This Dumb Industry: Why Doesn’t Titanfall 2 Work?

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Nov 29, 2016

Filed under: Column 131 comments

Everyone just expects that this is how things will be: A big budget multiplayer-focused shooter has a single-player campaign that nobody cares about and nobody expects anything from. Reviewers play it, shrug, and then say “Sure, it’s not great, but this game is all about the multiplayer!”

Which is true enough. But it’s sort of baffling how reliably these stories come up empty. It’s clearly not for lack of budget. Millions of dollars are spent on these campaigns. The acting talent is there, because you’ve usually got big-name voice performers in the lead roles. The story isn’t undercut by glitches, harmed by lack of exposition (quite the contrary) or bogged down by an impenetrable plot. It’s usually aiming to be a bombastic action movie, and yet these games never seem to connect with the audience even on that basic level. They can’t even attain the brute-force emotional engagement of (say) Guardians of the Galaxy, District 9, or the Bourne Identity, even though none of those movies had particularly lofty goals.

So what’s going on here? Developers are trying so hard to imitate the language of cinema. Why do their stories keep striking out?

I think Titanfall 2 provides a pretty clear answer to this question. It seems to have all of the ingredients of a typical action blockbuster, and yet after five hours of lavish spectacle it comes up feeling empty and shallow. Let’s look at why…

The Story

Man, look at these nice people farming with their peaceful giant robots. I sure hope bad guys don't destroy it in a slam cut 5 seconds from now.
Man, look at these nice people farming with their peaceful giant robots. I sure hope bad guys don't destroy it in a slam cut 5 seconds from now.

Titanfall 2 takes place in a far-flung space-future where the IMC (the bad guys) are fighting the militia (the good guys). It’s a pretty standard remix of space marine stories of the past, except that in this universe there are a small number of super-capable soldiers who get to become “pilots”. They form a neural link with a two-story robot buddy. Even without the help of their pet robot, a pilot can usually single-handedly dominate a conventional battlefield. They can drive the mech around and blow stuff up, or they can get out and let the robot fight autonomously while they parkour their way through enemy forces like a mix between the Prince of Persia and Neo.

In the game you play as Jack Cooper, a lowly rifleman. Pilot Lastimosa has taken Cooper under his wing, sure that Cooper will make for a great pilot someday. Lastimosa teaches Cooper in his off-time, even bending the rules to make sure that Cooper gets the training he needs.

In the first mission of the game, Lastimosa is mortally wounded. Just before he dies, he makes Cooper a pilot by handing over control of BT, his robot-buddy. So half-trained Cooper has to team up with the overly literal BT to complete the mission. Along the way they uncover the plans for a doomsday weapon that can destroy their homeworld. Their job is to stop the IMC from using this weapon before time runs out.

Is this cliche? Sure. But I don’t think that hurts the story. In fact, the plot itself is one of the few things the story has going for it. Heck, this story is half Star Wars, which was itself a bundle of already-existing cliches and tropes. The world loves Star Wars despite the extremely familiar story template, and Titanfall 2 could have worked just as well if it hadn’t fumbled on some of the basics.

Intensity Fatigue

Farewell Lastimosa, we hardly knew ye. Literally.
Farewell Lastimosa, we hardly knew ye. Literally.

The game is in such a hurry to get started that it doesn’t even stop to set up the stakes of the story. We’re supposedly fighting to save a planet, but we don’t have the name or face of a single person who lives there. We never visit it. The closest we get is a shot of an empty field during VR training. Is that moment really supposed to sustain our entire attachment and represent everything we’re fighting for? It’s like an action movie where the hero spends the whole time trying to rescue a girlfriend he never talks about and who never appears on-screen.

But Shamus! Star Wars blew up a planet without ever showing it to us!

The emotional punch of destroying Alderaan doesn’t come from the explosion, it comes from Leia, a firmly established character who the audience cares for. Titanfall doesn’t have any characters that can do this for us. We experience the destruction of Alderaan through Leia’s eyes, and her anguish is what makes us hate the Empire and care about the rebellion. Later, we get a secondary dose of pathos when Ben Kenobi reacts to the same event. Oh, and speaking of the mentor character…

Lastimosa shouldn’t have died on the first mission. You don’t kill off the mentor character in the opening action scene, because it’s too abrupt. It’s like one of those clumsy revenge stories that kills off the wife / kids / village right after the opening credits instead of letting us get to know them and build an emotional connection to make their death meaningful to the audience.

You’d need at least one “regular” mission to establish the status quo before you upend it. We needed one more scene of them palling around before Cooper was thrust into greatness. Yes, I know the game designer was worried about making the player wait too long before giving them their mech, and that’s a valid concern. But the introductory mission wouldn’t have needed to be very long, and it would have gone a long way to giving us the proper emotional setup. Half-Life 2 made us wait over half an hour before we got our first firearm and it was one of the most memorable and talked about sections of the game, so I think Titanfall 2 could have safely waited until the second mission to put us in the driver seat of an off-brand Jaeger.

Yes, that’s a small quibble. But it’s indicative of the larger problem that the storyteller has no sense of restraint. They think every moment needs to be intense, hurried, epic, frantic, and exciting, which means that the whole thing blurs together into an indistinguishable roar of sound and fury. Crysis 2 had the same problem. I can’t get excited as everyone screams at me to hurry up and stop the super-weapon before it goes off, because people have been screaming at me to hurry for the last four hours.

Link (YouTube)

Titanfall 2 isn’t as bad as some games in the genre, but it still suffers from an overabundance of urgency. George Wiedman already made the definitive video on this topic, but the gist is that the action scenes can’t seem exciting unless they’re contrasted against quieter moments. And just to be clear, we’re not talking about times when you stop playing because it’s a non-interactive cutscene.

If you play the (free) Lost Coast level for Half-Life 2 with developer commentary turned on, you can hear them talk about the need for these moments. In a gameplay sense, it’s good to let the player explore a space and get to know an area and appreciate the scenery before you open up the mook spigot. In a storytelling sense, it gives the player time to stop and reflect on what’s already happened, and wonder what’s going to happen next. It builds a sense of anticipation.

These moments don’t even need to be long. In fact, they shouldn’t be. It should just be an area to explore where nobody is shouting at you over the radio. You don’t force the player to stop and reflect, you just need to allow them to do so.

Titanfall 2 has a few semi-slow moments, but not nearly enough to break up the long sections of unrelenting action. These moments should be a regular part of the rhythm of the game. There’s nothing like those quiet moody intervals we saw in Half Life 2 during the Nova Prospekt chapter, where the lights were low, there was some slow haunting music playing, and we were allowed to feel a sense of mystery and apprehension.

Almost No Characters

Cooper giving a casual thumbs up to the Captain is probably one of his most expressive moments in the game.
Cooper giving a casual thumbs up to the Captain is probably one of his most expressive moments in the game.

This is a game with no real characters. Sure, there are people in it that seem like characters. They have names and voices and character models. They copy the style of cinema. Sometimes someone makes a joke, and they sometimes react to big events, but they don’t actually fulfill the duties of a character. Ask yourself: What’s the big motivation for these characters? What’s driving them to do the things they do? What’s their character arc?

Titanfall 2 repeats the mistake of Fallout 4 by giving us a main character who is voiced, yet not characterized. Cooper doesn’t really have any given ambitions aside from the things related to the mission and his direct survival. He doesn’t have any amusing quirks, interesting history, odd opinions, hobbies, hang-ups, or dreams. It’s the worst of both worlds. We don’t get a mute onto which we can project ourselves, and we also don’t get a memorable character. The writer refuses to fill in the protagonist, and yet they forbid us from doing the job ourselves. Yes, Cooper gets a tiny bit of buddy-banter with BT. But that doesn’t make him a character and it doesn’t make him interesting. (Especially since the few glimmers of humor come from BT.)

Lastimosa gets a tiny slice of characterization. He says at one point, “I’m not even supposed to be training you.” That’s a pretty good hook, but they never hang anything on it. That’s an interesting start, but the idea is dropped the moment it’s introduced. Just think of all the interesting angles you could explore with that idea. Maybe he thinks the existing pilot program is too slow. Maybe he thinks they’re choosing the wrong people to be pilots. Maybe he had a crush on your mom back in the day. Maybe he feels like he owes a favor to one of your parents. Maybe he’s haunted by some mistake in his past and as penance he’s trying to save you from repeating it.

I’m not asking for a ninety-minute drama here. We just need one or two short conversations to establish why he’s training you and what he hopes to accomplish. The conversations can even be optional for the player. It’s only a couple of minutes of screen time, which is nothing in a game this size. It would make all the difference. The player could inherit his motivation (avenge some wrong, prove that the pilot program is flawed, whatever) when Lastimosa dies.

But no. He dies pretty much as soon as the game starts without the writer ever investing in him. His death means nothing and we feel nothing.

BT is probably the most thoroughly characterized person in the whole game. Which is a problem, since he’s deadpan, stoic, and overly literal. That kind of character works best when attached to someone loud, vibrant, or manic. He needs someone to play the clown to his straight man shtick, and Cooper is too empty to make that work. (Note how Portal inverts this, making the player the straight [wo]man and the robots the clowns. That way we’re not leaning on the stoic to do all the heavy lifting in terms of characterization.) Yes, BT is occasionally fun. But compare him to other robo-buddies and robo-foils like GLADos, Wheatley, G0-T0, Shodan, Legion, Claptrap, and HK-47. Love them or hate them, you at least feel something towards these robots. BT is supposedly the high point of this game, but I’m betting he’s not going to turn into a meme like those others. He’s not a great character. He just seems that way compared to everyone else in Titanfall 2.

Also note that BT barely has any motivation aside from his programmed directives. GLADos was deeply and disturbingly obsessed with testing. Wheatley had a crushing inferiority complex. G0-T0 had a enormously ambitious plan to save the galaxy through subtle manipulation. Legion was a prototype, the emissary of an entire race, and a Commander Shepard Cosplayer. Heck, even annoying Claptrap’s one-note struggle to make someone like him is more interesting than BT’s simplistic drive to “complete the mission”.

