Titanfall: The game that made me like multiplayer gaming again

titanfall_screen_1Titanfall (Xbox One, PC)  is the game that has brought me back to online gaming.

I don’t tend to play multiplayer games much these days.  Maybe it’s because I can’t be bothered playing with  the whiney 12-year-olds that seems to be online when I am  (I always mute other players anyway, both on my team and on the opposition) or maybe it’s because my ageing reflexes just can’t cut it with the young whippersnappers that populate popular online game: I’ll often fumble trying to change a weapon as a foe approaches, only to be taken down by another who has snuck up behind me.

I’ve  dabbled in Halo, Battlefield 4 and other online games I’ve tended to give up after a couple of days (and a few hundred deaths). Titan fall is different, though.

The debut game from Respawn Entertainment (a development studio made up of a lot of people who worked on Call of Duty), Titanfall has, somehow, captured me with its mix of giant robots and fast, frantic combat. It’s prob ably the novelty of controlling the game’s titular Titans that has swayed me but every day since the game launched I’ve played several matches a day, keen to level up my avatar. I think I’m sitting at level 18 at the moment, which isn’t that impressive compared to the high rankings of other players, but it’s much higher than any rank I’ve got in any other online games. It’s clearly doing something right if it can capture the attention of a gamer who usually despises online gaming.

At it’s very heart Titanfall is similar to the bulk of online games out there: pick a character and Titan class (Atlas, Ogre or Stryder), drop onto a map, take out the enemies/capture the flags/hold the markers, re-spawn when you die – but it has a notable point difference in that once a match is over, it’s not actually over: The match doesn’t end  until the victors have either stopped the defeated team from boarding a jump ship or the defeated board the jump ship that evacuates them from the war zone.

If I’m being honest, I’ve hardly made any evacuations when I’ve been on the defeated side (which is many times) – maybe six or seven in the numerous games I’ve played – but it’s thrilling trying to make it to evacuation point without being spotted by enemy foot soldiers or Titans. Do I wait until the last minute to sprint for the waiting ship, fingers crossed that I’ll make it on time? Or do I hide near the pick up zone, cloak then hope like hell I don’t get spotted?

Rodeoing a Titan: this .gif shows just one of the neat things you can do in Titanfall.

Rodeoing a Titan: this .gif shows just one of the neat things you can do in Titanfall.

Players start each match as a pilot class (there are three classes available) and the more kills you get the sooner you’ll gain access to your Titan, a heavily armoured and armed mechanical robot that drops from the sky with a ground shaking thud. But, often, I found many times that I don’t actually call in my Titan during a match, despite the fact that I could. There’s something exciting about being a pilot parkouring around rooftops and walls, activating your cloaking device then dropping silently onto the top of an unsuspecting enemy Titan – it’s called rodeoing – , ripping off a maintenance hatch and blasting its innards, causing it to become doomed and exploding into pieces just as you jump off.

That’s the thrill: Not duking it out with several most likely higher ranked Titan, where the odds are more stacked against an inexperienced pilot. That said, it’s great ejecting just as your Titan’s core goes nuclear, propelling you into the air, the resultant explosion destroying the foes in the vicinity.

As you progress through the game you’ll unlock more tech and weapons for both your Titan and your pilot (sidearms, rifles, ordnance), and at first I favoured the assassin’s smart pistol – a sidearm that locks onto a target before you can pull the trigger – but I quickly realised that while the smart pistol is useful against the AI- controlled grunts that make up the numbers during matches (there are only six human players each match: The rest are AI-controlled minions) that usually just stand there and shoot, it’s not so great against human opponents who are more unpredictable, making locking onto them all that much harder.

There will come a time when Titanfall becomes repetitive and I’ll put it down and move onto something else: That hasn’t happened yet but it’s only been a week or so. I’m hoping Respawn will counter that potential repetitiveness with more maps and new game modes. I’d also like to see match making done a little better: Many of the matches I played had Level 35 players squaring off against Level 10 player. Hardly fair, really, is it? Perhaps Respawn can work out someway to have similarly skilled pilots against each other.

