A great experience at a great price
The first thing you’ll notice when you first make contact with Team Fortress 2 is the original graphic style: stylish, with a strong cartoonish feel to it, lots of shading effects and characters that bring to mind the heroes from The Incredibles. In fact, the way in which these characters were created will be one of the reasons of your always playing with a smile on your face, even when your head is blown off by a bullet coming from the other side of the map. In addition, there are delicious ironies for the enemies, desperate cries for help and the Kodak moments, when you are fighting an enemy soldier and an engineer, chased by a Pyro with a gas mask on his face and an axe in his hands, speeds right by you. Priceless.
- The cartoonish TF2 style has an even more important function that of giving you a basic indication on the role of each class and the possibility to identify them instantly in a fight. One of the problems of the class-based titles is precisely that: the learning curve is too long. You have to go slow, trying to see exactly what each class does, which are its special abilities, if they suit your gaming style or not, etc. But in TF2, even a novice knows who does what right from the initial selection menu, and you even get some tips to make your life easier; all this presented as a school lesson.
- The game has 9 playable classes, which are divided into three branches: offensive, defensive and support. The scout is the fastest and the only one who can do a double-jump. It’s very difficult to hit these “speedy-gonzales” guys with a Brooklyn accent. But, this increased mobility has its price: a low number of hit-points. The scout is one the most fragile characters in the game, especially since in Team Fortress 2 there are no armours. The soldier is a very good choice for novices. He has a decent damage tolerance and at the same time, thanks to his rocket launcher and his shotgun, he can inflict sufficient amounts of pain. The Pyro is the funniest class of all, because his gas mask distorts everything he says in a very hilarious manner. His flame thrower is not that funny though, as it’s lethal in close-quarter battles. He can set the entire enemy team on fire if he corners them, and then he just wait and look at how the kill-count is growing.
- On the defensive side, the Demoman is the only one that can use grenades – oddly enough, one of the most powerful offensive weapons – and has sticky bombs that can be attached on any type of surface and than detonated from a distance; an excellent solution when you have to protect a control point from enemy scouts. The Heavy is exactly what name says– a huge guy with a minigun that suites his size. He is recommended for cutting down compact groups of enemies or for temporary blocking an access way with lots and lots of bullets. The Engineer falls somewhere between defensive and support, as he can build sentries (every scout’s nightmare), dispenser that can cure and resupply his allies with ammo, as well as teleports to facilitate the team’s transportation. Add the shotgun to all this and you’ll see why the engineer is one of the most appreciated classes in TF2.
- When it comes to 100% support though, the Medic is king, and his services are always appreciated by their teammates and feared by the enemies. Other than patching up their allies, the medics can temporary increase their patient’s life to 150%. But his most important skill is the Overcharge: temporary invulnerability for him and for the teammate(s), which can be enough to brake a sentry defense, backed up by Pyros, Engineers and Soldiers. For this reason, anyone who has the guts to play as a Medic should get used to the idea of having a giant target on their back saying “Kill me first”.
- Snipers are a lovely bunch, with Australian accents and specific kangaroo-lover hats, which can send you straight to the respawn screen without realizing what hit you. A headshot is often enough to knock down any class, especially if you use the zoom long enough to give the bullet a substantial damage bonus, shown near the cross-hair. The main disadvantage of the sniper is precisely the laser beam that helps him aim: it can give him away before he can kill his victim.
- And so we get to the Spy. This is the class that is most difficult to master, but it is also the most rewarding. Dressed with style (they are French, after all), and with a hood on their head, the spies are the ones that can really create mayhem in the enemy camp: sabotaging towers, destroying teleports and killing snipers, doctors and engineers to their own liking. In order to do that they have at their disposal the most interesting gadgets in the game: a device that allows them to become invisible for a short period of time, an electrical saboteur to destroy the utilitarian and the towers built by the engineers as well as the ability to camouflage themselves by assuming the identity of an enemy class.
There also lots of other small things that enhance the game experience. The first would be the Death Cam; in short, before you get to the respawn screen, you can take a screenshot of your executioner, sometimes in very funny postures, along with different parts of your now-dead body spread around the picture. This is a pretty mundane idea, but extremely cool and useful at the same time, especially when you have to find out the location of snipers and sentries.
Then, there are the ironies and the automatic responses: When, for example, you are using a teleport, you character will thank the engineer that built it on his own initiative. Pyros will laugh viciously in their gas mask any time they just fried a poor soul and spies swear through their teeth.
- And as if the graphic style and the character lines weren’t enough, voice acting is brilliant: From the Scottish accent of the Demoman (who is black, by the way) and the Soldier’s lines, similar to those of General Patton, to the cries of battle of the Doctor and the Spy’s ironies. I could go on for 2 more pages praising the voices, but you have to hear for yourselves a Pyro calling for a Medic or a Demoman desperately shouting “FIIIIIIIIRRREEEE!”, to realize how extraordinary the work of the actors who brought these 9 classes to life is. Also, according to the theory that a diplomat is a person that tells you to go to hell in such a way that makes you wait anxiously for the voyage, the voice of the announcer (very James Bond like) is as savoury as possible, especially when it tells you on a reproachful tone of voice “You FAILED! Prepare for sudden death!”.
- Some of you are probably wondering “So, what’s the catch? The game can’t be that good, there must be a hitch”. Well, the downsides depend largely on the type of game you prefer. Firstly, Team Fortress 2 will probably not replace Counter-Strike on the online games scene (I wonder even if that’s even possible) but it will certainly be one of the big players from now on. The humour, graphics, easy to learn but difficult to master classes, they are all extremely appealing, especially for beginners or those who want something other than Battlefield or Counter-Strike. The only ones that are not going be so thrilled are the ones used with the speed of the Quake/Unreal Tournament series. For them the way in which hostilities take place in TF2 is going to seem too slow.
- Team work is crucial. In 10-12 player matches, one man can make the difference, depending on the situation, but when you get to 24 or even 32 players, collaboration becomes essential for winning. This is made easy by the existence of the in-game voice chat (that has to be activated on the server, though) and by Steam Community, that allows all the players to create their own Steam Group and a list of friends to keep in touch with. Just to appeal to the pride of those who live for online success, Valve introduced a very good stat tracking system where you can see how you’re progressing during the game sessions, as well as a series of Achievements, similar to those presented on Xbox Live. Some of them even encourage team work and communities (Team Doctor and With Friends like These). Also, when an adversary kills you a few times in a row and you don’t answer back, he becomes Nemesis; that is, your public enemy number 1 and until you kill him you will appear as a Dominated player. And I don’t think you want that written next to your nickname.
Now then, Team Fortress 2. Clearly the game that has focused everyone’s attention back to class based multiplayer FPSs, even with the launch of the much waited Unreal Tournament 3. Ironically enough, other heavy titles will profit from its success, like the Battlefield series, for example, because TF2 is an excellent training platform for beginners who can look for more complex games once they decide that the 9 classes have no more surprises to offer. And if at a first glance 6 maps don’t seem enough, the community is already at work and there already are some interesting custom-made levels. And the numbers are bound to increase in the near future.
So, before I start torturing my colleagues to get my Steam password back, I warmly recommend you to try Team Fortress 2, or at least see it in action on a friend’s computer, if you are of a more cautious nature where buying games is concerned. Watch out though, if you get the taste of it, eventually you might end up telling your boss „Take it like a man, shorty!”. -CG