Again, that’s fine if BT is an understated character. Not every fictional robot needs to be a malfunctioning nutjob. The problem is that BT is supposed to carry the emotional weight of the story and his character design isn’t equipped to do it.

You might argue that BT and Cooper share a character arc. At the end the story sort of pretends they bonded. But it’s not like they started off at odds and learned to work together. They didn’t have ideological differences to overcome. They didn’t have any emotional baggage to deal with. They didn’t start off in a state of mutual distrust. They didn’t bicker at first. They didn’t suffer a bunch of setbacks because of problems with their relationship. They didn’t have clashing personalities. They began their partnership realizing they needed to work together, and then they did exactly that for the rest of the game. Neither of them really changed. That’s not an arc, that’s a five-hour status quoAnd no, the misunderstanding over the “shortcut” doesn’t count as conflict..

For contrast: Consider Wreck-It Ralph. In that story, Sergeant Calhoun has a traumatic past that haunts her and interferes with her budding relationship with Felix. In the story, she overcomes this event, transcends it, and begins a new life. What I’m talking about here isn’t the main character or the main plot. This is an arc between two side characters that happens far in the background of a breezy 100-minute children’s movie. And yet BT and Cooper can’t even establish an arc that simplistic in the five hours they spend together as the central characters of Titanfall 2.

I'm passed out just enough that I can't shoot either of these main villains as they climb out of their Titans, but I'm awake enough that I can sit up and hear all of their exposition. This is a very specific level of unconscious.
I'm passed out just enough that I can't shoot either of these main villains as they climb out of their Titans, but I'm awake enough that I can sit up and hear all of their exposition. This is a very specific level of unconscious.

I guess I should mention the bad guys. Or rather, the one bad guy template that keeps popping up over and over:

  1. Who are you? It doesn’t matter. I’m too busy being evil to trifle with a lowly pilot like you.
  2. Hello Cooper. I’m just calling to remind you that you have no skill and I don’t care about you.
  3. I guess I underestimated you. Perhaps you are a worthy adversary after all. Now I look forward to killing you. But first, I will send waves of mooks at you for some reason.
  4. Ha ha! Now I will kill you because I am so stro-OH NO HOW DID I LOSE?!

I forget how many enemy pilots you meet that follow this same pattern. (To mix things up, sometimes the writer has them skip step #3. And the last one does something unexpected.) Although to be fair, I guess it does qualify as an arc. I mean, a character announces a goal (kill the player) and this desire is resolved when they fail (because you kill them) so it does sort of qualify as arc-ish. But it’s completely uninteresting because you know how it will end the moment they call you for the first time, and it’s made that much worse through repetition.

Stories Require Emotion. Emotion Requires Characters.

What do you mean a faceless killing machine with no personality isn't a character?
What do you mean a faceless killing machine with no personality isn't a character?

I suppose I should do my usual disclaimer: This game isn’t terrible. I actually really enjoyed it. It’s one of the better examples of the genre. The people praising it are no doubt comparing it to the other games in the genre. Which, fine. Titanfall 2 is Shakespeare compared to the average Battlefield. But that’s like saying “this guy is the best singer in professional wrestling”. It doesn’t mean he’s a good singer.

Sure, BT is kinda fun, the parkour really makes the gunplay more lively, and stomping around in a Titan is gleefully empowering. I complain about this game not because it’s bad, but because it could be so much better.

I find these kinds of games to be kind of frustrating. The cinematic presentation makes it feel like it’s trying to be a movie, but it’s not. It copies the tropes and presentation of the modern blockbuster, but it’s completely unable to connect and make us care about things beyond mowing down the faceless dudes on the way to the next objective marker. You think you’re about to eat a banana split, but when you dig in you find out it’s just a big pile of whipped cream with a cherry on top. Sure, none of it tastes bad, but it’s also strangely unfulfilling and leaves you wishing all the ingredients were present.

It’s a shame. The money is there. The cinematic talent is there. The voice acting and animations are there. But the writing isn’t, and I doubt this is going to change anytime soon. The developer would need to recognize this problem and decide to aim higher. Given the fact that sales are usually good and review scores are high, they’re likely to assume this stuff just doesn’t matter to most people.

And maybe they’re right. But I think they’re underestimating the value of careful pacing and solid characters. Maybe they’re happy to make something vapid and forgettable, but I think they’re squandering the opportunity to make the kind of game we’ll still be talking about a decade from now. Get the gameplay right and you get a fun action game like Doom. But if you can do that while also getting the characters right, you’ll have a classic like Half-Life 2, Uncharted, or Last of Us.



[1] And no, the misunderstanding over the “shortcut” doesn’t count as conflict.

From The Archives:

131 thoughts on “This Dumb Industry: Why Doesn’t Titanfall 2 Work?

  1. Hypatia says:

    “Everyone just excepts that this”

    1. thak says:


      Incidentally, there’s another typo later on:

      “Titanfall 2 isn't as bad as same games in the genre”…should be SOME games…

      1. Neil D says:

        Couple others:
        “This is a game no real characters…”
        “Is that moment really is supposed to…”

        1. Scampi says:

          “The closest get we is a shot of an empty field during VR training.”
          should be
          “The closest we get is a shot of an empty field during VR training.”

          1. MichaelGC says:

            And: “Sure, none of tastes bad,” near the end. :D

    2. Leonardo Herrera says:

      Yup, I think it’s “accepts.”

      Also, “The closest get we”.

      Good article!

  2. Yerushalmi says:

    There is, after looking it up on Wikipedia, a band called “The Luchagors”, which is fronted by a professional wrestler. Also, there’s a Japanese wrestler named Kesen Numajiro who sings his own entrance themes.

    I know nothing about professional wrestling, but my curiosity was piqued and I just had to look up whether Shamus’s analogy was true. So if Titanfall 2 is Shakespeare compared to the average Battlefield, I guess that means Kesen Numajiro is Titanfall 2 compared to the average… uh… somebody help me fill this in?

    1. Drew says:

      Not to mention Dwayne Johnson (AKA “The Rock”) sings as Maui in the new Disney film Moana. And he does a nice job of it, too. Not sure he counts as being in professional wrestling anymore, but it’s hard to resist picking nits, isn’t it?

    2. Andrew says:

      Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is an excellent singer; check out his “Rock concerts” or go see Moana.

      Chris Jericho is the frontman for his own band, Fozzy.

      Aiden English used to sing his own entrance theme live.

      1. Rayen020 says:

        John Cena released 3 Rap albums.

        Most wreslters who have lyrics in their theme songs are the ones who sang those lyrics.

        Big Cass is currently thought to be the best singer on the Main Roster.

        1. Von Krieger says:

          I’d forgotten the actually decent wrestler-musicians because they hadn’t really left a makr on me. I went immediately started shuddering as I recalled my thoughts over a decade ago of listening to Jeff Hardy’s band.

    3. mechaninja says:

      Am I the only one that knows about Ladybeard fronting Ladybaby for a couple years?

    4. Lachlan the Mad says:

      On the other hand, as a classical music snob, I would say that the ability to sing a pop song in no way translates to being able to carry an opera, or even a musical. Sure, The Rock can sing a Disney role pretty well, but I’d hold off before casting him as Wotan (Odin) in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. That’s one of the meatiest singing roles ever written, and if I was looking for the best singer in the world, I’d start from a list of people who played Wotan.

      1. Geebs says:

        I bet you any money you like that the world’s best Wotan can’t sing any given Stevie Wonder song correctly ;-)

  3. Alex says:

    Kind of mystified by the assertion that Titanfall 2’s singleplayer campaign has been ignored or getting bad reviews – I’ve only really heard or read good things about the SP campaign, that it’s actually a nice surprise.

    1. Bropocalypse says:

      I guess numbingly bland gets a pass when compared to offensively bad; those who feel nothing will ignore it and those who enjoy it will actually say something.

      On the other hand, an atrociously awful story might garner greater attention. Either way, both are easier than putting in real effort.

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      When Shamus used the words “typical action blockbuster” I thought that’s not the same as a good movie… So compared to other typical action games’ singleplayer campaigns Titanfall may not be bad at all, which would explain the lack of bad reviews, but that does not mean that it works well as vehicle for a story, even by action blockbuster standards.

      I think maybe Shamus put a little less clarification and disclaimers in this article than he usually does, but then I think that most readers should by now know how to interpret these articles. From what I gathered elsewhere he does not seem to hate the game in general, and we all know what a story nerd he is.

      1. Trix2000 says:

        I think really it comes down to the difference between a movie (or game) we enjoy and a movie (or game) that we remember and quote for years.

        Sure, both are nice to experience, but one is basically consumable while the other continues to pay dividends.

    3. Aldowyn says:

      Most of what I’ve heard has been about mechanical things, not story beats – notably the ‘Effect and Cause’ level. Some love for B.T., but that’s about it. Since Titanfall 1 didn’t even have a campaign, the sequel’s being reasonably good wasn’t really expected by most people.

  4. MrGuy says:

    I find these kinds of games to be kind of frustrating…
    it's completely unable to connect and make us care about things beyond mowing down the faceless dudes on the way to the next objective marker.

    I think this is the problem statement and it’s explanation in a nutshell.

    Disclaimer – I haven’t played Titanfall 2. But I’ve played other games that have a grafted-on single player campaign.

    The fundamental problem, as I see it, is that the single-player campaign in games designed to be multiplayer isn’t for people like you. Or people like me. By which I mean people who really enjoy a strong story-focused narrative that (to us) is worth as much as great combat or impressive gameplay. i.e. people who really, really like Half-Life 2.

