On The Level: Titanfall 2’s Effect And Cause Is A Mind-Bending Masterclass In Game Design

It’s rare that a single aspect of a video game can upend all expectations. But Titanfall 2’s Effect and Cause does exactly that, forgoing familiar game mechanics in favor of experimentation that breathes new life into the gameplay experience.

Moments into the game’s fifth mission, which takes place in the remains of an IMC research facility, protagonist Jack Cooper adopts a time jumping mechanic. This allows him to instantly teleport between the destroyed facility’s present and the location as it existed in its bustling past. As the player maneuvers throughout the level, which melds compelling visual design with puzzle-like mechanics, it invokes a sense of wonder: If this is possible, what else could be possible in gaming?

Players must make strategic use of the time jump mechanic to progress through the level. Impassable barriers in the present might be easy to traverse by traveling to the past. Challenges in the past are easily solvable by transitioning back into the future. For instance, at one point, Cooper finds himself stuck behind an impassable pit of fire. He can then jump to the past, where the area around him is now a functioning science facility. There’s no fire in sight. Instead, there’s a hallway in front of him. By walking some distance, the player can then time jump back to the present, having essentially bypassed the fire by walking through the hallway that was there in the past.

To experience it for one’s self is to witness a mind-blowing display of creative execution in gaming. As the character runs through the corridors, it seems like there’s so much to discover. The game gives players just enough information to allow them to figure out how to work the map, resulting in a series of eureka moments that keep their adrenaline rushing. The only negative aspect of the entire experience is the conclusion, which leaves the player with the lingering desire to see even more of the Titanfall 2 world through both the past and present lenses.

Instantaneous time jumps aren’t entirely unique to Titanfall 2. However, what stands out is how the game seamlessly integrates these environmental shifts into the level design. It’s not only fun to play, but it makes the player truly appreciate the depth of the implementation challenges as well as how the level fits in with the overall narrative design.

Even a gaming novice can appreciate how much time and effort it took to build a level that flows so seamlessly. In fact, Effect and Cause began taking form as the Respawn Entertainment team was developing the first Titanfall game, sometime around 2013, according to Respawn level designer Jake Keating. The level itself went through two major revisions, taking up more development time than anything else in the game. It’s essentially two levels on top of each other, neither of which are passable without the ability to transition back and forth between the two.

As a world-building bonus, the audio logs throughout the level work this time-jumping into the game. The fact that these reference character’s appearances in parts of the lab before the player actually finds themself there shows acute attention to detail. It’s a nod to the fact that the team took time to thoroughly consider how the facility’s NPCs might realistically react to someone randomly appearing and then vanishing.

But beyond the level’s inclusion in the game itself, Effect and Cause also served to show the depth of the Respawn team’s capabilities. It was a powerful way for the studio to show that its games wouldn’t be like other games that rely on cookie-cutter gameplay.

Respawn’s recent successes show that the company is holding true to that implicit promise. When the team first launched Apex Legends, the game wowed players with a ping mechanic that competitors quickly copied. Critics praised Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order for its approachable take on Dark Souls-style gameplay. If the forthcoming Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond lives up to the hype, the game could set a new bar in terms of what’s possible in the world of VR gameplay. The studio continues to inspire and amaze gamers around the world.

Effect and Cause is a testament to Respawn’s dedication to making incredible games. By introducing a unique way for players to visit the past, Respawn also managed to give fans a glimpse into the game’s studio’s future. By developing this level, the team set high expectations as to what to expect down the line — preferably in the form of Titanfall 3.

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