By Jamaal Ryan
The scale of Titanfall is impressive.
Vertically nimble pilots wall run, jump and jetpack boost their way round large maps, all in which can be accompanied by their impressively agile Titans. Let’s not forget the marketed cloud support – at least for Xbox One – will power AI combatants around the battlefield fighting alongside and against you as the player.
With everything going on, pilots vs. pilots, pilots vs. Titans, Titans vs. Titans, and a variation between human and AI players, knowing that the human ratio is 6 v 6 can be a jarring number.
Let’s ax this comparison first; juxtaposing Titanfall with Battlefield is silly and dumb. Comparing Battlefield with Call of Duty makes little sense in and of itself, let alone a vastly different experience like Titanfall. While the core shooter controls of today’s shooters are similar – ADS, melee and sprint mapped to left and right analog sticks – the design around these franchises are vastly different. A game like Call of Duty thrives on fast paced gameplay with tight map design and simple objectives, Battlefield’s known for massive and destructively dynamic levels populated with vehicles as the game moves along progressive objective structures. Just as the comparisons don’t work with Call of Duty, they sure as hell don’t work with Titanfall either.
Though this may be easy to forget, Titanfall is being designed by much of the core team that developed the most influential shooter of the last console generation, regardless of how you feel about the Call of Duty franchise. As accomplished veterans in the genre, Respawn tweaked, and adjusted, and scaled Titanfall to the tiniest degree – reportedly up to nearly 50 players total – to ensure that the formula works.
“Essentially there are five directions you can get killed from and the higher that player count, the more likely you are to get killed from behind and the more difficult it is to kind of manage your surroundings."
Respawn’s lead designer Justin Hendry illustrates just what the dynamism of Titanfall’s design can mean to the player in combat. Where traditional present day shooters’ attention bandwidth operates largely on two dimensions, the level of mobility and verticality in Titanfall is a sensory overload in and of itself. The overload would be exacerbated if every combatant approaching you from these five directions were intelligent, learning human players.
"The higher the player count, the more uncomfortable the game gets."
In Call of Duty Black Ops 2, and less successfully in Ghosts, less experienced players had the opportunity to engage in bot matches that were mixed with human players. Here, players were able to manage the not so advantageous AI controlled soldiers while still feeling accomplished as those who felt more comfortable with multiplayer were being served some challenge from human players. This approach isn’t just an additional mode in Titanfall, but it’s a fundamental part of the game’s design from both a narrative and a competitive multiplayer perspective. Being that Titanfall is systematically manic all the time, sprinkling in some cannon fodder will dial back the difficulty just a bit while keeping the action constant.
Titanfall’s player’s player count is determined to a science, a science of challenge, competitiveness, and accommodation. Before you know it, the rest of us will be seeing giant robots raining from the sky on March 11th.
But until then, try not to worry about Titanfall’s 6 v 6. You’ll create less stress for yourself.