Platforms: PS4, Xbox One (tested), PC
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Release Date: Out now
Titanfall 2's intro video fetishises the Pilot, an elite infantry unit with heightened senses, advanced agility and superior speed. These super soldiers dominate the battlefield, sprinting across sheer walls straight into flanking positions, sliding under gaps and peppering enemy kneecaps as they skid by – constantly moving in a deadly dance seemingly ripped from John Woo's wet dreams.
Pilots are also idolised because of their Titan, a hulking machine bonded to them via a neural link. In this metallic shell they're near-unstoppable: catching bullets with a magnetic force field and launching them back; splatting grunts beneath a giant steel fist; blocking out the sky with a deadly rocket barrage – it's easy to see why these machine's operators are so revered by regular infantry.
You begin Titanfall 2's campaign as one of these vanilla infantrymen – a guy whose name is exciting as the prospect of a Rich Tea biscuit dunked in cold water: Jack Cooper. He finds himself stranded behind enemy lines, and his veteran pilot mentor dies, linking his mech to Cooper and giving him access to his specialist Pilot equipment.
Cooper isn't a rifleman for long; before you know it he's horizontal, scurrying across walls like a Persian prince, double-jumping like Dante, and cloaking like the Predator. Developer Respawn Entertainment could have easily held this moment off for a few missions, but this isn't that kind of game. Empowering you is Titanfall 2's main concern.
Every encounter feels like a fast, scrappy, exciting headlong rush – there's an unparalleled sense of forward momentum. Standing still makes you vulnerable, so you're forced to gracefully throw yourself around environments as you attack, popping up from unexpected angles.
In one encounter I sprint along a wall, firing as I go, and launch myself into a cluster of goons with a double-jump, crunching into an enemy with an outstretched boot and sending him hurtling from a cliff. From here, surrounded by enemies, I ping my cloaking device, using the brief respite to sprint and slide to their flank. In one smooth motion, I turn and pepper head-height with assault rifle rounds, popping off helmets with each satisfying thud and dropping them in succession.
Even if it was just these adrenaline-fuelled encounters on repeat I'd be happy, but Titanfall 2's campaign is also expertly-paced and wonderfully varied – you're always coming across a new weapon or a fresh gameplay twist. It's an assault of concepts that never lets up across its perfectly succinct runtime. It's as if Half-Life developer Valve decided to make a first-person version of Platinum's Vanquish. It's that good.
You might be wondering what makes new weapons so exciting. Well, there's an angry, energy-powered SMG that fires faster the longer you hold the trigger, turning enemies into mush in a barrage of heat death. There are incendiary-loaded throwing stars. There's a double-barreled sniper rifle. There's even a massive cannon that fires a ball of charged electricity.
Each new weapon feels like an event. While there are multiple guns within the same class, they all have a different twist and, crucially, they're all feel deadly, punchy and gratifying. The game's levels are just as distinct, with most built around some fresh concept, and they're all expertly tossed aside long before they outstay their welcome.
You can go from wall-running and gunning on-foot, straight into a massive Titan battle. In your mech, one minute you can be scrapping enemy Titans, and the next you can be sprinting down a corridor filled with enemy soldiers, turning them into meaty soup with each stomp.
One standout section sees you armed with a time manipulation device that allows you to flip between the past and the present with a button. The pristine corridors of the past are filled with enemy soldiers, while the present – reclaimed by nature – is stuffed with malfunctioning droids and indigenous creatures. You use this one-off mechanic to solve puzzles, cross gaps and flip between time periods during battles.
Popping in and out of existence feels amazing, switching to the present to bypass a laser grid and coming up behind unaware enemies for a deadly shotgun blast. Boom! You even fight battles across two different timelines, switching between them as you're overwhelmed – it's frantic, slick and is easily one of the game's most inventive, standout moments. Later levels contain other twists, though I'll let you discover them for yourself.
Titanfall 2's campaign is easily the best I've played in years. Even the game's forgettable story and characters can't drag it down; instead it's memorable for its unparalleled inventiveness, blistering pace and memorable set-pieces. Respawn is a development studio made up of the minds behind Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's genre-defining campaign, and you can clearly see that heritage here.
Online, Titanfall 2 is just as accomplished, cleverly leveraging some of the same tricks the campaign uses. Its best modes mix enemy players with a smattering of AI-controlled bots. Here even beginners can feel like they're contributing by churning through AI drones. Advanced players might tear through these grunts before quickly training their sights on enemy pilots, maybe even mid-knee slide, dropping them and triggering Titanfall – perhaps calling in their mech so it crushes an enemy Titan on impact.
Titans are all different this time, too, and they all have their own set of abilities, complete with a chargeable "ultimate". It's as if Respawn has been side-eying hero shooters like Overwatch, because Titans now feel like unique characters: there's a teleporting Titan that's strong up-close; a flight-capable sniper; a flame-launching metallic hunk that can block off areas with a trail of fire; and more. The single-player will teach you the basics of these classes, but it's in mastery of the multiplayer's excellent maps where you'll be most rewarded.
As with the original game, these maps are wonderfully designed to cater to the Pilot's moveset. Each building's window sits at the perfect height for a sprinting double jump. Architecture is angled so wall-runs followed by a jump will send you onto a roof, or into a building, or perhaps straight into another wall-run. They're designed like race tracks, looping and intersecting to take advantage of each player's agility, keeping the action flowing around each chaotic arena.
There's a mix of the usual modes: Capture the Flag, the conquest-style Hardpoint, the team deathmatch-style Attrition, Free-For-All and others. The standout mode, for me, is Bounty Hunt, a competitive team game that asks you to kill enemy pilots and AI-controlled enemies for cash. Limited time bounties are placed on enemies for extra dollars, and you can also get bonuses for banking money at set intervals. You lose half of this bonus when you die, making banking a very risky prospect when the other team's doing the same. The fear of loss makes this mode incredibly tense.
Titanfall 2 boasts the best FPS campaign since Modern Warfare, and it comes bundled with an exciting, hyper-fast multiplayer that will keep you entertained for months. This is proof that Respawn is still the best shooter developer in the business. Like a Pilot zipping along a vertical surface, I can only hope the developer maintains its impressive momentum.