrills and spills but, perhaps, a disappointing lack of real substance. I'd have loved the title to have fully explored the potential for a dynamic online campaign, but sadly that side of things is rather undercooked.
That said its relentless battles are enough to set the pulse racing, while wall-running – not to mention piloting metal behemoths – certainly adds layers of spice. All in all, it's a game I can whole-heartedly recommend, although perhaps not quite the next generation innovator I had anticipated.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Does anyone else remember waiting with bated breath for the demo of Metal Gear Solid 2 during the PS2 era?
In those heady pre-online days, the finite ways to get hold of one of the precious discs involved pre-ordering the game, or else buying a copy of the Official PlayStation Mag for its attached demo compilation.
From Snake’s sleek sci-fi bungee entrance, to the drops of rain that drizzled down the screen, the whole thing was perfection. But would I have bought it for £30? Well, that's the question Konami is asking of you now with Ground Zeroes.
Zeroes opens with perhaps the most jaw-dropping in-game engine cutscene I've ever seen, albeit widely distributed on trailers already. We see both a mystery skull-faced bad guy and get a look at the Kiefer Sutherland-voiced Snake; but the real star is the gorgeous new Fox engine.
With the intro leaving the scene suitably set you're free to sneak about as you see fit, and it's here where a few of Snake's new abilities are brought to the fore. He can now drive vehicles, man turrets and pick locks. While close-quarters combat and taking guards by surprise – thereby allowing you to interrogate them – has been intelligently simplified.
Never wander too far without your iDroid
Snake also comes equipped with his "iDroid" handset – see what they did there? This gadget allows him to view a map, follow his objectives and so on. Then there are his handy binoculars that let him tag enemies from afar, so he can keep tabs from afar.
The general gameplay of Ground Zeroes still owes much to those last, last gen outings I talked about earlier. In part, that's down to the fact that MGS2 was ahead of the curve in many ways; featuring as it did advanced AI, a healthy variation of approaches and a huge roster of gadgets.
Yet for every throwback there is advancement too. Take, for example, the guards that patrol the prison camp that makes for Ground Zeroes sole setting. As in previous games they’ll circuit set routes, checking in over comms as they go.
But now, upon seeing a Snake, they really pull out all the stops. They'll report Snake's last position, radio in when they find dead comrades and organise search patterns. The charade has overtones of previous Metal Gears, of course, but here it's taken to the next level.
Excellent too is the way Snake is now given complete control over his rescue mission. Where to go, how to get there and whether to be lethal or non-lethal is all up to you. In that way Ground Zeroes offers a glimpse into a more free form future for Metal Gear that presumably the forthcoming Phantom Pain will fully explore.
Of course, as has been widely publicised, there in lies the controversy. For Ground Zeroes is basically a prologue without any further acts. The sneaking mission takes just 2-3 hours to accomplish – as much as that MGS2 tanker mission demo did all those years ago.
There are reasons to return, not least the unlockable 'Side Ops' missions which have you retracing your steps with different objectives in mind. But, ultimately, you’re looking at 15-20 hours before playing the title to exhaustion.
So, the big question is, is it worth £30 or closer to £20 if you shop around? Well, that depends exactly how interested you are to see how far one of gaming's premiere franchises has evolved. I'm of the opinion that games will gradually morph into less time-sapping iterative experiences anyway, so the whole prologue-only thing doesn't put me off.
Snake in the grass
That said, it would be more enticing to have a monetary incentive along the lines of "Buy Ground Zeroes, get a tenner off The Phantom Pain". But there’s fat chance of that it seems. Regardless, as long as you go in knowing what to expect, I don't think anyone could have cause for complaint for what is an, admittedly brief, view of something wonderful. ®