The holiday gift-giving season is upon us and, not coincidentally, the year’s biggest Triple-A video game are hitting shelves. Triple-A is the emerging designation for those big-budget, high-profile games that are the equivalent of Hollywood blockbuster movies.
Like those heavily promoted films, Triple-A games tend to be visually spectacular and highly polished, and that’s certainly the case with “Titanfall 2” (Rated M), sequel to the popular 2014 sci-fi shooter. The “Titanfall” games proceed from a familiar space adventure premise: Scrappy resistance fighters take on a monolithic galactic empire, etc. But the series offers a style of play that’s unique to the genre.
Basically, there are two contrasting battle modes in “Titanfall,” each designed to complement the other. Initially, the player assumes the role of a Pilot, elite high-tech special-ops soldiers generally regarded as the most dangerous warriors in the universe. Pilots come equipped with battle suits that allow for superhuman stamina, short bursts of flight and insane battlefield maneuvers.
Lethal and graceful, Pilots can run sideways along vertical surfaces and deploy cloaking devices. Once you get the hang of the martial style, it’s a lot of fun. “Titanfall 2” hits that sweet spot of game design in which effective combat moves are easy to learn but hard to master. There’s a real sense of progression as you learn the system, and the controls are tight and responsive. Weapons feel weighty and real. Tactical thinking is rewarded.
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Titans of battle
The game’s second combat mode involves those titular Titans, massive armored exoskeletons that you pilot from the inside, similar to the humanoid Jaegers from the 2013 monster movie “Pacific Rim.” Titan combat is all about the heavy metal. The game introduces six new Titans, each with a particular suite of themed weapons and abilities. Titan battles are whole different ballgame, with raw power and blunt force replacing the relative subtleties of Pilot combat.
Probably the most significant upgrade to “Titanfall 2” is the solo campaign mode, which is surprisingly engaging and frequently funny. You assume the role of rebel militia soldier Jack Cooper, who finds himself playing a critical role in the war against the IMC. That stands for Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation, the far-future industrial conglomerate draining the natural resources of every planet in the galaxy.
As Cooper advances through the story’s early chapters, he bonds with his first Titan and the designers have some fun with the oddball relationship. If you get an Optimus Prime vibe, you won’t be alone. But you might be surprised by the subsequent story twists and escalating emotional stakes. New Titan variants and other equipment are introduced and unlocked as the story unfolds.
Prepare to die
“Titanfall 2” also features several expansions to the full-bodied multiplayer suite of options from the first installment. In addition to new maps and environments, the designers have added clever twists to classic modes like Capture the Flag or Bounty Hunt. The Pilot’s grappling hook tool opens up space to try out some creative strategies, but be prepared to die. A lot.
The game has an uncommonly generous array of options for different skill levels and preferences. (There are even toggles that adjust for certain kinds of color blindness.) Beginning players will appreciate the augmented reality tutorials in which hologram projections show the most efficient route forward.
For fans of sci-fi themed shooters – or those buying gifts for fans of sci-fi themed shooters – “Titanfall 2” is a square deal; a top-shelf Triple-A game with a solid solo campaign and plenty of multiplayer options.
My only complaint: I’d like to see some fresh story lines in these space epics. Ever since the Death Star blew up Alderaan, it’s been a steady procession of increasingly goofy doomsday devices. I’ve probably saved the galaxy, like, 50 times since 1977. Not that anyone notices. You’re welcome.
“Titanfall 2” is now available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.