    Think about it from the designers’ perspective. They’re designing a game around player-vs-player. Their focus is on carefully balanced combat systems, interesting mechanics, and building interesting ways for players to surprise evenly matched foes. They are focused on making gameplay that rewards player skill. Designing environments that will challenge without being unfair. That’s the game they’re trying to make.

    A designer with that focus will not put that mantle down for awhile to decide to graft on a single player game that’s designed to appeal to people like us, who don’t necessarily value all those things as highly, and instead want an interesting story told in this world. They want to show off all those systems they so lovingly balanced, not compromise them to make a different kind of game.

    The people they want to appeal to as their core audience is the audience who really wants that multi-player. And the single player game will likely be designed to appeal to people who want their single-player to be more a training for multi-player. Or a 1-on-none opponent when their friends are offline. They’re not asking themselves “what would appeal to a Half-Life 2 fan?” They’re asking “What single player experience would a multi-player focused player want?”

    So that’s what we get. The story needs to stay out of their way. Everything that’s not combat is a connecting element to get us between combat elements. The combat isn’t there to support the story – the story is there to support the combat. So, yeah, it’s perfunctory. It doesn’t go into depth because the audience it’s designed for are probably not longing for depth in the story, and long between-mission gameplay elements will potentially bore people waiting for the next big combat setup. It doesn’t have quiet time because quiet time is specifically not what the devs think the core audience is looking for. It just keeps raising the stakes of combat because it’s all spectacle, and it just needs to keep building. “Mowing down dudes” IS the point.

    Could they have done a single player campaign that’s more focused on people like us? Sure. But it would have required more resources be poured into something that’s not really central to what they were focused on. But more to the point, it means making the single player experience less what their core audience was looking for.

    Sure, you could argue that a more compelling story mode would mean they have a large audience base – both the HL2 fans and the CODBLOPS fans buying the same game with equal fervor but for different reasons. I’m skeptical that middle ground is easy to achieve, and that trying to get there arguable makes the experience less compelling for the people you target more than it makes your game have wider appeal. If Valve had cut levels from HL2 to spend time on making a meh multi-player experience add-on, they’d have pissed off the folks that liked the game, and still not really attracted the multi-player crowd in droves. It’s the worst of both worlds

    1. Bropocalypse says:

      As someone who enjoys both singleplayer and multiplayer for different reasons, I can honestly say that singleplayer campaigns don’t satisfy my multiplayer itch if I go looking for it; At least for me, the joy of multiplayer is in the uncertainty, the personally-set goals, the camaraderie, and the intimidation given by the opponent. Singleplayer, on the other hand, is about exploring new places, having a clear and interesting goal, and experiencing a story.
      Because these desires are wholly separate, to me the idea of “What single player experience would a multi-player focused player want?” is like asking “What kind of cake should we serve to someone who wants to eat fried chicken?”
      I mean, maybe you’re right, maybe fried-chicken-flavored cake is what they were going for, and maybe there are those who hear that and lick their lips. But it seems like an odd business decision, and if a lack of resources was the problem maybe they’d’ve been better off saving their money and not even bothering.

      1. MrGuy says:

        I’d look at it differently.

        If you go to Chik-Fil-A looking for breakfast, I hope you like the Chicken Biscuit. Because chicken is kinda their thing. If you’re looking for eggs benedict or pain chocolat, you’re in the wrong place. It’s not what they’re set up for.

        It’s not that Chik-Fil-A will (or even should) refuse to serve you breakfast – it’s just you should have expectations about the kind of breakfast you’re going to get. If you’re someone who believes passionately that a good breakfast involves fresh fruits, a variety of flaky pastries, and crispy bacon, and you don’t consider what Chik-Fil-A serves to be your idea of breakfast, that’s fine and you’re entitled to that opinion. Just realize there ARE people who like their kind of breakfast, and the fact that it’s not your cup of tea (so to speak) doesn’t mean they did it wrong or shouldn’t have bothered. They’re designing their idea of breakfast around what they do well.

        The above is not meant as a hearty endorsement of Chik-Fil-A, nor is it meant to imply Bropocalypse was saying “you’re doing it wrong” to anyone – just using the post as a jumping off point.

        1. Shamus says:

          You claim that “some people really like this”.

          Are some people really fans of stories with flat, directionless characters? I mean, if there are then fine. My belief is that you could massively improve the quality of this story by adhering to a rules of screenwriting 101 and end up with something that could really impress story snobs like me without detracting from the experience the Michael Bay set is after.

          1. Ingvar says:

            I don’t know if there are people that are fans of flat stories. However, I am pretty sure there are people that think the single-player mode (campaign, whatever) of a first-person shooter should be lots of shooting, maybe some tactical hiding behind ubiquitous crates, and occasionally short transport sections between more of the aforementioned. If nothing else, that’s what they’re used to.

            I think it’s possible to have a tightly-plotted plot, uh, story that serves up exactly like that. But I also think that it’s a lot more expensive than doing the bland minimum that serves the hypothetical “as long as I get to shoot stuff” demographic that we think the designers have deemed their core demographic.

            All that in mind, I haven’t played any Titanfall game and all the advertising makes it look “primarily online, primarily adversarial” and that pretty much describes the antithesis of my ideal game, so I’m unlikely to ever play it.

            1. ChrisANG says:

              I think Shamus’s point is that they already DO spend a lot of money on the single player campaigns (hiring voice actors, animating cutscenes, etc), so it’s weird and annoying that they don’t also put some time/effort/money into making sure that they have a decent script to build it all around.

              I have some guesses as to why, though (Disclaimer: I haven’t played Titanfall 2):
              1) It might be focus-group driven. If you grab 15 random guys or something and plonk them down in front of your game, I suspect you’re more likely to get feedback about specific, easy-to-point-to problems like “the cutscenes look bad” or “the voice acting is terrible” than feedback on systemic problems like “the story doesn’t work on a character level.”
              2) It might be risk-aversion. It wouldn’t surprise me if having a blandly nonexistent story is considered to be better than having a notably terrible story, and that bland-but-nonexistent can be achieved on purpose but ending up with something terrible is seen as a risk of being too ambitious with the story.
              3) It might also just be a reflection of the skillsets found in a 3D shooter’s development team. Ie, you’ve got lots of 3D modelers, so they can animate cutscenes and critique each-others work and just generally make everything look really nice; but you don’t have a lot of writers, so the writing doesn’t get any polish.

              1. Aldowyn says:

                I dunno how much money they actually did spend on the campaign. People keep mentioning voice actors, but I didn’t see any huge names – several industry regulars, but that’s it. Not like they got frickin’ Jon Snow to play the villain. It’s also pretty short? not 100% sure what standard is for this genre.

                Personally, I get the feeling they were just testing the waters with this campaign. This is the same group of people that made Modern Warfare, which is one of the most celebrated shooters in recent history, but I don’t think Respawn really has the resources they did under Activision.

          2. MrGuy says:

            I don’t believe I used those words.

            But I do think there are people who play games more for the action than the story, and they’d prefer just enough story to justify the “good parts” over careful pacing and quiet time. There’s a reason devs make cutscenes skippable. I don’t agree with them, but I also don’t feel comfortable telling them they enjoy games wrong.

            There’s a reasonable question on “how hard would it be…” to make writing better. It’s one of our favorite games on this site. Sometimes just changing a few words can make motivations clearer and plot holes disappear.

            But calling for pacing and quiet time is, to me, different from suggesting easy fixes for plot holes. To use your example, Michael Bay films tend to be (IMO) terribly paced. And fixing that (arguably) disappoints fans – why am I watching this poignant 10 minute scene with the main character and his father where nothing blows up???

            1. Sleepyfoo says:

              Even Micheal Bay movies use quiet time. Those moments where the cast shuts up and stares at each other after some major proclamation or realization of the magnitude of the threat, The occasional establishing shot of something majestic (Look at this pretty city/Jungle/Mountain…Explosion in a part of it. ACTION TIME).

              He even uses it mid action sequences (less often than he should) where the action temporarily leaves the protagonist behind and they take a moment to catch their breath and get their bearings. Admittedly Bay often gives us this by having a slow mo-ish pan shot of explosions all around the protagonist, but it still counts (In the “take a second to appreciate this totally awesome action spectacle going on before we dive back in” sort of way).

              My impression from Shamus’s article above is that the game has decided that cutscenes are all the quiet time you need, and exposition is over-rated anyway. It sounds like the game is either expositing at you or you are shooting things in an attempt at continuous player engagement. There are no “Isn’t this level/vista just lovely, take a moment and enjoy it sans bullets and shouting” or “our objective is over there, get a walking through this lovely city (ambush halfway there)” sorts of gameplay quiet time.

              This is extra bad when you take proportion of time into account, as a Bay movie is 2 hours or so long, and has at least a good 5-10 min of quiet time or 4-8%. I’d be surprised if most action games had a similar ratio (unless the player makes them on their own).

              Basically my point is even the most notoriously mindless spectacle based action movie schlock attempts to use quiet time and varied intensity of action to great effect, so the relative lack of it here is a shame. Shamus is positing that even relentless action fans would enjoy the story and single player more if it wasn’t all intense all the time.

              Peace : )

              1. beleester says:

                I’m going to disagree that the pacing is the problem or that TF2 is as overstuffed with action as you make it sound. TF2 has a good number of chill non-cutscene moments. There’s several places where you and BT are walking towards your next objective and having a brief conversation, or wandering around an enemy lab looking for plot points, and so on. There are also a couple of sequences that have no or minimal combat to let the parkour take center stage. Like the part at the beginning where you’re running around finding batteries for the Titan and getting a tutorial on the pilot suit, or the sequences around the Beacon where you spend a lot of time climbing up the structure to repair the gizmos, or almost half the level with the time-warping gimmick. It works really well – parkour is fun, but not so demanding that you can’t hold a conversation at the same time.

