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Tiny vs Big: In praise of Titanfall's smart pistol


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.

Firstly, let me explain the background: I am a poor online shooter player, and I have never really gotten excited about scoring a headshot or a one-hit-kill. I now realise that I've never been excited about this because in the past I've done it so infrequently - and so accidentally - that I've never started to get high on what a headshot feels like. The smart pistol has taught me all this, and it's also taught me that headshots feel good - that the only thing that truly feels better is a chain of headshots, in fact. It does this because it places the headshot - or at least the one-hit-kill - firmly within range of idiot players like myself.

There are two things to talk about here: idea and implementation. The idea behind the smart pistol is that, if you wave it in the rough direction of a foe, you'll get a lock-on - or three in the case of a pilot - which will allow you to kill whoever you're targeting with a single squeeze of the trigger. Furthermore, you can target multiple enemies at once, and kill them all with that single squeeze too.

Fftunk indeed. The smart pistol's one example of how keen Titanfall is to make everyone feel awesome, no matter where their skill level is.

It's a lovely concept for fast-paced stealth - and it works great if you're cloaked - but it's the implementation that really marks it out. Once locked on, the snout of your pistol - I'm sure that isn't the right term - is connected to any targets by a curving red fishing line of light. There's also a lovely high-pitched clicking sound that tells you you're good to go. Finally, the smart pistol makes the most satisfying of gun sounds - that sort of muted power-stapler fftunk! This is so much better than an all-out bang in my mind. It suggests precision and efficiency and a kind of cold-blooded nonchalance.

The genius of all this, though, is that it allows weaker players to feel like assassins for a few seconds. It gets them into a game that might otherwise terrify them, and it gives them a fleeting sensation of being competitive. It's not unbalancing - a truly talented player, or even a moderately decent one, will still come out on top in a battle of wits - but the smart pistol has worked its magic by that point all the same. It's shown what mastery can feel like, and that's all the impetus you really need to launch yourself down the long runway to legitimate mastery.

And there's something emblematic about the smart pistol, too: it speaks of the care that's been put into the details of the wider game - the ease and dynamism of the parkour, the effortless changes in scale as you shift between titan and pilot, the end-of-battle mash-up as the victor hounds the defeated to their escape craft, the simple magic of referring to players as pilots - a cost-free piece of business that does more to sell the fiction than a million expensive cutscenes.

Titanfall's big, brash, enormously loud, then, but it's also built on a selection of tiny, precise, and surprisingly quiet virtues. Fftunk.

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