The Titanfall beta wrapped up rather abruptly yesterday (I thought it was running until Friday), and so with no more mechs to ride, I popped in Call of Duty: Ghosts instead. It’s an odd experience going from one game to the other, and it really served to highlight the major and minor differences between the elder franchise boosted to immortality by Vince Zampella and Jason West, and their new game from their new company, Respawn.
I’ll skip the obvious, like Call of Duty’s glaring and completely unforgivable lack of mechs (jokes), but there are a few points worth noting in the areas where the two are more directly comparable. (Update: I just noticed my colleague Dave Thier had his own take on this issue yesterday, though he mainly focuses on Titanfall’s advantages.)
Titanfall Has The Edge In…
- Speed. Perhaps another obvious comparison, but wall running and double jumping aside, the speed at which players are allowed to move around in Titanfall is a breath of fresh air in the genre. Call of Duty, Battlefield and Halo all suffer from “slowness syndrone” where it can take ages to trek across the map, only to be killed and reset all the way back. Titanfall makes it far easier to get around with a general speed boost in addition to its super jumps and wall runs.
- Respawns. I was instantly reminded of one of Call of Duty’s most major issues when I was repeatedly spawned and killed almost immediately by an enemy from outside of my line of sight. It took me going back to Call of Duty to even realize I hadn’t dealt with this much at all in Titanfall. Perhaps the maps are bigger, but respawning in general seems a lot more fair. There were far fewer “oh you’ve got to be kidding me!” moments as I died for the fourth or fifth straight time after immediately coming back to life. It rarely happened in Titanfall, but it’s beyond commonplace in COD.
- Deaths. Generally speaking, you die far less in Titanfall than in Call of Duty. I was able to finish many matches without dying at all, and most of the time would hover around 3-5 deaths. I only saw the most abysmal of players ever crack double digits (myself included, if I was having a bad game). To try and quantify it, I’d say you die at least twice as often in Call of Duty, which can often be incredibly frustrating if you go on a bad streak or are a new/casual player. Due to big maps, harmless AI enemies, a lower player count, and a huge life shield in the form of a Titan, your lives often last minutes, not seconds, which is refreshing. Call of Duty’s frenetic kill/die cycle seems like it should make for a faster paced game, but that isn’t the case due to Titanfall’s increased mobility. More kill and deaths do not necessarily make for more excitement.
-Kills. Another reason Titanfall doesn’t feel as slow as it could is because of the controversial AI bots. As you do die frequently in Call of Duty, you can often get in frustrating “tilt” loops where you die without killing anyone, respawn and repeat the processes, getting increasingly frustrated each time. In Titanfall however, even if you don’t kill a player, chances are you’ll kill at least a handful of bots before you die, so you at least feel like you’re doing something rather than being a drain on your team. It also helps that bot kills, pilot kills and titan kills all contribute to the finale score in different ways, and it’s not just flat K/D ratio that matters.
Call of Duty Has The Edge In…
- Gunplay. Despite this being West and Zampella’s new baby, there’s just something a tiny bit off about gunplay in the game. Gameplay is more fun and intense in Titanfall as we’ve addressed, but the shooting itself just isn’t quite Call of Duty caliber. The sound, the feel, the visuals are just slightly off point. The titan weapons in particular feel more like Nerf guns than missile launching doom devices, and the regular guns don’t handle quite as well as their COD equivalents. Only just perhaps, but it’s enough to notice when playing the two side-by-side.
-Grenades. While guns may be a razor thin difference between the two games, the grenade system is quite loopy in Titanfall right now. Perhaps the fast-paced nature of the game contributes to how they seem to lack usefulness, but I don’t think that’s an excuse. Halo has similar gameplay to Titanfall in many ways, but made the grenade a core part of gameplay (sometimes too much so). I found myself using my grenades far less in Titanfall than I ever have in COD or Halo, and the delivery/damage system needs tweaking for them to be more relevant. I would also request some form of the always hilarious sticky ‘nades, as it’s the perfect style of game for them.
-Unlocks. I’m hesitant to fully put a point in COD’s column here as the Titanfall beta was just a demo, and there could be a lot more behind the curtain, but there seems to be a lack of customization and unlocks. I know that shooters have been overloaded with such things recently, and while I’m not saying there need to be a dozen assault rifle variants with dozen attachments each, or players need to be able to have KISS facepaint or ghillie power armor , I think there’s stuff being left on the table with Titanfall. In a game with this much cool sci-fi flair, it seems odd you can’t customize your character past their gender. The same goes for custom building your Titans. I believe you can unlock some different skins, but it would be cool to build either your own armor or mechs piece by unlockable piece.
- AI. I’m still mixed on Titanfall’s AI bots. While I think it does help with making new or death-streaking players feel like they’re contributing, the AI in its current form is a bit weak. I’m not sure it’s even possible for an AI soldier to kill you, and half the time it feels like you’re slaughtering defenseless, dumb animals that just happen to look like humans or warbots. Call of Duty’s lack of AI players may be considered a point in its favor, and I can’t shake the idea that if it was indeed possible to have 8v8 or 12v12 games instead of flooding the map with bots, Titanfall would be better for it. There’s always a faint pang of sadness every time I kill an AI thinking it’s a player, and then I realize I really haven’t done anything all that impressive at all.
Call of Duty, despite being cool to hate these days, has been on top for so long for a reason. They still do a few things better than Titanfall, despite being the beloved new kid on the block.
That said, even if the tally appears to be four to four, I think the points in Titanfall’s favor carry more weight. When playing Call of Duty, I often feel incredibly tense and frustrated the majority of a match, only rarely punctuated by joy as I go on a particularly impressive rampage every so often. But in Titanfall? There’s far less tension as you’re almost never caught in a hair-pulling kill/death loop. You die far less and are able to accomplish a lot more with each life most of the time. And above all, there aren’t rare moments of fun, it’s almost all fun.
Perhaps I’m just jaded after a solid decade of Call of Duty games, and I’ll be saying the same thing about Titanfall someday, but for now, one of these series feels exciting and the other, despite doing many things well, doesn’t.