This week – Team Fortress 2
Team Fortress 2 is a teamwork-focused first-person shooter that came out in 2007 as part of The Orange Box, and is technically a sequel to Team Fortress, a pre-2000 mod of Quake. Team Fortress 2 was heavily reviewed (along with the rest of the contents of the Box) when it came out, but here, 4.5 years later, the game is still fun, but somewhat different. I want to talk about what TF2 has done with multiplayer shooters, consistently-updated games, and Steam in general. Also, as of last year, TF2 is free for download, so go ahead and try it to see what you think, I highly recommend it.
I may have tipped my hand just now, but I’ll go ahead and say it: I love Team Fortress 2. Every once in a while I need to get online and shoot people, but TF2 is so much more than that, it has style AND substance, and that’s why I’m talking about it.
The first thing you may notice is the visual style. TF2 is not even attempting to be photo-realistic, which sets it apart from basically any other game that involves shooting people online these days. The maps are usually very varied in setting and color, and each one of the 9 different classes has their own model, and silhouette. Speaking of the 9 classes (seen at the top), each one has their own backstory, personality, voice acting, playstyle, role on the team, and unique dialogue that is spoken based on the situation. Also, this characterization extends to the weapons and other usable items in the game, as each has a unique model, explanation, and use. All of these things are part of why TF2 is deeper compared to the average online fps.
TF2 itself has a rich and storied history, though it should be noted that it is very silly and shouldn’t be taken seriously. This story is constantly being updated, just as the game itself is constantly being updated. In fact, one of the best parts of TF2 is that Valve supports it by adding new maps, game modes, equipment, and even hats (the community’s drug of choice) fairly often. This is why the game is so different now than it was at launch, because every class has multiple choices for weapons in each of their slots, and often the tradeoffs are a matter of preference. Do I want the ability to run faster at the cost of draining health, or the ability to gain criticals for a few seconds when I punch someone to death? Hardly any of the choices are a clear-cut “this one is better” situation, and it lets the player decide based on how they play.
TF2 is so focused on team-based play that each one of the 9 classes has a clear-cut role. This isn’t like Counter-strike; it’s very unlikely that one player is going to kill the entire other team. Every class has a counter, and situations that cannot be survived in most cases. It’s a tough balance, but I think Valve does a decent job maintaining it. This means that teams have to work together and support each other using the strong points of their classes to win. Spies can’t backstab without teammates distracting the enemy, engineers can’t build without someone defending them, and heavies are just so much meat without a healer. It’s all about synergy.
Team Fortress 2 provides fast-paced action with little downtime – at most your respawn timer will be 20 seconds. This allows you to think “what did I do wrong, and what should I do differently?” while you wait, but lets you get back into the game fast enough that you are not bored. You can take time to learn how to respond to situations with your class, even if it means you’ll have to run away (and sometimes that IS the best option). You don’t have to favor one class, you can play them all, but almost everyone I’ve ever played with has a favorite. There’s enough playstyles among the classes to keep anyone entertained, though. You might prefer to jump around and use hit-and-run tactics as a scout, or sit back and heal your team as a medic, but it really depends on what you want to do.
I could talk for pages about how TF2 has and will continue to raise the bar for online FPS games, but it’s always better to see for yourself, and really most of the things I’ve said should be obvious. Make an online game that lets you work together for great effect, don’t make an online game that one person can dominate continuously. Releasing new content every few months is a great business model, but Valve is always ahead of the pack. And last, don’t forget to make your game world interesting and fun to play in, don’t make another brown and grey military shooter. These are things that were obvious 10 years ago. On Wednesday, I want to look at the original Team Fortress and see what got changed for the better, and on Friday, we’ll look at a more traditional online FPS.