Titanfall is a hyper-competent, bare-bones shooter with the potential to be more.
Titanfall is Call of Duty scored to the Benny Hill theme song. The feather-light navigation and gunplay that made CoD such a hit with twitch shooter fans has been injected with amphetamines and dumped, twitching and shrieking, wholesale into Respawn's first effort, an amalgamation of everything the team has learned from their decade-plus of experience and arguably the fastest, fiercest AAA shooter to come to market in recent memory.
Everything in Titanfall operates at an accelerated pace. The default running and aiming speeds all but demand twitch reflexes to master, and they can be sped up further through the use of in-game items. Guns empty their magazines at an alarming rate (which again can be accelerated), while even the hulking Titans that are the game's namesake feel more like large infantry units than the lumbering mechs that feature in similar games.
This increase in pacing is perhaps most immediately observed in the game's post-match leveling screens, where, like in CoD, you'll watch an XP bar grow for each kill and capture you scored in the match. But again, the entire affair operates at an oddly accelerated rate, and you'll easily clear your first three levels within your first match. The game doesn't slow down from there, either, meaning that you should be able to clear the game's cap of 50 within several days of starting. Even now, on the night of the game's launch, it's not uncommon to see players who have already cleared level 40.
If CoD wasn't quick enough for your blood, take solace in Titanfall's dedication to pure, deadly speed. When you load up with the game's fastest automatic rifle and add the Scattershot barrel attachment, you can carve your way through the game's interiors like a knife through butter. Killing the numerous AI-controlled Grunts is so simple it's practically automatic; the human enemies, while rarer, will still go down fast in a close-quarters fight.
The whole process is oddly devoid of thought or direction; fast as the game is, there's often little time for strategy or critical thinking in the heat of combat. An hour or two in, it can start to feel like Respawn has ditched the carrot-on-a-stick mentality entirely, and has opted instead to break the stick over their knee and toss a four-pack of Twinkies in your face. Yes, it feels good to earn so many kills so quickly. And yes, it's satisfying to see your Level raise by two at the end of a good match. But it's a shallow, unearned satisfaction, the novelty of which has already begun to wear off for me. It's like Respawn didn't trust the mechanics of its game enough to hold the player's attention on their own.
And that's a real shame, because mechanically speaking Titanfall is incredibly sound, if a bit unimaginative. The major change that Titanfall makes to the standard shooter formula comes from an increased focus on mobility. Every player begins matches equipped with a jetpack and some wicked parkour skills. Double-jumping and wall-running are genuinely slick the first few times you pull them off, and they open up a new level of verticality in what are otherwise relatively flat levels. As liberating as pulling off a smooth wall run can be, tears begin to show in the mechanic as you start to push it. It's particularly finicky indoors, where, say, vaulting over a windowsill can easily turn into bouncing haphazardly between two walls. The auto-running and climbing mechanics work great in larger outdoor settings, but they're just squirrelly enough to make indoor movement a challenge. With practice, you will be able to learn and surmount the system's rough edges, at which point each wall run will become a calculated thrill.
Like many shooters, Titanfall offers both a Campaign and a "Classic" multiplayer suite. Don't be fooled by what Respawn calls a Campaign, though; Titanfall is multiplayer-only, and storytelling is far from the focal point here. Instead, the Campaign tells its brief story through in-game dialogue mostly read out during the heat of a match - and thus, mostly ignored. This mode serves as a sort of Titanfall primer. It will take you through each of the game's maps, mixing and matching modes as it goes. Most of the 'levels' are of your standard Team Deathmatch variety (here called Attrition), which happens to be my least favorite mode, so I wasn't partial to the Campaign. I preferred Classic Mode, which lets you browse servers by mode just as you would in almost any other online shooter.
Either way, you'll likely find Titanfall to be a bit anemic when all's said and done. There are only ten primary infantry weapons, three sidearms, and six Titan weapons in the game, and with the exception of an auto-locking pistol, they all fall into standard shooter archetypes. Without a campaign to fluff out the playtime, it can be hard to ignore that you've ultimately dropped 60 bones for half of what you'd normally get in a package like this.
Even taking these gripes into consideration, it's impossible to call Titanfall a bad game. At its core the gameplay is incredibly solid, even if it does cover some well-worn territory. The balance between human players and Titans is well thought out, and the two playstyles coexist with surprising comfort. As an infantry player, I was able to assign 'Follow' commands to my Titan and still feel its presence on the battlefield, even though I didn't personally want to pilot it. Other players eagerly hopped into their Titans and flattened the competition, but even they weren't immune to a pesky soldier like myself rodeoing their ride with some deft jetpack maneuvering.
Your opinion of Titanfall will rest squarely on your fondness for the modern day arena shooter. Aside from the addition of a double jump, the game does nothing to evolve the formula that has worked so well for its predecessors. It just cranks the speed up to 11, showers you in rewards, and occasionally puts you in the shoes of a big old robot. If that sounds like enough for you, by all means check out Titanfall. But if you're looking for a more in-depth or thought-provoking online experience, you're better off looking elsewhere. There are plenty of established shooters on the market that have longer legs and more content, and many more will likely come before the end of the year.