I almost didn't attend EA Play last night, but I'm glad I changed my mind. Two rounds of Battlefield 1 and one round of Titanfall 2 later, my enthusiasm for the FPS genre was rekindled. It's not that they reimagine the formula, but they exploit it, finesse it and polish it in such a way that one's enjoyment feels new.

Of course, it could just be that I've been on forced sabbatical from the staid genre, and EA went to great lengths to dazzle attendees at this E3-adjacent venue. Still, I've played enough shooters to know when the formula is being put to good use.

One could be forgiven for allowing EA's showmanship to color opinions, as their flair for constructing flashy booths at past shows was on display at this event. From a prominent FIFA exhibit to a no-holds-barred staging of a UFC championship tournament, visitors were treated to a sensory assault that -- to this gamer -- culminated in bombastic shooter gameplay.

The Battlefield 1 multiplayer demo was a 64-player mosh pit of World War 1 combat on the battlefields of France. Thankfully Conquest mode still played out like past variations where the fastest and best coordinated teams secured control points. Indeed, the game didn't feel like it innovated as much as it just did everything right.

I was pleasantly surprised at this stage to experience precision targeting, even at a distance with the large machine gun toted by the support class and despite its significant recoil. Hit detection also felt spot on, animations were smooth (including leaping over obstacles while at a sprint) and controls felt responsive.

My only real gripe, and it's partially a result of how I play, is a control configuration that makes multiple uses of the same buttons, i.e. pressing buttons will result in one action while holding it down will result in another. This lead to a few unintended consequences, such as changing vehicle perspective at inopportune times. 


Vehicles actually control reasonably well, with the light armored vehicle capable of gaining significant speed and threading narrow roads sometimes blocked by other vehicles. The heavy tank is obviously slower, but can plow through many obstacles.

As a longtime Battlefield fan (well at least back to Bad Company), I had concerns about flight controls, though the planes in 1942 were manageable. And in fact the controls by default are inverted. It's no Ace Combat, but I could fly well enough to make strafing runs against dirigibles, though I couldn't seem to pull up if in too steep a dive.

Regrettably I didn't have the opportunity to dogfight, but the introduction of armed airships to assist beleaguered teams is a nice feature. Instead of unbalanced killstreaks rewarding the dominant team, these zeppelins at least provide weaker teams with a breather.

And they are effective. My tank was trying to take a control point but was taking heavy fire. The only respite was occasionally hiding behind a tower, though like a lot of cover it doesn't last long. Dirigibles therefore become the focus of combat when they appear, drawing aerial and ground fire.

But the focus is still ground troops and, in Conquest, coordinated attacks. Five-person teams are commanded by a squad leader who can select targets and actions. This is helpful especially when the HUD can be disorienting. The various classes all appear to follow traditional lines in terms of gameplay, with my support class doling out extra ammo and accruing points along the way.

In larger maps like the one we were playing, vehicles can help move troops from one control point to another and provide heavy support. However, as I found out when accidentally switching perspective in a tank or taking position behind a stationary gun, this older technology with its heavy armor allows for a poor field of vision.

That, however, is not a design flaw but realistic presentation, though it can fall short of uninhibited fun. At least it doesn't take away from the overall enjoyment of playing a traditional Battlefield game in the context of a little explored era. (Managing to finish 13th & 15th out of 64 didn't hurt either.)   ; )

Highlights: Strafing a zeppelin in my biplane; careening along narrow country roads in my light armored vehicle; taking control points with teamwork (that never grows old!). Lowlights: Flying my biplane into the dirt; getting killed in melee combat; being a passenger in a plane that someone flew into the dirt.

Titanfall, of course, is a very different animal. Yes, both games sport technological advances for their eras, but Titanfall's flashy attacks and towering mechs provide a stark contrast to the sometimes lumbering behemoths of old. Indeed it leans a little more toward run and gun arcade shooter than Battlefield's tactical squad combat.

For that reason, and because I'd never played Titanfall, I was apprehensive about playing the newest entry in the series, especially as I and a few others almost missed the window for the last session of the night (and did miss much of the video introduction and descriptions).

At this point I was plunged into a match without knowing how anything worked. Of course I could figure out the shooting mechanic pretty quickly but special moves and titan attacks were a complete mystery. So when faced with confusion ... spam! I spammed attack buttons whether inside a titan or out.

And it appears to have paid off. Despite a shaky start, I warmed up and loosened up pretty quickly. On a couple occasions I surprised the enemy and was able to pick off a few in quick succession. Like Battlefield 1, the shooting mechanics in general are responsive and precise, allowing for intense firefights.

The titans themselves are eminently playable extensions of your character, moving nimbly and with deadly force across the map. Of course playing as a titan makes one an even bigger target, which is why I tended to just spam attacks whether against other titans or standard infantry foes. And thankfully it usually paid off in constant attacks.

However, spamming attacks when outside a titan sometimes put me in precarious situations, as I would often grapple right into the middle of an enemy squad or on a titan. Sure, sometimes I'd be in position to at least partially disable the titan, but often I'd just be forced to try and survive.

As far as objectives go, and those did exist, the one that we seemed to play regularly was Bounty. In this case, as opposed to Battlefield, the HUD minimap always helped orient me in relation to the action. And in this sense, when teams were attacking in unison, the gameplay was exhilarating.

Highlights: Single-handedly taking down a titan; mowing down enemy squads; teaming up against enemy titans. Lowlights: Grappling into enemy squads or titans; dying often; sometimes having no idea what I was doing or supposed to be doing.

I should note that the presentation for both Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 is exceptional. Nice textures, stunning color palettes, pretty particle effects, smooth animations, and solid framerates. The quality of these multiplayer demos was impressive, so much so that even a seeming lack of evolution did little to detract from the enjoyment of playing these new titles.