The founders of Infinity Ward were giants in the field, leading the team that created "Call of Duty." More than anyone, they're responsible for the modern first-person shooter format, with its frenetic pacing and persistent leveling system.
Fans knew that Infinity Ward's next project could again have the same genre-defining effect as its previous blockbusters. With that much hype, founders Vince Zampella and Jason West and their new studio, Respawn Entertainment, have a lot on their shoulders. Fortunately, the developer's new project, "Titanfall," mostly lives up to those expectations.
The sci-fi shooter is the evolution of "Modern Warfare." Working in a distant future in which humans have colonized the stars, players take on the role of Pilots, soldiers who drive around house-sized mechs called Titans. Players are tossed into one of two factions -- the IMC conglomerate or the rebellious Militia. These two forces are essentially the same as they battle each other over the Frontier.
What's interesting is how Respawn does away with the single-player campaign and melds it with the multiplayer experience. It's all one and the same, with the story providing context for each battle. Players will be fighting each other and giant mechs called Titans. They also will enter head-to-head robot battles. Players will follow the rise of the Militia in scenes that bookend each map, and they will meet characters such as the reluctant war leader James MacAllan and his rival Marcus Graves. After the Militia campaign is done, they'll play through the IMC side for a different perspective.
When it comes to narrative, players shouldn't expect Shakespeare. That's never been Zampella and West's strength. The two are better at letting players forge their own stories, setting up rich sandboxes where the unexpected happens. Each map has a goal, whether it's fragging other pilots or holding onto map points, and after the outcome of each match, there's an epilogue in which the losers race to an extraction point while the winners try to prevent their escape.
The way a pilot can move makes navigating a map more nuanced. The pilot's abilities to double jump and wall run are game changers. There's a skill to climbing and leaping to the tops of building. It's jaw-dropping and is partly why "Titanfall" is beautiful to watch on livestreams.
The Titans add a new element to firefights. They allow players to dominate the battlefield, but they must be deployed strategically. Determining when and how to use them is the key to victory.
All of this is excellent, but what fans should be really excited about is "Titanfall's" potential. Respawn has built a fantastic foundation, and Zampella and company (West left Respawn last year.) have barely even scratched the surface of this universe. There's so much more the developer can add (new mechs, maybe, or a branching story).
The game breathes new life into a genre that's been stagnating.
Platform: Xbox One, PC, Xbox 360 (March 25)