                Shamus only complains about the pacing near the start, where he wants to see Lastimosa characterized more. The issue with TF2 isn’t that they didn’t leave room for characterization, it’s that they didn’t make use of that space as well as they could have. The broader stakes aren’t very well established (yes, the IMC kicked your asses so hard it left permanent boot prints, so you’re motivated for revenge, but *why* did they do that?), and Cooper and BT don’t have much growth in those downtime scenes. They become more skilled and more of a team, but in terms of personality it’s hard to say how they change.

            2. ehlijen says:

              Absolutely, sometimes I just load up a game and jump into some action and drop out again once that level is over. AI deathmatches, endless horde skirmish levels etc, many modes over the history of gaming have offered this.

              But when you start writing cut scenes and hiring expensive voice actors, a good, well paced story would just be a boon to add to that. You’re already not writing a pure action game mode anymore.

              As for why I think the story gets skimped on? Possibly because it needs to be done by the time voice acting starts as that’s too expensive to go back through and edit afterwards. But the story can’t be 100% done before the game assets are and you know what tools you have or don’t have to play with.
              That means writing and more importantly editing the story has to be shoved into the middle between creating the assets and writing the cutscenes. But no one really wants to put that on too long a hold while the story is written, because staff time costs money.
              So if the above is true (and I don’t know that it is, it’s an outsider theory), that would mean the story was written in haste with minimal editing to get it into a roughly working shape. Essentially ‘use the first draft, it’ll do’.

          3. Jack V says:

            I am inclined to agree with you.

            I’d also like it if more stories could be whizz-bang exciting, whilst appearing to be made by someone who has ever experienced basic physical concepts like, eg. momentum, which also surely could cater for both!

            But when I put aside my (very strong) feelings, I admit I can see a contrasting view. Ideally, you can do both. But if you prioritise the “lets make gameplay like this”[1], you may well do that _first_. And then need to fit a story round it, so the story obviously suffers. And not just the level design, so many other things like characters, etc would also need to have the story figured out _first_. And ideally they would figure the story out first. But I think, it can be surprisingly hard to be that organised, especially if parts of the game people have put a lot of work into keep changing. Like, yes, surely they could get *some* story. But if every *minor* change to the gameplay outweighs the importance of *major* damage to the story, the story gets very twisted. Even if they could be compatible.

            [1] No idea if they succeeded

    2. Peter H Coffin says:

      If they’re not written for people that want the single-player experience, why have them at all? An optional tutorial is *way* less development effort.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        An optional tutorial, or a bot-mode, or pretty much anything would be less work than even a bland story-mode, but still provide a place for people to practice for multiplayer.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          There IS a tutorial, and it’s pretty neat (saw an amazing video of someone speedrunning it in half a minute), but it’s no substitute for a reasonably well designed campaign for introducing a player to the way a game plays, especially for one as unorthodox as Titanfall. (Yes, it’s a shooter, but it has JETPACK PARKOUR and, y’know, Titans.)

          Making levels that are good at teaching the player how to play is not easy, but it’s vital. There’s a reason 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. is such a common teaching tool.

    3. Perceptiveman says:

      Yeah, I’m not so sure. If they’re really just designing this as a stopgap for multiplayer in some way, they are wasting a TON of money on it. They don’t need all those cutscenes, or all that voice acting, for example. Those sorts of things aren’t for people who are here for the multiplayer. Those sorts of things are there for people who appreciate a polished single player experience.

      So I don’t think that’s what they’re going for here. It seems like they are investing way too much effort and money for this to be something they are deliberately halfassing. It’s just that they don’t realize that you need to have a good WRITER for this stuff.

    4. Tektotherriggen says:

      Would it not have been much cheaper to just reuse all the multiplayer arenas? Program AI bots that can provide a modicum of difficulty (would this be much harder than AI for a story mission?), set up a series of increasingly challenging scenarios on each map (add variety with modes like “no mech” or “mech only”), and Bob’s your uncle. As a bonus, the multiplayer fans get to learn the maps they’ll be playing when their friends come online.

    5. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Counter argument:Starcraft 2.Ok,so the story in it may not be stellar,but it more than makes up for it by very interesting missions.And those missions,while very fun to play,are most definitely not designed for players who prefer the multiplayer aspect of the game.Because the multiplayer is very different,both in unit types,but also the map design,starting positions,tactics to be used,balance,etc.The single player is most definitely designed with the players who liked the originals story in mind,and the failure of the story comes not from the lack of trying,but from the shift towards wanting more good guys and happy endings.

    6. Decius says:

      Command and Conquer managed to put a good single player campaign into a multiplayer game. Doom and Quake did. It seems to be a modern thing that the two can’t be together.

      1. Jonathan says:

        There was multiplayer C&C?
        (joking, sort of. very hard to find)

      2. Zock says:

        They didn’t manage to put a good single player campaign into a multiplayer game. They managed to put working multiplayer mechanics in a single player game. There’s a difference.

  5. Christopher says:

    I don’t get that much out of an article about a good game that complains it’s not as good as a classic, especially after they went from no campaign to what’s by most accounts a really good campaign. But I felt the same way after that Hitman article gave the game a little praise in the beginning for being an absolutely amazing turnaround after Absolution and then spent the bulk of the article critizising one bad thing about it. After a certain level of quality or improvement, that it doesn’t manage to tug at the heartstrings like a Disney movie just doesn’t seem like a big enough complaint to write a complaining post about.

    I understand that it’s pretty much your style and you do it to get them to improve, but I find it to be great for games that are awful, in a cathartic way. Or varied in quality, like a Bioware game with hundred different pieces. But it’s not too engaging when it comes to games that are already good and improved a lot from their last outing. It was nice to get some elaboration on what you briefly mentioned on the Diecast, though. I’m sure to eat my words if Titanfall 3 comes out and improved on all the characters and pacing.

    1. Galad says:

      Not to take away from your fair point, but imho, the issue with Hitman sounded pretty deal-breaking to me, and apparently, to a lot of other people, given the number of negative reviews that quote the online only requirement. As for Titanfall 2, well, if this article were praising its singleplayer, I’d be already considering installing Origin ;)

  6. Galad says:

    I know this is a small part of your as-always excellent article, but what’s wrong with District 9? It’s still my favorite movie, to the point that I never rewatched it because I was afraid it’d be less impressive the second time around.

    1. Shamus says:

      Nothing wrong with it. I used it as an example because it was an emotionally strong movie with lots of sci-fi action.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        I think District 9 had some lofty goals, or at least goals measurably higher than Guardians and Bourne, which makes the comparison feel like a bit of a putdown (deserved or otherwise, maybe you feel it flubbed those goals). I mean it spends the first half hour of the movie doing an actionless exploration of Alien Apartheid, set in Johannesburg in case the metaphor wasn’t clear.

        1. Tizzy says:

          Also, let’s not sell the movie short stylistically. Yes, we all remember the big action sequences from the trailers. But I can’t be the only one who was pleasantly surprised by the first act’s documentary style.

          Clearly, there is no reason to expect such an experience in a basic single player campaign for a multiplayer focused game.

    2. Jeysie says:

      District 9 and Pan’s Labyrinth are the two movies that were incredibly excellent movies that I can’t bring myself to watch more than the once because the emotional experience was that strong the first time around. They’re good but gut-wrenching.

      So putting D9 in the same breath as GotG felt a bit odd to me as well. GotG was a very fun movie that was surprisingly well-written and in places moving for being primarily a comedic space opera romp, but still nowhere on the same level.

      (I think “24 Hours” from Sandman also counts as the comic world entry for “great story I can’t ever experience again”, though more because it’s downright disturbing than because it’s gut-wrenching.)

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      They not only decided,but succeeded in putting the actual factual extra terrestrials into a ghetto.That was too stupid for me to accept,so the whole rest of the movie fails for me.If they did that as a comedy,that could work.Or if this was the Nth species humans have encountered,then it could also work.But our first contact with sapient life outside our solar system,and we put them in a ghetto?No way.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Pretty sure it was explained in the movie, that the aliens effectively crash-landed, and were also not soldiers. It was basically a ship full of injured/sick worker aliens, with no real weapons to speak of. Their only real offensive capability was the single prince/alien-whatever, and the single mech he piloted*, and he was busy dealing with a crashed ship full or injured comrades.

        * Plus or minus a small security crew that was presumably killed in the crash and/or sickness.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Its not the issue of whether they COULD do that.Like I said,if it were the Nth extra terrestrial species we met,it wouldnt be a problem.Its the fact that they actually WANTED to do it.As in,no one in the world objected strongly to this?

          1. ehlijen says:

            That was kind of the point. Ghettos keep happening throughout history, even today some western nations are in the business of running ghettos for undesired population groups (and quite a few prominent politicians are in favour of expanding the practice).

            Yes, there are protests, but the ghetto’s still happen. Humanity isn’t a nice species, by all accounts.

            I’m sorry if this is getting political, I tried to keep it relevant to the movie. Please delete if I’ve gone too far.

            1. galacticplumber says:

              It’s not about ”nice.” The very concept of having the aliens cooperative in helping understand a ship that can travel between solar systems AT LEAST should completely silence anyone even trying that.

              1. ehlijen says:

                Many aliens were cooperative. They just didn’t know anything about the ship. It was also shown that exploiting individual aliens for what they did know in exchange for trinkets had proven more effective than officially negotiating with a group that didn’t seem to have any leadership. The best way to learn about alien tech in these circumstances is to put them all in a shit hole, so as to drive down the prices of the few who are willing to deal (by promoting them from shit hole to mud hole) and in general just keeping them away from the ship so as to not get in the way of your independent efforts.

                This is absolutely how some people would treat alien refugees.

                It wasn’t a perfect movie, and the central premise was constructed, yes. But it is not nearly as far from reality as we’d like to think.

                1. galacticplumber says:

                  Strategies like that are exactly how you get your new ship to have a crucially wrong piece of information in the design getting someone killed. What are you gonna do about it monkeys? Kill us? No we’re too valuable alive because of the possibility of an actually working ship. Torture? Congratulations. The next one will actually be somehow worse. This is precisely why anyone trying to propose this approach at first contact should be slapped. Not because of morals, but because of the infinite power of spite.