TitanfallcockpitTitanfall will probably result in increased sales for the Xbox One – lets face it: It’s one of the few games worth having on the console at the moment – and it will probably have the same effect on other gamers as it did me but with  no single player campaign, it’s got a limited appeal for gamers who love an engaging narrative.

If you want a story-based game, Titanfall isn’t the one you want to pick up. Another downside for Titanfall is that because it’s totally reliant on an internet connection, if your internet goes down – which it will  – you can’t play it. Keep that in mind.

When the game first launched, my games were connecting to a data centre in the West Coast of the United States, giving pings of about 164ms – not ideal for online gaming where you want as little latency as possible – but since Australian servers came online late last week, I’m getting pings of 62ms, which is much, much better, and I’ve heard of gamers in Sydney – where the Aussie servers are located – getting pings as low as 18ms.

Overall, Respawn has delivered a solid, satisfying game experience that will satisfy online gamers and has done enough to stand out from the stock-standard online games out there. Now the job for Respawn is to make sure it supports it so that people will keep playing it in the months and years ahead.

Uodate: I forgot to mention Titanfall’s burn cards, which, I guess, can be likened to Call of Duty’s perks. You earn burn cards as you progress through the game and while you can activate one as soon as each round starts, generally a burn card will come into effect once you’ve died and you re-spawn. Burn cards can range from anything to reducing the amount of time it takes until your Titan falls to extra XP for killing enemies to spawning a group of grunts around an objective to protect it to swapping out a particular weapon for a higher powered one. You can have three burn cards active at any one time, so you’ll often find you’ll swap and change while you’re in the lobby to find the one that will best fit the situation.

Update two: I finally got around to trying out the so-called campaign mode. What a waste of time it is, to be honest. I don’t really know why Respawn bothered to tack it on, apart from perhaps trying to give a bit of backstory to the IMC and Militia conflict. The campaign is just online multiplayer matches with some narrative layered over it, but sneakily, the only way you can unlock two of the three Titan classes is complete both sides of the campaign. If I thought the campaign was worth playing, I’d be prepared to do that but I’m not, so I’m stuck with the Atlas Titan chassis for the foreseeable future.

I’m a Kiwi so it makes sense to finally have a .kiwi domain name, right? Well, now I have

It wasn’t the usual opening line I get in emails, but it was an opening line that got my attention: “You don’t know me, but I’m a follower of your blog. You’ll have to forgive me for stalking your domain to find your email address!

It was mid-2013, and I was still blogging for Fairfax New Zealand with that other blog I used to do (I remember what it was but it’s ancient history now), and the email was from Tim Johnson, the then-Canada-based head of Dot Kiwi, a group founded to establish the .kiwi domain name – a domain name that Kiwis could be proud off and own themselves.

In his first email, Tim told me that “we’re eager to partner with various organisations and individuals who are influencers” to get momentum going in the .kiwi domain names. Being a journalist I guess I had a bit of an ego when it comes to how much what I write about influences people, so Tim classing me as an “influencer” boosted my ego immensely.  How could I not want a piece of this when my ego had been flattered by classing me as an “influencer”?

Tim and I stayed in touch over the next few months and over the course of about 30-plus emails it’s finally got to this domain name: gamejunkie.kiwi – a truly New Zealand-flavoured domain name that I can call my own. And you can call it yours, too, if you want, I mean, gamejunkie.kiwi is as much mine as it is yours.

You can learn more about .kiwi here, where you can find out all about the .kiwi story, the people behind it and it’s where you can register your interest so that you’re kept in the loop about what’s going on. It’s currently in the Sunrise phase, which is where existing trademark holders can apply to have a .kiwi domain name that matches their brand name.

When you think about it, though, as Kiwis it makes sense to have our own unique domain name system, right?

