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'Titanfall' brings big action to the Xbox One

In the online multiplayer sci-fi shooter “Titanfall,” players can fight in two modes: as an agile infantryman or the pilot of a large mechanized Titan.

At first glance, “Titanfall” is both amazing and intimidating.

The fast-paced action mixes gunplay, parkour, giant robots and a multitude of explosions in a wild flurry of activity that’s far more exhilarating than the typical shooter fare. But it also might seem a bit overwhelming — like the sort of game that could be mastered only by the most overly caffeinated joystick junky. Fortunately, the game offers the best of both of these worlds: incredible action and accessible gameplay.

The sci-fi shooter was developed for Electronic Arts by Respawn Entertainment, a company formed by developers who helped create “Call of Duty.” The game is currently available for the Xbox One and PC and will be available at the end of the month for Xbox 360.

“Titanfall” is set on the frontier of known space, where the Interstellar Manufacturing Corp. doesn’t hesitate to use force to get things done. The company’s methods raise the hackles of some of the region’s settlers, who decide to form a militia to stand up to IMC.

The game sidesteps single-player action altogether and tells its story through a multiplayer campaign. Unfortunately, the storyline isn’t much more than a thin thread that gives the barest of details about the conflict and its heroes. Each mission starts with a quick voiceover and cutscene and contains snippets of dialogue that advance the narrative. But once the shooting starts, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a campaign mission and a regular multiplayer match.

But concerns about the storyline are likely to be forgotten once the action begins.

In both the campaign and in the regular multiplayer mode, missions feature six-on-six competition in a variety of deathmatch and capture-the-flag formats. In addition to player characters, each side is provided with a handful of computer-controlled soldiers who provide more targets and minor challenges without the chaos that would ensue if additional players were involved.

Each player can fight in two modes: as an agile infantryman or as the pilot of a large mechanized Titan. It’s this blend of playing styles, plus an innovative movement system and well-designed maps that set “Titanfall” apart from other shooters.

Matches begin with players being dropped onto the battlefield as foot soldiers known as “pilots,” since they also pilot Titans.

While most of these troops look like they could inhabit almost any sci-fi shooter, there’s one key difference: the jetpack. This gadget enables pilots to sprint along vertical surfaces, leap atop buildings and complete enormous double-jumps that carry them great distances. First-time viewers might suspect that theses actions are difficult to execute, but a smooth and efficient control system makes them a breeze to pull off.

And with a little practice, you can execute some pretty impressive maneuvers. For example, I was watching as a friend leaped atop an enemy Titan, trying to take out the pilot. As his vehicle took damage, the enemy decided to eject, a move that also propelled my friend skyward. In midair, my friend spun around and blasted his foe before he hit the ground. Definitely cool.

The maps have been designed to take advantage of the pilots’ abilities, offering plenty of buildings with multiple floors and many access points.

All of this creates a game of maneuver on a variety of vertical and horizontal planes that is as fun to watch as it is to play.

While the Titans aren’t as agile as foot soldiers, they aren’t the lumbering mechs of bygone games. Titans can run, crouch and dodge almost as well as the soldiers in a typical shooter.

Titans generally aren’t available until a game is a few minutes old. After you take out an enemy or two, you’ll be informed that your Titan will soon be available. You can reduce your wait time by eliminating more enemies.

When you call down a Titan, the mech will come roaring down from orbit and land at the designated spot with a satisfying thud. It remains cocooned in a force field for several seconds so you have time to climb aboard and get your bearings. Then, it’s time to fight.

Fights between Titans are massive brawls featuring chain guns, cannons, electrical weapons, giant grenades and missiles. Mechs also can use force shields to catch ordnance in flight and hurl it back at their assailants. If things get close and personal, the battle might even involve fisticuffs — which often ends with one Titan pilot being pulled from his mech and hurled across the battlefield by the victor.

When piloting a mech, your main targets will probably be other Titans, but you’re sure to spend almost as much time blasting and stomping foot soldiers. While the little people might be squishy, they still present a lot of danger. Foot soldiers can chip away at your mech with a Sidewinder gun, interfere with your vision by using electromagnetic-pulse grenades or deal a crippling blow with a rocket. However, the biggest danger is having an enemy climb onto your Titan and start unloading his weapon into your electronics. Your only options are to exit your mech and shoot the offender or unleash a cloud of “electric smoke,” which can fry him. However, the second option is available only if you decide to equip it at the expense of the force shield that can catch enemy ordnance.

Although these elements elevate “Titanfall” above other shooters, developers didn’t forget to spend time on providing an excellent arsenal for those on the ground.

On foot, you are equipped with a primary weapon, a pistol and an anti-Titan weapon.

Primary weapons include shotguns, submachine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles and something known as a smart pistol. Most of these weapons could come straight out of almost any shooter. On the other hand, smart pistols are a bit unusual. As you aim down the barrel, they will lock on to any enemies who appear in the sights. When you squeeze the trigger, it will fire a round for each lock. Computer-controlled characters require just one lock, but player characters require three. The need to gain three locks on players and the weapon’s limited range keep it from feeling overpowered.

In fact, all of the weapons seemed to be well-balanced — even after being equipped with scopes, silencers and other attachments that can be unlocked by gaining experience. I never felt like someone gained a cheap kill on me — something that I could never say about a “Call of Duty” game.

The graphics are sharp, detailed and vibrant, which makes the frenzied combat easy to follow. The character renderings and animations are very lifelike and appealing. And the settings — ranging from cities to weird planets inhabited by dragon-like creatures — are packed with the kind of texture and detail that make them look realistic.

Aside from the thin storyline, my only gripe about “Titanfall” concerns the matchmaking system. In some games, a side can be left with only four or five members instead of six. This is rare in regular matches but was relatively common in campaign missions. This leaves that side at a tremendous disadvantage. When I was on the short end, I would have happily waited a little longer for each side to fill out.

The game gets a Mature rating because of violence and blood, but it’s pretty tame compared to most of the other shooters out there.

Bottom line: “Titanfall” is one of the most innovative and entertaining shooters to arrive on the scene in years.

Platforms: Xbox One (tested), Xbox 360 (in late March), PC

Online: titanfall.com

 

bowers.brian@stripes.com

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