Titanfall has no right to feel this effortless. It should be clumsy, rushed and confused, an ungainly Frankenstein's monster of styles and genres, spurting half-cooked ideas everywhere like a punctured firehose. Respawn's first game seems destined for greatness with the benefit of hindsight, but it had a troubled start in life - born in the middle of a legal battle between the studio's co-founders, Jason West and Vince Zampella, and their ex-employer, Activision, the erstwhile king of the FPS.
The project's history is rife with unforeseen upsets and changes of direction: Jason West's departure in early 2013, ostensibly for "family reasons" but reportedly due to disagreements with Zampella; the shift to Xbox One and PC following a lengthy wrestling match with elderly last gen hardware; EA's decision to cut Sony out of the equation, thus rendering Respawn's choice of Valve's PS3-friendly Source Engine a bit meaningless. The eponymous Titans weren't even part of the original blueprint - they were dreamt up in a mild fit of madness by artist Joel Emslie, who was obliged to bodge together a plastic model because Respawn didn't have access to the right computers. Given the circumstances of its gestation, I wouldn't have been surprised to find Titanfall a profoundly troubled endeavour, promising and a little brilliant but under-resourced and splintered by political pressure.
And yet, Titanfall sings. It dances and dazzles. To resort to the obvious metaphor, Respawn is a nimble Pilot, scurrying and swooping high above battered old juggernauts like Infinity Ward, custodian of the Call of Duty franchise. Infinity Ward deserves a share of the credit, admittedly. It's the crucible in which many of Respawn's staff perfected their abilities, and there's plenty of Call of Duty DNA to be found in Titanfall - rifles, sniper rifles, submachine guns and shotguns are the cornerstones of the arsenal, and the mechanics by which Titans are summoned owe a debt to the infamous killstreak. But Titanfall enjoys a leanness of design that its heavily over-exposed ancestor no longer offers, and a versatility that Activision's franchise never has. In almost every respect, this is the Xbox One shooter you've been waiting for.
You can play Titanfall like Call of Duty, to a point. Rounds of objective capture mode Hardpoint Domination frequently devolve to ferocious struggles around doorways and stairwells, for example - defending players corner-camp, hunker down behind the furniture and deploy nasty surprises like screen-distorting Arc Mines to thwart invaders, who must ricochet grenades off interior walls and snipe at slivers of exposed scalp in order to make any headway. There's no terrain deformation and explosive damage doesn't travel through walls, which lends fighting in-doors a cosy old school glow. Players may also equip tactical abilities and kits such as a speed-boosting stims and enhanced radar capabilities, and customise many of the weapons along the same lines as in Call of Duty - adding a suppressor to stop rifle-fire showing up on a mini-map, perhaps, or expanded magazines for more longevity in a shoot-out, or a "Leadwall" mod to widen a shotgun's angle of fire.
Ultimately, however, to tackle Titanfall the same way you do Call of Duty is to cheerfully don shackles in a world of elephants and ninjas. Perhaps the most worthwhile of the game's contributions to its genre is the parkour system, which blurs tricks from Crysis, Mirror's Edge and Prince of Persia. Pilots are equipped with short-burst jetpacks that allow them to rebound to high ledges, double-bounce across plazas, and trundle along walls in a graceful arc, building momentum for a leap right onto a Titan's cockpit. As with so many of Titanfall's showier moves, the double-jump is a multi-faceted tool: it can be used both to gain height and to change direction mid-flight, in order to scamper along the other side of a building, or skip sideways through a window.