It isn't supposed to be like this. Multiplayer-focused shooters are supposed to be one-trick ponies, yet here we have Titanfall 2. As a multiplayer game, it improves on what was already a pretty singular experience. The big surprise, however, is a single player campaign that, although a bit short, is mechanically and creatively one of the best of the year. Coming hard on the heels of games like Battlefield 1, Gears of War 4, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare -- all of which are boasting good to excellent single player experiences -- Titanfall 2's campaign still manages to impress.
Multiplayer-focused games like Titanfall 2 often tack on a single player experience primarily as an extended tutorial, giving players the opportunity to acquaint themselves with weapons, systems, and environments prior to diving into the competitive modes. Titanfall 2's campaign serves this function as well, but does it with such excitement and variety that learning the game's fluid traversal systems, Titan loadouts, and combat mechanics becomes effortless. Every system is introduced through a story beat and then the level becomes an exercise in exploiting that system as thoroughly as possible. Double-jumps, wall runs, popping in and out of a Titan, and the imposing mech boss battles themselves all are woven into the fabric of a "boy-and-his-mech" story.
The plot of Titanfall 2's campaign isn't going to win awards for originality or rich complexity, but both neophyte Titan pilot/player character Jack Cooper and his faithful Mech, B.T., are written and voiced as appealing -- and wryly humorous -- characters that grow to understand each other's strengths and weaknesses. While the story moves in a straight line from point A to point B, throwing Jack into one furious encounter after another, each battle allows for some variety of approach and usually, a broad array of weapons and tactics. There are some moments in which the game forces the player to follow a mechanically rigid path, usually involving platforming through the environment, and these can feel frustratingly limited in comparison to the more option-heavy areas of the experience. Boss battles are real highlights, demanding that the player muster as many skills and resources as possible.
There are few games that exploit the possibilities of three-dimensional space as well as Titanfall 2, with nearly every vertical and horizontal surface suggesting a potential route. Both interior and exterior spaces look incredible and can be downright mind-boggling and disorienting in an Inception sort of way. Like the pacing of the game, Titanfall 2's insistence on keeping things fresh and interesting means that the player will be constantly moving between lush outdoor environments, vast factory-like spaces, and even illusory arenas. Although human character models aren't quite cutting edge, the game's animations, music, and sound design come together beautifully.
The original Titanfall was one of the most anticipated titles for Xbox One, and although well received, was criticized for its lack of a single player campaign, and somehow failed to capture the long-term devotion of the multiplayer community. Once again, Titanfall 2's multiplayer component -- if no longer the singular focus of the game -- is excellent. Evolutionary, it retains much of what made the original so much fun, while adding a slew of new Titans, loadouts, weapons, and tactical toys like grappling hooks. Multiplayer battles are fast and frenetic but allow for a wide variety of play styles. At heart a team-based experience, Titanfall 2 mutliplayer wisely gives less social players a way to contribute to victory without narrowing them to playing specific classes or assume specific roles.
Even if you never touch the multiplayer side of Titanfall 2, the game is worth the price of admission for its creative and continually engaging single player experience. Challenging, puzzling, surprising, funny, and above all, satisfying, the campaign elevates Titanfall 2 to one of the best shooters of the year. Pair that stellar accomplishment with an equally full-featured competitive suite, and the result is the definition of "must buy."