Be warned, this article contains substantial spoilers for part of Titanfall 2's campaign
There's an element to Titanfall 2's campaign that's really surprising, and I am not referring to the fact that Titanfall 2's campaign is actually good. Like so many of the sections in Titanfall 2, this part of the story introduces a novel gameplay mechanic, then lets you play around with it for a while before moving on to the next one. What was really interesting about this section, however, was not so much the mechanic itself as the reaction it prompted in me.
In order to do it justice however, I'm going to have to spoil this section of gameplay fairly substantially. If you haven't played Titanfall 2's campaign and in any way care about having one of the most interesting sections spoiled for you, you should turn away now. From the next paragraph onward, pilot, you're in spoiler country.
Hello, thanks for sticking with me. Right, there's a bit in Titanfall 2 in which you enter a building that's fallen into violent disrepair. While once a fully functioning research facility, it's now host to a bunch of barely functioning robots and vicious local fauna. It's a bit like Crysis 3, only Cevat Yerli isn't going to apologise for it in a future interview. Anyway while in this facility, you acquire a wrist mounted gadget very similar to the Time Manipulation Device from Activision's underrated (and under-marketed) Singularity.
Not only does this gadget gift us the absurd screen prompt 'press L1 to time travel', it allows you to swap freely between the present day facility and a recent past in which it was fully manned. And when I say manned, I mean flooded with a bunch of enemies. More on those in a second.
With the facility being riddled with security doors in the past and moderately on fire in the present day, you have to ping between these two timelines in order to navigate the building; bypassing obstacles that are only present in one version of the building or the other. Swapping back and forth, of course, also determines what enemies you encounter. Say you come across a room full of robot sentinels, for example - they'll still be there if you switch to present day, but they'll be on their last legs and thus considerably easier to kill. Similarly, you might use the time gadget to return to the present day, only to get attacked by one of Titanfall 2's quadrupedal lizard-cat things.
It's an enjoyable puzzle section in and of itself, but something happened to me while going through this particular segment that gave me pause. It made me reflect on my actions in a way I really didn't expect from a first person shooter campaign. See, the past version of the facility is crammed with human enemies, all of them decidedly hostile toward you. These men are identical to the enemies you spend Titanfall 2's entire campaign killing in droves, being as they are from the same military force.
And yet, despite having slaughtered dozens upon dozens of them already, I found myself completely unwilling to kill the soldiers in this one particular section of Titanfall 2. As soon as I realised I could simply slip into another timeline and bypass them entirely, I completely lost my sense of willingness to shoot these men. Instead of being worthy antagonists, they became something else - they were powerless to stop me and too stupid to know when they'd been beaten. Their aggression became something from which I wanted to protect them, rather than something I wanted to counter with deadly force. In other words, it seemed churlish to go back in time and kill these men, erasing them from a timeline in which they were (presumably) still alive and doing something else, simply because I could.
I navigated this section by crossing into present day as frequently as possible, hoping the men who formerly manned this facility were off having a nice time wherever they happened to be at that moment. For the sections in which I had to go back in time to progress, I sprinted past them as swiftly as possible so I could return to the nice dilapidated present day facility. There was no sentimentality to my actions per se, I just don't like punching down. I got to progress through the facility, they got to live. Everybody won.
As I realised I was playing this way without really thinking about it, I had to stop and think about how remarkable that section actually was for a first person shooter. I think we're used to FPS campaigns being pretty one note; they're largely chest beating, impersonal affairs, rarely stopping to consider the element of humanity to warfare (or even that there might be one). But the choice presented to me by this time gadget - whether to cut down a bunch of enemy troops for larks or not - allowed me to role play Titanfall 2 in a genuinely meaningful, if fleeting sense. This brief portion of Titanfall 2 acknowledges that even in a war zone, the choice to kill someone is just that - a choice - and one that frequently strays into ethical grey areas. And for something that incisive, that poignant and that succinct to come from a macho shooter like Titanfall 2 is kind of remarkable. If nothing else - if I've read too much into it, as I am wont to do - it was an interesting breather in the midst of a campaign built on endless, stylish slaughter.