                  1. ehlijen says:

                    The aliens were clearly shown not to act the way you describe. There was no central authority among them. The humans could just go ‘if you won’t tell us, we’ll give this food to one of you who will’. And that other alien would have talked because they were all starving.

                    It was divide and conquer, because these aliens didn’t stick together as a unified group. Nor did they seem at all well versed in cut-throat negotiation style.

                    These aliens were deliberately characterised as exploitation prone (and that is an argument against the movie I’ll grant). Mankind has proven time and again that given such a target, we will stoop to terrible methods.

                    And the movie doesn’t really show ‘first’ contact. It shows what happened after first contact proved fruitless. Humans couldn’t negotiate with the aliens as a whole, because they weren’t a whole. The aliens very much appeared to be ignorant about almost anything regarding the ship. They also appeared incapable of offering resistance to being pushed around.

                    The setup was constructed, but the result (alien ghettos) are absolutely a realistic outcome. Not the only one, but one of the possible ones.

            2. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Except these arent just another undesired political group,they are freaking extra terrestrials from outside our solar system.

              Being evil and being stupid are two different things.I could accept the scientists treating the bugs like garbage and testing their weapons,that fits.But allowing south africa to just dump them in the ghetto?Not putting them in a holding cell to wait for experimentation,not vivisecting them,not treating them like guinea pigs,but just stuffing them in the ghetto to roam around?That does not fit at all.

              1. Galad says:

                I guess you had an immersion-breaking issue with that movie from the get-go, that most people did not. Eh, it happens, I’m sure you have movies you enjoy as much as I enjoyed D9.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Oh definitely.I enjoy plenty of schlock.

      2. Phill says:

        While de gustibus non disputandum est and if it doesn’t work for you then it doesn’t work for you, you are kind of looking at it backwards from the film maker’s intended perspective.

        They didn’t start out with a “here’s first contact with aliens, what happens next” point of view and decide that ghettos were the way to go. They started out with wanting to make an allegory for apartheid South Africa, most directly the forced removal of the blacks from district 6 in Cape Town to make a whites only area, and used aliens vs humans to create perhaps some more objective distance than a more direct retelling would find possible, ams to challenge how we actually would treat aliens we were capable of overpowering, giving how such encounters between different groups of humans have gone historically.

        So the film isn’t “aliens turn up, what happens next”, it’s “we need someone to oppress in a ghetto; let’s try aliens and see how that works”.

        Not having them in a ghetto would be making a completely different film for completely different reasons.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          I get the point of the movie.I know what they were going for.Of course I do,it was really obvious.But an allegory still has to work in its world.And if the world the allegory is set in is supposed to be our reality,then at least have it resemble our reality.To me,this was basically the “augs lives matter”:Too on the nose,and absolutely ridiculous.

          1. ehlijen says:

            If the movie doesn’t work in a direct allegory to apartheid, it helps (in understanding the movie) to see the aliens as refugees, rather than indigenous, oppressed ethnicities.
            They do embody all the arguments that those who’d like to close their borders make against refugees, from unknowable origins to disease to potential threats to lack of assimilation into earth culture.

            And refugee ghettos are a thing (eg, look up Australia’s Nauru island detention centre).

            I see little that is unrealistic in the idea of alien ghettos as shown in the movie.

            1. Starker says:

              What else would we do? Integrate the aliens into the society Alien Nation style? That requires much more suspension of disbelief as far as I’m concerned.

              1. ehlijen says:

                That is entirely different question that I’m afraid will lead into actual political debating (I have strong opinions on immigration, so I’d rather not go there on here).

                It is a good question, and I don’t think the movie was fair to that question in its setup, that much I will agree to.

            2. Daemian Lucifer says:

              I cant see them as just another bunch of refugees from war or poverty,because they are a completely new sapient species not from this world.If this was a world where extra terrestrials visit earth regularly,then yes,having this group of refugees stuffed in some ghetto would fit.But not in a world where this is the very first sapient life we encounter that did not originate on earth,it just does not fit.

              You know what it reminded me of the most?Dose goobacks FROM THE FUTURE,coming here to take arr jeeerbs!Except that was a comedy,where being ridiculous IS the point,not a serious movie that expects you to accept this as a plausible reality.

              1. Shamus says:

                I had the same problem at first. “Wait SPACE ALIENS come to Earth and they end up in a ghetto?!?”

                But I guess I swallowed the premise in the end. I think what sold it was the sheer scale of the problem.

                Sure, ONE space alien is a miracle. Ten are amazing. A hundred are interesting. But hundreds of thousands? (Or was it millions?) All of them large, dangerous, and strong. They can’t ever speak any human language. Even if they weren’t a physical threat, it would be chaos to suddenly add that many large bipeds into a major city where they don’t know how to behave. On top of this, they breed like rabbits. So you give them enough housing and just a few years later they’re overcrowded again.

                They landed in a poor country. Maybe if they landed in a wealthy western nation everyone could dump a few billions into building proper housing, sanitation, water, and food infrastructure for them. But as it stands you basically need to build a massive city from scratch right away. That kind of job would be a challenge for any economy.

                So as I read it, people were doing what they could for the aliens, but there were just too many.

                1. Sleepyfoo says:

                  The part that got me about the space ghetto was all the aliens came on a colony(?) ship. Or at least a ship large enough to support them for extended periods. Even if most of the ship is busted and crashed planetside(and somehow confiscated or something), those aliens will still have access to the tools/knowhow to basically build their own infrastructure. Particularly their own self sustaining infrastructure as that would be necessary for long term space travel (unless they had incredible amounts of storage space that took up most of the ship).

                  Did all their engineers die in the crash? Did we somehow block them from all their computers? Did we not give them enough of a given resource to actually start such an infrastruction? Could they not take that from their ship in the first place?

                  Basically what I’m saying is I don’t see a large population of a space-faring race being quite as helpless as the aliens in the movie seemed to be unless it’s a Road Not Taken situation. Given the genetically locked weapons and general tech, I don’t think they were going for that.

                  Peace : )

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    At least that part was addressed.Indeed their engineers have all died in the crash.Or,more precisely,since they are a hive mind led by a single queen(brain?),only the drones survived.I forgot whether the new brain was born accidentally or if it survived the crash,but it was the one who worked in secret to repair the ship.

                    1. Sleepyfoo says:

                      Ah, thanks. It’s been a while since I’d seen the movie and didn’t remember. : )

                  2. Ninety-Three says:

                    Did all their engineers die in the crash?

                    Yes, the movie explained as much quite early on. I believe the ship was ravaged by some sort of disease, but the important part is that the ship arrived full of nothing but unskilled drones.

                2. Ninety-Three says:

                  Another part of the “People would be very inclined to help them because holy shit they’re aliens” thing:

                  The month one priority is to throw together a tent city so that the prawns have somewhere, anywhere to stay. The prawns were useless to people (all the intelligent ones died off before arrival, leaving nothing but alien McDonalds workers) and that would have become apparent very quickly. It’s a lot easier to believe that a ghetto was allowed to spring up because it started as a refugee camp, and the government realized they had no strong incentive to build real housing for the useless prawns.

                3. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  I highly doubt that it would matter where on earth space aliens crash land.If you really want to portray humans as evil,consider that our most advanced countries are all too happy to invade,I mean “lend supporting troops” to struggling countries for far less.If actual extra terrestrials crash landed in some third world country,the place would soon be crawling with not just military,but scientists from usa,russia,china and all of europe.And even if they had no desire to treat the aliens ethically,they most certainly would be running constant test on them.

                  Heck,if you really want to portray our species as evil,turn that alien city into a ww2 concentration camp.Far worse stuff were going on with people there than in any actual ghetto.And medical tests done on extra terrestrials,no matter how inhumane,is something pretty conceivable.Alien autopsies and vivisection are well established conspiracy theories.

                  1. ehlijen says:

                    That wasn’t the point the movie wanted to make, though. It wanted to talk about what’s being done to vulnerable minorities around the world today, or in the very recent past. It wasn’t a political first contact thriller, it was an examination of the question of what would happen if a large bunch of useless immigrants got dumped on humanity tomorrow.

                    You say ‘we wouldn’t really treat aliens that way’, to which the movie intended to reply: ‘but that is how you treat your own people, how sure are you really that you wouldn’t do that to strangers if given an excuse?’

                    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Our own people arent novel,they arent something astonishing that we could spend decades,centuries even,experimenting on.It doesnt bug me that the people werent nice to the space ants,but that their evil was the wrong kind of evil.

                  2. Nessus says:

                    This was pretty much one of my only objections to the ghetto issue. I think most others have got it right in the microcosm, but in the larger picture it breaks down because aliens would be handled very differently than a human refugee crisis simply because they’re aliens.

                    Because aliens would be a HUGE deal. Even if they landed in a superpower like the US, Russia, or China, the entire world would be pressing inward trying to share in the oversight, research, etc. to a degree unprecedented by pretty much any kind of real-world issue. A superpower would have a hard enough time keeping it’s sovereignty from becoming porous, a less powerful country like South Africa would basically get collectively annexed and turned into one big UN site.

                    Then you’ve got the issue of “so we know that there are more out there. When will they be coming around again, and do we really want them to be pissed off when they arrive?”. This is a problem with pretty much any such story where humanity’s primary responses to alien contact is to shoot them down, imprison them, and do inhumane experiments on them. You’re dealing with a civilization capable of interstellar travel, with all the far greater technology and resources that implies. No matter how curious or scared you are about them, vivisecting them is not a good idea. You have zero reason to believe you could keep such actions secret from them, and if they take offense, they can exterminate you simply by hanging out at the edge of the solar system and playing cometary billiards. Or they could designate the solar system a blockade zone for the next 200,000 years instead of letting you into the Federation or whatever. No matter what kind of aliens they are or what they’re attitude is, as long as the balance is so utterly one-sided the last thing you want to do is risk antagonizing them even a tiny bit.

