The death of Titanfall has been greatly exaggerated.
Two days ago, Respawn furnished Titanfall with its fifth title update, addressing a whole bunch of issues but most tantalising of all, promising significant performance improvements. The developer says that the patch includes "lots of yummy bandwidth optimisations as well as various delicious frame-rate optimisations... lovingly hand-crafted and squeezed into the game".
It's music to our ears. Titanfall remains one of the most intensely satisfying multiplayer shooters on the market regardless of the platform it's running on, even handing in an excellent experience on Xbox 360. But it's safe to say that from a technical standpoint there are obvious issues to address and Xbox One performance stands first and foremost amongst them.
The timing of the new update is also fortuitous in that it comes weeks after Microsoft released its June XDK - a milestone in development as it allows developers to 'turn off' the Kinect reservation on the GPU, and dedicate those resources to gaming. While the timing of the update is right, there's no indication from Respawn as to whether or not the new XDK is utilised. In a previous Digital Foundry tech interview, lead engineer Richard Baker discussed the issue with us:
Having brought games like God of War, Metal Gear, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus from PS2 to last-gen consoles, Bluepoint Games has established itself as the go-to studio for high-quality HD remasters. But its latest project is something entirely different: Titanfall - a next-gen console title built without last-gen hardware in mind - has effectively been demastered to run on Xbox 360.
With the US launch of Titanfall on the Xbox 360, gaming's best-kept secret has finally been revealed. For one of the most heavily promoted games in history, the complete media black-out surrounding the Xbox 360 version of the game has been mystifying, provoking a raft of theories. Some suggest that the game can't be particularly good in order to have been completely omitted from any and all marketing. Others - noting the involvement of respected developer Bluepoint Games - suggest the opposite: that the game may be so good that it might deflect attention away from the Xbox One launch. Now, finally, we have answers.
Let's begin with rendering resolution. The Xbox One version ships at 1408x792 with 2x multi-sampling anti-aliasing - a sub-native presentation for a console aimed at the era of the 1080p display. There are few surprises with the Xbox 360 version, which adopts a strategy similar to the Call of Duty titles on older Microsoft hardware. There's a 1040x600 native resolution here, backed up by 2x MSAA. It's a set-up that allows Bluepoint to cram the framebuffer into the 360's 10MB of eDRAM, effectively allowing it to use the hardware anti-aliasing for free with no performance penalty.
We'll go into more depth on the various differences between the three available versions of Titanfall later this week, but initial impressions suggest that Bluepoint has done well in retaining the majority of the geometry detail of the Xbox One version. There's a necessary reduction in texture detail compared to the other versions, but nothing that overtly compromises the look of the game.
Last week, Electronic Arts contacted us asking whether we'd be interested in talking with Respawn lead engineer Richard Baker to discuss the more technical elements of its new gaming behemoth, Titanfall. It's sort of opportunity we can't ignore for obvious reasons, but as well as tackling the key technological issues, this was a chance to find out what went on behind the scenes in one of the year's most high-profile gaming events - the release of the Titanfall beta. Our vision of a networked hub flooding with incoming data turned out to be just one element of the developer's surveillance - Respawn was literally watching people playing its beta with an unexpected use of a recent revolution in gaming.
Thank you, whoever came up with the idea at Blizzard for World of Warcraft's critical hit text. The way it balloons then reduces to normal size, as you unpredictably wallop for extra damage, is unforgettable.
Titanfall is not the game I was expecting.
I never thought I'd write an article in praise of a gun, but I never really saw a gun like Titanfall's smart pistol before, so I'm willing to risk it just once. This seemingly diminutive gadget is the first weapon that Respawn's lengthy - and laudably pacy - tutorials introduce you to. In its own quiet way, I think it gets to the heart of why the game's already so much fun.
Throughout the development of Titanfall, Respawn has continually talked about the importance of 60 frames per second gameplay as a key, defining element of its brand new shooter. Running at the highest v-sync frame-rate possible on standard display technology not only produces a smooth, arcade-style experience, but it also opens the door to ultra-low latency controls, and thus the most intuitive interface possible between game and gamer.
