Titanfall was the first big Xbox exclusive game of this generation - the keyword there being "big." The buzz around this one was first heard at E3 in 2013, and it was all anyone seemed to be talking about. Lots of superlatives were thrown around in regard to this game - the first outing from Respawn Entertainment, helmed by ex Infinity Ward heads - and it became THE number one game on everyone's watch lists.
For me, it was a fascinating one. Even back then, I wasn't the biggest fan of Call of Duty - but what I was a big fan of were games that involved running and shooting, and mechs. As a teenager I'd devoured Gundam, Appleseed, Patlabor... anything and everything that involved weaponised robots was right up my street. And here they were, dropping from the sky into combat. It's fair to say I was going to try this out from the first moment I saw it.
The first Titanfall game didn't have a campaign. Not really. It had an objective of playing on all the multiplayer maps on both sides of the forces locked in conflict (the Militia and the IMC) - but it was pretty much a straight-up multiplayer only game. It was a ridiculous amount of fun. It ran at an apparently locked 60fps - once you knew how to move you could skate across rooftops, dance across walls, grapple across a street and double jump to the next rooftop before pirouetting and landing a headshot on an enemy pilot - and you could do it easily. Since then, moves like this have infiltrated their way into Call of Duty itself - it's easy to forget that Titanfall introduced traversal this fluid so successfully that it normalised it overnight. Different weapons and loadouts were present, but where the fun really kicked up a gear was when you got your Titan.
It's the existence of these that form the moment of the decade I'm talking about here - specifically the moment of calling this thing in. The game always made a big moment of it, and rightly so. It was, and remains, an epic couple of seconds - up there with the best in gaming. And the game is so aware that it's such an awesome moment that it makes sure you get one as often as possible.
The titan acted like a score streak reward; each kill you'd get would fill up a little bar and when it was full, you'd hear those legendary words:
"Pilot, your titan is ready."
It didn't matter what you shot. Player-controlled enemy pilots filled it up fastest, but the AI grunts that got dropped into the map at regular intervals meant you always had something to shoot at nearby - and the faster you did it, the sooner you'd hear those words. And as soon as you heard those words, your thumb would begin hovering over the d-pad as you scanned the area for a drop zone. Depending on the map and the situation, sometimes you'd want your Titan to land close by. Other times, somewhere further away but quiet. I was always a fan of calling mine in directly on top of enemy titans - especially if there were a couple of them bunched up nicely together, begging me to do so. The resulting crunches and explosions that came from the one shot kill of one Titan dropping from orbit onto another's head never failed to make me giggle like a maniacal dictator. Either way, you'd find your spot and you'd hit that button, and you'd hear them. The four words that were pretty much guaranteed to take your eyes off the chaos around you for a moment so you could look up.
"Confirmed. Standby for Titanfall."
The delivery was clipped, no-nonsense, militaristic - nothing more significant than an affirmation that an order had been received and followed. But then you'd hear the roaring noise and look up, and see the smoke trail as your Titan hurtled earthward. Maybe you'd run toward it and slide. Maybe you'd grapple. Maybe you'd leap off a building in its general direction. Either way, your Titan would slam into the earth with enough force to make the ground shake, and then it would catch you with one of a handful of canned animations and feed you into the cockpit in its chest cavity. The screen darkens for a moment, then the monitors in front of your pilot flicker into life... and suddenly you're a hulking robot in a warzone. And you're armed to the teeth. At this point, game flips on its axis - instead of being someone who can skip around the map like a butterfly but be killed in a heartbeat, the equation is entirely reversed. You're slow and cumbersome, but you can deal death at a pace a pilot could only fantasise about. Small arms fire is an utter irrelevance - the only thing you're worried about is each pilot's anti-Titan weapon, and other Titans. You're suddenly acutely aware that you're the biggest single target on the map - and everyone on the enemy team is going to want a piece of you.
Rounding a corner, you mow a squad of grunts down with the massive machine gun your Titan wields - each round shredding an enemy soldier into goop. An enemy pilot leaps at you from a nearby building - you swat him aside out of midair with a satisfying splat. Suddenly you're taking fire from somewhere; the controls in front of you light up like cars slamming their brakes on on the motorway, warning sirens blaring. Realising you can't take much more, you slam the 'X' button a couple of times. In the game, your pilot reaches down and pulls an ejection handle - you're suddenly launched out of your Titan into the air. The speed is dizzying, but the camera tilts down long enough for you to see your Titan explode in a ball of fire and shrapnel - then you're dropping like a stone back into the action; looking for a place to land and hoping you don't get shot to pieces before you do. Before you can catch your breath, you're back in the middle of it all - and the cycle starts to repeat.
It got a sequel a couple of years later - it came complete with probably the best single player campaign ever to grace a first person shooter. (The eagle-eyed might have spotted that the screenshots above are all from Titanfall 2 - I apologise, but the first one's been uninstalled for a year or two now, and reinstalling it for a couple of screengrabs didn't make much sense given how similar it looks to the second!) Unfortunately, a bloody awful launch window (slap bang between a Battlefield game and a CoD game) along with some awful marketing meant it sold nowhere near as well as it deserved to. The first game was an Xbox exclusive, but the sequel came out on both Xbox and PS4. I was actually in a GAME store shortly after its release and heard a Playstation owner expressing his surprise that it was out on a system he could play it on - which in this day and age tells you just how bad that campaign must have been for driving awareness of it on PS4. It's a massive shame. Respawn Entertainment have shipped two games since Titanfall 2 - Apex Legends and Star Wars: Jedi - Fallen Order. I've not played the latter, but the first one took all the cool stuff about Titanfall, ripped out the Titans and then further ruined it by making it another Battle Royale game. As of right now, whether or not there'll ever be a Titanfall 3 is only to be guessed at by Respawn employees - but damn, I hope there will be. It's a series that had the sheer guts to try to be something new, and it succeeded by a mile. I'd love to see more of it. For now, I'll just have to go back for another game of Attrition on the second one. Because once you've had those four little words raise a wry smile, you just want to hear them again.