                    I totally believe there are people who’d still try to get access to do that kind of stuff, and IMO there’s some tense story potential in the political/regulatory struggle to keep those people from getting what they want. D9 almost goes there, but ultimately trades it for a less intelligent story.

                    But bigger than all that, the story still relies on a neck-breaking tonal/thematic 180. Namely alien battery goo is also just randomly a magic potion that turns humans into aliens for no explained, implied, or hypothetically decipherable reason. The political/social stuff can be wrangled, but the humans turning-into-aliens thing is the story flip-flopping from “realistic” sci-fi to to outright “nothing matters because magic”, similar to the “love is a tangible physical force that exists outside of time” schtick from “Intersteller”. The entire plot of this film that tries so hard to sell a realistic tone hinges on a piece of Ed Wood-grade random nonsense ass-magic.

                    It is a great movie, but IMO it’s not great science fiction. It’s basically a serious story that plays by schlock rules, resulting in mixed messages.

  7. Zane Desantis says:

    I admit I was a little disappointed that, during the list of robot buddies, Shamus didn’t mention Baymax from Big Hero 6. Unlike most of the ones mentioned, Baymax is like BT in that he is deadpan, stoic, and overly literal. But he also had a relatable motivation (provide healthcare assistance) and played the straight man to hyperactive Hiro.

    Not sure if I’m saying anything useful with this comment or just bluntly expressing my love of Big Hero 6. Oh well.

    1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

      Aren’t all the robots he mentioned from games, though?

      1. Zane Desantis says:

        Eh, I’d felt my comment was slightly justified by the fact that he mentioned Wreck-It Ralph later in the article.

    2. Neil D says:

      Floyd from Planetfall would have worked too (for us old folks).

      Really, I wouldn’t have included him in the article either due to how long ago that was, but I just wanted to give him honorable mention status.

    3. Alexander The 1st says:

      I think the reason he used the eccentric bots is to indicate that Titanfall 2’s protagonist is *not* eccentric, and therefore BT’s stoicism falls flat.

      Like, BT *could* work, but he doesn’t because he’s the second bland character in a duo, which you usually don’t.

      I mean, that’s *why* the ones listed do work as they did – they were complicating a quieter protagonist.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Man, saying B.T. is bland is really selling him short. Half the time I thought he was /aware/ of his straight man status. There were a couple of great quotes.

        There was one where you find a new Titan loadout and Cooper can say “someone’s in love” and B.T. responds with something like “The human concept of love involves admiration, devotion, respect, and affection. I am 50% in love.”

        Also Shamus apparently missed that the Cooper thumbs-up was an ongoing thing. There was a tiny little moment where Cooper gives B.T. a thumbs up, and B.T. looks confused for a second (don’t ask me how a robot looks confused) and then responds in kind.

        Cooper sucks though.

  8. Alex says:

    “Get the gameplay right and you get a fun action game like Doom. But if you can do that while also getting the characters right…”

    You could argue (as Jim Sterling has) that they did get the characters right.

  9. Jack V says:

    Sadly, the basic concept of that plot sounds awesome. I’d love to see a film that filled it in in the obvious sorts of ways you describe. It’s sad it fails so hard in the game.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      It’s a stripped down Gundam. That’s exactly what it is.

  10. Incunabulum says:

    The game is in such a hurry to get started that it doesn't even stop to set up the stakes of the story.

    I think this is the biggest reason why these things fail so hard. A conventional movie has 90-120 minutes to tell a story in and complete control of the camera and scene at all times.

    Unless you’re going back in time to murder Kojima and take his place, you’re not going to get the budget for 90 minutes of cutscenes. If you’re lucky, you get 20. And the rest has to be told through ‘environmental storytelling’ – which 99.9% of all studios are horrible at *plus* you’re trying to do it in a fast-paced shooter where the player is probably going to miss half your carefully crafted mis-en-scene in their rush to get to the next shooty bit.

    And that’s the second problem – mainstream gaming means *console gaming* and gamers who are interested in *playing a game*, not being told a story. These are the people who can’t be bothered to read the convos in *Skyrim* – that quest arrow is there for a reason. These guys actually like DIAS gameplay and achievements are *important* to them.

    So to summarize, you don’t have the time to set up a proper movie and the audience isn’t paying attention anyway but you *must* have this because the critics are old fethers who’ve been playing games since the C64 and expect it and will ding your score if you don’t do it and a ding means hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars of profit lost.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      If a critic can’t critique a multi-player-only game without complaining about the lack of a single-player campaign, they’re not doing a very good job. Of course, the price of a game without a single-player campaign should be taken into account, but multi-player-only games can and should exist. It’s better to focus on what you’re good at as a game studio, rather than trying to cram every feature from every other game into your game, and failing at it.

    2. Syal says:

      These are the people who can't be bothered to read the convos in *Skyrim* ““ that quest arrow is there for a reason.

      That reason being Morrowind’s terrible directions. “Go east, then turn right at the rock.” THREE QUARTERS OF THE MAP IS EAST AND EVERYTHING HERE IS A ROCK!

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Oh the memories. I don’t think I could count how many times I restarted that game because I came back to it after a break with no idea where I left off and what I was looking for.

    3. Sleeping Dragon says:

      As much as I would love to be all PC Master Race! I feel the need to point out that consoles have a ton of narratively intense games and did so in the past as well. For that matter, consoles were delivering to the market the kind of anime mindscrew narratives in a period when developing for consoles was pretty gated due to extensive costs. We can argue whether those were necessarily good stories, and especially if someone’s not a fan of anime and its tropes it’s quite possible many titles wouldn’t be to their liking, but claiming that console players by definition don’t like stories is misguided at best.

      Similarly, if you think that achievements are primarily console gamer’s focus there is this little thing called Steam that I’d like to show you…

  11. wswordsmen says:

    Can I ask your opinion of CoD 4? It is the only game IMO that actually tells a good story in a traditional FPS (aka CoD like).

    And yes a lot of it comes from the fact one of your characters dies after a nuke goes off.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      As I pointed out above: These are the same people that made CoD 4. They know how to make a shooter campaign for a MP focused game.

  12. Benjamin Hilton says:

    I would like to contrast the opening of Titan Fall 2 with the opening of a very different game: Bullet Storm.

    Minor spoilers here. I’m not putting in spoiler tags because the entire discussion is about certain spoilers, so if you don’t want to know just don’t read.

    After Shamus’ review of the game I ended up playing it. Near the beginning, a couple of Grayson’s(the main Character) friends die, and I actually didn’t see it coming. Mainly because they weren’t characterized like people who were about to die, by which I mean that they were characterized. As Shamus talks about above, the first level was sort of a baseline of the status quo. The other characters didn’t spend this time expositing about how you know each other and how much you care about them. It was simply clear from the character interactions that they all had a level of familiarity that could only be achieved by knowing each other for a very long time. So when they died I was a little surprised and a bit sad.

    Throughout the game there are flashback scenes involving these other characters. Usually when a story tries to make you care about a character after they are dead it feels false, but because I already did care about these characters, the flashback merely serve to fill in the relationships I knew existed, instead of trying to make them from whole cloth. As a result their deaths seem all the more tragic.

    In addition, the more I care about these side characters, the more I dislike Grayson. See it was his impulsive hard-headed dickishness that got them killed in the first place. But unlike you might expect, you’re not supposed to like the main character. Disliking him actually makes his arc more impactful when he eventually owns up to being a shitbag, and starts to change.

    So let’s take a look at what was accomplished:

    1. Far from being redshirts, Grayson’s friends were characterized via non-exposition Dialogue to a point where I was surprised and saddened at their deaths at the end of the first level.

    2. These deaths give what would otherwise be purely exposition flashbacks, emotional weight.

    3. The deaths help to kick off The main character’s arc.

    4. The manner of their deaths and the emotional weight of the flashbacks serve to inform the player of the Main characters personality, as well as putting the player in the right frame of mind to appreciate said character’s arc.

    And all of this…..from a game that marketed itself on the fact that you are incentivized to shoot people in the balls….. Honestly part of me wondered if this just seemed so good because I was expecting so little from the game. But after examining it, I still feel that this all holds up regardless.

    I honestly don’t know what to take away from this, other than the notion that the writers of this game probably deserve to be making more money than they are.

    1. Shamus says:

      Shit. I wish I’d thought to contrast Titanfall 2 with Bulletstorm. You’re right, it makes for a much stronger comparison. Grayson gets an arc. His buddy gets an arc. The villains have proper build-up. It works in all the ways Titanfall 2 doesn’t.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Bulletstorm was also like half again as long and didn’t have a multiplayer. Not saying I disagree character wise (wow, those villains were forgettable), but there’s a different focus.

        1. Benjamin Hilton says:

          The fact that they had different focuses doesn’t really change the point. Look at it this way: I’m willing to bet that the amount of the budget partitioned out for the Titanfall 2 single player is pretty close to the budget for all of Bulletstorm. Just because it was not their focus doesn’t mean they couldn’t have done better, or strived to do better. Especially considering this is mostly down to the guy with the pen.

          1. Artur CalDazar says:

            ” I'm willing to bet that the amount of the budget partitioned out for the Titanfall 2 single player is pretty close to the budget for all of Bulletstorm”

            Based on what?

            1. Benjamin Hilton says:

              The amount of money EA pores into every game. Remember I did say “bet” not “know”

  13. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    I picked up Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 on Black Friday. I played Titanfall back in the day, I played Battlefront, Hardline, and Bad Company 2 -in addition to every CoD from 1 to Black Ops 3 except CoD Ghosts -so I feel like I have a pretty good background for comparison.