New Zealand might be a small country at the bottom of the world but we’ve forged a pretty damn strong identity with the Kiwi brand name, an identifier known around the world. Up until now, we’ve been restricted to domain names like .com or .co.nz or others but .kiwi was never an option. Until now. Now it is. Surely having a .kiwi at the end of your brand name or company web address is really championing New Zealand and announcing to the world that, yes, I’m proud to be a Kiwi? I know I am.

As of today, March 10, the domain name gamejunkie.kiwi, which Dot Kiwi kindly gifted me,  has been registered and is up and running. The process was pretty smooth, actually, and the only major change was that my WordPress basic account was upgraded to a Premium account so the new domain name could be attached to my WordPress account. You can now also email me at gerard@gamejunkie.kiwi, if you like. Go on: I’d love to get an email from you.

In the scheme of things, nothing’s really changed: It’s the same content, the same person running it (me), the same irregular blog posts, except you can now get to this blog using gamejunkie.kiwi domain name.

By going .kiwi, I’m embracing my Kiwiness. That’s kinda cool.

Batman Arkham Knight: Take my cash right now

Sok! Pow! Crack! Kazow!

OK, so the above words come from the Adam West version of Batman in the late 1960s (it was so camp but fun to watch: Oh, and let it be noted I watched it much later in life, not during the 1960s) but they’re so fitting for the announcement trailer of WB’s next Batman game, Arkham Knight – and man, am I shaking in my Batcave for this one to come out.

OK, so it’s only a cinematic trailer so we shouldn’t get all excited but damn, it’s hard not too when you get a glimpse of the caped crusader and all that’s going on in the 3 minute-something trailer. And the game’s coming from Arkham Asylum and Arkham City developers, Rocksteady. Yay!

The trailers got explosions, Penguin, Two-Face, Harley Quinn, (I think) a voice over from The Scarecrow telling Gotham City that this is its only warning,  and a contemplative Bruce Wayne (oh, there’s also a voice over reading out the last will and testament of Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father, who hoped that  Bruce used his money and legacy to the benefit of Gotham City).

In a nice touch, the trailer has Thomas Wayne hoping that Bruce didn’t waste the money on fast cars, outrageous clothes and a destructive lifestyle – just as we see a glimpse of the Batmobile and a new-look Batsuit.  The Batmobile here is a pretty kick-ass Batmobile but it’s very reminiscent of the tumbler one in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, and that’s not a bad thing.  THE BATMOBILE (calm down. Breathe, breathe).

The last Batman game, Origins, was, in my (semi) professional opinion pretty rubbish, if my memory serves me correctly.  It just didn’t stack up against Arkham Asylum and City – and not surprising. given that it was  made by a new studio created by WB while Rocksteady were secretly working on the next game in the franchise.

Well done, WB, well done, you kept this one quiet.

Back to the trailer, though: Woo-eeee it looks good. And did I mention that the Batmobile is in the game? And you get to drive it? I did? Oh, sorry.

And Batman Arkham Knight is being made for this current-generation only (that’s Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC). There’s not going to be versions for the PS3 or Xbox 360, and I think that’s a good thing. It means that Rocksteady can put all its effort in to creating good current-generation content rather than diluting it by having to make last-generation versions, too. More developers need to do that, actually.

So, Batman Arkham Knight is due out in October sometime. Time to start saving up some money, then.

Update number 1: I can’t believe I forgot to mention that Kevin Conroy, who really is the voice of Batman, makes a return as the Dark Knight in Arkham Knight, after being replaced by another voice actor in Arkham Origins. Yay for the return of Kevin Conroy.

Update number two: Here’s some more information I gleaned from Joystiq today. 

Lead AI and combat programmer Tim Hanagan told Game Informer that “at any given time, there are between three and four times the number of thugs active in Gotham City than there were in Arkham City,” and that larger riots in the game will have up to 50 characters wreaking havoc.

