Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Team Fortress 2 - Report From The Front Lines

Apparently some Xbox game was recently released.

Who cares.

For those who have been paying attention, gamers who bought Valve's Orange Box were allowed to play the Team Fortress 2 Beta. Beta is a misnomer as it is basically a demo (for those who already bought it?), probably a stress test and it allows Valve to tweak the last 0.01% of the product that actually needs to be tweaked.

After ten years of development this game has taken some remarkable turns. The TF team (was this the original first mod?) were picked up by Valve BEFORE they released Half Life (covered in detail at Rock, Paper, Shotgun). The first of some incredibly high profile (and lucrative) mod team acquisitions Valve has made over the years (Counterstrike, Day of Defeat, Garry's Mod). TF2 was announced (I can still remember the first little blurb in PC Gamer - where is my Command mode?) shortly thereafter and then...nothing. It never came out. Vaporware. Team Fortress Classic was released some time ago, but that was it. Now, with a new art direction, and some incredible fine tuning, the game has been released.

Valve has released movies that showcase several of the characters (R,P,S covers the 9 classes) and that shows off the distinctive cartoony feel of the game which distinguishes it from all of the other realistic first person shooters out there (Steam videos). An interesting decisions to separate TF2 from the pack.

Great artistic level design.

CP_Gravel helpfully tells me that I'm attacking.

Red team capture point (and some funky HDR skies).

The game is so incredibly helpful that playing other multiplayer FPS games feels like a letdown. About the only area I feel is not covered well is in the mapping department (I presume, and it has been so long that I completely forget, that the original TF and TFC did not have overhead maps). After playing games like Counterstrike and Dystopia, the lack of a map is sometimes frustrating. It makes up for it by helpfully pointing out where you need to go, especially helpful on the combinatorial territorial capture map TC_Hydro, which has 6 total capture points on a large meta map. During each round two regions are contested by the red and the blue team in a combinatorial matrix, which means that you could be attacking and defending a variety of points with different pathways. Large blinking arrows painted on the level point out the correct paths. Large floating icons are above the capture points. When you die, a snapshot is taken of your killer, showing their name and exact location (helpful if you want to seek revenge - something for which points are awarded).

Burn baby burn!

I would almost be insulted by the game for treating me like a slow child if it did not excel in most of the gameplay aspects. There have been endless articles on the nine classes that can be found on the web (scout, demoman, soldier, heavy, medic, sniper, pyro, engineer, spy) so I won't cover them here. Suffice to say that a balance of all classes is necessary for almost any level (except for overtimes and sudden deaths).

Massive firepower.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the game is the medic's ubercharge, obtained after a certain amount of healing has been dished out. Triggering this special skill, and by focusing the medic's healing gun on a single target, the ubercharge renders the target and the medic invulnerable for 10 seconds, perfect for last ditch defenses or for absolutely crucial attacks (especially against fully-upgraded sentries). Several other classes have special attacks, and all have specific skill sets that are extremely useful for both defense and offense.

Big Bad Red Guy - Stay Away.

Revenge is a dish best served cold - this camper must die!

TF2 is fun to play, a joy to look at, and easy to get into if you've never played TF before, or any multiplayer FPS for that matter.

My biggest beef would be that the game, and TF and TFC before it, are by there very nature simplistic and I've always appreciated games with more depth and freedom. Games like Tribes, Dystopia, Guild Wars, and yes, even Bioshock, allow some freedom in at least the weapons/spells/skills the player can chose, whereas TF2, BF2, or WoW for that matter, force you into a class-based system, that although easy to get into, does not allow the complexities inherent in a combinatorial system. But that's a personal preference, and I can still enjoy TF2 for what it is.

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