Titanfall was not designed with single-player in mind. From the bottom up, it's a shooter geared toward competitive play and frantic firefights, delivering both at a breakneck pace in a variety of game modes. While the 2014 debut title from Respawn Entertainment did feature a story-driven campaign, it was built around the existing multiplayer formula. In Titanfall 2, however, that's no longer the case.
"It was hard," producer Drew McCoy told GameSpot. "With the mechanics of Titanfall, you can't just say, 'Let's get rid of that titan,' or 'Nope, no wall-running or double-jumping.' So it was a tough transition into single-player. We were almost ready to admit defeat."
But judging by a recent single-player demo at Respawn's headquarters, the studio is embracing the challenge. The campaign seems entirely designed around the franchise's core pillars: parkour and the dynamic interplay between pilot and titan. The sections we saw were fluid, open-ended affairs, lending Titanfall 2's single-player a tone much different than those of many military shooters.
That is, Titanfall 2 won't be all linear passages and "Follow" objective indicators tied to various AI characters. The demo followed Frontier Militia rifleman Jack Cooper as he crashed on an alien planet, assumed control of a dead squadmate's Titan, and navigated the rocky crags of an overgrown canyon.
The mission unfolded in a series of mini sandboxes, or small arenas that allowed for the series' trademark vaulting, wall-running, and double jumping. At the outset, Cooper needed a new battery for his newfound Titan, codenamed BT-7274. Interstellar manufacturing Corporation (IMC) enemies barred his way, but by making use of his technologically advanced movement capabilities, Cooper darted along walls, slid under rocky outcrops, vaulted over sniper perches, and eliminated the soldiers one by one.
Through it all, there was a definite intimacy to the campaign's script. Dialogue was endearing, and oftentimes funny, driven by the relationship between Cooper and BT: the pilot was impulsive and emotional, the machine blunt and calculated. BT is a far cry from the machines of the first Titanfall, who lacked personality in general.
"There's a 68 percent chance of landing safely," BT told his pilot before throwing him across a chasm.
"What about the other 32 percent?" Cooper asked.
Compound fractures, dismemberment, blindness, brain trauma, internal bleeding, organ damage--BT details every possible injury in a 15-second response that grows in hilarity until the pilot interrupts his mechanical companion. If the rest of Titanfall 2's campaign leans on its writing this much, the result could be something much more personal than the big-picture focus of the original Titanfall's narrative.
Single-player wasn't this check box we wanted to mark off. It was something that we, as developers, wanted to do.Producer Drew McCoy
After jumping to a later mission based around mech combat against larger robot enemies, Titanfall 2 embraced its arcade-y side. A high-ranking enemy introduced himself in his own cutscene, title card and all, just before the demo ended--it seems Respawn is implementing boss fights in its campaign.
What's more, at a certain point in the demo, Cooper swapped BT's Titan loadout on the fly, weapons, abilities and all. Based on a quick pause screen, BT had access to the Scorch and Ion classes available during our E3 demo, as well as the Ronin variant announced after the event. Essentially, BT is able to change between each of the multiplayer classes at the press of a button.
"We've had to solve a lot of problems with single player, as far as how the game works," director Steve Fukuda said after the demo ended. "We did a lot of exploration and experimentation--how the multiplayer mechanics should apply to a single player campaign. We had to capture the energy of multiplayer to make it all work."
Despite the attention Respawn is paying to character development, a deeper narrative, and maintaining the core kineticism of Titanfall's identity, the question remains: Does Titanfall 2 need a single-player campaign? Is its inclusion just an appeasement to players who expect single-player content at the traditional $60 price point?
"When we started Titanfall 2, it wasn't a forgone conclusion to include single-player," McCoy said. "It wasn't this check box we wanted to mark off. It wasn't market-driven development. It wasn't marketing research.
"For us, single-player was a chance for us to expand on the universe we established in the first game. It was something that we as developers wanted to do. But we also wanted to bring more people to the party--those people who don't always want to go online and deal with the stress of the competitive game."
Respawn has yet to detail the overarching story arc of its single player campaign, and while we have spent more time with the shooter's multiplayer aspects, that content is under embargo until next week. But if the recent demo is any indication, Titanfall 2's single player campaign is more than just an afterthought.