    The single player campaign varies wildly in its purpose. Some, such as CoD 1 and 2, are intended to give you an experience. Call of Duty is about experiencing life as a paratrooper during the Normandy Campaign. There’s no story, per se, there’s just “I would love to have been at Pegasus Bridge…” Some are excuse plots to justify shooting everything in sight (Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t even try to be coherent, it just provides an explanation for why you are fighting in an environmental suit in Paris). Some are character pieces (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is basically “the story of McTavish and Price”). Some aspire to actually tell a story with varying levels of success. Hardline is trying to be Miami Vice (and when it is being Miami Vice, it is actually very good -it’s failures, in my view, are all after the main character is framed as a dirty cop). Modern Warfare is telling a story of, well, Modern Warfare, entirely about how new it is, and yet how much of it is still attached to the Cold War, itself an outgrowth of WWII and so on.

    And some combine multiple. Battlefield 1 is the experience (be an Arditi in the Alps! Relive Lawrence of Arabia or Gallipolo) and the character story. Bad Company 2 aspired to tell a story, but got so bogged down in the “shoot everything!” excuse plot that I only made about 3 levels into it before deciding I had a better use for my hard drive.

    Titanfall told a story, but was also a good use of the excuse plot and the Tutorial. Every level was also a match type, but the levels were connected by a little plot about the last days of the Rebellion -and that little bit of exposition in the briefing, the discussion of the past by the officers -that gave the player a good sense of being a small part of a much bigger world. And the amazing thing is, it wasn’t even single player. The campaign, which I still play, was multiplayer. The matches then became either fun distractions, arena matches, or just some other battle during the rebellion.

    I’m only 3 levels into Titanfall 2, but the problem strikes me that in making the player much bigger, they have made the world much smaller. The conflict is me against some mercenaries -woo hoo. It isn’t the rebellion, I’m not following a charismatic leader like McCallum or following the orders of a quirky robot admiral, it’s just me and some generic mercenaries to kill. I haven’t gotten to the superweapon yet, but that feels like it will just be superfluous when I get there. All the connection I have to the apparent big-bad actually comes from watching him fight McCallum in the previous game (actually, I thought he’d died in the Demeter assault, so I was rather surprised to see him). But the game isn’t providing character, and it isn’t providing spectacle, and the experience it is providing is a different one, and I think an inferior one, to what the previous game provided.

    Battlefield 1, on the other hand, offers both. I initially criticized it because I didn’t get to experience “going over the top,” but then I discovered, that’s the Operations Multiplayer Mode. The Stories are about some of the lesser known aspects of the war -even if they feel a little overdone in places (looking at you, Blackburn and Townsend). And I rather liked the book-end on the Arditi story, of a man telling his daughter or granddaughter about how his brother died. In addition, it also provides a tutorial in the special things, like tanks and Arditi armor.

  14. bhleb says:

    “action scenes can't seem exciting unless they're contrasted against quieter moments” well doom and mad max: fury road disagree with that, you just need to have the best action in the genre

    1. Nessus says:

      Haven’t played Doom myself yet, but Fury Road most definitely has lots of “quiet time” moments. If you don’t remember them (and you should, as some of the larger ones were plot-important), that’s more an indication that they were very well balanced to satisfyingly counterpoint the action without overrunning enough to create a net loss of momentum (something that even a lot of good movies struggle with).

      But also, pacing is fractal: it’s as important to the beats within a given scene as it is to the overview. Part of what makes Fury Road’s action some of the best in the last decade is that it well understands that even an individual action scene needs to have structure and variety within itself. If you just firehose the action at a constant rate, the result becomes increasingly “blah” the longer it goes on (see: the action setpieces of The Hobbit movies).

      1. ehlijen says:

        Indeed. While it is pretty much true that 90% of the movie are essentially ‘a single, protracted car chase scene’, that description doesn’t do the scripting and pacing of the movie justice and it would be wrong to dismiss the movie as not having any story structure based on that.

      2. Aldowyn says:

        DOOM is a case study in the value of pacing in the small scale. The campaign has plenty of quieter, more exploratory moments by default, but the (better) arcade mode is a constant ebb and flow of bang-bang-smash-smash

        The extra credits episode on pacing has a really good explanation for how the standard pacing arc (introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement) relates to the standard rhythm of action games, regardless of the story.

        1. Nessus says:

          That is an excellent video, and in the second half goes over exactly what I meant about pacing being “fractal” much more satisfyingly than I did.

          I think they make a huge mistake in characterizing the highs and lows in terms of “engagement”, however. Ideally you always want to be engaged, even in the low points, you’re just being engaged in a different way.

          A moment that is less engaging is a moment that is less interesting, less useful, more expendable. You don’t want expendable moments. Expendable moments are by definition extraneous moments: what you prune to improve a work, not what you add. You want those “quiet time” moments to serve an active and interesting purpose apart from just being quite time, which is why they are often the natural habitat of setting establishment and plot exposition. If these moments are seen as expendable or less engaging, that means whatever purpose you put them to was not as well developed as the action they’re supposed to counterpoint.

          If your “quiet time” tells the player something interesting about the characters or the story*, or gives them useful info about an area or mechanic, then it will do it’s pacing job without taxing or boring the player (provided it doesn’t overrun). If it does none of those things, then it will always risk feeling like it’s overrunning, even if it’s providing pacing**. If the player is feeling an itch to skip your cutscene or rush through your “quite time” map area, that doesn’t mean the player doesn’t want such things in general (very broadly speaking), it means you either didn’t do a good job writing/designing them, or you put them in the wrong places.

          *Impossible if your characters and /or story aren’t interesting in their own right to begin with. Which is one of the reasons good writing can actually be very important to good game design.

          **What the player wants and what the player needs aren’t always the same thing. It’s possible (common, even) to have enforced “quit time” that the player resents in the moment, yet which still contribute to the total game being more fun and/or memorable for them in retrospect than it would’ve been if they’d been permitted to skip it. This is a super janky place to be in, but it’s one that happens a lot, precisely because the devs aren’t thinking about “quit time” as something that needs to be as engaging as anything else.

  15. Jsor says:

    Is this cliche? Sure. But I don't think that hurts the story. In fact, the plot itself is one of the few things the story has going for it. Heck, this story is half Star Wars, which was itself a bundle of already-existing cliches and tropes.

    This reminds me of one of my favorite videos about Star Wars that I think it worth watching. Over 17 minutes it tells the story of Star Wars without using a single frame or sound from Star Wars itself.

    1. ehlijen says:

      Did I misunderstand the idea behind the video, or is using footage and soundbites deliberately referencing star wars not cheating given their stated premise for the video?

      And I don’t mean the homages, I mean the deliberate shout outs used as jokes (Lord Helmet’s mask, the fake vader choke scene, Abed pretending to be Han Solo etc).

      I don’t doubt the video’s claim (if I understood it right), and I think it would stand just as fine with those bits removed or replaced. I’m just trying to work out if I’m not understanding it right?

      1. Jsor says:

        I mean, part of it was to show Star Wars’ influence on later films as well as its inspiration from what came before, but in a way you’re right. He has an annotated commentary version where he goes over the clips he chose. He specifically mentioned he only used clips from things like Spaceballs sparingly, but couldn’t resist a few of them.

        1. ehlijen says:

          Thanks, that helps clear things up for me :)

      2. PopAlexander The 1st says:

        As much cheating as it is, those scenes are meant to highlight the future references the movie had on future films – and those cheating scenes show that even beyond influence, it became a massive pull on parody pieces – even to the point of having distinctive elements that are able to be lifted from it.

        1. ehlijen says:

          Yeah, I think I get it now, kinda. Thanks!

  16. Rayen020 says:

    When people talk about slow time and building anticipation i always think about flight sims. The ULTIMATE in building anticipation. especially If you had one of the ones that simulated from takeoff to landing in REAL TIME. I had one called wings over europe or some such that was in real time. You could take off from outside cambridge or something fly across the channel, across belgium, across the netherlands, over germany to some small town and only then would enemies appear. 1 1/2 hour flight to shoot two squads(count 8) of german fokkers(or whatever) then 1 1/2 hours back. That’s quiet time. Of you could go with windows flight sim 94 for windows 3.1 back when i had to boot up windows from DOS (Good times). Where there was a 3 hour build after takeoff anticipating landing.

    Dang-it now i wanna go watch Wreck-it Ralph. So one should make the Sugar Rush racing game.

  17. Aldowyn says:

    Overall I would agree that the story isn’t very good. IMO the campaign either had too much story or too little – either go the minimalist route like DOOM did, or commit and use more than a dozen lines of dialogue per character. The rogue’s gallery in particular was just not good at all, in concept or execution.

    As I said above, though, I feel like this was more testing the waters for how a Titanfall campaign might go, and I thought it did reasonably well. The level design in particular was memorable and well done IMO.


    “Story is half Star Wars.” “Off-brand Jaeger.”

    Have you ever seen an anime? The whole not-quite-trained colonial militia fighting against the evil corporate overlord in giant mechs is straight out of Gundam. I might even go so far as to say that this campaign is a riff on the Japanese mecha genre in a similar fashion to, say, Vanquish riffing on Western FPS.

    P.P.S. “Press L1 to time travel” not mentioned ANYWHERE in this thread. How? XD

    1. Aldowyn says:

      AND ANOTHER THING: “But if you can do that while also getting the characters right, you'll have a classic like Half-Life 2, Uncharted, or Last of Us.”

      I think you’re vastly overstating the importance of characters and story in general. Admittedly I haven’t played any of Naughty Dog’s games, but I’m willing to bet in 10 years more people will remember DOOM than Uncharted.

  18. Mick4747 says:

    -10 for implying that Uncharted and The Last of Us got the gameplay right.

    1. Shamus says:

      Are you REALLY suggesting the article should have sidetracked its thesis to dump on a popular game?

      You don’t have to like it. (I thought Last of Us was a chore.) You just have to understand what analogies are for.