Arkham Knight is set one year after Arkham City, in which Batman’s foes have banded together to tear the Dark Knight’s attention away from a crumbling Gotham City. The single player-only game will also include an arch-villain created from scratch by Rocksteady and DC Entertainment CCO Geoff Johns. Rocksteady’s initial announcement focused on another big addition to the Arkham series: Players will get plenty of time in the driver’s seat of the Batmobile, which can be fetched at the press of a button, can handle the jumps and boosts expected of the more reckless drivers among us and will eject Batman out of his seat at times. Also back to voice characters is, Nolan North who will voice Penguin, Wally Wingert who will voice Riddler, Tara Strong will continue as Harley Quinn and Troy Baker will voice Two-Face again.

Funny how things never turn out quite as you expect them to

I haven’t done much video gaming lately. Maybe it’s because it’s the first-quarter lull before games start arriving.Yeah, that’s probably it.

Maybe it’s also because we’ve temporarily shifted house for five weeks and all (bar about five) my games have been packed away in cardboard boxes and are sitting in a shipping container, waiting until I can take them out and stack them lovingly on my hallway bookshelf and in my entertainment unit (the unit under the TV is where I put all my “currently”playing games; The hallway has all the I-might-play-these-some-time-soon-but-I’m-not-sure games).

That said, I took my Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 with me to the temporary house, expecting to be playing lots of games. That was the plan, anyway.

When we did an inspection of the house it had a TV fitted to the main lounge wall so I thought “Sweet. We can watch TV on that one and I’ll bring one from home to play games and stuff on”. It’s funny how things don’t always work out as you plan.

You see, it seems the set-top box that was mentioned on the “House list” wasn’t there anymore. It had been taken away by the owners (the property manager only told me after I’d moaned about it not being there)  – and my usual set-top box has a standard aerial connection not a coaxial one, so I couldn’t get anything to work. Even when I bought an  adapter that apparently should have let me connect a coaxial cable to my Freeview box. As much as I tried nothing.

So we’ve got a lounge that has two TVs but only one of them is functional. It’s not ideal but it’s only for five weeks (hopefully less) so I can live with it: One TV with three consoles and a DVD recorder attached. There are cables snaking everywhere. It’s probably a fire hazard.

I’m still living in the land of unemployed, not having managed to have found a full-time job yet. I have been writing regular articles for Australia website techly.com.au, which is pretty cool.  Of the four articles I’ve done so far, I’ve done one on the Titanfall beta, which I loved and I’m really looking forward to the game.

Falling from the sky: Despite being multplayer-only, Titanfall is a game that I'm really looking forward to - and I don't usually do online-only.

Falling from the sky: Despite being multplayer-only, Titanfall is a game that I’m really looking forward to – and I don’t usually do online-only.

I’m hoping to pick up a copy of Titanfall when it’s out. I haven’t decided whether I want PC or Xbox One. I’ve been internally going through the pros and cons of getting either: The PC one looks better and I can still use a game pad with it, but I’ve got hardly any friends that will be playing it on PC. The Xbox One version might not look as good as on PC but I’ve got heaps of friends who will probably play it on console. I’m sure I’ll make a decision before the game’s released early this month.

King LeBron: My son's loving NBA2K14, but he's not loving being on the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team isn't very good, apparently.

King LeBron: My son’s loving NBA2K14, but he’s not loving being on the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team isn’t very good, apparently.

My son’s played more games than I have lately on the Xbox One, spending his time on NBA2K14, desperate to get his character transferred from the Minnesota Timberwolves. He got his wish yesterday when he asked for a transfer: Turns out he was traded to a team worse than the Timberwolves (the Washington Wizards or something? Is that right). He now wants to go back to Minnesota! I just laughed at him and said he should be careful what he asks for.

I’m still laughing about it actually. It’s virtual basketball and he’s so invested that he wishes he could be traded back to the team he wanted to get out of. Ha.