One of the great surprises of the last few weeks, for me, has been how great Titanfall 2's single-player campaign looks. It's more like a robot buddy movie than your average first-person shooter campaign.
I shouldn't really be surprised, given that many of the people who make up the team at Respawn were also responsible for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, one of the best single-player shooter experiences of all time. But because the first Titanfall was such a void personality-wise, it left me cold despite how brilliant and exciting its movement, shooting and mechs were. Titanfall 2 is actively compensating for this, infusing not only the human characters but the Titan mechs themselves with personality.
The single-player follows an unexceptional soldier called Jack Cooper, one of Titanfall's grunts, who finds himself suddenly promoted when he witnesses the death of a mech pilot on a hostile planet and ends up taking over his Titan, BT-7274. And the Titans now have voices: charming robot voices. They are plodding, logical companions that also happen to have enormous guns. The relationship between pilot and Titan - established via a neural link - has become a key theme, and suddenly makes Titanfall 2 feel like a companionable adventure rather than just a series of battles.
To pick out a few charming moments from Respawn's demo: as BT prepares to throw Cooper over a huge gap, the robot good-naturedly reassures him that there is a 68% chance of success before listing all the catastrophic bodily harm that will result from failure; the mech's gentle but urgent words of encouragement as Pilot hesitates before stepping in to establish the neural link for the first time; the limited but nonetheless cute banter between them, as you pick from a couple of dialogue options whilst walking towards a communications base together. It has humour, humanity, and warmth.
Just as importantly, the campaign is not just about shooting. The extremely narrow focus of FPS mechanics often limit shooter campaigns to a series of set-pieces and corridors, but in Titanfall you can run and jump and swing around and pick up speed, so figuring out the environment is as important as shooting things within it. It looks like a fast-paced first-person platformer in the vein of Mirror's Edge, at times. It has puzzles.
When the shooting kicks off, of course - as it frequently does - it's still pretty great. Titanfall's fast, kinetic combat still kicks you right in the face. As before, movement is key - stand still for a second and you will be picked off quickly. Instead you are expected to aim and shoot whilst wall-running, grappling, and jetpack-boosting around, enjoying Titanfall's science-fiction selection of weapons.
At Gamescom last week, Respawn's Drew McCoy explained how Titanfall 2's single-player came together: small teams went away to come up with combat, action, platforming or puzzle sequences in isolation, and then these already-polished moments were used as the basis for the campaign. This explains the variety, and the imagination. It reminds me more of Half-Life or Mirror's Edge than any modern Call of Duty campaign, and for those of us who still care about single-player shooters, that is a very encouraging sign.