As much as I once enjoyed marching to the modern warfare beat, all ghillied up, it's fair to say the fun has long fizzled out. The Total Hours Played tally that could run into the hundreds for Call of Duty 4 has gradually petered out with each series release, and in the case of Ghosts' online mode I barely got to double digits. But for many like myself, Titanfall's interplay between mech and pilot promises a reinvigoration in theme that the console FPS scene desperately needs, direct from the talents who propelled it to centre-stage in the first place.
Titanfall's hype is so far unwarranted, but only when considering how the buzz is mismatched with what we actually know of the final product. The credentials are sound of course, and plenty has been made of Respawn Entertainment's reverence of 60fps gameplay. Early videos also brilliantly show the team's flair for economy in map design hasn't dulled, where cherry blossom stages like Angel City accommodate two wildly differing scales of play. In favour of the pilots there are tilted walls dotted around, making evasion and Titan hijacks more feasible, while the lower levels form a tightly-knit battleground for the steely brutes themselves.
This dynamic is something we've seen quite recently with Killzone 3's own mechs and jetpacks, both of which added a similar sense of scale and verticality, given the right level. But Titanfall builds its design brief wholly around these ideas, marrying them with wall-running, double-jumping and a four-minute wait until a player's first Titan drop. In the place of kill-streaks seen in Call of Duty we now have the allure of being first to take charge of these armoured exoskeletons - where taking down enemy pilots and AI grunts cuts down the wait.
You've probably spotted the fact that we're easing into the year by running through some of our most anticipated games of the next 12 months. Our YouTube editor Ian Higton's up next to the plate, and he's picked Respawn's epic looking Titanfall for his own personal choice. You can hear him work through his reasons against a backdrop of warring mechs and athletic footsoldiers in the video below. Oh, and there'll be rapped knuckles for whoever's first to complain about 6v6 multiplayer in the comments, too!
Xbox One has a mammoth 23 games confirmed for release on day one in November, more than many expected - but there's a distinct lack of role-playing games available to play.
Game of the show? Perhaps even the first major next-gen system seller? Gamescom offered the first chance to go hands-on with Respawn Entertainment's Titanfall - the brand new sci-fi first-person shooter from some of the key creative minds behind Call of Duty, the franchise that defined the current console generation. Having left Infinity Ward and regrouped with new additions to the core team, Respawn is now ready to let us play its new game, and first impressions are quite overwhelming.
With the deluge of next-gen shooters such as Destiny, Killzone: Shadow Fall and The Division content to stick to a 30fps baseline, it's clear that the ramp-up of environmental scale, higher grade effects and online integration perhaps excites developers more than slick frame-rates. However, given the yearly sales domination of 60fps franchises like Call of Duty this isn't necessarily the next-gen reality for which some gamers had hoped - even though luminaries like John Carmack suggested that this may be the case. In response, Respawn Entertainment comes from the shadows with its debut sci-fi first-person shooter, Titanfall. Described as a multiplayer-only experience for Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC, the team builds on a well-established pedigree in console FPS design by working from a "60fps first" template - adding frills only where it fits around that core ideal.
Traditional MMOs have gone out of fashion lately. It used to be that every gaming brand had exciting untapped MMO potential and every publisher wanted an MMO in its stable, but the gold rush inspired by World of Warcraft yielded little precious metal, and a lot of publishers got burned in the process - especially Electronic Arts with Star Wars: The Old Republic - while the term "MMO" has become taboo when discussing a new breed of games that includes The Division and Destiny, even though in many respects they are both massively multiplayer and online.
There's an interesting bait and switch in Titanfall, the first-person shooter from the people who made Call of Duty what it is today.
At E3 last week, in a behind closed doors presentation called Xbox 101, Microsoft engineering manager Jeff Henshaw - not a member of the PR team, he points out - tells a small gathering of journalists that Xbox One's 300,000 server cloud gives the next-generation console a unique advantage.
It's been a tough few weeks for Microsoft.