How Titanfall Heralds The End Of An Era

By Adam Ma on February 27, 2014, 1:30AM EDT

It's been a long road for the FPS genre, one that's seen a lot of change in a very short amount of time when we take a look at the overall history of gaming. This console generation alone has seen the streamlining of multiplayer, vast jumps in AI, the introduction of mechanics like killstreaks and large scale maps like never before imagined contributed in part by the hard work of numerous innovative developers; like how the mechanics of Doom were overthrown by games like Goldeneye and how Half-Life fundamentally altered how narrative was delivered. As a result gamers are always looking ahead to see where the rapidly evolving genre is potentially turning next, and it should be no surprise that Titanfall is getting so much attention as a result.

Of course there are a lot of elements to Titanfall that are simply getting buzz because they're cool. Never before have we been able to drop a few tons of robot from the sky to crush the enemy, nor interact with mechanized units on such a delicately balanced level. There is precedent being set here, but it's not really the kind that's going to alter the industry forever. Those mechanics are unique to Titanfall and no real developer would dare try to imitate the experience. In the same way that killstreaks have remained an iconic part of Call of Duty and giant buildings falling apart is Battlefield's signature Titanfall will have its own niche. It's more the way we move and shoot, rather than how, that gamers everywhere should be paying close attention to.

In a way the changes have already begun. Battlefield has done a lot of experimenting in adding a wider range of vehicles and a broader spectrum of urban environments to alter the way that the average gamer perceives what an FPS 'arena' should be, and on the other end of the table Call of Duty has started experimenting with maps that shift mid combat and interactive features across each level. Sliding and more fluid climbing/vaulting animations were also a huge part of what made Ghosts so far ahead in design compared to Black Ops. Beyond the guns and tanks is an increased focus on designing levels that are not only functional, but memorable and dramatic.

This is where Titanfall soars ahead of the competition as a next-gen title, and one of the reasons why there's so much hype building around the game; even subconsciously. Each level is approached from an entirely different angle depending on if you're a Pilot or Titan, and game modes (like in most games) create deeper levels of strategy within the already complex terrain. Like Battlefield each level is fairly large, spanning multiple urban blocks that use rooftops and open windows as vantage points. Where Titans can and cannot go is just as important as where a Titan can be dropped, and just like Call of Duty knowing the limits of the enemy support weapons and their various is key to victory.

When you consider that one of the biggest complaints of last generation's FPS craze was a stagnation in design, more creative level work as a defining point for each franchise just makes sense. Guns and mindless violence can be easily imitated after all, and the color brown has become almost synonimous with FPS design of the last decate. But if you've built a world that players love to simply explore as games like Skyrim have proven, then most other mechanics fall into place. Learning that each level is deeper than you initially thought or that there are areas to explore beyond the obvious is just as important as having good netcode or balanced weapon damage.

It's the difference between a game keeping your attention for more than just a month, and if it takes a little longer to develop as a result that's not a bad price to pay. The attention to detail in map design is something that changes the nature of gunplay, and that's what most players really want. Not trick weapons, bonus points for kills or unique melee animations, but levels that allow us a certain degree of freedom and creativity in how we approach problem solving. The problem generally being how to pump lead into the enemy.

There are plenty of other mechanics we can consider when looking at the future; some that we're bound to see more of like streaming or increased video sharing mid-match while other not-so-obvious multiplayer integration are likely to be invented along the way. Both the Xbox One and PS4 are machines primed to take advantage of this, and sharing your favorite moments with friends is fast becoming an invaluable feature in the developer toolkit.

Even if Titanfall isn't your cup of tea the benchmark for future developers that it's setting is nothing short of remarkable, and it's only appropriate that an entirely new franchise is what's catching the attention of so many; first and foremost being the eyes of the competition. The past six months have shown the trend has been in place for some time, and that anyone could see DICE's elaborate skyscraper crashing engine or Infinity Ward's strangely experimental DLC maps as just developer one-upmanship isn't looking at the bigger picture. The future is coming, we need only standby.

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