Valve is well known among the gaming community for two things. One is their ability to produce very good first person shooter games; the other is their own special time system which is notoriously different from the kind any other business could survive using. Yet their fans forgive them it seems, or perhaps the games they make are just good enough to wait for.
Team Fortress 2 is one of those games, and there were plenty of people waiting. Team Fortress 2 was announced in 1998 as an online multiplayer FPS to be developed by Robin Walker and John Cook who created the original Team Fortress Quake mod. 9 years later after many redesigns and a drastic art style over-haul was it worth it?
The short answer is yes. When you first start playing Team Fortress 2 the first thing you will see is the art style. The game is set in the middle of the last century in military-industrial mid-west America. The maps conjure images of war propaganda posters with a small saturated colour palate and chunky cartoonish shapes. You feel like you’ve stepped into a painting. A painting where everybody is trying to kill each other.
The art also has an impact on the gameplay. The teams, RED and BLU, each have their own style of architecture, so at any moment you can see which part of the map you are in. BLU (Builders League United) team buildings are industrial looking with lots of cement and chicken wire fencing with cooling towers, RED (Reliable Excavation and Demolition) team have agricultural style buildings with barns and hay-bales. Both bases are usually a disguise though for a rocket launch facility or a nuclear command bunker.
You might not normally pay much attention to who you are killing in an online FPS, it’s normally two generic groups: terrorists and counter-terrorists, cops and robbers, TF2 lampshades this. Despite the fact you are just Primary Colours fighting against each other there is so much personality in the teams and also the classes. It is important in a class based shooter that the classes feel different but also fun and balanced. Team Fortress does this very well. Each class has a distinct accent, for example the Engineer is a Texan, while the Demoman is black Scottish cyclops. You can probably already see that these characters don’t take them selves too seriously.
All these design choices make sense in gameplay too. The primary colours means you know instantly who is friend and who is foe. The accents and nationalities of the classes mean you know which class has said something or is around you. You hear a thick Russian accent asking for a medic, then there’s probably a heavy that needs your help pushing up. Each class has a distinctive silhouette as well and can be spotted with ease.
Obviously what you want to know from a multiplayer FPS is: How does it play? There are a variety of game modes that fit into the team spirit. There are no straight up deathmatches, but instead, games are objective based. Since the classes play so differently, most game modes allow everyone to contribute evenly to progress. This lends purpose to support classes like the medic and the engineer. In fact games modes like capture point (self explanatory) and payload (one team pushes an explosive cart across the map) need these support classes on each team to succeed.
Gameplay is fun, easy to get into and difficult to master. Each class has a unique feel to it, as the solider you use the rocket launcher, on a simple level using splash damage to kill opponents but as you get more skilled you can launch enemies into the air and even yourself with the rocket jump ability. A defensive class like the demoman can fire pipe bombs from grenade launcher to catch enemies in tight spaces, or lay traps with his sticky bombs to detonate when he chooses. There are no generic weapons like assault rifles and each weapon has a few different ways it can be used to truly master it, but before you know it you’ll be reflecting rockets with the pyro’s back-blasts and triple jumping with the scout’s force of nature.
One good feature is the kill cam. Death in any game is frustrating and you’ll be doing a lot of it in a multiplayer FPS you’ve just started playing. Fortunately when you die the camera pans to show who or what killed you. This way you can think and re plan. ‘Ok if I go that way there is a sentry gun so I need to flank them’ or ‘Oh so that’s where that sniper’s hiding, I’ll change to a spy and back stab him.’ Also when you die the game pulls up some of your stats like: ‘On the bright side you beat record kills this life’. This competition against yourself means the player feels like they’re progressing, even if they’re a long way from being MVP (Most Valuable Player). Also there are no grenades in the game which is a relief because they’re normally so frustrating since you often feel there was nothing you could do to avoid them in games.
TF2 is one of those games you can keep coming back to. The game came out in 2007 and since then we have had a huge number of updates, including an update for each class that adds several new items. These items are new weapons or equipment that drop randomly in game and provide certain benefits. But there are no clear upgrades, each tends to have both a benefit and a drawback. For example the scout’s sandman baseball bat can fire a baseball that stuns enemies but reduces the health of the already fragile scout, the sandvich gives the heavy a way to heal himself in downtime, but at the cost of losing his shotgun making him vulnerable to a close range ambush. Maps have been added at each class update and also a classless update brought new toys for everyone.
One very popular update included an unprecedented and hugely successful idea: Hats. Hats are seemingly useless, have no gameplay impact one your character and are feverishly sought out by every member of the community. They drop randomly and sporadically (I have 90 hours playing the game and one hat) and the community became so enthralled by them that TF2 is referred to as a ‘war-themed hat simulator’. Now even community hats and items have been added to the game. There’s also a recently added crafting mechanic that lets you make new items and hats from item drops that you don’t need.
After many hours playing, Team Fortress’ delightful satire of war is always a joy. The free content keeps being released and Valve have no plans to stop. The community is strong and empowered. They make maps, submit items, have dedicated servers with all sorts of support, from stat tracking and clans. There’s enough balance for professional players and a smooth enough learning curve for noobs like me. Whether you consider yourself a serious gamer or just like to have a laugh and have never played an online FPS, I would recommend TF2 to you. The community is far more mature than most console online offerings and far less elitist than games like Counterstrike, but with that comes the expectation that you will be a team player and communicate well, or just play a sniper.