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Previews

Why Titanfall is next gen's most exciting console exclusive

"We've got a hell of a streak here!"

Eight-hour queues are usually the preserve of theme parks in high season. But as Gamescom opened to the public, Respawn and EA's online-only, mech-v-man shooter got in on the anticipation action, with wads of 100-Euro bills exchanging hands for a bit of light line-jumping. There was even a fast-pass system.

Following a similarly rapturous reaction at E3, where it won a record number of awards from US critics, it would appear that Titanfall is the first next-gen title that the world at large is unequivocally excited about. And it's an Xbox console exclusive.

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It might be to do with how Respawn is showing it off, a 'no appointments', random six-on-six deathmatch that feels more like queuing up for Laser Quest or Alien War than a videogame demo. There's the 12 combatants waiting patiently for their turn before being carved into two sides; there's the explanation of The Rules and the nervousness of those fresh to its killing field (i.e. almost everyone); there's the 'choose your weapons' moment where, even though it's running on PC, players side-glance nosily to scope who's opting for keyboard and mouse or Xbox 360 controller; there's the 'two rounds are better than one' approach to ease the player in; and there's the pre-game story build up, placing a context inelegantly on the ensuing carnage.

Manhunt
We should get out of the way early that, so far, it's this bolted-on storyline that's most woolly. There's a guy with a large chin who needs to be extracted, really quite urgently, and one of the teams has to get somewhere to do something or other - whatever, it's pure placeholder hokum. If this is indicative of Titanfall's 'campaign multiplayer' combo of online fighting and plot-shifting story - single-player narratives are so 2012, don't you know? - it needs some finessing for anyone to care. Most players had run off before the prologue had passed, and we can't say we blame them. Luckily, Titanfall doesn't dilly-dally.

A brief loadout screen for your infantry "pilot" and Titan sidekick gives you, at present, three armoury sets to choose from before throwing you into action (heads-up: the pilot's multiple-headshot Smart Pistol is a riot, and way more powerful than it looks). The relatively small map may resemble the distressed, brown-tinged palette of typical modern multiplayer warfare on a static screen, but in person it's more exciting than anything we've played in years.

On foot, it's the freedom of not being confined to the ground that makes all the difference. The way the maps extend upwards really is something to behold, the combination of double-jumps and jet pack-powered, parkour-like wall running allowing you to scale buildings in seconds, each round setting off at a furious pace as if you were in a Mirror's Edge time trial.

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It's a deliberate decision by Respawn to shake up the increasingly well-worn first-person shooter template. "We went through a really, really long crazy prototype phase, over a year, of just trying different ways to get around environments in a first-person view," says producer Drew McCoy. "We wanted to change the way people moved around. First-person shooters in the last few years - five, six, seven, eight years - have really become one-dimensional. Like, you're stuck on the ground, you move in a very certain way - the games have lost a lot of the fun they used to have. And this mobility was something that really resonated. Like this is really great, you can fly around and do all this crazy stuff."

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