Remember the Bubble Shield from Halo 3? Remember how dramatically it altered the chemistry of Bungie's multiplayer sandbox, allowing skilled Spartans to throw down fleeting tactical beachheads, imposing their own terrain dynamics on the map architecture? That's the kind of wholesale change-up Respawn Entertainment is aiming for with the Titans, the 24 feet-high posterboys of Xbox One's flagship shooter.
They aren't just glorified tanks - an opportunity for unscientific showboating that comes at the expense of everybody else's enjoyment - but tools that are precisely as potent as their users. Given a certain level of panache, they'll allow you to dominate the game's sprawling, storified maps, swiping missiles out of the air with telekinetic emitters and pounding dug-in footsoldiers to rubble. Fail to process their weaknesses, however, and boarding one is akin to straddling a church spire during a thunderstorm.
On one level, Respawn's debut shooter is very familiar. The maps are far larger than those of Call of Duty, but there's the same intricacy and rigidity of design, with little in the way of Battlefield-esque deformation. The one mode we've been shown is a variation on the objective capture archetype - two factions (that's the dastardly Interstellar Mining Corporation and heroic Militia insurgency) contest ownership of three "hardpoints", then beat it to an extraction zone after completing their objectives.
Things get interesting fast, however. Titanfall's multiplayer brawls (there's no traditional single player) are designed to feel like cosy old campaign shoot-outs, and one of the ramifications is that missions begin not with a loading countdown, but a polished interactive cinematic. You'll have a chance to size up your squadmates, "cloud-powered" or otherwise, while riding dropships that warp from orbit to the planet surface. Supporting roughnecks rattle through mission objectives as the craft swoops over the map (they'll also lecture you via picture-in-picture cams). Then you're booted out the hatch and straight into a conversation with a man wearing giant robot pants.
Another consequence of Respawn's narrative-led approach to multiplayer is that you're accompanied by a battalion of AI grunts, who serve as both cannon fodder and an emergent storytelling resource. They'll pursue their own objectives as players do battle, grouping up to assault objectives or heading off into the undergrowth for a spot of findy-fixy-flanky, pausing now and then to throw a bit of dialogue your way. This gives each match the feel of an independently existing, on-going conflict, which is rather exciting, and the presence of relatively dim-witted bots alongside human aggressors should please those who're more interested in cannon fodder than a challenge.
"David and Goliath" is one way of summarising infantry-versus-Titan warfare, though in practice it's not quite that simple. Titans are fairly quick on their pins, but they're roundly outclassed by footsoldiers, who can wall-run and "double-jump" care of burst-fire jetpacks. In concert with maps that offer plenty of crannies, tunnels and multiple story buildings, this agility means that it's fairly easy to down a Titan given rodent cunning and teamwork. If all else fails, of course, you can always summon your own from orbit via a D-pad command - this power takes a minute or two to charge up, however, and it's not clear whether you'll be able to use it twice per match.