Titanfall 2 delivers something its predecessor didn't - a single player campaign. And although the story is more or less cursory, the gameplay and level design is superb.
Add to that a strong improvement on the first title's multiplayer options and you have the best first person shooter this year on your hands.
Developers Respawn, formerly of Call of Duty fame, aren't out to move the player with a touching tale. It's a straightforward good guys/bad guys resistance struggle, but it does the job of giving the player a reason to continue.
The plot follows aspiring pilot Jack Cooper who must quickly learn how to operate a Titan after his commanding officer is killed in the field, leaving him with the killing machine he calls BT. The banter between the two fluctuates between cringeworthy and charming.
Before getting the chance to wreak havoc and devastation on enemy forces, we're forced to learn how to traverse the landscape - and what a traversal it is. In no other FPS will you find controls that feel so smooth and natural. The controller feels like an extension of the mind as you glide across walls, cross huge gaps, and slide under doors.
When access to BT is granted, the gameplay is turned upside down. Instead of rushing around, the player plods along, setting fire to every organism within reach.
Toward the end of the story, the game introduces some great jumping and platforming puzzles akin to Doom and Portal. The boss battles are a nice touch, though the final fight seemed a little easy compared to earlier segments of the campaign.
The multiplayer makes a strong adjustment from the last title, giving the player a bit more space and time to strategise rather than throwing them into a frenetic warzone.
Bounty Hunt is particularly good, with players racking up cash from killing other enemies then depositing their bounty in one of the map's banks. Of course, the banks are hardly safe zones, so things get out of control pretty quickly.
The campaign could have been a tacked-on feature, but instead it's a fleshed-out and gorgeous looking experience with some tense moments and great jumping puzzles.
The full package is a commendable effort from Respawn and a sure contender for game of the year.
Platforms: Playstation 4, PC, Xbox One
Verdict: A huge improvement with incredible controls.
A quick word with ... art director Joel Emslie and CEO Dusty Welch, from Respawn Entertainment
NZ Herald: Gamers were pretty vocal about issues they had with Titanfall 1. What changes did you decide to make to the sequel?
Dusty Welch: They wanted a bigger sense of partnership in this universe, this story that was created in Titanfall. They wanted more of that. We were passionate about wanting to explain the Titanfall universe. The way to do that is to give you a story of Jack and his Titan BT, and how they evolve together. It's like any great movie, you've gotta set it up with this story, the struggle and strife they go through.
How did you go about crafting Titanfall's first single player campaign? Was it a lengthy process?
Joel Emslie: It was a two-year process, working in tandem with the multiplayer team and sharing assets back and forth. The writing has been going on the whole way. Doing a single player was mindbending. How do you approach this? You're dealing with mechanics that are so powerful in multiplayer - a character can skip across a massive map within seconds. We had to think about balancing that, putting a challenge to a player but giving them the freedom they're used to. When you play Titanfall 2 single player ... once it picks up you're doing something different every level. You could pick one of our levels and make a whole game out of it.
How closely do you listen to fans, and how much of their advice did you take on board when crafting the sequel?
Dusty: We're passionate about the games we make. We're gamers too. We're passionate about our craft, we're always out there reading the message boards, Reddit. It's poweful, it helps inform us and what's going on. We spent a solid nine months doing consumer rounds of research to dissect the IP and franchise and figure it out. That told me a couple of directions we needed to go in - one of those was a single player to ground them in the universe and make them care about the game.
Joel: Some people said we ignored our fans. I was shocked. I've been doing this for over 20 years and I've never worked on a project where people are more attentive to what the community is saying. We're aboslutely listening - we read all of it. It gets sent out to the entire crew. We sit around and have active discussions about how we solve this problem. We want to make a game that people want to play.
Now that it's finished, what's your favourite thing to do in Titanfall 2?
Joel: What I've been most surprised about, with the single player I'll usually play it once or twice. But I'll test this one thing out and I get stuck, it's three in the morning and I'm still going. There's something about it that reminds me why I'm in this business. There are incredibly awesome moments where it's paced well, in single player I'm doing things I've never done in the Titanfall universe. It's really exotic.