What does it say that "Titanfall," the most highly touted next-generation video game to be released thus far, also looks and plays perfectly fine on a last-generation machine?
Maybe it says that those next-generation consoles, or just the Xbox One in particular, only incrementally out-muscle predecessors like the Xbox 360.
Or maybe it says that Bluepoint Games, the studio tasked with porting "Titanfall" to the 360, staffs nothing short of technical wizards.
Whatever it says, "Titanfall" on Xbox 360 is enough of a freewheeling blast to make me forget the question. It mainlines the senses with bluster and verticality of a constantly changing scale, becoming, for me, the first multiplayer shooter to hold my attention for more than a few hours since the first two "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" games. Those, not coincidentally, were designed by Infinity Ward, whose founders went on to establish Respawn Entertainment — the designers of "Titanfall."
At the base level, two ideas make "Titanfall" so exhilaratingly fresh: Mechs and mad ups. Not only can your pilot call down those massive titular walking tanks, climb into them and wreck shop, but they can also wall-run and double-jump — if only to hop aboard enemy Titans and empty clips into their circuitry.
These two new variables in the equation create so many experiences not found in other multiplayer shooters:
The rush of dodging fire, across no man's land or down the side of a five-story building, to board your Titan and turn the tables.
The strategy of assembling Titans that can not only hold their own against others, but against pilots who can "rodeo" the mechs or chip at their armor with slow-locking RPGs.
The split-second window you have to shoot dead a fellow pilot as you both fall from hundreds of feet in the air after ejecting from mutually destroyed Titans.
Respawn's proven talent for engineering lasting multiplayer is the mortar for it all. There's the usual process: You gain XP for killing pilots and AI support grunts, completing objectives and fulfilling career challenges, all to unlock weaponry and loadout slots. The game also benefits from the introduction of burn cards: single-use perks like foot speed and weapon lethality that last until you die. And the slick, colorful menu presentation makes the options and progression much easier to comprehend.
Nine fantastic maps depict another destroyed future under orange skies, some orbited by space stations and one dotted with dragon skulls. The action takes several stock forms: Attrition (death match), capture the flag and domination, joined by more tailored modes pilot hunter (attrition, but grunt kills don't count) and last Titan standing (exactly what it sounds like). A campaign exists, though the pre- and post-match dialogue that tells the story is too scant to say much at all.
Were "Titanfall" part of a bigger package with an actual singer-player campaign, it may have been met with the kind of next-big-thing praise that "Modern Warfare" garnered. But as a rare multiplayer-only game — burdened with expectations to justify its own $60 existence, to be something radically new and paradigm-shifting — it, of course, seems to falls short. Its position as herald of a new generation of games certainly hasn't helped in that regard, either.
On Xbox 360, though, half of that dilemma disappears, which means the game can be more closely evaluated on its own phenomenal merits. Sure, with Bluepoint's translation comes more critiques — there's some texture pop-in, screen tears and framerate drops, sometimes all in the same match. Too rapt running and gunning, I often didn't notice.
So that may Bluepoint's biggest achievement here: By distilling the essence of Respawn's "Titanfall" into so fun an experience on Xbox 360, the studio has supplied convincing evidence that the next generation of games will be ruled by ideas, and not by technology.