KILLER GAME: Titanfall, described as a mix of Call of Duty and Halo, is Microsoft’s power player.
KILLER GAME: Titanfall, described as a mix of Call of Duty and Halo, is Microsoft’s power player.

Calling in the big guns to promote Titanfall

WHEN most firms start suffering from dwindling sales, they might call in a team of auditors or hire a new advertising agency.

When video-game companies run into trouble, they summon giant, gun-toting robots.

Or at least Microsoft has done with Titanfall, a much-hyped first-person shooter that it's hoped will revitalise the fortunes of the Xbox One console.

Although both the Xbox One and its rival, Sony's PS4, launched last year to a lot of media hoopla, critics were quick to point out both systems were missing a killer app - a single, system-exclusive game that would convince sceptical consumers to shell out the hundreds of dollars necessary to buy either console.

Once customers are over this first, expensive hurdle, the received wisdom is that convincing them to buy the games - where the actual money is made; consoles are sold at near cost - becomes easier. It's been a winning formula ever since Sonic the Hedgehog revived sales of the Sega Mega Drive in 1991.

While Microsoft doesn't have any hyperkinetic hedgehogs on its side, it does have the key talent behind the popular 2007 Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Vince Zampella, who created the entire CoD franchise, is the founder of Respawn, Titanfall's developer), a title credited by game reviewers with perfecting a particular style of addictive multiplayer experience, as well as being 2007's best-selling game.

Players become hooked not only thanks to a points system that unlocks new equipment the more they play, but also by the game's social element.

Gaming isn't just sitting alone in a darkened room, it's sitting alone in a darkened room chatting with your friends to co-ordinate tactics, or trash-talking with strangers on the other side of the world.

How addictive can this be? So far players have cumulatively logged more than 2.85 million years of play time in the Call of Duty series.

So does Titanfall deliver?

Judging by the time I've spent playing Titanfall, I'd say the game more than delivers.

As a science-fiction first-person shooter, Titanfall has been described as Call of Duty meets Halo. It offers the barest skeleton of a story about an evil (or at least bureaucratic) corporation, battling a ragtag collection of minutemen and colonisers for territory and resources in outer space.

Players take on the role of a pilot - a soldier who fights on foot and with a jetpack, running up walls and bouncing over roofs like a gymnast in low gravity.

Once players have racked up enough points (or simply waited out the three-minute "build time"), they can summon a Titan - a giant mechanised suit of armour.

Not only is the gameplay perfectly balanced (I never felt totally outgunned, even when staring down the barrel of a rocket launcher the size of a Mini), the experience of playing is cinematic and completely immersive.

Sharing this sort of an experience with friends (or even strangers) will be an instant draw for gamers.

For Microsoft, I think calling in the giant robots might just work.


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