      1. Mick4747 says:

        Not at all, I just thought they were odd choices given the point you seemed to be making about games that nailed both the story and the gameplay being remembered as classics.

        Maybe I’m wrong and it’s just me who feels this way, but I thought the general consensus on those two games was that they had the exact opposite problem of Titanfall 2 (I.e. great story but lackluster gameplay.)

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Uncharted most definitely did the gameplay right.Nu tomb raider proves it.

      1. Mick4747 says:

        I’d argue that part of the reason Nu Raider works (despite the writing not being as strong as Uncharted) is that it significantly improved upon Uncharted’s gameplay, to the point that I had trouble going back to the latter franchise after plauing the former. Yes, there are still several “guess what the director wants you to do in this scene” moments (although they felt better telegraphed to me than in Uncharted) , but they’re punctuated with long segments of much less linear, metroidvania -esque gameplay.

        Plus the Tomb Raider games don’t have cheating bastard AI with magically teleporting grenades like Uncharted 4 did.

  19. Matthew Melange says:

    I actually really hated SuperBunnyHop’s Quiet Time video. It was rather dull and uninformative (ironic?). Overall I walked away from the video wondering what the point of it was because it didn’t really feel like it made an argument for its thesis. I’ve had a few problems with SBH’s videos over the past few months but I often blame it on there not being enough content for him to meaningfully cover.

    1. Volvagia says:

      I get “why”. George Weidman has his…flaws. The implied insistence on downtime for everything in that video was kind of a dickish imposition of his vaguely narrow standards. Yes, not EVERYTHING should be modern Saints Row, but not everything shouldn’t be either.

  20. Nyctef says:

    For what it’s worth, I think Titanfall 2’s story works, and while it could have been more complex, I don’t think it needed to be.

    Lastimosa shouldn't have died on the first mission. You don't kill off the mentor character in the opening action scene, because it's too abrupt

    Lastimosa isn’t the real mentor through most of the game, though. You mentioned that the story was a lot like Star Wars, and BT plays the Obi-Wan to your Luke in terms of character progression. John Cooper goes from a lowly rifleman with some potential and not a lot of confidence to one of the most badass Titan pilots in the whole militia, and it’s BT who guides him on that journey. There’s the point in the game where BT’s chassis gets destroyed, and the game gives you the smart pistol and whole lot of mooks, and lets you go on a John Wick-style rampage because they just murdered your dog and they’re going to pay for it. I think it’s a real shame if you don’t end up with the emotional attachment required to make that level work, since it was one of the high points of the game for me.

    But yeah, I don’t think John/BT’s arc needs conflict to work, because that’s not the kind of characters I see them as and because the character development is all on John’s head anyway (in-universe: gaining confidence/experience as a pilot; out-of-universe: training for the multiplayer and setting up the whole ‘mercenaries for hire’ conceit that the multiplayer is built on)

    You'd need at least one “regular” mission to establish the status quo before you upend it. We needed one more scene of them palling around before Cooper was thrust into greatness

    I’m not so sure about this – between the tutorial and the introductory assault sequence where you’re playing DudeBro Shooter for a few minutes, there’s a certain point where the game needs to stop being a generic shooter and start becoming Titanfall. Probably the only game that did this “right” was Spec Ops: The Line, and that had the problem where only reviewers played it since it had to look like a generic shooter for the payoff to work.

    Maybe the game would have been better off if it made Lastimosa less of a character, rather than more. Maybe he still gives you the tutorial, and the exposition/motivation behind the whole IMC/Militia war, but when you come across BT in the campaign he’s just empty / has some nameless dead pilot inside. That would be less cliched, but might raise a plot hole if Titans just allowed anybody to climb inside them (which would be pretty dumb from a security point of view, although IIRC it does have precedence in IRL military vehicles not requiring keys)

    Titanfall 2 has a few semi-slow moments, but not nearly enough to break up the long sections of unrelenting action. These moments should be a regular part of the rhythm of the game. There's nothing like those quiet moody intervals we saw in Half Life 2

    I think this mostly comes from the relative lengths of the two campaigns. Titanfall 2’s campaign is pretty short, clocking in at under 5-6 hours, while HL2’s could easily be three times that long. Most of the level intro/outros involve a bit of a hike to de-escalate the action, and there’s a bunch of jumping puzzles which break up the shooting. (In particular, the slow walk up to the satellite dish in The Beacon reminded me of Halo in a very nice way, with the swelling music and beautiful landscape). Personally I don’t think any more downtime was needed here, although this might just be a matter of taste.

  21. Daimbert says:

    I think that these issues might be things that are infecting science fiction and fantasy writing in general, perhaps due to declining quality of the writers. I’m currently reading all of the Hugo award nominees for 2016 to critique them in-depth, and after getting through two of them and one precursor in the trilogy to one — that itself won a Hugo — my overarching complaint has been, for all of them, that they constantly expect us to have an emotional or dramatic connection to the events or characters without taking the time to lay the foundations that would actually GIVE us that connection. In short, it’s clear that we’re supposed to care, but they’ve given us no reason to care.

    1. Syal says:

      From what people have been saying, the Hugos are in the middle of imploding. They might not be the best list to go by.

      I don’t know what would be. Best Sellers maybe?

      1. Daimbert says:

        I know; that implosion is why I’m reading and judging them, actually [grin].

        But I’ve read things from both sides of the divide, and one of those was one from Jim Butcher of “Dresden Files” fame, who should be at least average. And his was the one that got the fewest votes, and yet is the one I’ve “enjoyed” the most so far.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          To be fair, I always understood that the Hugos were not about ranking things by pure enjoyability. Part of the scoring (explicitly or otherwise) seems to be based on how “smart” the work is, and I love the Dresden Files to death, but they are the literary equivalent of a popcorn movie. I wouldn’t take Butcher’s poor showing as an indictment of the Hugos, unless they are trying to position themselves as a general measure of enjoyability.

          1. Daimbert says:

            I’m actually trying to analyze it in detail, not just on pure enjoyment. So, essentially, how does it work as an actual work of science fiction or fantasy overall? And so far, even by that count, Butcher’s book — which isn’t a “Dresden Files” work — is the least flawed.

        2. Syal says:

          Ah. The “in general” threw me off. I don’t think this year’s Hugos can be used to reflect on the genre as a whole.

          Unless we’re predicting a snowball effect where we get an influx of writers aiming for nominations, trying to recreate the award-nominated atmosphere of Space Raptor Butt Invasion.

          1. Daimbert says:

            Well, maybe, but then again:

            We have Butcher’s book, and Butcher is definitely mainstream science fiction/fantasy, so again his writing should reflect at least the average it.

            We have Neal Stephenson’s book, and he has been writing in the field since 1984, so again he’s certainly not out of the mainstream loop.

            Then we have Leckie’s Ancillary series, and her first novel in that trilogy actually won a Hugo before the mess started (and is the only one of the series that I’ve finished so far).

            And the last two are Novik’s and Jemisin’s, where the former is one that both sides at least somewhat supported, while the latter is the one used by the other side to prove that the Hugos can’t be gamed.

            There may well — and likely are — works out there that are better. But so far all of these have the problem I cited to different degrees, and all have a link to mainstream science fiction independent of the current controversy. I’m starting to come to the conclusion that current mainstream science fiction and fantasy just isn’t very good anymore, from a literary perspective.

            (If you’re curious, my reactions to these works are, in order, “Meh”, “Terrible”, and “Meh”. I haven’t started any of the others yet.)

  22. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Im disappointed that Chris has not commented on this.Seeing how he was the one saying “Shamus I think you would like this game”.

    1. Shamus says:

      To be fair, he was right. It was pretty good.

  23. Morzas says:

    “Yes, I know the game designer was worried about making the player wait too long before giving them their mech, and that's a valid concern. But the introductory mission wouldn't have needed to be very long, and it would have gone a long way to giving us the proper emotional setup. Half-Life 2 made us wait over half an hour before we got our first firearm and it was one of the most memorable and talked about sections of the game, so I think Titanfall 2 could have safely waited until the second mission to put us in the driver seat of an off-brand Jaeger.”

    Another option is starting off in the middle of the action and showing the dead mentor through flashback.

  24. Core says:

    The singleplayer campaign in TF2 is paced the way it is because it’s a quick and effective way to introduce both the new and returning players to everything they will see in what the game’s really about – its multiplayer. The original Titanfall’s “campaign” consisted of multiplayer matches with vocal briefing and intro/outro cutscenes, that’s it, it still was a brilliant game, but there was no real way for fresh players to practice a bit. Every weapon, every mechanic, every killstreak and every titan(which might as well be a stable of MOBA characters) in the sequel are gradually introduced at a pace that lets the player experiment with them one by one without the frustration of other players interrupting.
    For returning players, the whole campaign is arranged in a way that’s conducive to being speedran through, and it doesn’t differ from the MP in how any of the equipment is handled so you can figure out what you’ll want to unlock in advance. Even the few scenes where you’re forced to pause and listen to dialogue have those ‘Pilot Helmet’ collectibles so if you’re not yet tired you can continue to hone your parkour skills and check how much differs from the original game’s physics.

    What I’m trying to say is that while the story and the writing might not be exactly world class, Titanfall, both it and its sequel aren’t defined by those qualities but rather by the fact that it’s a comfortable middle ground between Battlefield-styled and Call of Duty-styled competitive MP games with something that feels almost like Tribes-level mobility, and for that reason I have no issue with the campaign being hijacked to serve as a kind of a fast-paced tutorial that also wouldn’t be annoying for returning fans. It’s somewhat more complex than either of those game series and needs it. And everything that’s truly memorable in this series will always come from the small moments in each match, lightning fast chases across hundred meter tall walls with other players, sudden turnarounds in the tide of battle with clever titan use and skilled snipes in a game where it’s very easy to chain movement together for evasion, not anything it does in its campaign. Perhaps what we got was actually the best possible outcome.

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