Why Are There No Destructible Environments in Titanfall?

Why Are There No Destructible Environments in Titanfall?

Did Microsoft's killer app arrive DOA?

Ryan Kerns by Ryan Kerns on Mar 19, 2014 @ 10:27 PM
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The 2013 E3 Expo was a particularly optimistic time for gamers... with only months to go before the Xbox One and Playstation 4 kicked off the newest home console generation. Sony was showing off an impressive launch lineup (of which DriveClub and Watchdogs would later be delayed) and while Microsoft had a snippet of Halo to show during their lineup video... the only notable titles that would be available near launch were Forza 5, Dead Rising 3, and Ryse.

Then, in a fireball from the heavens, Titanfall made a surprise drop and dropped many jaws. We had known since 2010 that the two creators of Call of Duty, along with 38 other former Infinity Ward staff members, had formed a new independent studio under EA's Partners Program. Even though the Game Informer cover had been leaked before the reveal, the game was truly a surprise and took away a record number of “best of E3” awards. It was also somewhat suspicious that a PS4 version of the game was never mentioned... and before long it was confirmed that Microsoft was willing to pay to make Titanfallexclusive to their systems.

Microsoft was so confident that Titanfall was their next gen killer app that they created a new Xbox One Titanfall Bundle. There was even a limited edition Titanfall themed Xbox One that never made it to market (likely due to retailers still having plenty of unsold units). It has been one week since Titanfall hit retail... so has Microsoft's next gen killer app arrived? Usually when a hyped AAA title launches, the publisher shares giant sales numbers within days... but all is quiet from EA. It could be with the install base of the Xbox One, even if every single owner of the system purchased a copy, it wouldn't be close to beating Grand Theft Auto V's record sales. Many PC owners (myself included) just purchased digital copies off of Origin, so those sales numbers should be instantly transmitted to EA.

It is likely EA is waiting for the all important Xbox 360 sales numbers, and that wait has been delayed to April 8th release date now-- almost a month after the Xbox One and PC. Whatever the sales numbers currently are, it was enough to double Xbox One sales in the UK last week and, as of today, EA has secured the publishing rights to Titanfall 2. It is safe to assume Titanfall wasn't a record breaking launch, but still highly successful.

But what do the critics have to say about Titanfall?

Titanfall has so far received highly positive reviews from critics, landing it at a 88 Metacritic score. The user scores are however much more mixed, sitting on only an average 6.2. Just as many people have either mixed or negative reviews as there are positive reviews. Titanfall also scored lower than the two other games it launched next to, with DarkSouls II receiving a 92, and Towerfall Ascension getting a 90.

I personally pre-ordered the PC version and had the hefty 50 gig pre-load ready to go at exactly midnight on launch. I continued to play the game through the week until I hit level 50. I have to say... I'm definitely in the category of people with very mixed feelings.

As the title of this article says, the first thing that surprised me was no destructible environments. I was well aware that wasn't a feature in Call of Duty, but then jetpacks and giant robots weren't either. In interviews with Respawn they have said the lack of destructible environments is to keep the game balanced for pilots... but I don't feel that is the case. Pilots have a number of tools to handily take down a Titan from the ground, air, or rodeo attack-- not to mention the ability to become totally invisible to Titans. If Red Faction and Battlefield were doing destructible environments on “last gen” tech; it just feels like a totally missed opportunity.

It is more than likely Titanfall couldn't do destructible environments. The game runs on Valve's Source Engine... you know, the engine that Half-Life 2 ran on almost 10 years ago. The game certainly looks far better than HL2, and Respawn has said the engine has been heavily modified. It still begs the question why wasn't the game built on Source 2 engine, which we already know is being used for a new port of Black Mesa and rumored to be the engine for Left 4 Dead 3.

Why not build it on Frostbite 3? EA is already using the engine for practically every other title and it is designed to take advantage of next gen consoles (and the games look stunning). Usually a console exclusive next-gen “launch window” title is meant to be a showcase of the new technology. In Titanfall, a shot fired from a gun the size of a Mack Truck can't penetrate the walls of a wooden shack... not very next-gen.

There is also the noticeable lack of support for Kinect. There's a Titanfall Xbox One bundle, and the game doesn't even make use of the Kinect peripheral in the box. Why couldn't we scan our faces into the game? How come we can't give our Titans custom skins like in Forza 5? Could we at least be able to blow up or knock over a tree? Where is all this fancy cloud computing they hyped up?

Perhaps Respawn felt there wasn't a need to use a next-gen game engine or features. Afterall, Call of Duty: Ghosts was one of the most successful launch titles, and it still uses a modified version of the id Tech 3 engine... you know, the engine that ran Quake III Arena 14 years ago. Titanfall is obviously targeted towards the same demographic as Call of Duty, and those fans have been paying for yearly releases with minor visual upgrades for pretty much an entire console generation.

Visuals aren't everything in a game though, of course there's the writing and gameplay. Titanfall's story is horrendously bad... and stinks things up even worse when last year had games like Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us with very complex and deeply emotional stories. Titanfall tries to seamlessly integrate the story into online multiplayer, and the result is just a total mess. While you're working on your loadout you have to listen to cringe-worthy dialogue from rebel soldiers, drunks, and robots with accents. Having been able to play through the campaign with a group that was also playing for the first time, mocking how bad the story was actually became a fun experience.

Even without destructible environments, it's still all about the gameplay right?

While playing Titanfall can be a very fun experience... none of the gameplay elements are particularly ground breaking. Jetpacks have been the Tribes games for well over a decade. We were doing first-person free running in Mirror's Edge six years ago. MechWarrior has been around for twenty five years. To be fair to Respawn, there are hardly any games out there that don't borrow elements in some way or another. I bought the game on day one, so obviously I saw some merit in combining these elements with a very Call of Duty based foundation.

So it's not very original or cutting edge... it's still pretty fun to play. The down side is that for a competitive game, there isn't an incredible amount of depth. You are still basically playing the same Call of Duty modes, just now with verticality and giant robots. There are weapons like an auto-aiming pistol that are available very early, and regardless of how well you play the game... you get to pilot a Titan within minutes of a match starting. Maps are peppered with AI bots that don't put up any fight. Burn cards can be used any time you die to give your character buffs. It feels as if the game has been focus tested to the point where the player isn't supposed to ever feel frustrated. Playing especially well does not reward you with killstreaks, playing especially poor doesn't punish you with being on the receiving end of a killstreak.

I wouldn't consider myself a hardcore online shooter player, and I was able to breeze to level 50 in a matter of days. The campaign even progresses regardless of whether you won the match or not, winning or losing also doesn't change the outcome of the story. You get a ton of experience points even if you played terribly. The fact that MLG or any other pro circuit has yet to add Titanfall to their roster is also pretty telling.

So did Respawn intentionally design Titanfall to be noob friendly and shallow?

Titanfall 2 is definitely happening, so maybe Respawn was being clever in not setting the bar too high. Having the Call of Duty pedigree working on the game was already guaranteed sales. All the things that are obviously missing from Titanfall can be major selling points for Titanfall 2. I can already see the trailer for Titanfall 2 where a pilot is camping in a building with a sniper rifle, and an Ogre punches through the wall and crushes him. Titanfall 2 will be much larger, probably twice the staff, and it will do just enough new tricks that everyone lines up to buy it... especially since it will likely support VR headsets.

Titanfall to me just feels like this game where you can do a lot of cool things, but nothing truly cool ever happens... if that makes any sense. This is a perfect time to remind people that we have a forum! Have you played Titanfall? Are you impressed by the game? Can you tell the game uses cloud computing at all?

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